Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

Myrna and Clark: A (Platonic) Love Story

loy-gable

“We became devoted to each other. We weren’t lovers, we eventually became more like siblings. Our relationship was unique. Oh, he sometimes gave me the macho routine when people were watching, but he changed when we were alone.

“We always used to celebrate together at the end of a picture. Clark insisted on it. Maybe we’d include the director, maybe not. It was just a kind of ritual that the two of us had. We would share a bottle of champagne while he read poetry to me, usually the sonnets of Shakespeare. He loved poetry, and read beautifully, with great sensitivity, but he wouldn’t dare let anyone else know it. He was afraid people would think him weak or effeminate and not the tough guy who liked to fish and hunt. I was the only one he trusted. He never wanted me to tell about this, and here I am giving him away, but I never mentioned it while he was alive.”

—Myrna Loy, lovingly recalling her friend Clark Gable

Gable and Loy—whom 20 million fans voted King and Queen of Hollywood in 1937—co-starred in seven films: Night FlightManhattan Melodrama (the movie that drove John Dillinger, a huge fan of the actress, out of hiding—which Loy said she always felt guilty about), Men in WhiteWife Vs. SecretaryParnellToo Hot to Handle and Test Pilot. But this luminous pair is rarely mentioned when the talk turns to classic Hollywood screen pairings. Maybe that’s because, as Loy pointed out, their chemistry was more platonic than passionate. Perhaps that’s why it endured while so many others flamed out.

Here are a couple of off-the-set shots of Loy and Gable among friends. The first is from a 1941 benefit for Greek war relief, with Charles Laughton, Gable’s wife Carole Lombard and Melvyn Douglas. The second is from a birthday party for Lionel Barrymore, with Jean Harlow. Check out the way Gable looks at Loy in these pictures. He clearly adores her. And these are no lascivious leers; it’s more like, “God, I just love that dame.”

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6 Comments

  1. Shakespeare’s sonnets? Who knew? But I am imagine CG speaking the lines.

  2. It surprises many to learn that Gable’s relationship with Harlow was purely platonic, given the erotic fireworks they displayed on screen. But Clark always said that off-screen, he and Jean were like brother and sister. In Loy’s fine autobiography, she wrote that Gable tried to make a move on her when they first began working together, only to discover she coolly rebuffed his advances. I’m guessing Clark subsequently treated Myrna the same way he treated Jean.

    Perhaps because she knew Loy represented no threat to her where Gable was concerned, Carole Lombard became good friends with Myrna. Though their approaches to comedy were wholly different (Lombard extroverted, Loy more subtle; one wishes they’d made some sort of female “buddy comedy”), Carole and Myrna had much in common — both were relative late bloomers in the industry, neither finding their niche until about 1934, and both were staunch supporters of the New Deal and examples of Hollywood feminism.

    • Thank you for your always-insightful comments! I can easily see how Myrna and Carole would be friends. And oh, can you imagine a Carole-Myrna buddy movie!!

  3. Reblogged this on Sister Celluloid and commented:

    Reprising for Clark’s birthday, and dreaming of him reading sonnets to Myrna…

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