Who could imagine a studio wanting to ruin Clark Gable? Or at least want to teach him a lesson? MGM Studios tycoon Louis B. Mayer wanted to. “It Happened One Night” (1934) was supposed to be Gable’s punishment. But this little screwball comedy would miraculously change the careers of everyone involved including Clark Gable. For the better. Forever.
“It Happened One Night” was supposed to be a script composed to fit actor Robert Montgomery’s persona and humor. Montgomery was approached in playing Gable’s role as “Peter” but Montgomery turned it down. Some theories suggest that after “Dancing Lady” (1933) became a box office smash, Gable wanted a better salary or better roles. Others suggests that Gable’s public and lengthy separation from his second wife Rita while courting actress Carole Lombard was causing a strain on MGM’s image. At the time, Columbia Pictures was considered a “Poverty Row” studio – a slang to term in referring to studios that were barely surviving on the B-Movies they were able to churn out. If an actor was loaned-out to one of these studios, they were living on a prayer. Mayer reportedly contacted Harry Cohn, a president of Columbia Pictures and producer for “It Happened One Night” and said, “I got an actor here who’s being a bad boy. I’d like you to spank him.” No matter what the reason was, Gable was sent to Columbia and he was not happy about it.
On his first meeting with Capra, Gable showed up drunk and disorderly. If it was Gable’s intention to be thrown from the picture, it did not happen. “Let’s get this over with,” Gable had reportedly said when beginning the shoot. But by the end of the four-week shoot, Gable enjoyed working with Capra and being a part of the film.
When the film was released, the critics’ reviews being lukewarm, neither impressed or un-impressed by the film. But the public fell in love with it. The film’s popularity went as far as to cause men’s undershirt sales to significantly drop due to the film’s sequence of Gable is undressing and is without an undershirt.
Due to all of the international hype, “It Happened One Night” was recognized by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science. At the 1935 Academy Awards, the film was nominated for five major Oscar nominations including “Best Male for a Leading Role” for Clark Gable. It made history when it swept up all five Oscars that night, including Gable’s nomination. “It Happened One Night” became the first motion picture to have won all five major categories. From then on, Gable’s reputation was untouchable. His career strengthened. And Gable became “King of Hollywood.”