Clark Gable Rises to Stardom

The histories of the Michigan Theater and the Redford Theatre are tightly intertwined with those of Ann Arbor, Detroit, theater design, organ music, and other people, places and things. These theaters also have boosted the careers of many famous movie stars, who in turn helped draw crowds to these film palaces.

The Michigan and Redford helped Clark Gable steadily rise to stardom through 1931. In those early days of the Great Depression, these theaters depended on Gable and other new stars of the Talkie era to keep the turnstiles humming.

(Cast billings from

The Painted Desert (Pathé Exchange)

Gable was fifth-billed in this western that starred William Boyd, who gained fame in movies and television as Hopalong Cassidy.

Play dates:

  • January – Fisher (Detroit)
  • April – Redford

Dance, Fools, Dance (M-G-M)

Gable was sixth on the cast list in the first film in Gable’s long career with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was also the first of three 1931 movies with star Joan Crawford.

Play dates:

  • February – Michigan (Detroit)
  • March – Michigan (Ann Arbor)
  • April – Redford

The Easiest Way (M-G-M)

A romantic drama starring Constance Bennett, with Gable eighth-billed.

Play dates:

  • March – Paramount (Detroit)
  • March – Michigan (Ann Arbor)

The Finger Points (First National Pictures)

Fifth-billed behind star Richard Barthelmess.

Play date:

  • April – Michigan (Detroit)

The Secret Six (M-G-M)

Gable ranked seventh on the cast list for this crime drama, which starred Wallace Beery.

Play dates:

  • May – State (Detroit)
  • May – Michigan (Ann Arbor)
  • July – Redford

Laughing Sinners (M-G-M)

Gable, who turned 30 in 1931, moved up to third billing in his second M-G-M picture of the year with star Joan Crawford.

Play dates:

  • May – Michigan (Detroit)
  • June – Michigan (Ann Arbor)
  • July – Redford

Free Soul (M-G-M)

The fourth-billed Gable made a strong impression as one of star Norma Shearer’s love interests in this Oscar-winning movie.

Play dates:

  • June – Paramount (Detroit)
  • July – Michigan (Ann Arbor)
  • August – Redford

Night Nurse (Warner Bros.)

Fourth-billed behind star Barbara Stanwyck in this loan-out to Warner Bros.

Play dates:

  • July – Paramount (Detroit)
  • August – Redford

Then came the M-G-M films that solidly established Gable as a star. Only six months earlier, Gable was a little known actor who had kicked around in several uncredited parts during the silent film era.

Sporting Blood (M-G-M)

Gable had top-billing for the first time as gambler Rid Riddell in this horse racing drama.

Play dates:

  • July – Michigan (Detroit)
  • October – Redford
  • November – Michigan (Ann Arbor)

Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise (M-G-M)

Second-billed to star Greta Garbo. An ad for this movie in The Ann Arbor Daily News read:


Play dates:

  • October – Paramount (Detroit)
  • November – Michigan (Ann Arbor)
  • December – Redford

Possessed (M-G-M)

Gable’s third 1931 film with Joan Crawford. An Ann Arbor Daily News advertisement for Possessed described Gable as “The most romantic screen idol since Rudolph Valentino!”

“It is difficult to understand how any young woman would not respond to the genuine masculine charms of this newcomer to the screen,” wrote Allison Ind of The Ann Arbor Daily News about Gable in Ind’s December 7, 1931 review of Possessed. “He is my personal nomination for the most convincing and the most masculine of the men stars of the screen.”

Play dates:

  • November – United Artists (Detroit)
  • December – Michigan (Ann Arbor)
  • January, 1932 – Redford

Gable had many more triumphs ahead in 30 years of stardom, including Gone With the Wind (1939), which continues to be shown at the Michigan and Redford. His drawing power was so strong, that 25 years later, on December 23, 1956, “Ann Arbor’s Greatest Christmas Show” at the State Theater featured Gable in The King and Four Queens.

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Copyright © 2006 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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