The second time I talked to Clark Gable, he was standing by my hospital bed in the ICU. He asked me how I got there and I told him that I couldn’t remember. Probably took something that didn’t agree with me.
“I thought you went to the beach when you wanted to get away from it all,” I said.
“Yeah,” Gable said. “But the last time we talked, I told you that I thought Marilyn killed me, working on The Misfits. She gave me hell for that and made me promise to come back and set the record straight.”
“She’s been dead for fifty years,” I said. “How’s she doing up there?”
“Same as ever. One thing about being dead, it’s hard to change. She’s not up at Forest Lawn, though. She’s down at Westwood Village Memorial. Number 24, in a wall crypt. It’s a lot more fun down there, so I visit whenever I can. Lemon and Matthau, Capote. A fun group. Compared to Westwood, Forest Lawn is dead.”
“I’m glad to hear she didn’t do you in,” I said “I’ve heard that she was difficult to work with. I’ve had a few like that.”
“Marilyn used to pretend I was her dad when she was a kid. Idolized me. She was a mess on The Misfits. All kinds of pills, and her marriage to Miller coming apart. I’d tell my wife about it and she’d just shake her head. Marilyn was always late on the set, but hell, Houston was either sick in the hospital or over in the casinos or back in L.A. looking for money. We were shooting in Nevada and the studio gave him a gambling allowance and he ran right through it. Completely out of control. Meanwhile, Miller was rewriting Marilyn’s lines, adding dirt about her life and driving her crazy. We were all a mess. Montgomery Clift? You’ve no doubt heard about him. He’s long gone. Thelma gone. Kevin. The only one still alive is Eli Wallach, and Christ does he look old. That little ham. I do hope he gets buried where I can visit.”
“You don’t look old,” I said. Gable looked to be in his thirties, like when I saw him on the beach.
“That’s one good thing about being dead,” he said. “You look as old as you feel. I died at fifty-nine but I didn’t feel fifty-nine. Everybody gets old if they live long enough, but I’ve never met anyone who felt old inside. At fifty-nine, I felt like I always felt, in my head. I was a grandpa, though.”
I fuzzed out for a minute, or an hour, but when I came back he was still there.
“Marilyn and I spent some moments together,” he said. “She was terrified the first time we shot a scene, but we got close by the end. Over in Reno. It wasn’t reported.”
“Nothing physical. More like father/daughter. She had Yves Montand for the sex, over in L.A. I think I helped her mentally, at least for that shoot. But Christ, those pills. Her and Clift. She was loopy half the time. She had rashes. She’d lash out. You know, when we started that movie, I brought along my friend Lew Smith to help me out. Marilyn had her husband, her press agent, who else? A masseur, I remember, her acting coach, two specialists to work on her hair, two for makeup, face and body, a woman to sew her clothes plus her wardrobe girl, her stand-in, a secretary, and her personal secretary. My God. No wonder she couldn’t sleep at night. What’s your entourage like these days?”
“I’m a screenwriter. My entourage is you.”
“I said I was a grandpa. Actually I was a step-grandpa. My only child was born five months after I died.”
“So what did kill you, if Marilyn didn’t?”
“Probably the three packs a day, and the drinking. Hedda Hopper blamed Houston for letting me get dragged behind a truck. Kay almost killed me herself when I got home after that one. I did most of my own stunts. It was hotter than hell out there, because we got started late. An actors’ strike held up Marilyn on her previous film. I’m not bragging when I say that I was the only one ever on time on the set in the morning. I kept my cool and I was getting paid plenty, but the rest of them were basically stealing from United Artists with those delays.”
“So you died at fifty-nine. I guess I thought you were older than that.”
“That’s one thing I hate about being dead. Nobody who’s dead gets over it. They’re always talking about when they died and how they died and why they died. And by the way. Keep this up, kid, and you’re going to be deader than I am.”
“Hollywood is tough. Especially for screenwriters.”
“Being dead is no bed of roses either, take it from me,” he said. “Listen, Ward Bond was a close friend of mine. He died a couple of days before I did and he came to me in a dream after my heart attack. In the hospital, just like this. I told him I was sad to have lost him and he laughed and said that I didn’t need to worry about that. I asked him something… can’t remember what… and he told me I wouldn’t need to be worrying about that anymore, or anything else. In other words, he knew I was on my way out.”
“Is that why you’re here? To tell me that I’m about to die?”
“I’m here to warn you about how you’re living. Again.”
“Thanks, Mr. Gable.”
“You can call me Clark.”
“Tell Marilyn that you set the record straight. Tell her I’ll be over to put down some flowers when I get out of here.”
“Let’s just keep you from pushing up daisies,” he said.
The nurse came in then, and he was gone.