Frankly Adolph I Don’t Give A Damn
Thomas Calabrese — Clark Gable was a Hollywood icon and one of the most popular male sex symbols of the 1930’s. He was officially crowned by Ed Sullivan as ‘The King of Hollywood’ and starred opposite some of the most popular actresses of the time, including Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner, Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, Loretta Young, Rosalind Russell, Myna Loy, Vivien Leigh, Norma Shearer and Marilyn Monroe. The King appeared as an extra in 13 films between 1924 and 1930 and acted in 67 theatrically released motion pictures.
Gable was not just popular in the United States; he was also a global star. One of his biggest fans was Adolph Hitler, who loved to watch Gable movies at private screenings. It was his role as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind that defined Gable’s image for all time and was Hitler’s favorite movie.
During World War II, Hitler offered a one million dollar reward to anyone who could capture the King of Hollywood and bring him to Germany unscathed. Gable’s life changed forever when his beloved wife Carole Lombard died in a plane crash on January 16, 1942. Lombard was a passenger on a twin engine airliner on her way home to Los Angeles from a war bonds tour. The Transcontinental and Western DC-3 had taken off from Las Vegas and was only 20 minutes from McCarran Field when its left wing clipped a limestone outcrop and crashed into the 8,500 foot Potosi Mountain. It exploded in a fireball in an area 32 air miles southwest of what is now Nellis Air Force Base. Twenty-two people perished on that fateful night in Nevada.
Gable was emotionally devastated and started drinking heavily and was on a downward spiral so he turned to his friend and former co-star, Spencer Tracy. They had previously worked together on the movies, San Francisco 1936, Test Pilot 1938 and Boomtown 1940.
“I’m going through a rough time, Spence and I don’t see a way out of this for me,” Gable sighed in hopelessness.
“I know what a special woman Carol was and how much you loved her,” Spencer did his best to console his friend, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“I appreciate the offer, I’m going to take it day by day,” Gable’s voice trailed off.
Spencer thought for a moment then responded, “We never get over the loss of those we love, we just a find a way to move on with our lives. You’ll find yours.”
Spencer Tracy was right, Clark Gable did a find a way to deal with his all-consuming grief, he decided to join the army even though he was almost 40 years of age at the time. It wasn’t that easy though. Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM studios did everything he could to dissuade his biggest star and number one money-maker from enlisting, “You can do a lot more to help the war effort by staying here in the states. Your movies help keep the morale of the American people up and when you’re not on the set, you can do war bond tours.”
“Everything you say makes complete sense sir, “Gable replied, “But I need to do this, I don’t know what else I can tell you.”
“Since I can’t talk you out of it, I guess my only other option is to support you,” Louis B. Mayer was obviously not happy, but he knew that he was on the losing end of this argument.
Now he would have to get the military to accept him so Gable made a call, “Mr. President, I want to join the army.”
President Roosevelt advised, “Thank you for your patriotism, but it is better if you stay in Hollywood. I’d hate to see you get hurt.”
“Sir, with all due respect we’ve all got to go sometime, reason or no reason. Dying is as natural as living. The man who’s too afraid to die is too afraid to live,” Gable replied.
“I can’t argue with that,” President Roosevelt said, “You need to use that line in one of your movies.”
Gable had expressed an interest in becoming an officer when he had lunch with Lana Turner and Joan Crawford at the Brown Derby, booth #54 where he had proposed to Carol Lombard, “I was thinking about going to officer candidate school, but I’m not so sure now.”
When Gable enlisted on August 12, 1942, it was with the intention of becoming an enlisted aerial gunner on a bomber. He was sent to Flexible Gunnery School at Tyndall Field, Florida with his close friend, cinematographer Andrew McIntyre. After completing this part of his training, Gable reported to Biggs Army Airfield, Texas to train with and accompany the 351st Bomb Group that was equipped with B-17 Flying Fortresses to Polebrook, England. Upon their arrival, the 351st immediately began flying bombing missions over the Third Reich.
Commanders of the bomber group tried without success to give Gable milk runs (easy bombing missions) but he adamantly refused. Clark wanted to serve just like everybody else, no special privileges and he earned the respect of those that he served with because of this workmanlike attitude. When Hitler found out that Gable was in Britain, he immediately announced that he would be seeing him soon in Germany. Another man would have accepted a less risky assignment, but not Clark Gable, he continued to fly as many combat missions as he could, daring Hitler to carry out his threat to capture him.
