Judy Lewis – the illegitimate daughter of Clark Gable and Loretta Young, died last week at age 76.
As some of you know, I did a joint book signing with her years ago when I was promoting “Sweethearts” and she was first “coming out” with her autobiography and true story. At that time her story was considered oh-so-shocking with an impact not unlike Christina Crawford when she exposed Joan Crawford’s mothering skills in her tell-all book.
I spent about 4 hours with Judy and she indeed resembled both her mother and father. It was obvious just from looking at her that she was Clark Gable’s daughter. We discussed what a nightmare it was for illegitimate children of Hollywood celebrities to come forward and wondered how many others Gable and other stars might have had…sometimes without even knowing.
Her mother finally did admit that Judy’s claims were true but as far as I know, her half-brother John Clark Gable never publicly accepted her and they were not on friendly terms when I met Judy.
Below is the obituary that has appeared in many newspapers worldwide:
Judy Lewis, born November 6 1935, died November 25 2011
Judy Lewis, who has died aged 76, was the secret lovechild of Clark Gable and Loretta Young, but only began to learn the complicated truth about her parentage when she was about to get married.
For many years the identity of Judy Lewis’s famous father was kept from her in order to preserve her mother’s reputation. Neither Clark Gable nor the glamorous screen siren Loretta Young were able to tell the truth about their daughter’s birth.
“For most of my life, I’ve been unable to claim my real identity,” Judy Lewis told The Daily Telegraph in an interview in 2001. “The outside world was told that I was my mother’s adopted daughter. But look at my face. It’s obvious that I have Clark Gable’s features. I even have his slow left eye. I’m afraid that I also inherited his large ears. They were so prominent that I had an operation in childhood to reduce them. Before then, I was teased at school and called ‘Dumbo’. ”
It was only shortly before her death in August 2000 that Loretta Young finally acknowledged the truth, admitting to her authorised biographer that the baby she had “adopted” was actually her own daughter by Clark Gable.
Judy Lewis was born on November 6 1935 in Venice, where Loretta Young “hid” during the final weeks of the pregnancy. When Judy was eight months old, her mother placed her in a Roman Catholic orphanage in San Francisco, taking her back 11 months later .
The “adoption” was leaked to the Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons, who portrayed it as a generous act of mercy towards another woman’s baby.
Judy had in fact been born as the result of an affair between Gable, then 34 and married, and the 22-year-old Loretta during the filming in the Yukon of Call of the Wild (1935). Both were rising stars with promising careers ahead of them.
Loretta Young was a devout Roman Catholic, and viewed by cinema audiences as the quintessence of virginal purity. She was mortified when she discovered that she was pregnant, and realised that the scandal could destroy her career.
To avoid exposure, she devised an elaborate ruse. As soon as her pregnancy became apparent, she embarked on a tour of Europe; and on her return to Los Angeles she took to her bed, claiming a mixture of exhaustion and some unspecified illness.
Gable offered to obtain a divorce and marry her, but Loretta Young refused. “She told me later that her greatest regret was not marrying him,” Judy Lewis said. Gable subsequently married Carole Lombard.
A few years later Loretta Young married a radio producer called Tom Lewis, who believed her story about Judy’s adoption and became a father to the girl.
The couple had two sons, but Lewis started to resent Judy and never legally adopted her, although she took his name. He was never told the truth about her birth.
One day, when Judy was 15, she came home from Marymount Girls’ Catholic School to find Clark Gable in the living room: “He looked at me and said: ‘You must be Judy’. I said: ‘And you’re Mr Gable, aren’t you?’ We laughed, and he stayed and talked for maybe half an hour.
“When he got up to go, I walked him to the door and he took my face in his hands and kissed me on the forehead. I had no idea why he was showing me so much affection, but, of course, as I realised later, he was saying goodbye. I never saw him again.”
When Judy was in her twenties and engaged to be married, her fiancé, Joe Tinney, a young Los Angeles businessman, told her of the rumours surrounding her birth: “Don’t you know?” he said. “It’s common knowledge in Hollywood that you’re Clark Gable’s daughter.”
Judy Lewis was astounded, but could not bring herself to confront her mother for six years. When she finally insisted on knowing the truth, Loretta Young told her everything; but the revelation undermined their relationship, leading to a long estrangement.
After pursuing a modest career as an actress in the 1960s and 1970s, Judy Lewis left showbusiness to work as a psychologist, specialising in family counselling.
Her candid memoir, Uncommon Knowledge (1994), led to more emotional upheavals with her mother’s family and friends.
She told the Telegraph that she always cried when she watched Gable’s loving scenes with his on-screen daughter in Gone With the Wind (1939): “It’s very sad to me because he’s so dear with her. I pretend it’s me.”
Judy Lewis divorced Joe Tinney in 1972. Her partner, Steve Rowland, survives her, as does a daughter of her marriage.