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Clark Gable is one of my favourite actors, although he died before I was born.  Whenever I watch his films, I can always see just why he was so popular – women loved him, and men wanted to be like him.  He was the ultimate in masculinity, and was not known as King of Hollywood for nothing.

This book is a fairly decent biography, which seems pretty evenhanded throughout.  It does a good job of telling the facts – although there are a couple of errors regarding some of the films – so in a sense, it does do its job, but while I understand that it is impossible to include every single story from someone’s life, I felt that certain things were missed out, which should have been included.  For instance, the book acknowledges that Gable wanted to boycott the premiere of Gone With The Wind, out of solidarity with his  friend Victor Fleming, who was in dispute with producer David Selznick, over his (Fleming’s) directorial credit.  However, it did not even give mention to the well documented fact that Gable was furious that the black members of the cast would not be able to sit with the white members of the cast at the premiere due to Atlanta’s segregation laws, and that he wanted to boycott the premiere for this reason.  Such an occurrence reveals a lot about the measure of a man, and I was amazed that it wasn’t included.

However, the book does a fairly good job of describing Gable’s rise to movie star from very humble beginnings, and generally portrays him as an approachable and agreeable man, easy to work with, and courteous and kind by nature.  It goes into detail about his five marriages – one can’t help but wonder what would have happened had his very happy marriage to actress Carole Lombard not have been cut tragically short by her death in a plane crash.

I would recommend the book to fellow Gable fans – it might not be the most comprehensive biography available, but it’s certainly readable, and respectful without being fawning.

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In 1939, one of the most popular films of all time – Gone With The Wind – was made, and of course as we all know now, it was a roaring success.  Although Clark Gable was cast pretty quickly (and somewhat reluctantly) as Rhett Butler, the casting of Scarlett O’Hara was a real problem for the producer David O Selznick.  Almost every star in Hollywood wanted the part, and – possibly to drum up publicity for the film – a nationwide search was launched to find the woman who would play Scarlett.  This film, which is adapted from Garson Kanin’s book, Moviola, is a dramatisation of the search for Scarlett, and features actors playing many famous stars of the time.

It’s a very entertaining film.  I cannot be certain how much of it is fictionalised (did Joan Crawford, who was already a star by the time of Gone With The Wind, really need to sleep with David Selznick in an attempt to secure a role?!  If so, she must have been REALLY angry when she didn’t even get the role.)

Apart from Tony Curtis, who headed the cast as Selznick, and Harold Gould, who was suitably sleazy and manipulative as Louis B Mayer, head of MGM and father-in-law of Selznick, the stand-put member of the cast was Edward Winter as Clark Gable.  Winter looked the part, and also captured Gable’s speech patterns perfectly.  There were a few amusing nods to other films being made at the time – Mayer mentions that he is making The Wizard of Oz, but doesn’t like one of the songs in it (Somewhere Over The Rainbow), beccause it’s basically not happy enough!  It is also mentioned that Charlie Chaplin is making a film about Hitler, which of course became The Great Dictator.

(I actually find it quite amusing that in the end, despite all the searching and all the huge stars in Hollywood wanting the role of Scarlett, it eventually went to a young British actress, who played the part to perfection!)

Being completely unable to find a trailer or a clip from this film online, I chose instead to use this picture of Sharon Gless and Edward Winter as Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.   It seems that The Scarlett O’Hara War is a little known film, which is a shame. I would definitely recommend it, both as a nod to the 1930s, when the film was being made, and especially to fans of Gone With The Wind.  There is lots of drama, plenty of laughs, and a peek inside the sordidness that could inhabit the movie industry.  Very enjoyable.

Year of release: 1980

Director: John Erman

Producers: David L. Wolper, Stan Margulies

Writers: Garson Kanin (book), William Hanley

Main cast: Tony Curtis, Bill Macy, Harold Gould, George Furth, Edward Winter, Sharon Gless, Barrie Youngfellow, Carrie Nye

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Click here for my review of Gone With The Wind (film)

Click here for my review of Gone With The Wind (novel)

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Made in 1942, this comedy is set in Warsaw, during the Polish occupation by the Nazis.  It unashamedly pokes fun both at Hitler and the Nazi regime, and also the vanity of actors.  It tells the story of a Polish acting troupe, including husband and wife couple Joseph and Maria Tura (Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, in her last film), who find themselves tangled up in a plot to stop the Nazis obtaining valuable information.  It does not sound like a recipe for a hilarious comedy…but that is what this film is.  Joseph Tura considers himself an acclaimed Shakespearean actor, and during the film he plays Hamlet (badly!)  Maria, his beautiful and feisty wife, catches the eye of Lieutenant Stanislav Sobinski.  Joseph is suspicious and jealous, but they soon have greater problems to worry about…

By the time this film was released, Germany was sweeping across Europe.  Also, tragically, Carole Lombard had died in a plane crash, and possibly as a result, the film was initially seen as being in bad taste, and was not appreciated by audiences.  Over the years however, it has gained a reputation as a classic comedy, and I think the humour still stands up well for modern viewers.

The story is convoluted, but easy enough to follow.  The real joy in this film however,  is the incredibly funny script and the way that the cast (even the minor players are terrific) deliver their lines.  The dialogue fizzes along nicely and there is also plenty of visual comedy.

The tragedy and heartache caused by the occupation of Poland is duly acknowledged, and I don’t think the film was attempting to make light of the situation at all.  One scene in particular shows members of the Nazi army jumping out of a plane to their certain death, on the orders of Hitler, given by radio transmission.  The film also shows the burning buildings and the many homeless and grieving families who suffered as a result of Hitler’s regime.

The subplot is great – concerning Joseph’s vexation at his wife’s flirtation with a handsome Lieutenant; and said Lieutenant’s infatuation with the slightly Maria (flightly she may be, but she is also possessed of a great bravery).

Carole Lombard looks beautiful and so full of life and vitality throughout – which in hindsight underlines the sadness of her death at such terrible circumstances at the age of 33.  Still, this is how she should be remembered – at her very best.  It’s a shame that this film turned out to be her swan song, but what a swan song it is.  Benny is also terrific; I have never seen any of his work before, but will certainly be searching out more of it!  This is one of the American Film Institute’s 100 Funniest Comedies, and it deserves its place on that list.  Despite the sombre subject matter, this is a film well worth seeing.

Year of release: 1942

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Writers: Melchior Lengyel, Edwin Justus Mayer, Ernst Lubitsch

Main cast: Jack Benny, Carole Lombard, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill, Stanley Ridges, Sig Ruman

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