When Clark Gable And Loretta Young Played Lovers, Their Real-Life Affair Led To An Adoption Scandal

Trapped on a snow-covered mountain, Clark Gable and Loretta Young found themselves entangled in a love affair. And as if that wasn’t scandalous enough, the situation was made messier by a shocking piece of news. Young was pregnant. Rather than sacrifice her Hollywood image, though, the expectant actor came up with an adoption plan that eventually turned into a long-standing family scandal.

Loretta Young’s career in film had begun nearly 20 years before starring in Call of the Wild. She started out as a child actress in silent films, working her way up to leading roles in the 1920s. At the end of the decade, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advisers named her as one of its Baby Stars, women thought to be on the brink of stardom.

Young’s Call of the Wind co-star, Clark Gable, meanwhile, had more than established himself in Hollywood. Indeed, their movie would be the actor’s 27th. Prior to that, he starred in such hit films as Red Dust, Manhattan Melodrama and It Happened One Night, a role which won him a Best Actor Oscar in 1934.

ADVERTISEMENT

The next year came Call of the Wild, an adventure film in which Young and Gable played foes-turned-lovers. The actors had chemistry both on-screen and off and filming conditions only added fuel to that particular fire. A blizzard, in fact, kept them stranded on Washington State’s Mount Baker while they filmed.

Of course, having an affair could be detrimental to both Gable and Young’s careers. For one thing, he had a wife at home, Maria Langham, who was his second spouse. And she had a part in an upcoming movie called The Crusades and a bad reputation could affect the actor’s work in the religiously inspired flick.

ADVERTISEMENT

But Young and Gable had a tryst anyway, one that led them to an even bigger dilemma – she became pregnant. An affair that resulted in a child out of wedlock would have destroyed both of their careers. But the expectant mom’s own religious beliefs prevented her from seeking out an abortion.

ADVERTISEMENT

So, Young consulted with her mother and sisters, who helped her come up with a plan to conceal her pregnancy. She filmed The Crusades as planned, since it took place near the start of her nine-month term. Once the shoot wrapped, she then went on an extended vacation in England.

ADVERTISEMENT

A long trip to Europe was in order, Young claimed, so that she could deal with the exhaustion she felt post-filming. The actor went back to her California home some months after that, but didn’t return to movies right away. Instead, she allowed an interview to take place while she was in bed, camouflaging her baby bump with blankets.

ADVERTISEMENT

During the interview, Young said that she had taken that extended break due to a health condition that had plagued her since childhood. In reality, though, she was set to give birth. It all went to plan, though, and the press bought the story. Which left her family with one final thing to worry about, according to a 2015 Buzzfeed exposé.

ADVERTISEMENT

Indeed, Young’s family feared that someone outside of their home would hear the pregnant woman’s screams as she delivered her baby. So, they put towels and blankets over all the windows to help dampen the noise. And, when the actor shrieked with the onset of labor pains, her doctor chloroformed her into silence.

ADVERTISEMENT

So, in November of 1935, Young welcomed her and Gable’s child, a daughter she named Judith. The actor chose the name with her own religious beliefs in mind – it was a female moniker adjacent to Jude. And, as the star herself said, St. Jude stood as the heavenly protector “of difficult situations.”

ADVERTISEMENT

But for Young and her newborn daughter, those “difficult situations” had only just begun. The new mom made her return to the public eye on November 30, just 24 days after she gave birth. Indeed, for New Year’s Eve, she dropped into movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn’s blowout bash. And in January of 1936, she started making movies again.

ADVERTISEMENT

During that time, though Young had hired a nurse named Frenchie to care for Judy – the actress would visit her daughter when she could. However, the nanny seemed to have other plans. Namely, she asked the star’s housekeeper if she’d wanted in on her plan to blackmail the new mom.

ADVERTISEMENT

Fortunately for Young, the housekeeper remained incredibly loyal to her boss. The star, now aware of her nanny’s deception, alerted her family and they acted quickly to conceal the baby. They put Judy into a Catholic-run orphanage, but they planned to come back for her when the smoke cleared.

