Remembering the Hiawatha Bar

Prior to construction of the Rapids Mall in the mid 1970s the downtown of Wisconsin Rapids extended several blocks west on Grand Avenue all the way to the tracks of the Milwaukee Railroad and beyond.  Several blocks of buildings and their businesses were demolished in the mid 1970s to make way for this redevelopment project.   One of the buildings and businesses affected was the Hiawatha Bar.  Named for the famous train that made a stop on its route to and from Chicago to the Twin Cities at the station across the street from it,  the Hiawatha Bar was located 671 W. Grand Avenue or on the corner of West Grand Avenue and 7th Avenue South in a building that was built in 1909.

A notable feature in this bar according to David Kauffman writing in the Daily Tribune on June 8, 1974 was the 45-foot-long bar that was auctioned by the Redevelopment Authority prior to the demolition of the building.

"The quarter-sawed oak and curly birch bar with mahogany top" as the auction catalog said was built at the old G.J. Kaudy Manufacturing Co. in a factory where the Preway, Inc complex and the Green Bay & Western Railway Depot were later located.  It was bought by Jack Barrett for $400.  According to Kauffman "it took eight men to lift one end of the main section.  The structure had to be dismantled.  Ropes and hoists held up the long mirror, and finally the crew got it aboard a 24-foot truck."  It was destined for a home in Texas.  

The long bar was located along the west wall of the facility.  Tables and chairs and a pinball machine filled the space along the opposite wall.

At some point after these photos were taken in the early 1950s a large mural of the Hiawatha Train moving through the countryside was painted on this wall. It was destroyed along with the building in the 1970s and I was unable to locate a photograph of it.  But it was probably based on an advertising image or postcard of the train.   Here is a similar image although set further in the West.

Open at 8:00 a.m. Monday thru Saturday and at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday the bar was especially busy on New Years Eve.  Here are some photos of the owner, bar tenders and patrons taken on a busy New Years Eve in the early 1950s.

Leo Kleppin, co-owner, 1946-1966.  The other co-owner was Van Kubisiak.

Frank Cwiklo, bartending to assist his brother-in-law.

One notable surprise customer in 1960s was the late Jacqueline Kennedy.  Mrs. Kennedy was in town campaigning for her husband prior to the 1960 presidential primary election.  She made a stop at the bar alone and requested and was served an orange soda by my Uncle Leo Kleppin. The story was related to me by his son and my cousin, Jim Kleppin. Here is a photo of her taken in Wisconsin at another location while campaigning for her husband in 1960.

Last Call
In 1974 the City of Wisconsin Rapids decided to rebuild the western edge of downtown for the proposed indoor shopping mall.   The city hall building and the businesses and buildings on both sides of West Grand Avenue from 4th Avenue down to the railoroad tracks were targeted for demolition.  In addition to the proposed shopping mall an expressway that skirted it and the traditional downtown was also envisioned.  The impact on the vitality of the historic city center was not a major consideration.

The owners bowed to what seemed inevitable and progress.  However, the many regulars of the Hiawatha Bar and their friends and family gathered for one last call.  Here are some photographs of that 1974 final event.

All photos were provided by James Kleppin, the son of Leo Kleppin, an owner of the Hiawatha Bar.  Jim also provided the author with insight into the operation and the patrons of the bar.

About the author

Bill Cwiklo was born in Wisconsin Rapids and educated at Assumption High School, Georgetown University, undergraduate in international affairs, the University of Dijon, France and at American University, where he earned a master in public administration.  Mr. Cwiklo was a principal consultant for an international corporations in the area of complex litigation and information management systems.
Between 1993 and 1995 he also served as historian and curator for the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, a position that gave him an opportunity to assess first hand the current day operations of the ship. Mr. Cwiklo was a member of the board and of the executive committee of the Historical Society of Long Beach and of the Long Beach Heritage Coalition.
Now retired in Wisconsin Rapids, he edits a Facebook page related to the Queen Mary with over 10,500 followers and writes on other topics of interest to him.

The Conway House

- Draft -

Dennis D. Conway, (1868 - 1926),  built a Queen Anne Style mansion on the corner of 3rd Street South and Witter Street in Wisconsin Rapids around 1900.  

Circa 1905

The home first appears in the 1905 Sanborn Map of 3rd Street South.

Conway was a prominent attorney in Wisconsin Rapids and served in the State Assembly as a Democrat in 1912-1913.  He lived there with his wife and their five children.  (She pre-decesed him in 1917 and he remarried in 1920.)  Mr. Conway died of heart related problems in Rochester, Minnesota in 1926. (See: Presumeably his widow lived there after his death.  After her passing it was apparently divided into three or four apartments that were rented out.

In 1962 it was sold by the Conway family to a Milwaukkee developer and was demolished.

The Conway House as it was being demolished in 1962. (Photo courtesy of the South Wood County Historical Museum.)

What sits on the site today

The Conway Apartments was built on the site in 1964 and contains 28 rental units considered luxury apartments.  It sits along the length of the lot on Witter Street and uses 521 - 2nd Street South as its mailing address.

Similar Houses Elsewhere

The house appears to have been very similar to one designed by George F. Barber whose catalog of home designs was popular throughout the United States in the early 20th century.  Similar examples, including one on the National Register can be found in Americus, Georgia according to Brian Brown.  (Photographs and text by Brian Brown in Vanishing South Georgia.)

Queen Anne House, 1899, Americus, Georgia

This is likely a design of the preeminent Victorian architect, George F. Barber.

Americus Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Carrell-Harman House, 1896, Unadilla, Georgia.


"Architect Chris DiMattei notes that this home was the design of one of the most prominent architects of Victorian America, George F. Barber. It’s an example of Design #1 from Barber’s Cottage Souvenir pattern book."   Brian Brown.

And a very similar model built in Neilsville, Wisconsin.

