The King Finally Crowns Himself
Clark Gable Produces The King and Four Queens (1956)
|Jane Russell, husband Bob Waterfield w/ Kay & Clark Gable|
|Producing Partners Waterfield and Gable Confer w/ Director Raoul Walsh|
Gable deplored old films on television, and said so to all comers. He feared no one would pay to see him in theatres when they could have a younger him for free at home. Otherwise, he enjoyed the medium, especially sports being broadcast. As to otherwise mediocrity, "TV has the brains and the techniques behind it. It is going to get better," said Gable. Acid test of his theory was The King and Four Queens going into release just as massive pile of pre-48 MGM's landed on the tube, as in everywhere, for most viewing markets bought in, Leo being a best retailer of old features so far. Deal for The King and Four Queens had been cut back in April 1955, before anyone saw such a dump coming. Gable was in for salary and generous slice of pie (10% of gross, or 50% of net, whichever was greater, said Variety's Army Archerd on 3-28-56). A previous free-lance deal with Fox had given him percentage of gross receipts, which put CG in the chips, but left 20th with a loss, at least for The Tall Men, his second for them. Gable was still a meaningful name, however, so United Artists was pleased to tie on with his project, kick in some financing, and handle distribution. "UA Hails The King," they'd say in proud trade ads for The Last Man In Wagon Mound, which was working title for The King and Four Queens.
"Gabco Productions" had a same bugaboo as other indies: "The big problem is finding a good story," said its chief, who knew from bad stories he'd been handed as an obedient contract player for most of past twenty-five years. The Last Man In Wagon Mound at least looked like a cinch, what with roguish Gable as rooster in a crowded hen house, but where were other roosters he could peck at? The King and Four Queens as finished was notably shy of action. Gable's being chased at a credits start. We don't know for what, and never find out. Maybe the movie would have been better to show events leading up to that. Anyhow, he's soon confined and under watchful gun of matriarchal Jo Van Fleet and bevy of beauty he'll seduce for sake of hidden gold. This sounded like bee's knees for sex, but a Production Code was still in force, and besides, Gable's was a family audience. He least of anyone had desire to make a dirty movie. Result was fade/dissolves off hug/kisses as engaged by the King and his
Gable was a truest holdout against television, despite one in "every room" in his house ("If I didn't have them, I'd probably go out to more movies," he told Army Archerd). Gable had pat answer should broadcasters come calling: "I sent word out through my agent that I was not available for TV. I like the picture business, and I don't want to mix the two ... I don't want to be in competition with myself." Time brought new realities, however. Many millions more were watching the tube than buying tickets by 1956. If you wanted exposure to these, let alone sell a new feature, it would be necessary to meet the enemy and make him your partner, no matter distaste of the enterprise. Bearding this lion came easier where den-master was old Gable pal Ed Sullivan, who had after all crowned the King back in 1938 and made nationwide hay of the coronation. Could Ed do as much for The King and Four Queens? Gable appeared on the CBS Toast Of The Town program in hopes he would. This was the star's first time on home screens, other than Metro oldies poured over late hours.
Sullivan was a friend to movie merchandisers, having been in bed with Fox for The Best Things In Life Are Free, and on behalf of UA with Trapeze. He'd fly to The King and Four Queens'
|United Artists Merchandisers Look For Sales Angles|
Such a pitch to exhibitors smacked of desperation, wise ones sensing a tough sell. Good product spoke for itself, and didn't need such help down the distribution line. Trade shows told truth of the matter. The King and Four Queens fell short of promises they'd be expected to make, and no one liked misleading customers, for they had way of biting back when so suckered. Folks still liked Gable, him a brand name built over decades and happily associated with what sold best in movies --- action and sex. Yes, he was older, and others had supplanted the King at top of polls, but there was still willingness to go when he offered something worthy. Cascade of his old stuff on TV showed youth what Gable had done at his best, and who knows but what a few might drop into The King and Four Queens to see if he still had chops. Mom and Dad knew affirmative of that, but they tended to stay home unless a special drew them on, which The King and Four Queens was not. The sales contest, then, was making best of a bad job, and at least fired up management at local levels. If they'd not push hard for sake of the picture, then let them do so for the cash reward.
LOOK magazine kicked in with a Gable profile. He was always news, a part of history really. Vet columnists were also ready to lend a hand, like Joe Hyams in three parts at twenty-five newspapers. Hyams and journo fellowship long knew Gable as a good scout, and where The King and Four Queens could be boosted, they'd do so. Ultimate take of $2.199 million in domestic rentals, with $1.2 million foreign, was a letdown, if not expected for merchandise this was. Maybe it was a younger man's action game ... Burt Lancaster as The Kentuckian had taken a brisk $4.9 million a year before, Kirk Douglas in The Indian Fighter getting the same figure prior to that, both for United Artists release. Gable perhaps saw handwriting and veered to comedy afterward. The King and Four Queens did not play ABC primetime movies as did so many UA's in the early 60's. In fact, no network ran it. Gable had a clause requiring his OK for release of the film to TV, so delay due to him, and subsequently his estate, may have scotched early effort to put The King and Four Queens on viewing schedules. There's a Blu-ray out from Kino that looks fine, properly wide and with good color. As final flush of lady-killing, would-be action man Gable, The King and Four Queens is a must, and it matters a lot less after sixty years that this show delivers less than was hoped. We could say that, after all, for half at least of everything we see.