CLARK GABLE BIRTH HOME, MUSEUM AND STORE
(Admission: $5.50 adults and $3 kids)

Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler by Robert Carpenter

The number of people from Ohio who have made outstanding contributions to society is enormous.  The legacies of the famous—and a few infamous—would fill volumes.  A smattering of biographies includes the world’s greatest inventor, numerous titans of industry, the first man on the moon, eight presidents and one king.  

The gift of the king didn’t produce the same upshot to the nation’s progress as, for example, the benefaction of Kettering or Edison, but it’s also fair to say that during his reign he influenced the social order of our country more than any man elected to the nation’s highest office.   

His humble origins certainly didn’t portend an empire.  Born into the working class, he grew up answering to names such as Willie, Clarkie, and Gabe. He dropped out of school to toil in the oil fields, a tire factory and at farm work. But all of that was forgotten by the time he reached the pinnacle. And no one disputed the anointment of Clark Gable as “King.” 

Recalled by many as an overnight success, his career took years of perseverance. As a young man he worked his way west from Ohio with a second-rate theater company—ending in Oregon as a department store tie salesman. It was there he met his first wife and manager—seventeen years his senior—who saw the uncultured but strikingly masculine potential. She had his bad teeth fixed, fortified his chronically undernourished body and coached him in lowering his naturally high-pitched voice before heading for Hollywood in 1923.  

Still, the coronation was a long way off. His first venture in Tinseltown met with little success and he retreated to his love of the stage. But in the early Thirties with talkies revolutionizing the arts, Gable was back, transforming the role of the leading man with panache never before seen.   

The crowning followed the 1936 movie, It Happened One Night. Ed Sullivan polled readers of his newspaper column resulting in twenty million fans declaring Clark Gable the “King of Hollywood.” Such was his influence, that in correlation to a scene where Gable was bare-chested after doffing his shirt, men’s undershirt sales nationwide went into the dumpster.  He went on to make his best-known film in 1939—Gone With The Wind—one of sixty-seven. Until his death in 1960, he never once abdicated the throne. 

Regardless, and atypical of stardom, Gable never forgot from whence he came. He made constant references to his unpretentious Ohio origin, and once told a reporter “Look, I eat, sleep and go to the bathroom just like everybody else.”  

It was strange then, that his birthplace of Cadiz, Ohio displayed no acknowledgement of Hollywood’s most famous celebrity. For years the only things existing on the location where he was born in an upstairs apartment, was a garage and flower garden—the house having long since been demolished—hardly proper recognition of royalty. 

The inattention ended in 1984 when a group of Cadiz citizens formed the Clark Gable Foundation, raising money to place a monument on the spot where the house once stood. With numerous tourists stopping daily just to stand on what they deemed hallowed ground to take pictures, it was realized that the sovereignty of the foundation’s namesake deserved much more.  

Their needs were answered in 1991 when they received a sizeable endowment from longtime Cadiz resident Isabelle Clifford. In 1999 after much research and preparation, the foundation opened the Clark Gable Museum—an authentic reconstruction of the house where William Clark Gable came into the world on February 1, 1901. 

Perhaps the lack of homage in Cadiz was due to Gable’s residence only as an infant. His mother died seven months after his birth and his father moved to Hopedale, a small town a few miles to the east. Almost anyone in Hopedale can point out the house where Gable spent his formative years, but it’s a private residence. Other than the stories passed down, the house is the only Gable reminiscence in Hopedale. 

Given the past oblivion, the Clark Gable Foundation has made a special effort to honor his beginning in their town. The two-story replica of his birthplace, and a bed and breakfast next door, are decorated in the period of his boyhood. The museum is filled with memorabilia from his early days of southeastern Ohio simplicity through the years of Hollywood glitz.  You can see the sled he rode down the formidable Hopedale hills and the 1954 Cadillac that symbolized success. There is the receipt for $10 charged by the doctor for his delivery that blustery February morning, to collectibles from the height of his career. Time Warner/Turner Entertainment, owner of rights to most of Gable’s movies agreed to provide stills and films. Both of the rooms in the small bed and breakfast are equipped with VCRs and tapes, as well as books in reference to Clark Gable. There are also keepsakes from his best-known wife, (there were five) actress Carole Lombard, and as proof of early interest in the performing arts there is a program listing him, at age nine, as the performer of a duet and solo at the Patton Opera House in Hopedale.  

In the past ten years visitors to the museum have come from nearly every state and several foreign countries. Gable’s only son, John Clark Gable (born after his death) and stepdaughter Joan Spreckels, as well as many cast members from his movies, have toured the museum. 

Number 138 Charleston Street isn’t and wasn’t befitting of majesty, but it’s a sincere portrayal—and you’re hastened to remember one of Gable’s most unassuming statements:  “This ‘King’ stuff is pure bullshit,” he said.  “I’m just a lucky slob from Ohio who happened to be in the right place at the right time.” 

Sure, every success is attended by a bit of luck, but it takes more than coincidence to be a king.  You be the judge.  

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday thru Friday. For information on the museum and the B&B, call 740-942-4989.

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