ADVERTISEMENT

Once again, Young relied on the media to tell help her tell the story she wanted told. The actor, in fact, announced to gossip columnist Louella Parsons that she would be adopting two daughters. The first aged four, and the other, around two years old. In the piece, the star said, “There is just one thing I can’t tell you, and that is where I got the children.”

ADVERTISEMENT

One month after the gossip column ran, Young updated the world on her adoption progress. She claimed that the older girl’s family had, in fact, come back for her. That meant that the star could only adopt the two-year-old girl – the one who just happened to be her biological daughter, Judy.

ADVERTISEMENT

The press, it seemed, hadn’t noticed anything amiss with Young’s situation. Instead, the actor became more and more popular. She would go on to win an Oscar in 1948 for her role in The Farmer’s Daughter, and, when television became an accessible medium, she had an eponymous series for eight years.

ADVERTISEMENT

Nevertheless, many people in Hollywood had an idea of what actually happened between Young and Gable. And that included the lengths to which the new mom had gone to cover it up. The fact that Judy looked so much like her biological father, however, didn’t do much to help the family’s ruse.

ADVERTISEMENT

In spite of Gable’s Hollywood superstardom, he did have some notable imperfections. For one thing, he had extra-large ears – according to the Independent, they “had often been caricatured for their size.” Judy happened to have sizable ears, too, as well as a wide mouth that resembled her father’s.

ADVERTISEMENT

As a result, Young became obsessed with concealing the tell-tale appendages whenever Judy went out in public. And as she described in her 1994 memoir, Uncommon Knowledge, this practice left her hurt. She wrote, “My mother emphasized the importance of keeping my ears covered whenever I would be seen by the public. I began to think of myself as deformed.”

ADVERTISEMENT

At school, however, Judy didn’t have to hide her ears, but this opened her up to bullying from her classmates. When kids teased her and called her “Dumbo,” the seven-year-old, of course, complained to Young. She, in turn, took the little girl to a doctor who could perform an ear-flattening operation.

ADVERTISEMENT

Indeed, this memory served as just one example of the hardship Judy faced growing up as Young’s supposedly adopted daughter. She later wrote in her memoir that she always felt unsure of who she was. Although the little girl had a family and a luxurious life in Beverly Hills, she felt like an outsider.

ADVERTISEMENT

A lot of that had to do with the fact that Young refused to acknowledge to anyone that Judy was, indeed, her real daughter. As she wrote in 1994, “It was always very difficult for me as a little girl not to be accepted or acknowledged by my mother, who, to this day, will not publicly acknowledge that I am her biological child.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Although many Hollywood insiders knew who Judy’s father was, her mother kept the little girl herself in the dark. So, when, at 15 years old, she came home from school to find Gable at her house, she didn’t understand why. During the meeting, the actor asked the teenager about her interests, boyfriend and school.

ADVERTISEMENT

After that, Judy – who eventually adopted her stepfather Tom Lewis’s last name – graduated from her Catholic high school. She went on to pursue a career in acting without knowing just how much that the craft was her blood. Judy then hit it big in a slew of daytime soaps, such as Kitty Foyle, and she also performed on Broadway.

ADVERTISEMENT

In the meantime, Judy’s personal life took off, too. She met Joe Tinney in 1958, and the 23-year-old star planned to marry the TV director. Around that time, though, the actor realized that she couldn’t spend the rest of her life with someone who didn’t know her history.

ADVERTISEMENT

So, Judy shared these feelings with Tinney, who responded in a completely shocking way. According to the Independent, he told his fiancée, “You’re wrong. I know everything about you.” Then, the most jaw-dropping part of all came when he said, “It’s common knowledge, Judy. Your father is Clark Gable.”

ADVERTISEMENT

It took Judy eight more years to confront Young with what she thought she knew. Gable, however, had passed away by the time his biological daughter asked her mother the question. The Oscar-winner’s son, Chris Lewis, later told BuzzFeed that Judy brought it up at a Mother’s Day event attended by the whole family.