Gable was flying as a waist gunner with the B-17 crew of ‘Ain’t It Gruesome’ when it was shot up by German Focke Wulf fighters over Gelsenkirchen. The pilots struggled to keep the aircraft airborne after losing an engine until they reached England then everyone bailed out over an open field. Gable wasted little time getting assigned to another plane, ‘The 8 Ball’ with Captain Bill Calhern in command. While on another mission, German fighters came out of the clouds over Antwerp, Belgium and Gable shot two of the enemy planes down before his machine gun was hit by enemy fire and rendered inoperable. On his next mission to bomb the airfield at Villicoublay, France, his bomber group was forced to return without dropping their ordnance because of thick cloud cover, but unfortunately it wasn’t thick enough to stop German fighters by intercepting them.
The Americans lost three B-17’s and Gable added three more confirmed kills to his record before being forced to bail out once again with his crew just moments before his aircraft exploded with its full bomb load. Luckily, French Resistance fighters were waiting on the ground and helped the Americans make it back to England.
It had been a rough month for the bomber crews and an even rougher one for Gable so General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold called Clark to his office. “Have a seat.”
Gable complied and waited for his commanding officer to speak.”
“You’ve done more than enough; I think that it is time that you head back to the States.”
“The last that I heard, the war is still going on. I’ll leave when we’ve done what we came over here for,” Gable disagreed.
“I get calls from General Eisenhower who gets calls from President Roosevelt who asks, “How’s Clark Gable doing? How’s Jimmy Stewart doing?” How am I supposed to tell him that you guys are bigger heroes in real life than you are in the movies?”
“Don’t tell him that; just say we’re doing what everybody else is doing…our jobs?”
Clark Gable got along well with his fellow actors and was especially great friends with Hattie McDaniel, his co-star who played Mammy in Gone With the Wind. During the filming he made sure that McDaniel was always treated fairly and with respect. After filming concluded, Gable continued with his friendship and was a regular attendee at her Hollywood parties especially the ones that she organized to raise funds for World War II.
Gable’s next mission was the Daimler-Benz tank factory in Berlin that was heavily defended by Luftwaffe aircraft that included 25 Me 262s, history’s first operational jet fighter. The ‘Redtails’, the nickname for the 332nd Fighter Squadron because the Tuskegee Airmen used red markings on the rear of their aircraft to distinguish themselves from other fighter squadrons in the European theater and would be flying escort for the bomber group.
Gable was doing a pre-flight check on his bomber when one of the fighter pilots walked over, “Excuse me, Mr. Gable.”
“My aunt told me to say hello if I saw you.”
“Who is your aunt?” Gable asked.
“Hattie McDaniel,” Captain Earl McDaniel replied.
Gable’s serious and workmanlike demeanor vanished in an instant and his face broke out in a big smile, “You know that your aunt is one of my best friends. She is a truly wonderful person.”
“She feels the same way about you,” Earl McDaniel replied.
The two men reminisced for a while and wanted to talk more but it was time to get back to work. Redtail pilots Charles Branson, Roscoe Green and Earl McDaniel all shot down German jets over Berlin that day. For the mission the 332nd Fighter Group earned a Distinguished Unit Citation. Gable also shot down one enemy fighter plane.
Gable was a quiet man who took his duties seriously and maintained a military posture and after a harrowing mission, he would usually sit by himself for a while, gather his thoughts and compose himself. He was willing to socialize when it was appropriate, but it should be remembered that he was much older than many of the men that he flew with. Some of the men in Gable’s bomber group had never been away from home until they came to Europe so in some ways, they were still impetuous kids even though they were often asked to do the work of warriors. Another point to take into account was that the ‘King of Hollywood’ had been to lavish parties with some of the most beautiful women in the world so watching his fellow airmen get falling down drunk did not appeal to him.
Men in his squadron respected Gable’s wishes, but there was this one time when a squad of Army Rangers were on base waiting for a ride to a mission. They had little respect for the air crews, figuring that the real men in the war were the ones fighting on ground, not flying above it. When four of the Rangers came into the base club and saw Clark Gable sitting by himself, they decided to intrude on his solitude.
“I’ve always thought that you were overrated as an actor,” First Ranger laughed.
“That’s why we’re over here,” Gable answered.
“So idiots like you can express their opinions, “Gable said.
