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During World War II, Americans turned to the silver screen for comfort. Audiences flocked in incredible numbers to cinemas, allowing themselves to forget their worries for a couple of hours. In 1936, an astronomical 80 million people per week went to a film in the U.S. Hollywood responded in force with a bevy of cheerful musicals and silly comedies. Many of its own were in the service themselves, including James Stewart, Robert Taylor, and Gene Kelly. So when "The King of Hollywood" was discharged after serving for almost two years (his release papers were signed by General Ronald Reagan), MGM geared up for his celluloid return.
Although MGM pushed hard to get a deferment, Gable went into the Army Air Corps in August of 1942, his chief motivation widely believed to be in honor of Carole Lombard, his wife of only three years, who died in a plane crash in January that year - she was on tour selling war bonds. The Gable that returned had aged from not only the personal tragedy, but also the devastation of war-although he saw very little action firsthand. The property lined up as his comeback vehicle was Adventure, a dramatic romance about a lustful seaman who ultimately finds love and stability with a librarian. It was only fitting that "The King" should have a queen; Greer Garson, at the pinnacle of her career, was cast as the female lead. In 1943, Garson won the Best Actress Oscar® for her role in Mrs. MiniverGone with the Wind (1939). Gable vowed to not act as long as fighting in Europe continued, so production started thirteen days after Victory-in-Europe Day.
The film was based on This Strange Adventure, a novel by Clyde Brion Davis. Although four writers had worked on the screenplay, Fleming was still dissatisfied with the result. He called on oft-collaborator John Lee Mahin to jump in. Mahin did, despite the fact that he was still in the Air Force. He worked in secret and ultimately without a screen credit. Initially, the production was pleasant enough: Greer affectionately nicknamed Fleming "Mr. Vic," and Gable struck up a fast friendship with supporting actress Joan Blondell. Things, however, quickly turned sour; in the biography Clark Gable by Warren G. Harris, MGM publicist Emily Torchia recalls, "Gable and Garson never hit it off. He'd look at her as if she wasn't even there . . . with warm, earthy girls like Jean Harlow and Lana Turner, he was his usual charming self. With others he could be as cold as ice." Blondell was one such earthy girl; prim, British Garson was not. One idiosyncrasy of Garson's infuriated Gable; she insisted upon the placement of screens around the actors during romantic scenes to maintain privacy. She explained in A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson: "Playing a love scene requires a feeling of intimacy between man and woman and intense concentration. I don't like to look over the shoulder of a man and see the long gloomy sound stage behind the camera, cluttered with equipment and pieces of sets from past pictures." Lina Romay, a bit player in the film, sums up Gable's perspective best with her observation that, "They were opposites. She'd insist on velvet slats around them when they acted. . . whereas Gable was a big, open guy who liked to use four-letter words."
Gable also liked to drink; his alcoholism only worsened after Lombard's death and the resulting added weight was becoming a problem on film. He countered it by taking Dexedrine, an appetite suppressant, but the medicine caused excessive perspiration and "the shakes." Fleming, ever patient, called a stop to the action whenever Gable had an episode. Blondell gained some insight into Gable's mindset when he invited her over to the house for dinner during production. In the Gable biography Long Live the King by Lyn Tornabene, she recalls, "He had Carole's room just the way she left it, but said someday he would change it. . . he had bought every picture Carole ever made, and looked at them, often. He spent a lot of lonely hours at that house." Not every memory, though, was so desperate. At other times she remembered him as jovial: "He'd go get us some steaks, make them himself, and eat with us in the kitchen wearing a towel apron."
Even though the film wrapped in July of 1946, MGM's publicity teams had already been in promotion overdrive for several months. Plastered in magazines, billboards, and featured in radio spots, the film teaser crowed, "Gable's back and Garson's got him!" It was even painted in giant letters on the Loew's Building in Times Square. For once, the two actually had something in common - they hated the ad campaign. Garson decreed it "ungallant", while the Tornabene bio explains, "Clark hated being called 'Gable,' hated being got by Garson, hated the repetition of the slogan." The 1946 premiere at Radio City Music Hall was indicative of the high hopes the studio had for the film, and indeed, Adventure did break all box office records in its first week there. But mixed reviews and rapidly declining audiences quickly put a damper on its opening success. Adventure eventually grossed a respectable half a million in profit, and while not doing Gable's career much harm, the damage to Garson's was severe. The slogan at least provided a last laugh, inspiring that year's Oscars® host Bob Hope to joke about Gable's next project being with a star of another kind: "Clark's bark makes Lassie sassy!"
Producer: Sam Zimbalist
Director: Victor Fleming
Screenplay: Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, Vincent Lawrence, Anthony Veiller, William H. Wright, Clyde Brion Davis (novel)
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Film Editing: Frank Sullivan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary
Music: Herbert Stothart
Cast: Clark Gable (Harry Patterson), Greer Garson (Emily Sears), Joan Blondell (Helen Melohn), Thomas Mitchell (Mudgin), Tom Tully (Gus), John Qualen (Model T).
BW-126m. Closed captioning.
by Eleanor Quin