What the interior may have looked like

A current real estate listing for  similar house perhaps provides us with an idea of what the interior once looked like..


A thank you to the staff of the South Wood County Historical Museum for their interest and support in researching the history of the Conway House, especially:

Lori Brost, the Administrator of the South Wood County Historical Museum for her image searching and retrieval of background information and Dave Engle, historian past president of the South Wood County Historical Museum for finding the 1962 photo of the Conway House being destroyed.

The Rogers House - Searching for the missing mansion on Third Street South in Wisconsin Rapids

Third Street South in Wisconsin Rapids is the location of a string of mansions that once were the homes of the leading citizens of this city.  Perhaps the most noteworthy is the former Witter House that now serves as the headquarters of the South Wood County Historical Museum.

The former Witter House on the right adjoining the former Lawrence E. Nash House on the left circa 1912.

The South Wood County Historical Museum at 540 Third Street South was the former Witter House and also was used as the T.B. Scott Library.  

Missing from the mix today is one of the showpieces of the street and the city, the Rogers House. Located at 570 Third Street South, some may remember it as the American Legion Clubhouse which it served as between 1949 and 1964. It was in this form that I encountered it as a child in the  late 1950s.  My parents rented it twice, in 1958 and 1959, to serve as the site of the wedding receptions for my two older sisters.

Driving by the location today we see the Imperial House Apartments. This building was built in 1965 on the site of the destroyed mansion.

The Imperial House Apartments

This complex, while functional, is very different from the mansion that once stood on the site.  It raises the questions:

o  Who built the original house and when did they build it?

o  What role did they play in the city?

o  What did it look like?

o  Who was its architect?

o  How was it arranged internally?

o  Who owned it besides the original builders?

o  When and why was it destroyed?

Finding the answers to these and other question has proven to be a tantalizing quest.

To begin with the location number of the Third Street address changed three times in the twentieth century.  (In 1918 it was 981, in 1929 it was 940 and since 1962 it has been 570.)   Thus searching for legal documents such as deeds in the courthouse requires knowkledge of the specific time period involved.

Compounding the problem online searches of the name of the city has also changed three times as well. (Grand Rapids, for the east side and Centralia for the west side to 1900, both as Grand Rapids from 1900 to 1920, and finally both as Wisconsin Rapids from 1920 to the present.)

Never-the-less the location itself is still recognizable on street maps.  The Sanborn maps of the street developed for insurance purposes and roughly outlining the homes for fire access provide a clue to ownership by year.

The Sanborn Map of 1919 shows the outline of the house as built.

Who built the house and when was it built?

The Sanborn maps indicates that R.M. Rogers was the owner of the property in 1919.  (The outline of the house provided coincides with my memory of the house that I encountered in the late 1950's.)

The house was built in 1915 according to an article in the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune. (An earlier frame house may have stood on the property but was sold to Riverview Hospital where it was moved to provide housing for nursing staff.)

Checking the records in the County Courthouse Office of Registraion and Deeds I found that R. Rogers and his wife Millie purchased adjacent Lots 11, 12 on Third Street and Lot 17 adjoining at the bottom of the hill on First Street on July 2, 1914 for $9,500.00  from Rachel Gardiner, widow  and the estate of her late huband.  The significant price indicates to me that there was a home on the property which was probably the frame house moved and sold by the Rogers to Riverview Hospital.

Riverview Hospital circa 1922.  The white frame house on the left of the red brick hospital was purchased from R. M. Rogers and moved to the
Riverview location to provide housing for the nursing staff. Taylor Photo Collection McMillan Library.


Further searching shows that R. M. Rogers stood for Roye Mortimer Rogers.  Rogers was born in Adrian, Michigan, on July 16, 1871, (or 1870 according to Find a Grave Memorial),  and came to Wisconsin Rapids in the fall of 1914 to become associated with E.W. Ellis, of 1250 Third Street South, serving as secretary treasurer and then president of the Stange Ellis Lumber Company before it closed in 1924.  His wife, Millie Stange Rogers, born in 1882,  was a sister of Mrs. E.W. Ellis.

The Rogers were married in 1907 and adopted two boys, brothers aged 3 and 5 years old, from the Sparta Orphanage in 1918.   The oldest was Robert M. Rogers (1913-1993) and the younger one was John S. "Jack" Rogers (1915-1936).


Photo of Robert "Bob" Rogers from the Lincoln High School yearbook of 1931.

Photo of Jack Rogers pending.

What role did the Rogers play in the city?

Associated with the lumber industry, the Rogers were leading citizens and were extremely well off. They ultimately owned a home in Beverly Hills, California and maintained a residence in New York City at the same time that had their main home in Wisconsin Rapids.  Mr. Rogers previously owned a lumber company in Michigan and his wife was the daughter of August H. Stange, the founder of Stange Lumber Company in Merrill, Wisconsin that employeed over 1,000 people.  His brother-in-law was president of the Stange Ellis Lumber Company in Wisconsin Rapids. Stange Lumber moved operations to La Grande Oregon in the mid 1920's when the lumber supply in Wisconsin became depleted.  It is now part of Boise Cascade.

The Rogers entertained regularly in their home.  Society columns in the local newspaper indicated that they also traveled extensively in the United States, Europe and throughout the world.  They spent winters in Beverly Hills, Cal.  Mrs. Rogers served as president of the Tuesday Club in Rapids. They were members of the Episcopal Church, St. John the Evangelist to which they donated one of the stained glass windows .  Mr. Rogers bred dogs that were in competition.  He also was a founder and early president of the corporation that founded the airport in Wisconsin Rapoids known as Alexander Field.

Both of their sons graduated from Lincoln High School. The younger of the two, Jack, a Lincoln High School tennis champion, was tragically killed in an auto accident in Plover, Wisconsin when he was twenty years old and about to enter his second year at Marquette University in pre-medicine.   He is buried in Wisconsin Rapids' Forest Hill Cemetary.

