The patriotic fervor in the days following Pearl Harbor and the natural inclination to support a grieving widower squelched all probing personal questions, at least initially. (One national columnist felt constrained to apologize for questioning the soundness of the Gables' relationship and marriage in the weeks before Lombard's death.) Decorum stopped all mention in the press of the whispers about the place Carole chose for her burial. Clark Gable, heroic grieving widower, was above public question or reproach. And Strickling was not about to leave it to chance that this continued to be the case.
Putting the final polish on the legend of Gable and Lombard -- that is the adulation of the relationship and marriage of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard was phase two. An important aspect of this effort involved marginalizing Carole's prior relationship with Russ Columbo, reducing him to a pitiful half-man and ascribing Carole's interest in him to her "maternal instinct". This phase started with a vengeance right after Carole's funeral and continues on to this day.
Howard Strickland already had considerable experience in post-mortem slander, so moving on to post-mortem castration was not that much of a stretch for him. As with the 1932 tragedy of the Jean Harlow/Paul Bern, Strickling found a dependable ally in famed writer Adela Rogers St. Johns. And since that time he had also developed Hedda Hopper, a B grade actress whose career portraying society women was in steep decline, into a prime gossip resource. They provided him with the old one, two punch he needed to get the ball rolling.
Adela Rogers St Johns with Gable (left) and Hedda Hopper with him circa 1941 (right) Howard Strickling could reward both writers for cooperation with easy access to Gable and all the other stars of MGM.
St. Johns was an old friend of Strickling and had recommended him for his job. After producer/director Paul Bern's death she wrote an article published in Liberty Magazine that slandered Bern at Strickling's urging. See: http://www.libertymagazine.com/mysterie
At the time of his death Bern was married to Jean Harlow, who was MGM's emerging female star. The studio wanted her kept out of the scandal. Painting the talented and kindly Bern as a frustrated, wife-beating, pathetically underdeveloped man, St. Johns characterized his death, a probable murder, as a suicide. The name of Paul Bern became an object of ridicule in Hollywood lore for decades until his reputation was rescued in a recent biography by E.J. Fleming. Harlow, to her credit, distanced herself from St. Johns and her supposed "interview".
St. Johns, an experienced story teller, now provided the supposedly heartfelt opening punch for Stricklings publicity campaign to protect Gables reputation and to soothe his fragile ego. She mixed fact, (that she admired Clark Gable), and gross exageration, (that she was a close friend of Lombard's), in an article that was also published in Liberty Magazine in late February of 1942. (Advertisements for her article questioning Carole's "strange relationship" with Russ Columbo were in the press a good two weeks earlier.) She painted Russ as a "boy" that Lombard pitied but never really loved, and the nearly middle-aged family friend and photographer who accidentally shot him as another "boy". The innuendo was unmistakable.
Lansing Brown in 1934, a photographer and long-time Columbo family friend, was in his mid-thirties, when he shot Russ in a freak mishap with an antique dueling pistol.
She then went on to write tearfully about Gable who she described as a brave but anguished widower and how deeply he missed Carole's mother who died with her. (Mrs. Peters wasn't alive to comment.) Carole's brothers inherited the money Carole left to her mother but Gable also sent Stuart Peters, Carole's younger of two brothers, a demand for payment of a very small amount that Carole had personally loaned him. After the funeral of their mother and their sister, Carole's brothers had nothing to do with Clark Gable again for the rest of their lives.
As E.J. Fleming wrote "I've read dozens of pieces by Adela researching various books and it was so very clear that she typically over-stated the strength of her relationships with the people. The only quote-laden, best-pal-type stories she wrote were all done after people died. Hard to believe people didn't see that about her."
