It was a hot, sticky Saturday in July, and like the other “B” movie lots around town, the actors at Republic Pictures were working a half-day. On this particular Saturday, they were filming four Westerns and two serials, mostly on the back lot. So, by 12:05 p.m. or so, there was a whole posse of cowboy heroes heading down Ventura Boulevard and over Barham Boulevard to their favorite watering hole, The Smokehouse, across from Warner Brothers.
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By 12:30, the biggest bar in the San Fernando Valley was filling up fast, as the actors from PRC, Lone Star and Monogram joined their compadres from Republic. The last to arrive was cowboy star Don “Red” Barry. He had stopped, as he did every Saturday, to get $2 worth of gas at the local Texaco station. It was a constant source of amazement to the rest of the cowboys that Don could run his big, gray 1947 Cadillac convertible all week for $2 of gas. Johnny “Mack” Brown would have the group in fits of laughter, expounding on how he caught Don feeding a bale of hay into the motor under the hood of his Caddy. Bob Steele, who was Don’s neighbor, swore that Don had gotten hold of a secret carburetor from the government. Tim Holt knew he had a magic pill that changed water into gasoline. Through all this and after a few drinks, Don would smile like he had a big secret—and just maybe he did!
The Crossdraw Kid had arrived home from the usual Saturday movie matinee when the doorbell rang. The Kid opened the door for Ward Bond and Victor Jory, who were just a bit early for the weekly poker game. As they were the first to arrive, The Kid knew what he had to do even before his mom asked him—which was very unusual. In a flash, The Kid was out the door, yelling over his shoulder, “I’ll round up dad and the guys and be right back.”
His mom went to work getting two big card tables ready. She knew that 15 or 20 of Hollywood’s brightest would soon invade her sunroom. But on Saturday, it was the “poker palace.” This had been going on since right after the war, when most of her “boys” came home. Now and again, she would say to The Kid’s dad, “Why don’t you and your cowboy friends go play at someone else’s house?”
But The Kid knew she really enjoyed having them over.
Just as The Kid pulled his trusty bike, “Trigger,” from beside the house, he heard the most incredible sound coming down the street. It was like nothing like he had ever heard before, sort of like a P-51 fighter plane. He ran to the curb as the most wonderful car he had ever seen came around the corner. Low, long and very loud, it was dark green with no top. The driver was smiling and waving to The Kid as the car slid to the curb with a low rumble coming from its dual exhausts. Clark Gable, the King of Hollywood, had arrived in his brand-new, six-cylinder Jaguar XK 120 roadster, the first of its kind in California. The Kid, used to his dad’s Oldsmobile, had only just recently heard the words, “sports car,” but he knew this sleek wonder was it!
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“Where are you off to, kid?” (Just “kid,” as he didn’t know about Crossdraw, the cap-gun hero of the plains) asked Mr. Gable as he lightly revved the big six.
“I’m on my way to the Smokehouse to let dad and the rest of the guys know that you and Mr. Bond and Mr. Jory are here,” The Kid shouted over the roar.
“Hop in and I’ll give you a ride,” said the King.
Poor Trigger hit the dirt like a dead crow, and The Kid was in the red leather passenger’s seat in the blink of a cowboy second.
It was completely lost on The Kid that the last occasion that he spent any real time with Mr. Gable was when Crossdraw portrayed “Baby Beau Wilkes” in the beloved Gone with the Wind 10 years before. The movie wasn’t on The Kid’s mind as they roared down the street, into the setting sun.
Normally, it was just a few blocks from The Kid’s house to the restaurant. But as soon as the slick roadster headed for the hills, The Kid knew this detour was going to be the ride of his life. Mr. Gable told The Kid that he had just picked up the car that morning and wanted to see what she would do. What she would do was scare The Kid to death! This was nothing like his mom’s Chevrolet! As they roared faster and faster along treacherous Mulholland Drive, The Kid, terrified—way, way beyond the ability to scream—did the unthinkable, the impossible, the unbelievable. The Crossdraw Kid peed his pants!
Mr. Gable deftly maneuvered the dark green bullet down the canyon roads and back into the San Fernando Valley. Within minutes they arrived at the portico of The Smokehouse restaurant. Without saying a word about The Kid’s embarrassment, Mr. Gable threw him his soft leather sports coat and said quietly, “Put this on, kid. It’s gotten cold and I don’t want your mom mad at me.” (Let’s see, The Kid’s mom mad at Clark Gable—yeah, sure.) It was around 400 degrees to The Kid, but he gladly donned the jacket to cover his humiliation. “I’ll be right out with the others, you take care of the car,” Mr. Gable said as he disappeared inside.
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Within moments, Hollywood’s heroes surrounded The Kid and his newfound aluminum steed. Thank goodness for the leather jacket! The Kid went on and on to everyone within earshot about his incredible ride, only leaving out, needless to say, one small, unimportant part of an otherwise extraordinary tale of adventure.
And from that fateful summer’s day in 1949, the sound of a raspy six-cylinder engine has been a part of The Kid’s life. Now, he certainly understands that a long line of 1948 Plymouth convertibles with Chrysler flathead sixes are a far cry from twin-overhead-cam Jags. But in 1955, that first red, dual-exhaust, twin-carb Plymouth also led directly to the Pickwick Drive-In Theater, but that’s a story for another time!
Because The Kid and Mr. Gable appeared in Gone with the Wind together, people often ask the former what he remembers about Mr. Gable. Since he was just a baby at the time of the filming, however, Crossdraw tells the story of the speedy, dark green Jaguar and Mr. Gable’s great kindness to the Crossdraw Kid.
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Over 50 years later, The Kid, in his capacity as a writer and producer of the Golden Boot Awards, had the great honor of presenting a Golden Boot to Gable’s son, John Clark Gable, honoring his father’s work in Westerns and his 100th birthday. The Golden Boot Awards were established by Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Iron Eyes Cody and Clayton Moore to honor all those who made the Westerns that we grew up with. For 25 years, the “Boot” honored actors, actresses, directors, writers, stunt people and executives. And, in doing so, raised millions of dollars for the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. Crossdraw was able to organize the last great gathering of Gone with the Wind cast members to present this prestigious award to John Clark Gable.
This article originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of GUNS OF THE OLD WEST®, print and digital subscriptions to GUNS OF THE OLD WEST are available here.