(Photo from Find a Grave Memorial John Stange Rogers.)

Birth: 1915
Death: 1936 (aged 20–21)
Burial: Forest Hill Cemetery, Wisconsin Rapids, Wood County, Wisconsin, USA
Plot: Block 139
Memorial #: 106084324
Created by: Jonelle (46903714)
Added: 2 Mar 2013
Citation: Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 26 August 2018), memorial page for John Stange Rogers (1915–1936), Find A Grave Memorial no. 106084324, citing Forest Hill Cemetery, Wisconsin Rapids, Wood County, Wisconsin, USA ; Maintained by Jonelle (contributor 46903714) .

The Rogers owned the house until 1944, however they moved permanently to Beverly Hills, California in mid-1941.  Mr. Rogers died in 1949. Mrs. Rogers died in 1961.  Both are buried near the Wee Kirk of the Heather in Forest Lawn Cemetary, located in Glendale, California.

A photo of the widowed Mrs. Rogers taken at the opening of the LaGrande Country Club in Oregan, October, 1949.  Millie, Mrs. Rogers is on the right.


What did the house look like?

Photo by Daily Tribune staff photographer, 1949.
(Better image pending.)

This Daily Tribune photo from 1949 is the first semi-clear image that I've been able to locate of the Rogers House. The architecture reflects the period in which it was built which was in 1915.  Neither a colonial nor a Federal revival, it incorporates elements of the arts and crafts style with those of the Prairie School of architecture made popular in the mid-west by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Its hipped roof and overhanging eaves, symmetrical window arragement and wide horizontal terrace in front are indications of Prairie School of architecture. The base and the first floor were brick and second floor and raised attic appear to be shingled.   Properly set on its lot, it was an imposing home without being pretentious.

Who was the architect?

The architect is yet to be determined.  However, the style of the house, Paririe School with arts and craft details leads me to believe that Geoge W. Maher may have been the architect who designed or inspired the design of the Rogers House.  Maher worked on the design of several houses in Wausau in the period when the Rogers House was built.  And the families were in the lumber business and were probably people with whom the Rogers were acquainted.

Attached is an article on the history of this prominent mid-western architect.

How was it arranged internally?

The Rogers House was designed both as a family home and for large scale entertaining.   The following are layouts are my memory of what I first encountered there in 1958 at age eleven.  The room designations reference their original uses.  I recall the details as it was the most impressive house that I'd ever seen up to that point.  And the layout still serves as a standard by which I judge other large homes that I have visited since then.

The first floor contained a vestibule with entry to the basement and its large scale socializing area on the right.  This was followed by a formal foyer with a grand, possibly split staircase to the left and to the right of the entrance.  (The foyer and the staircase were wood paneled in quarter-sawn oak as I recall.)

To the left was a library/music room with grasscloth wall covering and wood moldings as trim. To the right was what had been the spacious living room.  It was abutted by a large sun room on the end.  I recall that the walls of the sun room were painted with Chinese paintings and the rattan furniture, that I took to be original to the house, had an oriental motif.

Forward of the foyer was  what had been a formal dining room, also panelled in oak. (On touring the house before renting it the custodian told my mother that while in use as a residence the dining room had tapestries on the walls and contained an abundance of fine silver.)  And just beyond the dining room was a  smaller eating area that probably served as a breakfast room or family dining room.  A fountain lined one of the side walls of this room.

                                                                                        (As recalled by the author.)

As the American Legion Clubhouse between 1949 and 1964,  the second floor housed the ladies room and lounge.  All of  the other former bedrooms served the American Legion as offices and were kept locked except during business hours and were off limits to a very curious eleven year old.

Second floor layout pending.

The basement contained a large entertainment area featuring a bar and large socialiizing and dance foor.  Men's rooms were on the left in former servants quarters.  The upper left area was a utility area that I did not explore in 1958.

(As recalled by the author.)

Who owned the house?

1915-1944 Roye M. Rogers

A feature during the residence of the Rogers was a pipe organ in the music room installed by the Hook and Hastlings Co, of Boston when the house was built in 1915. It was moved by the Rogers to their home in Beverly Hills, Cal. when they left Wisconsin in 1941.  (Gerald Meyer, The Daily Tribune, November 27, 1992.)   Also moved to California along with many furnishngs were two antique ceramic lions that framed the entrance terrace to the house.

1944-1949 Otto A. Backus

Dr. Otto A.Backus bought the Rogers House in 1944 and sold it to the American Legion in 1949.  Dr. Backus and family lived there for five years.  He practiced medicine in the tri-city area for close to 30 years.  On retirement in the 1960s, Dr. Backus, his wife Ruth, and their family moved to Arizona.

1949-1964 - American Legion Post # 9.

The American Legion Post 9 opened their clubhouse just before Christmas in 1949.  It was both the headquarters for their social events and housed offices for  their activites including auxillary activities and Drum and Bugle Corp.  In addition they rented out the facility for weddings and even held boxing matchs possibly in the downstair bar or in the large garage.

These photos taken during rental use for weddings in the 1950s provide tantilizing glimpses of the house.

A closer look at the horizontal terrace in front of the house.

Photo of the front of the Rogers House as the American Legion Clubhouse.
Wedding party of Carol Cwiklo Torresani, June 7, 1958.
 (Photo courtesy of Sarah Rossman.)

Note the stained glass window on the left.


Photo taken June 7, 1958 of the Wozniak family at the wedding of my sister Carol Cwiklo Torresanii on the left.  Stella Wozniak Cwiklo is third from the right.
(Photo courtesy of Sarah Rossman.)

Photo of Carol Cwiklo Torresani and Jack Torresani taken June 7, 1958 in the former living room of the Rogers House.
(Photo courtesy of Sarah Rossman.)

The photo inside the former Rogers House Dining Room.   Note the beautiful quarter sawn oak paneling.

