Clark Gable left an impressive legacy in Hollywood, but his personal life is another story entirely. Sadly, the generations who came after him have suffered terrible difficulties. His grandson – who looked a lot like the actor and even shared his name – passed away in February 2019. And when that tragic event happened, it re-opened some old wounds.
The legendary actor’s late grandson was Clark Gable III – the son of John Clark Gable and Tracy Yarro Scheff. Unsurprisingly, he grew up right in the middle of the entertainment world. Clark III’s stepfather was Jason Scheff, who was the one-time bassist for the band Chicago. And both his father and sister Kayley dabbled in acting.
Though Clark III knew his father, John Clark Gable never did. The first famous Gable passed away in 1960, just four months before his son was born to his fifth wife Kay. He had delighted in the prospect of the baby’s arrival and even helped create a beautiful yellow nursery for him. Furthermore, he told People that his plan was to be a dedicated hands-on father.
But fate, unfortunately, had other plans. On November 6, 1960, Clark had a heart attack and was kept in hospital for several days. The newspapers reported that he was improving, but on November 16 he suffered an arterial blood clot and died at the age of just 59. John Clarke Gable would be born in that same hospital four months later.
When arrangements were made for the funeral, it was decided that Clark would be buried next to his deceased third wife: Carole Lombard. She had been killed in a plane crash in 1942, and according to the newspapers of the time, it was Kay’s decision to have that location as Clark’s resting place.
Although of course Clark had been married many times, it was rumored that Carole had been the real love of his life. When they first met, the actor was still officially married to his second wife Maria “Rhea” Langham, though they were separated. And their respective studios were furious when Carole and Clark began going out in public together.
In an attempt to avoid scandal, Clark requested an official divorce from Maria. She agreed, but only if her estranged husband paid her off. The star subsequently asked his bosses at MGM for the money, and they gave it to him in exchange for his involvement in Gone with the Wind. Then, a mere 21 days after the divorce went through, Clark and Carole married.
But Clark was very much a ladies’ man, and even being on his third wife apparently didn’t temper his appetite. In fact, rumor has it that he cheated on Carole, and worse, some people think that Clark’s infidelity may have directly led to her being on that fatal flight in 1942.
In the 2014 book Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3, author Robert Matzen made an astonishing claim. He opined that Carole had taken an inferior plane the night she died because she was desperate to get home and save her marriage to Clark. They had fought about his adultery, the writer claims.
According to Robert, who spoke to the New York Post when his book came out in 2014, “Clark only learned how important fidelity was in his relationship with [Carole] when it was too late. She kept trying to get through to him – including in that final fight. Then she did get through to him and proved how important this marriage was to both of them, by dying in an effort to rush home and save it.”
However, if Clark had indeed learned the value of fidelity earlier, his love child Judy Lewis might never have been born. The latter was the half-sister of John Clark Gable and thus the half-aunt of the late Clark Gable III. And she didn’t know the truth of her parentage until she was a grown adult herself.
Judy’s mother was the famous actress Loretta Young, and the latter had met Gable while the two were filming the 1935 movie The Call of the Wild. He was married to his second wife at that point, and Loretta, meanwhile, was a devoted Catholic. Therefore, a pregnancy out of wedlock would have been a devastating scandal.
Loretta and her family worked fast to hide the pregnancy. If news got out to her studio that she was pregnant, they would insist that she had a quiet abortion, but Loretta’s religious beliefs put her firmly against that. Rumors began spreading in the media that the actress was “fatigued,” but of course that wasn’t the truth.
When a reporter dropped into Loretta’s home to see her, the actress spoke from her bed with pillows were carefully placed to conceal the pregnancy. And as the due date grew ever closer, her family reportedly soundproofed the house with blankets so that no one would hear any screaming and get suspicious.
As soon as the baby arrived, a telegram was sent to Clark informing him of the news. Reportedly, however, he took a look and ripped it up. Loretta named the baby Judy after St Jude – the patron saint of both lost causes and of hope. And when it came time to fill out the birth certificate, she apparently left the space for “father” blank.
Fearing blackmail, the family decided to spin a story about Loretta adopting some children. First, little Judy would spend a short time in an orphanage – despite her parents being very much alive. Then, Loretta would claim her while at the same time telling the press that she’d adopted two girls. One, of course, was fictional, and soon, according to Buzzfeed News, “a relative” would “claim her back.”
That left Loretta with one child – her biological one. But she was still worried that rumors might start swirling as Judy grew older. The child had the same ears as her father, and such was Loretta’s fear that the secret might be exposed, she reportedly took her then-seven-year-old daughter to a surgeon to have them pinned back.
In 1949, the same year Clark married his fourth wife Sylvia Ashley, Loretta agreed to star in Keys to the City with the secret father of her child. The actress had married at this point to a man called Tom Lewis, and she’d had two more children plus a surname to give to her secret one. But on the set of the film, she collapsed and Clark had to carry her out. Then 15 days later she miscarried a pregnancy.
During the publicity tour for Keys to the City, Loretta went out of her way to announce that she had barely seen Clark in the past few years. The truth, of course, was much more complicated. The premiere party was held at her home and Gable was there. He briefly met his daughter, who of course had no clue who he was.
Eventually, as Judy grew older, the truth began to unravel. At 23 years old she became engaged to a man called Joseph Tinney, who told her that Clark was her father. It took several years, but Judy eventually confronted her mother with this knowledge. A very difficult conversation then revealed exactly who her parents really were.
