Houston 101: Frankly, My Dear, I Don't Give a Damn

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It's a little-known fact that Clark Gable was -- at least for a brief time -- a Houston resident. While the original Hollywood male superstar is far more remembered for singlehandedly destroying the men's undershirt industry and delivering the finest breakup scene in history, his life in Houston was no less interesting.

Gable came here in 1926 as the husband of theater patron and acting coach Josephine Dillon. Although she was 17 years his senior, the aggressively plain-looking Dillon had taken the handsome young actor so far under her wing -- giving him locution lessons, correcting his posture, paying for dental repairs and teaching him the craft -- as to marry Gable, an ultimately poor move on her part.
 
Even though he was only 25 years old at the time, Gable had already acquired a reputation for sleeping with absolutely anything that had a heartbeat, men or women. So when the opportunity arose for the actor to come to sleepy Houston and perform for a year with a local theater company -- Laskin Brothers Stock Company -- Dillon jumped on the chance to send her philandering husband far away from the temptations Hollywood to a place where nothing would tempt him.
 
Gable moved into a house located in Montrose at 411 Hyde Park. The little turreted home was relatively new then, having been built in 1921 by well-known theater director Frederick Leon Webster as his personal studio, then further expanded to include an apartment that is now 413 Hyde Park. Webster himself lived in the grand, Mediterranean-influenced three-story home at 415 Hyde Park -- at the corner of Hyde Park and Whitney -- that was built in 1927, a house which is known as L'Encore. All three residences are now privately owned. Webster was the director of the Little Theater of Houston, and must have been happy to rent the small bungalow in the back to an aspiring and talented actor such as Gable.

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
The front door of 411 Hyde Park, also known as "The Clark Gable House."

​Gable lived at 411 Hyde Park between 1926 and 1927. During that time, he acted in several productions in the city including The Gingham Girl (in which he sang and danced for the first time), The Noose, The Dark Angel and George Kelly's Craig's Wife. According to the book Clark Gable: Tormented Star, Gable's high-pitched voice -- which he struggled to tame into a more manly baritone for years -- was criticized by the Houston Press, although they ultimately concluded that he had "a charming stage personality."

It was during this time spent with the Laskin Brothers that Gable encountered the woman for whom he would leave poor Josephine Dillon. Ria Langham was a fantastically wealthy Houston socialite (who is currently residing at Glenwood Cemetery), a woman who had already had three husbands prior to meeting Gable. One of those marriages, to industrialist Alfred Lucas, resulted in her amassing a huge fortune upon his death in 1922.

Like Dillon, Langham was also 17 years Gable's senior. But her standing in society coupled with her massive fortune quickly led Gable to abandon Dillon for a new patron. Dillon's last attempt at saving her marriage to Gable was to send him to New York City to perform in a stage production of Machinal in 1928. This futile move only led to more success for Gable, who was well-received by The New York Times and audiences, as well as for Langham, who had an apartment in New York and was therefore able to continue her relationship with Gable unimpeded.

By 1929, Gable had left both Dillon and Houston for good. And while he would go on to achieve immense success in Hollywood (leaving Langham along the way, and marrying Carole Lombard in her place), a little part of Houston will always retain his rakish and devilishly charming charm.

For more photos of Clark Gable's house, head over to our slideshow.

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