Taken in October 1959,.
The photo commemorates the 25th wedding anniversary of Frank and Stella Cwiklo.

When and why was it destroyed?

By the beginning of 1965 the house was 50 years old and deferred maintenance issues and their associated costs were accumulating. Moreover the period of growth that the post saw after World War 2 was waning.

On May 25, 1965 the Haagerstom-Rude Post # 9 of the American Legion sold the house and property to Bockl Development Corporation of Mlwaukee for $31,700.  The president of the post was Earl Appel and  the secretary was Mary Cottrill.

 in July of 1965, little more than a month later, Jerome H. Berman, president of Bockl Development Corporation used the poperty as collateral for a $160,000 loan.  (Bockl again used it as collateral in 1971 for another $198,000 loan.)

Immediately thereafter the Rogers House and garage were demolished to make way for the apartment building that bears the name The Imperial House Apartments.

Sadly, because neiher the seller nor the purchaser had any particular sentimental attachment to the house nor appreciation for its cultural value, neither photographic records nor architectural drawings were kept to document the building that they destroyed.

References and aknowledgements

Lori Brost, administrator, South Wood County Historical Museum.   Ms. Brost assisted me with significant online searches and wonderful encouragement.

Dave Engel, historian and past president, South Wood County Historical Museum.  Mr. Engel served as a sounding board and advisor in my research.

Andy Barnett, director, McMillan Public Library.  Mr. Barnett graciously provided his assistance with access to the Sanborn maps online and to the Taylor Collection of photos and historical notes.

Sarah Rossman provided the clear copies of family photos from her parent's wedding album taken in the Rogers House when it functioned as the American Legion Clubhouse.

Catherine Geppert identified George Maher as the probable architect.  Cathy worked as a docent at the Marathon County Historic Museum, a George Maher designed home, during the summers of her years as a college student at Lawrence University.  George Maher the the subject of her thesis.  Cathy is the eldest daughter of the late Jack and Carol Torresani.

475 EAST TOWN STREET - TWO YEARS LATER - by Cathryn Geppert


It’s hard to believe that we will have lived on 475 E. Town Street for close to two years. The past twenty four months have been filled with learning the bones and the personality of the house as well as exploring the history of its past 120 years and its residents. But most of all it has been filled with the challenge of turning an empty period house into a warm, inviting home for my understanding husband and my two college-aged children.  

Margaret Geppert, our teenage daughter along with our black labrador, Shadow, enjoying the snow at 475 East Town Street.  This is California born Shadow's first experience with snow!  He has made the adjustment to living in a historic home the most easily of all of us.  And he gave left a two acre lot in California to do it.  Way to go Shadow!

The house started out as a home for Simon and Clara Burgunder, built in 1895 in tandem with the neighboring twin house, on what was once a single lot.  But apparently the Burgunders had to sell the house in 1903 when their  business ran into difficulties. In spite of that difficult beginning for most of its 120 year history the house has had only three principal residents.

Frank Davis and family, 1903 -1937.

The most interesting time period of the house to me is when Frank Davis owned the house.  Born in Upstate New York to a father who was trained seaman, Mr. Davis was lawyer by training. (University of Michigan, class or 1881.)  Davis was also an investor and businessman.  His office was in the Wyandotte Building which is within walking distance of the home.  (Note: The Wyandotte building was designed by David Burham of Chicago.) Mr. Davis next door neighbor, in the “twin house”, was Harry Daugherty, also an attorney, who in fact became the United States Attorney General under the Harding Administration -- during the Teapot Dome Scandal.  

Frank and his wife Carrie Davis lived in 475 with their small daughter Ruth, who sadly died at age 7 in 1910.  Carrie also passed away unexpectedly after appendicitis surgery in 1914 at the age of 45.

Shortly thereafter Frank Davis married a woman named Margaret. They spent the early part of their marriage traveling through Europe with an eye for purchasing pieces to remodel their home which was initially considered just a locally constructed “modest” Victorian home, the twin of its next door neighbor.

Many local historian and architects now describe the house they left us as “opulent”.  The remodeled house exhibits world-class craftsmanship, something Mr. And Mrs. Davis would have wanted to display if they moved in the circles of J.P. Morgan and Maria Longworth Nicholas.  

Frank and Margaret Davis certainly turned their home into a showpiece. While it not known who was the architect or the builders/contractors were for their major remodeling done from 1914 to 1919, Mr. Davis was working for J.P. Morgan of New York. At the same time Mr. Morgan was building his own home in New York and it designed by McKim, Mead and White.

Side by Side
475 EastTown Street and it neighboring "twin".  Both houses were built at the same time on what was once one lot.

One of the features that Frank and Margaret added that is spectacular is what is known as the Rookwood Room.

A note on Rookwood Pottery: The Rook wood Pottery Company was founded in 1880 by Maria Longworth Nicholas. She was the first women in the United States to own and run a manufacturing company. Setting the standards for excellence. Maria was instrumental in recruiting artist, chemist and ceramic specialist from all over the globe. In addition and  along with the others on the Board of Directors she stressed the importance of “competing “ or learning from the best. the world class event Paris Grand Prix of 1890. Rookwood took first place. Maria Longworth Nicholas , converted to Catholicism in early 1900’s.  She was the god Mother to Kermit Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s youngest  son, and she called the Ritz Hotel of Paris her home during the last decade of her life.

Both Davis’ wives were active in the Symphony and Margaret started the first used clothing store at Grant Hospital for both patients and staff donated by affluent women of Columbus. They were members of the First Presbyterian Church on Broad when Tiffany and Company was commissioned to create the stained glass windows in 1920's.

What was Davis’ intent in the remodel of the house? Was it to demonstrate his standard of the quality of living and to inspire the citizens of Columbus?  Or was it simply to be a tangible reflection of his life.  Frank Davis is buried next to his first wife and daughter with a large yet simple marker that reads:

Thy will de done

Dr. George Herr and family, 1937-1988.

