Is This Famous Clark Gable Scandal Really a Story About Date Rape?

Illustration for article titled Is This Famous Clark Gable Scandal Really a Story About Date Rape?

People have known for decades that—while he was married—Clark Gable fathered a child with costar Loretta Young. But now Young’s family suggests that what’s always been painted as an affair was in fact an instance of date rape.


Young went to conceal her pregnancy and stage an “adoption” of her own child, whom she named Judy. There were rumors for years, but the scandal never really broke, and Young would have a long career including a television show in the 1950s. The whole thing was pretty well hushed up until Judy’s 1994 memoir, in which she declared, “My life has been filled with hypocrisy and deception from the moment I was born.” Anne Helen Petersen did a “Scandals of Classic Hollywood” on the whole story, noting the disconnect between Young’s squeaky-clean, often moralizing public image and her private history.

But over at BuzzFeed, Petersen has an important revision. Young, Judy and Gable are all dead. However, Petersen spoke to Young’s son Chris and his wife Linda, and Linda says that late in life, Young learned a term that she felt fit with her story, and that term is date rape.

Young loved to watch Larry King Live, which is most likely what prompted her to first ask her friend, frequent houseguest, and would-be biographer, Edward Funk, and then her daughter-in-law, Linda Lewis, to explain the term “date rape.” As Lewis recalled from her Jensen Beach, Florida, home this April, sitting next to her husband, Chris — Young’s second born — and flanked by Young’s Oscar and Golden Globe, it took a tact to explain, in language that an 85-year-old could understand, what “date rape” meant. “I did the best I could to make her understand,” Lewis said. “You have to remember, this was a very proper lady.”

When Lewis was finished describing the act, Young’s response was a revelation: “That’s what happened between me and Clark.”

The piece, very much worth reading in full, goes into detail about the astounding lengths to which Young went to hide the pregnancy—being seen just enough, attempting to stay on top of the rumors. She never confirmed that Gable fathered Judy until a memoir published after her death. She’d even work with Gable again, years later. Her era simply didn’t offer that many ways of framing her experience:

According to Funk, Young, like so many from her generation, conceived of her role in “the game of sexes” as “the guy tries to get what she wants; the woman’s job is to fight him off.” The inability to fend off Gable’s advances constituted a failure on her part — not Gable’s. She spent the rest of her life trying to compensate for that failure, believing that the guilt was hers and hers alone.

Her daughter-in-law told Petersen: “With Judy, she was trapped. She had this lie and no way to frame it. She took full responsibility for hiding it all her life. To be stuck—so caught, in such a public way. What could she have done with that?”

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Her era simply didn’t offer that many ways of framing her experience

This remark reminds me of a story my 94 year old grandmother told me last month while I was visiting her in Oregon.

As is the case on these visits, boxes of old family photos were opened and looked through and names and anecdotes were shared. The majority of these photos were from her childhood growing up in Missouri by the Snake River.

I noticed my great great aunt Violet appeared in very few photos, relative to the amount of photos (thousands omg). I asked my grandmother why, and she said Violet died in her late teens in an insane asylum.

I asked my grandmother what happened because outside of the run of the mill whack jobs every family has, that kind of extreme mental health issue was unheard of in our family.

My grandmother very casually explained that when Violet was in her mid teens, she was out in the forest when a bunch of local boys snuck up on her, surprised her, and told her there was a bear in the woods. She apparently never recovered from the fright, and as time passed became more and more unstable to the point she was sent to an asylum.

I was torn between taking that at face value and listening to my gut instinct, which was calling bullshit.

Now, I don’t believe my grandmother was lying about what actually happened in the woods. I just think the story my great aunt Violet told people is indicative of the limited options she had, which parallels Young’s difficulty in framing her experience during that (shitty) time period.

Maybe it was really about a fake bear, I dunno.

Regardless, I’ll always remember my great aunt Violet.