Posted by: Jerry Garrett | July 29, 2012

Why Didn’t Clark Gable Win The Oscar For Gone With The Wind?

Clark Gable delivers the most famous line in movie history. (Selznick Int’l Pictures)


A question posed by asks, “Why didn’t Clark Gable win the Best Actor Oscar for ‘Gone With The Wind’?”

The response selected as the “top answer” was “Because he wasn’t nominated.”

Well, that is just wrong. He was nominated.

Regardless, he did not win – even though the film won in just about every other category in which it was nominated – a record eight Oscars overall. But nothing for its most powerful star.

70 years already!

Even with the passage of time – over 70 years now – that still seems hard for a lot of people to believe. After all, has there ever been a more memorable, indelible, iconic male performance in any movie – ever?

Admittedly, the field of Academy Award nominees back then was pretty strong; 1939 might have been one of the greatest years in the history of movie-making. Besides, Gable’s nomination, the field included Jimmy Stewart in the brilliant “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”; the estimable Sir Laurence Olivier in “Wuthering Heights”; and the eventual winner Robert Donat in the largely forgotten “Goodbye Mr. Chips”. For some reason, Mickey Rooney was also nominated for “Babes in Arms”.

The worthy performances that weren’t even nominated included John Wayne’s star-making turn in “Stagecoach”; Burgess Meredith in “Of Mice and Men”; Henry Fonda in “Young Mr. Lincoln”; Gary Cooper in “Beau Geste”, and Charles Laughton in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.

Gone & Forgotten

Was Donat’s award a surprise? Yes and no.

It was no surprise to Gable. Why? Because he learned before the award ceremony that he had not won. The Los Angeles Times obtained a list of the winners (and losers) before the ceremony – and despite promising not to reveal the information ahead of time, they printed it anyway.

Gable and Bette Davis, who also knew she had lost for Best Actress, to their credit attended the ceremony anyway – and played along with the ruse that nobody knew the winners.

It was such a surprise to Donat, meanwhile, he didn’t even show up for the awards ceremony. (His career fizzled out after that.)

Too easy!

What was wrong with Gable’s performance? Some critics said he was such a natural for the part, he didn’t seem like he was acting. (John Wayne and Clint Eastwood used to get that a lot too.)

But that doesn’t fully explain his loss.

The best explanation I came across was from producer David O. Selznick himself. He said after the ceremony he took his publicist Russell Birdwell to task for being so certain Gable would win that he focused his campaigning for individual awards on others he considered needed it more.

Sort of a “Dewey Defeats Truman” overconfidence kind of thing.

Gable’s one win

How did Gable feel about the whole thing? “Frankly, my dear…” No, actually, it’s hard to say. He seemed to stuff whatever feelings he might have had about the whole thing. He was already no stranger to losing – having been passed over for his Fletcher Christian performance in 1935’s excellent “Mutiny on the Bounty” (Laughton also lost for the best Captain Bligh ever); but he was also no stranger to winning either – having won his Best Actor Oscar for 1934’s “It Happened One Night”.

For what it’s worth, Gable felt his best performance was his last, in “The Misfits” with Marilyn Monroe, which was released after his death in 1961. For that film he wasn’t even nominated. Ouch!

Jerry Garrett

July 29, 2012


  1. Great analysis. I have a question in my mind since I saw the movie last week and you could answer it. Was Gable’s performance a leading or a supporting role? I felt that the only leading rol was Leigh’s.

    • Gable was nominated in the Best Actor category.
      Good point, though: The movie, as well as the book, is all about Scarlett, however. There are long, long sections of the book where Rhett Butler is never mentioned. Scarlett seems obsessed endlessly with Ashley Wilkes. Butler leaps off the few pages in which he commands attention in the book; in the movie, his role is re-shaped into more of a dual focus with Scarlett’s, and Gable more than pulls it off. Maybe Leslie Howard’s weak Ashley needed to have been more of a memorable movie presence. Maybe Ashley would have been equal to the other leads if a more dynamic actor had been cast in the role, such as Randolph Scott – as the book’s author Margaret Mitchell had originally envisioned. (Cary Grant was also considered.)

  2. Laurence Olivier was so terrible in Wuthering Heights. Too stagy and theatrical. It was as if he never read the book.

    • It is interesting to see old movies and see which performances stand the test of time, isn’t it?

      • I feel the same , but of course the actors of the time such as CG has stood quite awhile in shoes that’s hard to fill these days espcially … One that I think could put them on and walk aways in my opinion would be Mathew Macconughey … (Hope I spelled it right ) I like the diverse style of characters he portrays such an array and does them hole heartedly if you will .

  3. I maybe weigh out in left field but Clark refused to use a southern accent for the part , had he done it with the accent to me he would have been acting the part of a southern gentleman . Just my thoughts but of course I am a SG …

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