After Frank Davis’ death in 1937, his widow, Margaret, sold the house.  Ultimately Dr. George Heer bought it and he and his second wife, Virginia, (19__ to 199__?)  lived there with their two children, Christine and George Jr.. 

The Heers experienced a little less of the opulence of the house as the first floor served as Dr. Herr’s medical offices. The hallway that still separates the library/living room from the dining room on the first floor dates from the Heer residency.  It was built to provide access to patient examination rooms built in the original kitchen at the back of the house, while allowing most of the library/living room to serve as Dr. Heer’s private office.

The second floor served as the main living area for the family.  The front sitting room, sometimes referred to as the “captain’s room”, (for Frank Davis’ father that had lived at 475 with his son), and other times as the “Columbus room”, served as their living room.  The Rookwood room was used as their dining room.

Heers circa 1956
The Heer family assisting Christine seen here celebrating what appears to be her fourth birthday in their dining room in the Rookwood Room in the late 1950's.

Mrs. Herr remodeled one of the second floor bedrooms to serve as a state of the art kitchen in the late 1940’s walling in a fireplace in the process. Cabinets and stainless steel sinks were order from the same vendors who supplied the Mayo Clinic.

Their children, Christine and George, lived on the third floor, an area that is simple in design. The Heers’ added a third story back porch with great views of the city and which, I am told by Christine Heer, was a great place for teenage parties.

Ronald Sloter,  1997-2007.

Ronald Slotter, a cement manufacturer, deserves great credit for the restoration efforts he made when he bought the house in 1997.  They including updating the infrastructure of the building, HVAC, strengthening the foundation and restoring much of the woodwork seen though out the first two floors.  

Mr. Sloter removed the medical examining rooms left from the Dr. Herr period and installed an up-to-date professional kitchen where the original one had once been.  Unfortunately, he left the hallway that the Heers added that separates the library/living room from the dining room.  It remains in place …. for now.

It was Mr. Sloter’s dream to have the house serve as inspiration to students and faculty at the Columbus School of Design. He was planning on having visiting scholars housed at the home and classes conducted onsite.  So Mr. Sloter donated the house and his art collection to the Columbus School of Design.

A determined lawsuit by his sibling and the recession of 2008 significantly diminished the value of the endowment he left to support the project. The Columbus School of Design felt that without a large endowment they could not maintain and use the house and property as Mr. Sloter had wished.  So in 2008 they put the house up for sale.  It sat empty from 2007 until 2012.

Jeffrey and Cathryn Geppert and family, 2012 -

We bought 475 East Town Street in February of 2012 and moved into in mid-year.  We found this marvelous townhouse with world-class world paneling, eight fireplaces, (two on the second floor are walled in), and a grand staircase reminiscent of one that had existed on the Titanic. 

get-attachment (1)bbbbcollar
Ready to head out to a benefit with my understanding husband.

While Mr. Sloter made significant efforts to stabilize the house and its elegant paneling and floors, being a bachelor, he was less concerned about the plumbing.  None of the showers were in working order when we moved in.  The heating system we inherited is distributed through five furnace rooms.  And while there is some built in furniture, we had essentially a large empty house. Fortunately the furniture I've been carefully collecting for the past 25 years fit the house very nicely.  It was almost as if it were meant to be in 475 East Town Street.  It certainly does not look pristine like I bought it all at one time through some decorator.  I hadn't.

Library:Living Room

Library:Living Room 2

Library:Living Room3

Much of it has survived two rambunctious growing children, and some of it, the family and period pieces, have survived several generations of rambunctious, growing children ....

Photo by John Gilhooley

Gable and Lombard -- How a Legend was Born and is Perpetuated

Howard Strickling, the manager of Publicity for MGM, was called Clark Gable's "fixer" by author E.J. Fleming. He earned that title for his actions on behalf of Gable over the decades.  In 1937 he orchestrated the adoption of Gable's illegitimate daughter, Judy, by Loretta Young to Loretta Young.

Loretta Young and Clark Gable in a still from "Call of the Wild". Young and Gable had a fling during the on location shooting in Bellingham, Washington in early 1935. Young delivered a girl on November 6, 1935.

A devout Catholic, Young refused to abort the child as a chagrined Gable, then married to his second wife Ria, urged her to do. Strickling orchestrated the adoption of Judy to Young not out of kindness, but to insure that Gable's paternity was kept strictly confidential.

Howard Strickling (center) chats with Greer Garson at a Hollywood function in the early 1940's.  A young Frank Sinatra is on the far left in this photo chatting with Mrs. Strickling.

Clark Gable's career was one of Howard Strickling's crowning publicity achievements. Gable started out inauspiciously as a male gigolo who seduced women who were decades older than he was to advance his acting career. And he may have ended his life as an alcoholic, but in-between Clark Gable became the biggest movie star in the world. He was strapping, handsome, charming, ruthlessly ambitious and totally self-absorbed.

Clark Gable as photographed by George Hurrell, circa 1937.

Gable probably had more acting ability then he and many others realized.  He projected a rough masculine bravura and a sense of having fun that world-wide audiences and women in particular found irresistible and that many men envied. In the late 1930's he was the acknowledged box office "king of Hollywood".  He was still a major star at the time of his death in 1960.

Howard Strickling was there for him all along. He was his mentor and his friend. He protected Gable while he was at MGM throughout the 1930's and 1940's, after he left MGM in the early 1950's, all the way to his grave and beyond. They shared a world view that was not uncommon in Hollywood, past or present. For both image was far more important than reality. And for all their personal charm both could be totally cynical and ruthless in how they went about achieving their goals.

Howard Strickling (left) on the job scanning the press while Carole Lombard and Clark Gable chat with Robert Taylor at a public event circa 1940.