ADVERTISEMENT

When confronted with her daughter’s question, Young is said to have left the room and vomited. Eventually, though, the Oscar-winning actor did admit that she and Gable were Judy’s biological parents. But it seemed the damage had already been done to the mother-daughter relationship. According to Chris, their bond broke down after this incident.

ADVERTISEMENT

From Judy’s point of view, Young was a liar. As she wrote in Uncommon Knowledge, “My life has been filled with hypocrisy and deception from the moment I was born.” The Oscar-winner, though, struggled with the situation because of her devout Catholic beliefs. Indeed, it seems that she considered her out-of-wedlock daughter to be a “walking mortal sin.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Young’s daughter-in-law, Linda Lewis, acknowledged the fact that the Oscar-winner didn’t live quite as devoutly as she claimed. But, Linda reasoned, “With Judy, she was trapped. She had this lie and no way to frame it. She took full responsibility for hiding it all her life. To be so caught, in such a public way. What could she have done with that?”

ADVERTISEMENT

Judy later shared her side of the story in her memoir, including her Hollywood parentage. Young, though, did not want the information shared until after her death, but her daughter revealed it anyway. Still, up until her death in 2000, the Oscar-winner refused to speak about her relationship with Gable. In an authorized biography published posthumously, however, she confirmed it all.

ADVERTISEMENT

But 15 years after Young’s death – and four years after Judy died of lymphoma – her daughter-in-law Linda told BuzzFeed that there was more to the story. As she recalled, the Oscar winner had seen an episode of Larry King Live in 1998. And during the episode, King covered the topic of date rape.

ADVERTISEMENT

Afterward, Linda said, Young asked her what it meant – and brought it up again the next day. She tried to clarify the definition, telling her mother-in-law that the act was “basically when you’re with someone that you trust and you’re not compliant, or you’re saying no, and they’re not listening. And they either can’t hear it or believe the old myth of ‘Oh, you really want that,’” the daughter-in-law recalled.

ADVERTISEMENT

Linda went on to explain that the act “doesn’t have to be violent, it doesn’t have to be rip-your-clothes-off. It’s when your no isn’t no.” And, as she remembered it, the definition seemed to elicit a “dawning” in Young. Her mother-in-law eventually alleged, “That’s what happened to me,” in reference to her affair with Gable.

ADVERTISEMENT

The star’s daughter-in-law then said that learning the definition “didn’t make [Young] angry at [Gable], it just gave her a new frame that I think lifted a lot of her guilt.” But her the Oscar-winner felt as though she couldn’t share her story with Judy. At that point, she and her daughter had just started to rebuild their relationship after years of hurt.

ADVERTISEMENT

As Linda told it, Young didn’t think that re-opening the Gable discussion would do any good. Plus, she said, “This wouldn’t help Judy.” The daughter-in-law then explained that statement further, saying that the Oscar-winner didn’t want her daughter hurt by the updated information. “Who doesn’t want to be conceived in love?” she pondered.

ADVERTISEMENT

That’s why Linda sat on the allegations for more than a decade, until Judy passed away in 2011. Then, as she put it, “Something went click.” In the current political climate, she said, she had to share what she knew. “I realized that it’s almost every day, all these rapes, and the men just keep getting away with it,” she explained.

ADVERTISEMENT

Linda did concede that sharing the story without Young or Gable around to tell their sides did make her doubt that she should. “When you’re the keeper of this information, it’s a terrifying story to tell for the first time. The onus is on us to prove it, but you can’t prove it. It’s ‘he said, she said,’ But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell the story,” she concluded.

ADVERTISEMENT

Perhaps in sharing Young’s allegations, Linda did, indeed, help her mother-in-law to regain some control over her story and the clean image that she worked so hard to cultivate. As for Judy, she put her life experiences to good use when, in 1992, she became a licensed psychotherapist. Her specialty? Counseling single parents.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT