Dallas Burlesque Gal’s Claim to Fame
Dallas Burlesque Gal’s Claim to Fame
What Dallas burlesquer has a famous family history?? That would be our very own Appaloosa Red! And which of Hollywood’s elite was married into Miss Appaloosa’s family during Hollywood’s Golden Era? None other than The King of the screen, Clark Gable!! (Pause for squeals and sighs of jealousy.) Yes, that’s right- and she showed me the monogrammed linens and original photographs to prove it! I even saw photographs of little Miss Appaloosa in front of the couch that Clark slept on when he was in trouble for staying out chasing skirts!
Although Appaloosa was born too late to meet her in person, she’s always loved hearing stories about her great-grandmother, Maria Franklin Prentiss Lucas Langham Gable, the Houston, TX socialite who spent nearly a decade married to Mr. Gable. Auburn-haired ‘Ria’ was 5’2” and full of sophistication; she had perfectly smooth, creamy skin which wrinkles dared not cross- she swore till the day she died that her flawless face never had any surgical assistance. Ria always presented herself in an immaculate manner, had a flare for picking the perfect hat, and was known to chastise, “Dear, either you wear nail polish or you don’t!” if she caught you sporting a chipped paint job. Chic designers clamored to give her clothing and she, in turn, promoted what and whom she fancied.
When Ria and Clark met, and became involved, in 1929, he was estranged from his first wife, Josephine Dillon. Dillon was an acting coach 11 years his senior who had taught him how to act on the stage. But it was Ria who taught him how to act in polite society… and how to dress, even how to write a check! Of which it seems she wrote several on his behalf, fixing up those signature teeth and grooming young Gable for the career she believed he was destined for. The two took up with each other when Clark was new to New York, just another Broadway hopeful. A fellow actor, and family member of Ria’s, first took her backstage to meet the dashing man who would come to rule Hollywood. It didn’t take her long to fall madly in love with his good lucks, irresistible charm, and intoxicating masculinity. A double divorcee and one-time widower, Ria already had 3 children and a swell bankroll from her previous marriages. No doubt, she knew that the 17 year age gap between herself and Clark would one day cause problems, but she had already married a man who was her caretaker, and, as biographer Lyn Tornabene puts it, “at this stage in her life she needed to give, and she adored this moody, beautiful young man with whom, as she envisioned it, life could never be dull because it could never be easy.”
She couldn’t have been more right. Ria was a fabulous hostess and mingled with everyone who was anyone in Hollywood, manicuring Clark’s social circle and standing, while Clark preferred blue collar company. Tornabene wrote, in Long Live the King, “Clark didn’t mingle with big shots at the studio, and didn’t see why he should at home. At work he was happiest with underdogs, not only in the early thirties when he identified with them, but throughout his career.” But social sets aside, it seems that life with Clark was never easy for anyone, even the ones he loved the most; he was a passionate man in every aspect, given to brooding, and frequently indulging in affairs. His magnetic appeal drew women in, and he didn’t like turning them away.
Gable began his long-term, on-again-off-again affair with Joan Crawford during this time, but Ria took it in stride. She said, “I was smart- had her over for breakfast, lunch, and dinner- till they were sick of each other!” It was also during his marriage to Ria that Clark sired his ‘secret daughter,’ Judy Lewis, while having a dalliance with co-star, Loretta Young. Although it was a well-known secret in Hollywood, Miss Young hid their daughter away in orphanages and other homes for the first year and a half of her life, after which Young ‘adopted’ the girl. Judy’s resemblance to Clark was so pronounced that Miss Young even had the child’s ears surgically pinned back when the girl was just 7 years old. (Incidentally, Miss Lewis eventually became an actress herself.) While Clark was not involved in the life of his doppelganger daughter, he did share what little time he had free with Ria’s daughter, Jana, and son, Al. Jana was his
secretary and fielded all of his fan mail, while Al accompanied Clark to ballgames and picnics. Clark was a father figure to Al, whose own had father passed away while Al was still a toddler, and more of a protective older brother to Jana- although he did walk her down the aisle. But, sadly, when the marriage ended, so did Clark’s relationship with Ria’s children.
The last affair, with screen star Carole Lombard, prompted a divorce at last, in 1939. Ria demanded a large settlement as she had supported Clark and paved his way to fame; as she said, “It’s only fair. I gave him a good many years of my life and taught him a great deal.” So, MGM made the divorce possible by giving Clark a princely advance on his contract to secure him for the part of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, and preserve their big star’s reputation. Three and a half weeks after the divorce was granted, Gable and Lombard were married, making one of Hollywood’s legendary love affairs legal at last…but that’s another story.
Ria maintained her dignity as always, and often said, “Clark never did anything to embarrass me. Our marriage was one of mutual respect.” She dated actor George Raft for a time, but left Hollywood for Houston a few years after the divorce. She never married again, and remained Mrs. Gable to Houstonians until her death in 1966, 6 years after Clark’s. The scrapbook in which she continued to paste all of Gable’s press clippings remains in Appaloosa’s family, and Maria Franklin Gable rests in peace at the illustrious Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, TX.