Gable's marriage to Carole Lombard in March of 1939 was a godsend for Strickling. She made his life's work a comparative breeze. Glamorous, down-to-earth, funny and publicity savvy, Lombard was one of the highest paid and best liked stars in Hollywood. She was far easier to sell to the public as "Mrs. Clark Gable" than the first two women Gable had married who were almost 20 years older than he was. But they had been useful to Gable in getting where he wanted to be -- at the top of the heap in Hollywood. See: )

Drama coach Josephine Dillon Gable, born in 1884 was wife #1. Josephine paid to fix his teeth and taught him how to act.
Wealthy socialite Maria, (Ria) Langham Gable, also born in 1884, was wife # 2 - seen here (left) with Hedda Hopper circa 1938. (Clark Gable was born in 1901 so he was 17 years younger than both Rhea and Josephine.) Ria taught Gable how to dress and the manners he needed to present himself in polite society. Clark Gable and Ria Gable (right).

Gilbert Roland and Constance Bennett with Ria and Clark Gable celebrating New Years, circa 1935.
Carole Lombard was wife # 3.  Born in October of 1908, Carole was almost a full 25 years younger than both Josephine and Ria.  She fit the bill as the wife of the reigning "king of Hollywood".  Here she is seen wearing the set of diamond and ruby clips that Gable gave her.

Strickling and Lombard got on well. Carole kidded him good-naturedly about his stuttering and cooperated happily in the blitz of photo shoots that were either taken or set up by the MGM publicity department to provide blanket coverage of the Gable and Lombard courtship and married life. They formed the foundation of the legend of Gable and Lombard in the popular imagination then and do so now in cyberspace.

To their fans the relationship of Gable and Lombard was a marriage made in heaven. It combined fun, class and box office power. Although divorced twice and almost eight years older than Lombard, Gable had the carefully cultivated image of being a great catch. Lombard, a fine actress and comedienne, was thirty when they married, she for the second time, he for the third. They soon became America's favorite couple, in part due to their personal charisma but also because of the focussed publicity and the press coverage they received in large part due to the efforts of Howard Strickling. Yet despite their glamour and friendly, down to earth image, Gable carried with him the habits and baggage of his prior life. And Carole had her issues and memories as well.

Gable and Lombard at the Gone With The Wind ball in Atlanta in December, 1939. 

Lombard had to use all of her powers of persuasion to cajole Gable into attending both the premiers of Gone With The Wind in Atlanta and in Los Angeles.  He detested David O. Selznick, its producer. The Gables left the LA premier midway through the screening at Clark's insistence.  They didn't even make an appearance at the after screening party -- creating a serious problem for Carole who had a lucrative multi-picture contract with Selznick International Pictures.

Gable's lifelong habit of casual promiscuity and easy dalliances with his female co-stars did not set well with Carole. She was expected to be loyal to the "king". She expected loyalty, or at least discretion, in return from him. With her medical history of extended periods, Carole learned to tolerate Gable's trysts with hat check girls, script girls and even perhaps rationalized his visits to Hollywood brothels. But sleeping around with leading ladies was another matter. In the close, gossip-ridden world of the film colony, this was humiliating to her.  Lana Turner, who would ultimately marry eight times and have countless affairs, apparently had no such scruples.

On Sunday evening, January 11, 1942, Gable and Lombard had a fierce row over his budding relationship with Lana Turner and his roving eye.  Gable ended it by walking out on her.  This was the night before she left on the ill-fated war bond sales tour.  Nor did he show up at the train station the next morning to see her off when accompanied by her mother and Otto Winkler, one of his MGM publicists, they left by train for the Midwest for a tour that she was undertaking on his behalf.

Howard Strickling put out a press release to cover for him.  It said that Gable was unable to be at the station because he was in Washington, D.C. conferring with the military on how best he could serve his country.  This was a total fabrication and is just one example of the lengths Strickling went to protect Gable's standing with the public.  (Gable did go to Washington to confer with the military on how best he could serve, but this was months later.)

Bessie Peters, Carole's mother and Carole Lombard arrive in Indianapolis on the ill-fated war bond tour, January 15, 1942.

Carole Lombard was a trooper and a patriot to boot so she carried on. Perhaps she hoped her success on the bond tour would impress Gable and make him realize her value to him as his wife and consort. Bill Powell, her first husband told her biographer Larry Swindell, that he wasn't entirely sure she was ever really in love with Clark Gable, but there was no doubt in his mind that she loved being Mrs. Clark Gable.  And she fought off all comers.  She played the role to rave reviews throughout their marriage and particularly well while on the war bond tour.  Her decision to cut the tour short and abruptly fly back to Los Angeles was no doubt tied to her unease at leaving her husband back there alone working closely with Lana Turner.

Carole supported Gable in every way she possibly could after they were married. She paid for their Encino ranch out of her own savings, but signed over joint ownership of it to Gable. She changed her life style dramatically and many of her friends to suit him. She even watched the timing of her family contacts far more closely so as not to annoy Gable. But there was one thing that she would not change. She reserved a special place in her heart for the late Russ Columbo. And it was a place that Gable couldn't touch and he knew it.

Larry Swindell said Gable once asked Lombard in front of their dinner guests which of her lovers was better at it than he was? When she demurred he put the question to her another way, asking her to name her better lovers either by studio or by nationality and included an indirect reference to Columbo as a "dago crooner". Carole replied coolly that if he was bringing the dead into the question then it would be easier to answer -- stopping Gable flat in his tracks.

Clark Gable, for all his manly image and varied sexual experience, was not a great performer in the bedroom. Carole joked about it to diffuse her on-going frustration with the situation. But she could not disguise her disappointment with his less than stellar equipment. She is quoted as saying "If his pee-pee was one inch shorter, they'd be calling him the queen of Hollywood."  (That candid comment is corroborated by Al Jolson's assesment of Gable.  He said, "That Gable ain't so hot. I saw him in the locker room once and, folks, he don't have it.")  But even more, she was frustrated by his quick, self-gratifying love making technique. Carole famously quipped  to her close friends that Gable was "the worst lay in Hollywood". Gable grew to resent her candor as well as her unspoken loyalty to Russ Columbo's memory. Throughout their marriage "America's favorite couple" maintained separate bedrooms.