The Ranger’s arrogance got in the way of his common sense when he crossed over the line and said, “You were a perfect match for Carol Lombard, both a couple of Hollywood losers.”
The table went flying and Gable came up swinging and his fist landed squarely against the Ranger’s jaw. The man was unconscious before he hit the floor. Gable ducked under the swing of a second Ranger then broke two of his ribs with several powerful punches to the body. The other Rangers never had the chance to join the fray as the bomber crews rushed to their comrade’s aid and the Rangers were beaten so badly that they were incapable of carrying out their mission. When Colonel Robert Ironsides, the Commanding Officer of the 351st Bomber Group found out what happened, he was so outraged that he had the military police escort the bloodied Rangers off base with a stern warning at the gate, “If I ever see any of you back here, we’ll strap you to a bomb rack and drop you over Berlin!”
Once again, Gable quickly regrouped and in two days, he was back in the skies over the Ruhr Valley in the plane named the ‘Delta Rebel’. This was his most dangerous mission to date and he was in the top turret when a 20mm Shell penetrated the bomber and missed him by less than an inch, actually it hit his right boot, but Gable didn’t notice until he returned to base and saw that the heel had been neatly cut off as if it had been sliced off with a knife. It was that close.
There were conflicting opinions between the men of the bomber group on whether Gable wanted to die because of his grief over losing Carol Lombard or if he was just one of the bravest men that they had ever flown with. Everybody in the bomber group was hoping and in most cases praying to survive their required 25 missions while getting as many ‘milk runs’ as possible (missions without encountering anti-aircraft fire or enemy fighters) so they could return home. Gable on the other hand volunteered for the most dangerous assignments and never mentioned returning home.
Peter Ortiz and Sterling Hayden were agents with the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services) and were on their way to meet with Clark Gable to discuss a plan that could shorten the war and save thousands of lives in the process. It was extremely dangerous and Hayden and Ortiz weren’t sure what Gable’s reply would be, but they were under orders to present it to him.
“I don’t know if I would have the guts to do it,” Peter Ortiz commented.
“When I was in Hollywood you couldn’t go anywhere without someone mentioning Clark Gable’s name. I’m a little nervous about meeting him,” Sterling Hayden admitted.
Since this was a top secret operation, the three men decided to meet at a quiet pub in Liverpool and away from the hustle and bustle of the base. Peter Ortiz began the conversation, “Thank you for meeting us.”
“Sure, what can I do for you?” Gable replied.
“You know that Hitler has put out a bounty for your capture?” Sterling Hayden asked.
“I’ve heard rumors to that effect.”
“Office of Strategic Services has come up with a plan,” Peter Ortiz continued.
“I must be part of that plan,” Gable assumed.
“Why do you say that?” Sterling Hayden asked.
“I’ve read enough screenplays to know how a storyline works, you wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Gable said.
Peter Ortiz methodically explained the plan and when he was finished, “What do you think?”
Gable smiled, “That’s one hell of a plan. I’ll give it some thought and get back to you.”
“I’m sorry to rush you, Mr. Gable, but our superiors are waiting for your answer,” Sterling Hayden said.
Clark Gable contemplated what he had been told as he leaned back in his chair, “I didn’t want to sell war bonds or make speeches so I enlisted in the Air Corps and asked to be sent where the going was rough. I didn’t expect to come back and still don’t care if I do. You’re in a hurry for an answer; let me give you one, hell yes!”
The Kehlsteinhaus (known as the Eagle’s Nest in English-speaking countries) was a building erected atop the summit of the Kehlstein, a 6017 ft. subpeak of the Hoher Goll that overlooked Obersalzberg near the town of Berchtesgaden. It was used exclusively by members of the Nazi Party for government and social meetings while a part of it was reserved as Adolf Hitler’s private mountain retreat.
Ortiz and Hayden both spoke fluid German and fit the part of Gestapo officers, big strong Slavic looking men. In fact, Sterling Hayden stood six foot five inches and Paramount Studios had dubbed him, ‘The Beautiful Blond Viking God’ when he was back in Hollywood. The plan was to pretend that Clark Gable had been captured after his plane had been shot down and the two Nazi officers were bringing him to the Eagle’s Nest to meet the Adolph Hitler.
