Tuesday, February 12, 2013
The love story of screen stars Clark Gable and Carole Lombard is legendary. A physically beautiful couple, who fell in love and married at the peak of their careers, reigned as one of Hollywood's highest profile couples and eventually met with tragedy upon Lombard's death in a 1942 plane crash at the age of 33. No Man of Her Own, filmed and released in late 1932, is famous as the only film in which the appealing duo starred together. Yet the irony is that they weren't a couple at the time, nor did they want to be.
Getting the film onto the screen was a story in itself. The original script was based on a bestselling 1932 pulp novel, written by none other than RKO horror producer Val Lewton, when he was a struggling commercial hack. It was called No Bed of Her Own and bought by Paramount Pictures as a potential vehicle for studio newbie George Raft and its reigning diva Miriam Hopkins. With loose living and prostitution as some of the general themes in No Bed of Her Own, an adaption to film was problematic, even in pre-Code years, and Paramount decided to keep the title but go with a completely different story written by Edmund Goulding and Benjamin Glazer. By the time the proverbial dust settled the title was also found unpassable to the Will Hays office and it too was changed, albeit only slightly, to No Man of Her Own.
Who would have thought that fate would have chosen Marion Davies, film star wannabe and mistress of multi-gazillionaire William Randolph Hearst, to bring about the only screen pairing of Gable and Lombard (sources say they were extras in at least one picture during the 1920's). Davies was making a picture for MGM eventually called Going Hollywood and wanted the number one box office crooner at the time, Bing Crosby, as her co-star. Hearst persuaded studio boss Louis B. Mayer to make a trade with Paramount, where Crosby was under contract. For this illustrious switcheroo Mayer had to offer up big ticket star power and after 1932's Red Dust with Jean Harlow and Strange Interlude with Norma Shearer, Clark Gable was MGM's male star on the rise.
Meanwhile, back over at Paramount, Miriam Hopkins would have no part of the film if Gable received top billing (which was part of the deal) and Carole Lombard, a member of the studio's stable of up and coming stars was cast instead. Although he had been quite chummy with Crawford and Harlow back home at MGM, Gable was relatively indifferent to Lombard during filming and she reciprocated the feeling. She was still very much married to big man on campus William Powell and Gable to wealthy/older/less attractive Rhea Langham (not that that fact had hindered earlier indiscretions). When the film wrapped, Clark gave his blond co-star a pair of ballerina slippers with a note reading, "To a true primadonna." Carole, not to be outdone, presented him with a packaged ham with his photograph plastered on the front. It was all in good fun and caught on camera for everyone to see.
In this serio-comic pre-Code Gable plays Jerry "Babe" Stewart, a hot shot gambling cheat who can turn a card as well as a lady's head. When the law gets too close to his shenanigans, he lays low in podunk where he meets the local librarian, Connie Randall (Lombard). Connie has the small town blues and an itchin' to see what's out there. They get married on the flip of a coin and Connie goes back to the big city with her groom, unaware of his shady dealings (pardon the pun) and instead believing he works on Wall Street. Trouble steps in when the blonde bride discovers Babe's secret and tampers with his deck of cards. You know the old saying, lucky at cards unlucky in love. Well count it here in spades (pardon again).
Filmed in late 1932, more than a year before the Will Hays office would enforce tougher censorship restrictions, No Man of Her Own offered several opportunities for the risque in its dialogue. When his recent paramour clings to him like a vine on a tree, Gable's Babe responds, "Listen kid, that thing you've got on is pretty thin but I've got tough skin, see, and I don't feel it." Whew!
After filming was complete Gable went back to MGM and Lombard stayed on at Paramount for a while, her reputation as a gorgeous comedienne skyrocketing with each passing year. It wouldn't be until the mid to late 1930's until they began the affair that would eventually lead them to marriage and super couple status in Tinsel Town. As Clark Gable once said, "It is an extra dividend when you like the girl you've fallen in love with." No Man Of Her Own here.