Creating a legend - a lesson plan on how it is done.
Hollywood has been creating and selling myths to the public for close to a century.  Distorting the truth to accomplish this task is sometimes necessary and is considered fair play -- at least in a movie.    The story of how the practical but frequently testy relationship between Carole Lombard and Clark Gable was spun into the great American love story is a perfect example of how hype has replaced the truth in the minds of a gullible public. Carole's death in an airplane crash while on the war bond sales tour in 1942 presented Howard Strickling with a potential publicity problem. The fact that the Gable marriage wasn't the romantic ideal that the MGM built it into was known in Hollywood and guessed at beyond. Rumors of a possible separation or divorce had been circulating almost from its beginning. Carole's carefully worded request for burial was the first provision in her will. It had the potential to be a serious embarrassment for Clark Gable. The situation called for a master publicist to finesse and Howard Strickling was up to the challenge. His fix was as despicable as it was effective.

Carole Lombard called Russ Columbo "the great love of my life" in an off-the-record comment to Noel Busch during an interview for Life magazine interview in late 1938, almost three years into her relationship with Clark Gable and just a few months before she married Gable. Her comment was shared by her brother Fred with Larry Swindell, her biographer. The depth and seriousness of the relationship has been challenged by Gable fans ever since Carole's death.  But Larry Swindell, Lombard's primary biographer, also verified the depth of the relationship of Lombard and Columbo with Dixie Pantges Carlson, Carole's lifelong friend and with Bill Powell, Carole's first husband. (Carole made similar statements in an interview with Sonia Lee and to her close friends and associates over the years, including to Bing Crosby.)

Carole Lombard specified that after her death she wished to be entombed at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California in a "modestly priced crypt" and "to be dressed in white" for burial. A crypt in Forest Lawn meant entombment in the Great Mausoleum. This is where Russ Columbo was entombed in 1934. But what she could not have guessed was that she would die so soon nor that the man that she loved deeply would be slandered after she was gone and could do nothing about it.
Russ Columbo circa 1934.
A photograph taken of Lombard by Alfred Eisenstaedt during her interview in 1938 for Life Magazine during which she called Russ Columbo the "great love of my life".  Though the comment was "strictly off the record", the editors of Life Magazine used this revealing photo of her taken for that interview as their magazine cover for their October 17, 1938 issue.

Bill Powell, her first husband, told Larry Swindell that he freely recognized that Carole was never in love with him, even when they were married, but he had absolutely no doubt in his mind about Carole's genuine love for Russ Columbo.  Carole loved Russ body and soul. Though Powell and Lombard were divorced in mid-1933, Carole leaned heavily on him for psychological support in dealing with her grief after Russ' death in late 1934. In return she helped nurse Powell back to health when he was diagnosed with colon cancer a few years later.
Carole and Russ in 1934.  Here they look like they are literally inhaling and absorbing one another.
Bill Powell and Carole Lombard circa 1937 on the Lux Radio Show.  Though divorced in 1933 they remained friends and confidents.

Given the troublesome facts leading up to the war bond tour and the outright lèse majesté implied by the terms of Carole's will, trivializing her relationship with Russ Columbo and marginalizing Russ himself was something Strickling viewed as a practical necessity. Ever a ruthless pragmatist, it was a matter of creating a smoke screen and burnishing the image of his star, Clark Gable. This he was determined to do.

The Fix had two phases. The first phase involved managing the story of Carole's death for the clamoring press in the short run. Covering over the tension in the Gable marriage and stopping probing questions was job number one.  And it was fairly easy to do since the publicity entourage that accompanied Gable to Las Vegas served as an "official source" for most of the reporters that converged there as the tragic news unfolded. Strickling's publicists had several key talking points ready:

  • The war bond tour was recast as a single event in Indianapolis alone.  This pre-empted and silenced questions about its abrupt termination. 

  • Clark Gable was said to be unable to accompany his wife on the tour because of his commitment to start shooting a new film and couldn't get permission to be away. This contradicted the MGM press release that stated that Gable was in Washington, D.C. conferring with the military on how he could best serve his country.  But apparently nobody noticed. In any case both stories were outright falsehoods. L.B. Mayer, the head of MGM, offered to delay the start of shooting for "Somewhere I'll Find You" Gable's film co-starring Lana Turner, in order to allow him to lead the war bond sales tour as the chairman of the Hollywood Victory Committee. Gable declined the offer for his own reasons.

  • An apocryphal story about the chance of coin toss was used to explain Carole's decision to fly home. Carole was said to be so anxious to be in the loving arms of her husband Clark Gable. (She was indeed anxious to get back home.)

  • In all the news reports coming out of Las Vegas, Otto Winkler was either described as Carole's publicist or working for her studio, neither of which was true.  Otto Winkler was an MGM publicist who reported to Howard Strickling and was assigned to Clark Gable.  As Carole deduced, his primary role on the tour was to insure that the tour reflected well on Clark Gable as chairman of the Hollywood Victory Committee. nbsp

  • Gable was cast as a total innocent, a widower overwhelmed by his grief at the loss of his young wife but soldiering on bravely.  Undoubtedly he was, but he was also filled with unspoken guilt for his actions that he took to his grave.

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:

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".

Adela Rogers St. Johns

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

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.

The saddest lament of all is what might have been.

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.

Bill Powell in 1971.

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.

Sitting pretty.  Jean Garceau, Gable's secretary, relaxing on the Gable ranch circa 1950.

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.)