In 1994, long after Clark’s death, Judy published a memoir about her experiences: Uncommon Knowledge. It began with the words, “My life has been filled with hypocrisy and deception from the moment I was born.” Loretta and her daughter were estranged at that point, and they would only make up a short time before the former’s death in 2000.
In 2002 Judy gave an interview to The Telegraph in which she spoke about the mental state her childhood had left her with. She said that sometimes she would watch Gone with the Wind and cry upon seeing Clark interact with his onscreen daughter. Sometimes, she said, “I pretend it’s me.”
Judy passed away in 2011 at the age of 79, and she left behind one daughter: Maria Tinney Dagit. Obituaries for her pointed out that although she’d spent some time in showbusiness just like her father, eventually she earned degrees in clinical psychology and had become a counsellor who specialized in foster care and unwed moms.
Judy’s life was chaotic, but so was that of her half-brother and his family. John Clarke Gable was an object of interest as he grew up, as he was the son that his Hollywood superstar dad never got to meet. He did an interview with People magazine in 1984, and said, “I’m very proud of the Gable name. My father was at the top of his field, and I want to be at the top of mine.”
As it turned out, John attempted to follow in the footsteps of his father, and he appeared in a few movies from 1990 onwards. But he wasn’t anywhere near as successful unfortunately. And in 2013 he was arrested after crashing his pickup truck. Subsequently, John was charged with both a hit-and-run and driving under the influence.
John’s son Clark Gable III seemed to have more success in showbusiness at first. From 2012 to 2013 he was the host of the reality television show Cheaters. And he seemed to have inherited his grandfather’s famous good looks, as well – including the distinctive ears that once so frightened Loretta Young.
But Clark III likewise had trouble with the law. In 2011 the lookalike grandson of the famous actor was arrested for the crime of pointing a laser inside a police helicopter. He was charged with a felony and sentenced to ten days in prison, while two other felony counts were dropped in exchange for a guilty plea.
At the time, Clark III’s manager Roxane Davis told the CNN website. “Boys will be boys, and he was playing with what he thought was a toy and not a felony piece. From what he told me from jail, he had it out the window, and he was shining it out the window, and the next thing he knew was that he had a spotlight on him.”
And when Clark III sadly died, it was reported that drugs were involved. In April 2019 the celebrity gossip website TMZ announced that alprazolam, oxycodone and fentanyl were found in the young man’s system, and that “the medical examiner also found [that Clark] had a history of abusing weed, alcohol and Xanax.”
TMZ sought out the people who had been working with Clark III on Cheaters. The creator of Cheaters, Bobby Goldstein, told TMZ that he had never seen him using drugs and that he’d been reassured by the man himself. But the website also stated that crew members “worried about his drug use.”
The Gable family were naturally devastated when Clark III passed. His mother Tracy Yarro Scheff posted on Instagram, “It is with an extremely heavy heart we say goodbye to my beautiful son Clark. He passed this morning. I will always be next to you my beautiful son. Mom.” And his sister Kayley wrote, “I’m so sorry we couldn’t save you…”
After the untimely passing of her son, Tracy spoke to the Daily Mail newspaper about what had happened. She said of the youngest Clark Gable, “Through the years he has struggled with addiction. I don’t know if that took his life, but I know that wasn’t what he wanted to do.”
Clark III had become a father not long before he died, Tracy said. He was the dad to a toddler called Shore. The grieving mother and grandmother said, “When his girlfriend got pregnant, there was nothing more important for him than being there for the birth of his daughter. That’s all that mattered to him.”
Now another child in the Gable family would grow up not knowing their father, as both John Gable II and Judy Lewis had done. Tracy said, “I saw a sweet boy who loved his little girl,” and she went on, “[Shore is] only one and a half, so I don’t know how much she’ll remember. But we have lots of video and photos.”
Unfortunately, the tragic event put some unpleasant things in the spotlight with regards to the wider Gable family. After her brother’s death, Kayley posted some screenshotted text messages to Facebook allegedly from her father to her. And in the messages, John Clark Gable appeared to more or less disown his son in death.
The message from John read, “I’m sorry for your loss. This is what I want. Cremate him; he’s not going in my family’s plot and I’m not paying for anything. All of you use my father’s name in disgrace and you don’t want me to go to the media, believe me. Leave me and my father out of this drug mess. There are no services on my end. Kayley is to never call me.”
John too had struggled with drugs in the past, Tracy claimed in her Daily Mail interview. She said, “Addiction ruined our marriage. I wasn’t going to have it, so I took my kids. Clark was one and Kayley was three. I tried as much as I could to help John, but you can’t help them unless they want to help themselves. I wasn’t going to have any of it, so that’s when I left him.”
Tracy said that she hadn’t spoken to John for a long time, but of her son’s death she concluded, “I don’t blame anybody. I think addiction is nobody’s fault but the addict’s. It’s a disease, it takes over, and no matter how hard you want them to change the only person that has that power is them. They have to fight for it.”
But as a response to the text message from her father, Kayley expressed deep anger. She wrote on her Facebook page, “I’m sorry, as my brother is in a coffin I’m standing up for him, as I always have, and the world needs to know the truth. I’m putting this out before you start telling lies. John f*** you!”
Kayley wrote on, “You’re the one who got us high on drugs and did drugs in front of us as kids and tortured us and especially Clark so I’m going to write a book and let the world know the truth!” Maybe one day the book will materialize, but it’s clear even without it that the Gable family is in a heartbreaking situation.