As they passed layers and layers of security along the mountain road, the guards quickly waved the vehicle through once they saw that Clark Gable sitting in the backseat. Upon reaching the top of the mountain, word was sent to Hitler who was inside one of the five tunnels that Gable was awaiting him. Even though the German dictator did not like taking the 407 foot elevator ride to the building, he did so in this case because he couldn’t wait to see his favorite movie star.
Peter Ortiz snapped his heels together, gave the Nazi salute and spoke in flawless German, “Mein Fuhrer, we have brought you a gift.”
Adolph Hitler was beside himself with excitement, “Welcome to the Eagle’s Nest, Mr. Gable. There is so much that we have to talk about,” then proceeded to ramble on about Gable’s movies.
Despite his contempt for the Nazi leader, Gable put on one his finest acting performances and convinced Hitler that he secretly supported the Third Reich and wanted to make movies in Germany. This was like music to the ears of the demented German leader.
Gable asked, “May I have something to eat?”
“Of course!” Hitler turned to his aides and ordered them to bring food from the village of Berchtesgaden for a feast to welcome the Hollywood Icon.
Despite his paranoid obsession with security, Hitler was so focused with Gable being in his possession that he overlooked his normal protocols and the Hollywood actor was waiting for the right opening to make his move. The two O.S.S. agents impersonating the Gestapo officers were ordered to stay at Eagle’s Nest, then accompany Gable and Hitler to Berlin where they would be given their reward.
Gable had been given a small vial of a highly potent slow acting poison and when nobody was looking, he poured the contents over Hitler’s plate of sauerkraut, bratwurst and bacon onion potatoes. Two days passed and Hitler began to feel a little queasy, but he had no idea that he had been poisoned. While he was sitting alone with Gable and discussing a storyline for a movie, he dosed off. Gable walked over to the door and waved to the O.S.S. agents to come in. Peter Ortiz walked over to Hitler and saw that he was sound asleep then went back outside and returned with a large canvas bag. Sterling Hayden tied Hitler’s ankles and hands to the chair and when the German dictator awakened and looked over at Gable, he was heartbroken “What about our agreement to make movies?”
Gable responded, “Frankly Adolph, I don’t give a damn!”
When Peter Ortiz returned, he was carrying a large canvas bag. He set it on the floor, opened it and handed a specially made parachute to Gable. Adolf Hitler screamed for help and Gable rushed over and knocked him out with a punch to the jaw. Sterling Hayden then put a gag in the German dictator’s mouth as Gable put on the chute and climbed out on the ledge that protruded from the sheer rock canyon face and overlooked the valley floor two thousand feet below.
“See you when I see you, “Gable smiled and leaped off the ledge. He fell about five hundred feet before deploying his chute.
When the O.S.S. agents exited the building, Peter Ortiz turned to the German guards, “The Fuhrer gave explicit orders that he doesn’t want to be disturbed.”
The two agents got into their vehicle and started driving down the steep mountain road. Sterling Hayden removed the rear seat cushion where a radio was hidden, “Seven niner six five, Charlie Golf. Repeat seven, niner, six, five, Charlie Golf.”
As soon as the radio signal was received, ten fighters from the Redtail squadron took off with Captain McDaniel flying a two seater P-40 Warhawk. After Gable landed on the valley floor he made his way to an open field a thousand meters away that was pre–designated for his pick-up. He found a place to hide behind some trees located nearby. When the Redtails got close to Gable’s location, they were engaged by a group of Messerschmitt fighters. When an aerial dogfight ensued, Captain McDaniel dove to the ground, landed in the open field and Gable ran out from his concealed position, got in the plane and they took off.
“Thanks for the ride,” Gable said.
“Anytime,” Captain McDaniel put the plane into a steep climb and it disappeared into the clouds.
When Adolf Hitler started getting sicker, he left the Eagle’s Nest for Berlin, still was very angry that Clark Gable had escaped his grasp and was ranting and raving at everyone in his path. Realizing that he was slowly dying and Germany was losing the war, Adolf Hitler decided to expedite the inevitable. He took his own life by shooting himself in the head on April 30, 1945.
Gable met with the O.S.S. agents on May1, 1945 after they received word of Hitler’s death.
“I’ve met some real megalomaniacs in my career in movies, but Hitler puts them all to shame,” Gable took a swallow from his beer.
“Didn’t he want you to make a movie for him?” Peter Ortiz asked.
“What did he want to call it?” Sterling Hayden said.
“He was leaning toward Gone With The Sauerkraut,” The two agents weren’t sure if Gable was serious or not.