Clark Gable an Oklahoma Tale

Clark Gable was born today in 1901 he was known as the “King of Hollywood.” He was in many movies from 1924 to 1960 and best known for the film Gone with the Wind. So what does Clark Gable have to do with Oklahoma? Well he wasn’t born here but he did spend a few years here working different jobs here in Oklahoma. When his father moved to Oklahoma in the early 20’s from Ohio to work in the oil business.

From what i could find it looks like they lived near Tulsa at first and then made their way up to Barnsdall, Pershing, and Pawhuska. There is a story of him making a quick stint as an accountant and attendant of The Curtis Brown Co. Haberdashery before being fired for his horrible math skills. I could not find where this building was but there was an ad in the Tulsa World on 7 April 1920 for the Curtis Brown Co. that sold mens clothing which would be spot on. Look at the price of the shirts in the ad? 18.50!? That must have been a great shirt to pay that much in 1920!

Ad from the Tulsa World April 7, 1920

The house that he lived in, in Barnsdall is still there on 5th and West Walnut. What I can’t believe is that this is just a regular house that someone rents or owns. I wonder if they even know if Clark Gable lived there?

Picture via Abandoned Oklahoma

He made it all over the state it seems trying to find his way as a young man. Below is a story told in the Daily Oklahoman about a story Clark Gable told about his time in Oklahoma, it is pretty interesting.

Clark Gable had at least one “run in” with the “law.” Many long years later he described the violence as follows: “Me and some fellows were in a Pawhuska hotel room, one night, sittin’ around drinkin’. One of the guys was a graduate of Georgetown.

A hell of a nice guy, but he was kinda tight and makin’ noise.

“A couple of laws came in. Those laws are really tough in Oklahoma.

This Georgetown fellow didn’t want to go with them, so one of the cops whipped out a six-gun and slapped him across the face with it. So we all piled in. I let one of those babies have it with a chair. But they cleaned us out, and we had to repair to a speakeasy to nurse our wounds. As they say in the better moving pictures, “Those guys are rally tough.”

Clark’s father was more pleased than displeased by this unruly behavior. He felt that “the boy” was at last proving himself “a man among men.” Too, he never tired of boasting as much.

But he did not so easily express himself the day Clark mysteriously disappeared.

Gable was, at that moment, fleeing the Osage on a wailing freight.

He and fellow “toolie” Nick Dougherty were journeying south with the hopes of finding a better life.

That dream turned to a nightmare shortly after they climbed from the boxcar grime amid Oklahoma City’s M-K&T yards. They easily found lodging on West Reno, then an avenue of ill fame, a home for the homeless. But then they, while dwelling among derelicts in a flophouse there, were robbed of their carefully saved funds.

For several moments they were completely without hope. Then Clark remembered his father. Would he?

Once again that senior bailed his junior from disaster. The former grudgingly wired more funds to the latter.

With those “Nick and Gabe” took in the sights of the town. They gloried in the bright lights of West Grand Avenue-now Sheridan-where movie cowboy Tom Mix once worked as a bartender-where movie monster Lon Chaney once served as a stage hand. They thrilled to the latest show at the newly completed Criterion Theater on West Main-where Clark Gable movies later premiered locally.

He had lost his job during his absence. So he was compelled to accept an even more miserable one “cleaning stills” in a Barnsdall refinery.

“A terrific heat is created inside those stills,” he later recalled. “there is a certain amount of deposit, like asphalt, which settles in the bottom of ’em. You have to go in there and take that out. They let the oiler cool for 12 hours. You can stay in there about two minutes. In two minutes, if you don’t come out, they go in there and drag you out.

“We cleaned out storage tanks, too. You go in with a pick and shovel and they tie a rope around you. One man goes in at a time. I don’t know how they work it now, but then we’d work until we’d feel faint. It wasn’t very long before you got hysterical. I’ve seen lots of ’em in there a little hysterical. They’d start to laugh. Then they’d haul ’em out.”

Clark’s rough and ready father laughed off all such complaints. He felt that those who drew wages should expect such ordeals.

Clark never-the-less knew that successful actors ate far better than oil field laborers. He further realized that a Kansas City stock company needed performers at that moment. So he suddenly announced his intention of moving north.

“Show off,” the senior raged. “That’s what you wanna do! Show off on stage.”

“Yes,” Clark angrily admitted while clinching his fists. “And I intend to do just that.”

They, according to eye-witness accounts which still today circulate through the Osage, became embroiled in a battle that made most later movie brawls seem tame. They, according to certain elderly Oklahomans who were on the scene at the time, fought a fight to the finish.

At the finish Clark Gable, the man who had entered the Osage as a puny youth, was still on his feet. And the father lay with blood dripping from his face.

This may or may not be true. Neither of the antagonists later admitted as much. But each agreed that they did not speak for many years thereafter.

Too, Clark left his father there in the Osage. But his luck did not change in Kansas City. The stock company filled all roles before he reached there. So he was forced to serve the troupe as “handy man.”

He later hoboed his his way through the Oregon lumber camps and into the Hollywood movie studios. There he played many of the roles he had lived in Oklahoma. And every reader knows the result.

He became one of the greatest box office attractions of all time and the star of one of the most profitable movies ever made. He won an Academy Award for his performance in “It Happened One Night” and reigned as king of the leading men after his appearance in “Gone With The Wind.”

Few Oklahomans realized that the Clark Gable who so vividly appeared on screen was the “good ol’ Gabe” who once toiled in the Osage oil fields.

Even Nick Dougherty failed to recognize his best friend of the old days until 1932. Then he saw Gable in the role of a Salvation Army officer. And he instantly knew this could only be …

“Gabe” he enthusiastically cried. “That’s gotta be Gabe.”

That very evening, he, according to an account that appeared in the October 17th, 1932, Blackwell Morning Tribune, wired congratulations to the ex-tool dresser and received prompt reply and this autograph on an immense portrait of the star “Nick This is not the oil business, but will do until something better comes along Gabe”

Very cool story about his friendship and life here in Oklahoma. I really had no idea that such a big star did a lot of growing up here in Oklahoma. In fact Barnsdall is a place that I drive through frequently during the summer months on the way to the lake. Next time I will have to stop and check it out.



Twitter: @OkieHistoryPics




Feature image via IMDB


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