Hedda Hopper owed her gossip columnist career to the influence of MGM. She proved herself useful. MGM and Strickling had boosted her to contain the influence of the Hearst newspaper gossip columnist, Louella Parsons. Hedda now repaid her debt to MGM in spades. She followed up with a nasty second punch by painting the talented, hard working and gentle Columbo as a narcissistic fruit. (Would she have dared to write something like that while Lombard was still alive?) She claimed that Russ and Carole's relationship "was based on many things but not sex". She stated further said it was "silly, insignificant and without stature". Hopper thus denied the mutually satisfying physical aspect of their relationship that was present easily and naturally from its beginning -- something that a frustrated Lombard apparently never achieved with Gable over a period of six years. Hopper also ridiculed the soul-mate aspect of Russ and Carole's relationship that was apparent to anyone who ever saw them together.
Howard Strickling's hand was, and still is, at work here. A master at his trade, he picked two sources considered credible by the public at the time and set them to work creating a smoke screen and putting his spin on the story. It almost worked then and it is perpetuated in the innuendo found in many of the books, journal and web blogs that we see on the subject of Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and Russ Columbo even today. Not surprisingly, many of them draw heavily upon the myriad of articles and photographs that Howard Strickling' publicity department at MGM either created or indirectly commissioned. Adela Rogers St. Johns and Hedda Hopper are considered in-the-know, first hand, and unbiased primary sources by people who are duped by Strickling and enthralled by the romance of the legend of Gable and Lombard.
Clark Gable was heavily involved in managing his publicity and worked closely with Howard Strickling and his publicists thoughout his career at MGM. Leaving Carole's body at Forest Lawn a mere stone's throw from that of Russ Columbo, a man he could never obliterate from her memory, must have gnawed at him. It was something he needed to fix. Despite his grief it is very difficult to believe that he was an innocent bystander to the smear campaign that was directed against the memory of Russ Columbo after Carole's death.
Louella O. Parsons
Louella Parsons and Jimmie Fidler were intense rival gossip columnists and competing journalists but they had one thing in common. They shared very positive personal memories of Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo both as individuals and as a couple. Their fame made them impervious to the ire of both Howard Strickling and Clark Gable. Both continued to reminisce sadly about what might have been for Carole and Russ in their columns for many years after both were dead.
Parsons, "Aunt Lolly" to Carole, encouraged both Russ' and Carole's Hollywood careers in her column. She and her husband were guests at Carole and Russ's Roman party in the days just before Russ died. Dr. Martin, Parson's husband, was also Lombard's personal physician. A very distraught Carole was under his close personal care in the days following Russ' death.
Jimmie Fidler hosted a radio show where Russ Columbo was a recurring guest in 1934. They were scheduled to broadcast together later on the day that Russ died. Russ and Jimmie were also about to announce an expanded joint weekly radio program with full orchestration to be entitled "Russ Columbo from Hollywood" for NBC.
Russ Columbo and Jimmie Fidler broadcasting for NBC in 1934. Russ was an innocent in the ruthless world of Hollywood. That was one of the things Carole and others loved about him. She didn't need to pretend that she was a tough broad when she was with him. Physical intimacy came easily and naturally to them.
Because of his determination and the publicity resources available to him, Howard Strickling might have gotten away with his cynical spin on the facts in the long run if it were not for Larry Swindell and his ground breaking book on Lombard, entitled "Screwball, the Life of Carole Lombard" that was published in 1975. For the first serious biography of Lombard that was published over 30 years after her death, Swindell interviewed Fred Peters, Carole's surviving brother, Patsy Pantages Karlson, her lifetime friend, and spoke off the record with Bill Powell, her first husband, amongst others.
The people Swindell interviewed, those closest to Carole in life, attempted to set the record straight particularly regarding her relationships with Russ Columbo and Clark Gable. They emphasized the seriousness of Carole's relationship with Russ and the depth of their love for each other. They also painted a picture of the Gable Lombard relationship as one that Carole somehow made work but that was far from the romantic ideal that Howard Strickling and the publicity department of MGM presented it as being. (Madalynee Fields Lang, Carole's longtime friend and former social secretary, refused to discuss Lombard's relationship with Gable at all.)
