Growing up in Pennsylvania, I would often see signs on old buildings that read, “George Washington slept here.” GW was so famous it mattered where he slept. Similarly, there are places all over the Southwest that claim Clark Gable and Carole Lombard slept there, even though there seems to be no documentation that they ever did.
Owners of the Oatman Hotel in Oatman, Arizona, claim that the Gables spent their honeymoon at the hotel following their March 29, 1939, elopement to nearby Kingman, Arizona. Further, it is claimed that the ghosts of the Gables haunt the hotel, even though evidence shows that Carole and Clark (on a rare day off from Gone With the Wind) were driven to Arizona, got married, and headed straight back to Hollywood in time for a next-morning press conference announcing their union at Carole’s St. Cloud Road home in Bel Air.
Big Barbee Lake in Indiana is another supposed honeymoon location for the movie star duo. Now there was a commute for a Rhett Butler on 24-hours’ leave.
The Ingleside Inn in Palm Springs, California, has also put in a claim as the spot where the lovebirds honeymooned, even though this interlude would have required a desert detour of 240 miles in the wrong direction on a tight timeframe since Clark was using his day off to hitch his bride. I’m not saying that the Gables never stayed at the Ingleside Inn—in fact, I’d be interested to see their names on the register to confirm the stay. It would be great to add this fact to existing scholarship on the pair.
Palm Springs seems to have been quite popular with Mr. and Mrs. G for honeymooning as they are reported to have spent their wedding night at The Willows, an historic Palm Springs inn that was frequented by their close pal, Marion Davies. This one at least has Davies as a legitimate connection to the couple, and Davies was renowned for entertaining early and often. Maybe Carole and Clark went to see her at some point, although I’m not sold it was on their wedding night.
Then there’s the Palm Springs estate that Ma and Pa were supposed to have owned in the Old Las Palmas section that was recently offered for sale at more than $2M. Mind you, this is penny-pinching Clark and Encino ranch-owning Carole that supposedly motored on over to Palm Springs to this posh estate and lived there. Here’s why I’m not buying this one at all:
- They already had a home and loved its seclusion. They didn’t need to buy an estate in Palm Springs—they already had one in Encino.
- When they wanted to get away from it all, the Gs went as far away from civilization as possible into wilds so remote that there was no running water and no electricity. To Carole and Clark, the wilderness was escape. Palm Springs wasn’t escape.
- No one that I’m aware of in their inner circle ever mentioned Palm Springs as being a destination for the Gables. Much later Clark and his last wife Kay would build down the road from Palm Springs in Bermuda Dunes, CA—a vacation home he would enjoy for less than a year before his death.
I’m reminded of the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, Nevada, where Clark Gable waited out the hours as search parties hunted for his wife’s downed plane. There are cigar burns on the top of the bar that go all the way back to Gable’s dark days at the Pioneer. Hour upon hour of waiting, of not knowing. Clark even fed coffee to rescuers and bought an old prospector false teeth.
There’s only one problem: No evidence supports the legend. None at all. Common sense doesn’t support it either. Gable flew to Las Vegas by Western Air charter in the dead of night and was sequestered by his MGM handlers at the El Rancho Las Vegas Motor Hotel a half hour from Goodsprings. The last place MGM would allow Gable to be was the Pioneer Saloon because that’s where the reporters hung out waiting for definitive word on the fate of Carole Lombard and the 21 others aboard TWA Flight 3. Gable was in shock and unable to interact with anyone, let alone reporters. Yes, Gable was near the Pioneer Saloon because he had to pass by on his way up 99 Mine Road to the base camp; he demanded to be taken to base camp and he was, so he did pass by the Pioneer Saloon, but he didn’t hole up there as much as your imagination tells you that he did. Hell, even I fell for the legend of the Pioneer Saloon when I stopped by. Even I could imagine Gable in here pacing the wood floor. The Pioneer reeks of history and one of its walls is covered with newspaper accounts of the crash and search. I haven’t come out against the Pioneer’s claims up to now for the simple reason that even though this legend isn’t true, it should be true. It’s an utterly tragic, heartbreaking moment in time, even if it never happened.
There’s a bottom line here based in fact: After all these decades, the names Clark Gable and Carole Lombard still have drawing power. These two were what Loretta Young called “juicy people” and son of a gun, they’re still juicy today. Somebody on Facebook said this morning, this morning mind you, “They were more in love than any couple I know.” Well, if you can see that from a distance of 70 years, then OK. As the man once said, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Long ago they printed the legend at the Ingleside Inn, the Willows, the estate in Old Las Palmas, the Oatman Hotel, and the Pioneer Saloon. When I buy a hotel or B&B, the first thing I’m going to do is print the legend again. I don’t know yet which room Carole and Clark stayed in; I’m sure one will seem like them when the time comes.
Thanks to Marina Gray for info on the Palm Springs Gable-Lombard connections and for the lowdown on Big Barbee Lake. Thanks to Larry Selkow for information on the Ingleside Inn, which got me to thinking about the very busy honeymooners.