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The love secret Clark Gable took to the grave


Clark Gable and Loretta Young

She burst on an unsuspecting Hollywood like a brunette bombshell. At 22, the romantic adventures of Loretta Young, the convent school girl from Salt Lake City, were continually in the gossip columns. No wonder she was dubbed "the wild girl of Hollywood."

But in fact the outrageous life and times of Loretta Young had hardly started ... It was not until her meeting with Clark Gable in the summer of 1935 that she became the central figure in a classic scandal that still intrigues movie buffs around the world.

It was while they were making the aptly-titled Call of the Wild that Young and Gable fell in love and despite both being married, had a torrid affair. It was hushed up by 20th Century Fox publicists, but nothing could hide, Loretta Young's dramatic increase in size.

Abruptly she disappeared from Hollywood for over a year, and when she reappeared, she had an adopted baby daughter... No wonder the gossip-mongers had a field day over what was called "Loretta's secret love child," particularly as the baby bore an amazing resemblance to Clark Gable, even down to the protruding ears. Years later the girl had cosmetic surgery to flatten them.

When Loretta wed advertising executive Thomas Lewis in 1940, little Judy legally became Judy Lewis. Many years later, and a grandmother, Judy said: "I have always regarded Thomas Lewis as my father because he brought me up. I have heard the stories about Clark Gable but my mother never mentioned it."

And Clark Gable took the secret of Loretta Young's daughter with him to the grave. When asked whether he was the father shortly before his death in 1960, he smiled and said: "Judy is a lovely girl but I'm afraid I can take no responsibility for anything about her — including her ears!"

But no one could deny Loretta Young's wild lifestyle — at 17 she eloped with actor Grant Withers but the marriage was annulled five years later and eventually Withers killed himself.

After a succession of romances with leading men in her movies, including Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Lon Chaney, she met Gable in 1935 and admitted that she was "wildly attracted" to him. In Call of the Wild, director William Wellman's screen version of the best-selling Jack London novel, Gable and Young played a couple battling for survival — and looking for gold — in the frozen Klondike.

It was common knowledge that Gable was estranged from his wife, Ria, and that Loretta Young's marriage was in trouble and within days studio insiders were reporting that the stars were deeply attracted, both on and off-camera.

William Wellman was later to remember: "The romance was so intense that it put the production in deep trouble. Clark wasn't paying much attention to movie business, but he was paying a lot of attention to monkey business!"

As time went by, it was rumoured that the relationship would end in marriage, but it didn't. Instead, puzzling items began to appear in show-biz papers. It was announced that Fox were retiring Loretta Young for a year "for reasons of health".

After just 12 months, looking slim and rested, Loretta reported back to work, but shortly afterwards there was a new wave of speculation when Loretta, now divorced, managed to adopt a little girl, despite the California state rulings prohibiting adoption by a single person.

She told pressmen that she had fallen in love with the child when visiting a California orphanage. "I'm going to give this little mite a wonderful life," she declared. "It's no concern of mine who her father is. My job is to be the best mother in the world."

Two years later she divorced Lewis, married actor Henry Wilcoxon and left her wild years firmly behind. She became a devout Catholic and a leading campaigner against pornography. President Reagan later appointed her President of Citizens for Decent Literature.       

Fonts of holy water were installed beside each doorway in her home and huge Madonna-like photographs, taken of Loretta by her husband, dominated every room.

In the studio she installed a swear-box on set and anyone heard uttering any profanity was ordered to contribute to a Los Angeles hospital for unmarried mothers. It was reported that when a famed Hollywood star swore mildly when forgetting his lines, Loretta told him sternly that she was fining him 50 cents.       

Soon all Hollywood was aware of Loretta's religious conversion ... and enjoying jokes at her expense. At one party, Joan Crawford was presented with a bowl of water and told: "Loretta Young has just walked across it!"

But despite such taunts — and the nickname St Loretta — her days as a wild rebel were over. When a biography of Clark Gable contained the allegation that he had fathered Judith, she sued the publishers, who settled out of court.

"I was very fond of dear Clark, but that was all," she said. And by then Clark Gable, entombed in a vast black marble grave in Forest Lawns cemetery, was in no position to deny it. 

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