In rebuttal Howard Strickling assisted Lyne Tornabene with "Long Live the King", a biography of Clark Gable that was published the following year. Tornabene blithely accepted Stricking's evasive and untrue description of the events leading up to the war bond tour and the baseless innuendo about Russ as fact. And Tornabene expounds on the Gable legend ad nauseum, turning the tawdry facts of Gable's rise to screen stardom into an all American Horatio Alger story. In Tornabene's book the Gable Lombard relationship is characterized as the great American love story. Not surprisingly, she finds Gable's guilt over Lombard's death as unfathomable and unjustified.
Jean Garcea was hired as Carole Lombard's personal secretary in the late 1930's and continued working for her widower, Clark Gable, until his death in 1960. She fully understood her value to Clark Gable as the guardian of his legend and that of the legend of Gable and Lombard. And so too did Clark Gable. And that is why he kept her on his payroll to the end of his life. Oddly, it was Jean Garceau who inadvertently corroborated the tension in the Gable marriage when she mentioned how "uncharacteristically subdued" Carole was when she left home to begin the war bond tour. Garceau does not mention the fierce argument that Lombard had with Gable the previous evening, perhaps because she did not know about it -- or chose not to know about it. But it is covered in the memoirs of people, (i.e., Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn), who had personal knowledge of what happened that Sunday evening because Gable met with Spencer Tracy, his drinking buddy and brothel companion, after he walked out on Lombard.
Was Clark Gable transformed by the tragedy of Carole Lombard's death?
A popular Hollywood myth is that Gable was somehow transformed into a caring, sensitive person by the sorrow he experienced after the loss of Carole Lombard. But was he really? His ongoing treatment of and even his final actions towards his own daughter make this a dubious hypothesis.
In late 1960, Howard Strickling guided Kay Gable, Clark's fifth wife and widow, with the arrangements for his burial at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Image conscious to the end, Gable pointedly disavowed any living children in his final will, thus disowning and disinheriting his only living child, Judy, that he fathered with Loretta Young in 1935. (A son, John Clark Gable, was born to Kay five months after Gable's death.)
Christopher Lewis, Judy's half-brother, told her that his father and Judy's stepfather, Tom Lewis, once asked Clark Gable if he was Judy's biological father. Gable denied it, saying that he would love to have a child and adding, "Do you think I would let anyone else bringing up my only child?". But in fact Tom Lewis was bringing up his only child.
Gable fans put his total estrangement from his daughter on the shoulders of Loretta Young. They argue that her "priggish religiosity" was the reason he stayed away. Yet Loretta Young raised her daughter, she didn't abort her nor did she abandon her after birth. Clark Gable was among those invited by Young to Judy Lewis' wedding in June of 1958 just as he had been invited to her high school graduation a few years earlier. He declined both invitations and didn't send a gift. And Gable, who once told an interviewer that his one real regret in life was that he never had any children, completely ignored the grandchild Judy soon bore.
Judy Lewis and Loretta Young, the mother who was there for her all along, if not always in the way that Judy wished her to be, circa 1978.at the American Film Institute cocktail party aboard the Pacific Princess cruise ship in 1978.
Newsreel footage of Clark Gable's funeral shows Strickling hovering near Kay and guiding her through it. Kay agreed to relegate herself to the position of a consolation prize and after her death in 1983 would be buried one level beneath and three positions to the left of Gable. Clark Gable was buried directly alongside of Carole Lombard, thus enshrining forever the legend of their perfect marriage.
The Last Supper Window at Forest Lawn. Russ Columbo is entombed to the left of it in the Sanctuary of Vespers while Carole Lombard and her mother as well as Clark Gable and his fifth wife, Kay, are entombed in the Sanctuary on Trust to its right.
The creators and keepers of the Hollywood legend
Howard Strickling played the role of fixer for Gable to the end, a role that he seemed to relish. After all, the myth and the legend that was Clark Gable, if not his real talent and screen performances, had in large part been Strickling's creation. The legend of Gable and Lombard was simply a logical extension of the Gable legend. The vast amount of publicity material that MGM created to feed the Gable legend sustains it to this day. In this instance publicity images have been transformed over time into a core Hollywood legend. Retiring from MGM in 1969, he died in 1982.
Howard Strickling seen here in the late 1960's after catching a whopper rather than telling one.
