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Clark Gable's Acting Roots Trace Back To Astoria In 1920s

If you walk down 12th near Exchange Street in Astoria, it’s easy to miss the plaque dedicated to William Gable Clark. But why would you find a plaque dedicated to the Oscar-winning actor in Astoria?

Dubbed the “King of Hollywood,” Gable was most notably known for his leading role in the 1939 “Gone With the Wind.” Prior to getting his big break in Hollywood, his acting career started at the Astoria Theater when he met his first acting coach and future wife, Josephine Dillon.

William Clark Gable during his early acting career. 

William Clark Gable during his early acting career. 

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

“According to our records, the plaque was built shortly after the original Astoria Theater burned down to commemorate the Hollywood actor,” said McAndrew Burns, executive director of the Clatsop County Historical Society. “The Astoria Theater was the first spot where Clark Gable got his acting role.”

Gable was born Feb. 1, 1901, in Ohio as the son of an oil driller. After dropping out of high school at 16, Gable moved to Akron, where he took an unpaid internship with a local theater. 

According to a 2008 article by The Oregonian, Gable was invited the next year to join an acting troupe known as the Jewel Players. Gable accepted the offer, and began traveling around the country.  

Three years after he joined the troupe, they went bankrupt, which left Gable stranded in Montana with nowhere to go. Having heard from other friends in the acting field that Oregon had an up-and-coming theater scene, he decided to hitchhike his way to Portland.  

Within the first year he was in Portland, Gable was introduced to another acting troupe, the Astoria Players Stock Company. The vaudeville theater troupe traveled between Portland and Astoria by steamboat, performing at various theater houses along the Columbia River, according to the Oregon Historical Society.

The original Astoria Theater was destroyed by a fire in December, 1922. A new theater was built and renamed Liberty Theater. 

The original Astoria Theater was destroyed by a fire in December, 1922. A new theater was built and renamed Liberty Theater. 

Photo Courtesy of the Clatsop County Historical Society

During a performance in Astoria, he met Dillon, a Stanford graduate and Colorado native, who was serving as the theater manager and a performer at the Astoria Theater. When she met Gable, she decided to take him under her wing and become his acting coach, according to the City of Astoria. 

She trained Gable, and paid for him to have his teeth fixed and to have minor cosmetic surgery done to his face. 

The two began dating and later got married Dec. 13, 1924. In 1931, they moved to Hollywood, with the hopes of landing major acting roles in movies. He managed to get his first speaking part in “The Painted Desert“ in 1931, and after seeing him on the big screen, MGM offered him a contract. His first leading role was in “Dance, Fools, Dance” with Joan Crawford. 

From there on out, Gable had a very successful acting career. He won an Oscar in the 1934 for best motion picture in “It Happened One Night.” In 1939, he starred in “Gone With the Wind,” for which he was nominated for another Oscar, but did not win. 

Throughout the 1950s, Gable frequently returned back to Oregon to vacation. According to the Oregon Historical Society, one of his favorite locations to visit was the Weasku Inn along the Rogue River.  

Gable’s acting career continued through 1961, when he died from a heart attack shortly after he finished filming “The Misfits.”

Do you have any additional information about Gable’s connection to Astoria, or Oregon in general? If so, please send it to us. 

Clark Gable Astoria

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