Loretta Young and her daughter fathered by Clark Gable, Judy Lewis in the 1940's

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 only knew Clark Gable through his films. "Call of the Wild" and "Gone With the Wind" were two of her favorites.  Enthralled by his megastar image, she blamed her mother for her estrangement from him.  Loretta Young's response was published posthumously in an authorized biography.  She acknowledged Clark Gable was Judy's father but stated that his estrangement from her was beyond her control. Gable simply never showed any interest in Judy. He never contributed a dime to the bank account Young set up for her nor did he accept any of her invitations to events in her life. Young also stated that Judy's memory of a chance meeting with Gable at their Beverly Hills home while a teenager was the product of Judy's wishful imagination.

Judy acknowledged that her vision of her father may not be realistic.  "I've tried to make my peace with the past, and I'm now happy to think of Gable in my own idealised way. I've purposefully made that choice, because I never was given the chance to know him and ask: 'Where were you?'  She is also quoted as saying that as much as she would like to think her father cared about her, it was also possibly true that he "frankly didn't give a damn."  Judy carried the burden of these questions to the end of her life. 


A recent photo of John Clark Gable.

John Clark Gable steadfastly refuses to acknowledge Judy Lewis as his half sister to this day and allegedly threatened the Gable birth site in Ohio with the removal of all objects he loaned them relating to his father for any acknowledgement of Judy as Clark Gable's daughter.

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 the American Film Institute cocktail party aboard the Pacific Princess cruise ship in 1978.

                                                                                                                                                                    (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)


A more recent photo of Judy Lewis.  Judy died in November of 2011 at the age of 76.

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.

Jean Garceau working with Clark Gable circa 1940.

Gable inherited Lombard's papers and diaries that were at the ranch at the time of Lombard's death in 1942. What survives today is what he and Jean Garceau thought was appropriate. They had 18 years, from 1942 to 1960, to consider that question. After Garceau's death in the late 1980's her work perpetuating the myth of the eternal love of Gable and Lombard has been carried on by her chosen keeper of these carefully culled documents.  And so the myth making continues on to this day.



For more on Carole's relationship with Russ Columbo see:

And for more on the Carole's relationship with Clark Gable and her death see:


In memory of Stella D. Cwiklo, née Wozniak, 1914-2001, a stalwart Russ Columbo fan who provided her insights to the author.

The Observation Bar on the Queen Mary - a modest proposal

Recently the prime lessee, Garrison Investments, their operator Evolution Hospitality and their historic consultant, John Thomas, have made an effort to restore more originality to what was once a landmark on the North Atlantic, the observation bar of the once grand ocean liner, the Queen Mary.  The original ceiling light fixtures have been refurbished and re-installed, the service entrance to the bar has been opened with the beer kegs installed there in the Long Beach conversion moved to a side location.  Moreover the room's columns have been repainted a bright Chinese red and much of the wood paneling has been polished, if not not restored.

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We understand that in the near future replicas of the original bar stools removed in the Long Beach conversion will be re-installed and the iconic painting, entitled Jubilee Eve by will be cleaned and restored and the once gold leafed alcove over the painting will be re-gold leafed and once again properly light.  This leaves the floor covering and the furniture of this room open to reconsideration.

On recent visits to the ship I and others have noticed that many pieces of the original observation bar Waring and Gillows furnishings remain scattered throughout the ship.

Late last year I noticed an original table serving as a condiment stand on the enclosed promenade.  (It has since been removed and placed in storage.)


Both original sofas remain on the ship, one is located in the entrance to Sir Winston's bar.


Today Sarah Anderson spotted an original observation bar chair serving as a fixture in the promenade cafe ladies room.

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It occurred to me that there may be enough original observation bar furniture aboard the ship to refurbish the lower portion of this bar.   Not only would more originality be returned to this room, but the seating capacity could actually be increased!

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The original seating scheme called for a table for up to three at each entrance side that are now sitting empty.  Moreover in the central portion of the room were two sofas each seating three individuals plus at least three side chairs around each sofa. I count up to 18 seats where there are now perhaps at most ten tall stools.



So from an originality and seating capacity point of view the original seating scheme is preferable.  And I recall when the sofas were returned to the observation bar in the early 1980's under the Wrather Port Properties first renovation.  They were spacious, comfortable and always the first seats taken.   Perhaps the cleared lower area is now meant to accommodate larger groups of standees but is the Observation Bar a place for mini-raves?  

Furnishing the upper level of the bar and the extension added in Long Beach would require additional furniture.  These might be copies or adaptions of the original designs.  But the first impression as you enter the room is of the lower level.  And this might be refurnished with original pieces.  Attracting a crowd that would appreciate the ambiance and is willing to pay the charges on the new menu is a challenge for the operator.

The challenge of how best to treat  the floors remains to be addressed.  Sadly a portion of in-service linoleum was recently uncovered and unceremoniously destroyed.  The lack of involvement of the Long Beach Cultural Heritage Commission and the anemic interest in the ship by local preservation groups continues to be a sad reflection on the cultural state of our city.


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The finished floor is handsome, but is it sacrificing originality unnecessarily?

Shortly after you enter Long Beach on Second Street in the Naples neighborhood you encounter a sign that is a reminder of one of the city's past public relations campaigns -- perhaps from the 1970's.  It say "Long Beach, international city".   Above the words is a profile view of the RMS Queen Mary and a globe.  Apparently the commitment that was implied by the purchase of this great international icon was lost on its citizens.  It put Long Beach on the world map but those who should be her caretakers simply can't find the time to follow up on what should be their pride and joy.


Promenade Deck Storage Requirements

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.

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        November 18, 2012                                                  May 1936

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. 

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                                                November 23, 2012

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?

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The hall area aft of the former first class Smoking Room taken through the window of the "service entrance" on November 23, 2012.

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. 

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The second funnel hatch now used as shop.  The first funnel hatch, currently a video arcade.

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 No Doubt Evolution Hospitality might create the biggest and the "baddest" video arcade imagingable in this structure.

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.