For more on Carole's relationship with Russ Columbo see: http://cinemafan2.livejournal.com/2514.h
And for more on the Carole's relationship with Clark Gable and her death see: http://cinemafan2.livejournal.com/7511.h
Earlier this week I took a photograph of the forward segment of the former Long Gallery on the Queen Mary through a opening in the locked doors. The photo, seen below, shows that the operator was using this segment of the former Long Gallery as a banqueting/catering table and chair storage space.
November 18, 2012
The on-line responses to the photograph included one that indicated that the tables and chairs were being stored right up against the paneling and even right up against the painting "Sussex Landscape", by Mr. Bertram Nicholls.
This morning, Friday November 23, 2012, the double doors added in Long Beach and used as an entrance to this room were blocked off with a barrier.
Hopefully more than a barrier to taking photographs through the opening between the doors has taken place. Indeed a casual glance into the former first class main lounge, renamed the Queen Salon in Long Beach, leads me to believe that the forward bays in this once elegant room are again being used as chair storage space.
Extraordinary Storage Requirements
The use of the former main lounge and the former first class smoking room as multiple purpose catering/banqueting "ballrooms" in Long Beach ever since the conversion of the ship created extra table and chair storage requirements that didn't exist on the ship while at sea. Moreover this use has created a need for kitchens and pantry space that also did not exist on Promenade Deck since the dinning rooms for all three class were originally housed on C Deck - renamed R Deck after World War 2. How might some of these extraordinary table and stack chair storage and pantry needs be met in the context of the historic ship without causing further damage to Promenade Deck?
Shifting stack chair storage back into the forward bays of the former main lounge and the hallway and elegant staircase up to the Verandah Grill behind the former first class smoking room is not a satisfactory solution. Even assuming the current use of the former lounges on Promenade Deck as multipurpose banqueting/meeting "ballrooms" a better and far less damaging solution for stack chair and banqueting tables is available.
A Far Less Damaging Solution
During the period in the late 1980's when Wrather Port Properties was run by Disney stack chairs and collapsible banqueting tables were stored in the decked over second funnel hatch, a former mechanical area adjacent to the Queens Salon. This large room created during the conversion has no architectural points of interest and was an excellent and undamaging solution to the storage problem.
Unfortunately today this room serves as a shop housing the Scottish Heritage Center. The lessee of this shop has a favored position amongst the merchants on the ship due to being a co-founder of the Scottish Festival. Yet this shop might easily be relocated to the first funnel hatch. The video arcade located there today might be better placed off the ship in the building on the wharf near ticketing.
In addition there is a fairly large original storage space behind the fireplace in the former main lounge that is apparently rarely used because of the step up at the entrance. Perhaps the ship's engineering department might make it more accessible. These simple changes could allow for a reintegration of the two forward segments of the former Long Gallery and opening up of the hallway and staircase to the Verandah Grill. In the longer term these changes can be important steps toward recovering the sweeping grandeur of Promenade Deck much as designed and initially built as I and others have envisioned both for historic preservation purposes and for fun and profit.
In 1903 Frank A. and Carrie J. Davis purchased the house at 475 E. Town Street and around 1914-1915 extensively remodeled it. They stuccoed over the brick and installed new dormers. They purchased limestone stone work from a castle in Scotland, had it disassembled, shipped and then reassembled on the front of the house giving their home a chateauesque appearance.
The carving in the woodwork in the front upstairs morning room is amongst the best in the house.
The Master Bedroom
The paneling of another of the upstairs bedrooms (see below) is based on that of late 18th century France.
The bathroom off of the master suite created by Mr. Sloter circa 1998 from the dressing room.
The original second floor bathroom.
Turning this house into a comfortable home while fully respecting both the interior and exterior architecture will be a challenge that is right up Cathy and Jeff's alley. But they did it earlier with their house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cathy even got it listed on the National Register before she was finished with it. So I'm sure that they can do it again in Columbus, Ohio. And in the ten year interim she has used the opportunity of furnishing their home in Sacramento, California to build up a fine collection of antique furnishings that should be very useful at 475 East Town Street.