We know him as the man that didn’t give a damn. And her for her screwball comedies. Theirs was a short lived love but one that changed him until his last breath.
Carole and Clark met in 1932 on the set of A Man of Her Own – Clark aged 31 and Carole a mere 24. There was no personal romantic connection between the pair, while filming and maybe that was for the best, as both were still married, albeit reportedly unhappily so.
It wasn’t until four years later at a major Hollywood shindig, The Mayfair Ball, which Carole had been tapped to oversee because she was known to “throw the best parties”, that sparks flew. Carole had arrived with a date, but that didn’t seem to stop the flirting and a very close dance, followed by a ride home. Clark, aware perhaps of what a catch he was (he was often reported as being self-centered and quite the lothario, even while married to Lombard), invited Carole up to his hotel room, to which she replied, “Who do you think you are, Clark Gable?”
But fate was sealed and shortly there after they became inseparable. Carole was already divorced and Clark was separated, yet they kept their relationship under wraps until 1938 when his marriage was officially over. They eloped while Gable was on a break from filing Gone With the Wind, on March 29, 1939. It’s said that they spent no more than 6 days apart after that night at the ball and since both were avid nature lovers, chose to settle down on a small ranch in Encino, CA.
But it sounds like Clark was Clark and had trouble remembering that marriage included fidelity. Some have suggested that his infidelity was even at the center of Carole’s untimely death. Clark was starring in a movie with 21-year-old Lana Turner and there may have been an affair. Carole, a shrewd business woman, wasn’t about to give up being married to the biggest movie star around (who by all accounts happened to be the love of her life) but they likely had a fight about it the night before she boarded a plane to head home.
Carole had been in Indiana to support the war effort and had taken her mother and Otto Winkler, Clark’s press agent with her. She’d raised $2M in bonds during her week away, something Clark was quite proud of, but was anxious to get home and turned down a slower train ride home, even though a visit to a psychic earlier in the year had warned her against plane travel in 1942, saying, “There is danger in them for you.”
Both her mother, who had been with her at the psychic, and Winkler, had experienced a premonition of a plane crash a few days prior, tried to talk Carole out of the flight, but to no avail, so all three boarded TWA flight 3. After a stop in Las Vegas to refuel, all three lost their lives that day (along with 15 young pilots who had been heading West to serve in the war), when the plane crashed atop Nevada’s Potosi Mountain. Clark flew to Nevada with Winkler’s wife and others determined to visit the crash site himself. Even though he was warned against hiking up the treacherous 7800ft peak, he was unswayed and he and his guides hiked, witnessing pieces of wreckage along the way, until he was stopped by officials, because the bodies of the passengers lay just ahead. “Search and rescue found a hair clip that Gable had given her for Christmas, with a few strands of her blonde hair still attached,” Michelle Morgan, author of Carole Lombard: Twentieth-Century Star, told the Daily Express.
Clark was forever a changed man. He was careless, rode his motorcycles too fast, drank too much, smoked heavily and kept Carole’s room just as it had been when she left for Indianapolis. He sold the beloved ’35 Duesenberg in which he and Carole took that fateful first drive (and many others, including an epic vacation from Encino to Vancouver, British Columbia) because he could no longer bear to look at it and signed up for U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942, telling friends he no longer cared if he lived or died.
He never stopped loving Carole, it seems. Clark died in 1960 at age 59 and was buried beside her at Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, California.