Kathleen Gretchen Williams

Kathleen Gretchen Williams was born on August 7, 1916, on a Peach Farm in Erie. Kathleen left the farm at seventeen to become a fashion model in New York. She rushed into an early marriage to an engineer named, Parker Capps, and by age twenty she was a divorcée. She appeared in many magazines and was lauded the most beautiful model of the year. Hollywood beckoned her and she signed a contract with MGM to join their roster of starlets. After appearing in a few bit parts she became disillusioned with movie-making. In 1941 she married Martin deAlzaga Unzue, a millionaire playboy from Argentina. He filed for an annulment after ten days but later dropped the suit. Kathleen filed for divorce eight months later, citing cruelty. They were finally divorced in 1942.

In late 1942, now married to Adolph Bernard Spreckels II, Kathleen received a call from an MGM executive inviting her to the going-away party MGM was throwing for Clark Gable, then a WWII enlistee, before he headed off to Europe for the war. They wanted her to be Clark’s dinner partner so he wasn’t alone. She declined. Another executive called back and told her she should reconsider. She still said no; she wasn’t interested in being his blind date.

Six months later Clark was home on leave from the military. He decided one day to called her out of the blue and asked her out, saying he was sorry they weren’t able to meet before. She accepted. He brought her to his ranch for dinner. Clark’s cook tripped on her way into the dining room and the main course flew everywhere; they were both covered in gravy. They both burst into hysterical laughter. Clark then said "Well, the first date you have with me and you end up in the gravy; at least you won’t forget it. I imagine I’ve made quite the impression on you.” After a year of seeing each other, they split amicably. Clark at the time had a wandering eye for, Sylvia Ashley (Clark’s fourth wife) and was off on location for a movie, Kathleen and Clark both moved on. They did not communicate for about ten years.

In the meantime, Kathleen had two children: Adolph III (called Bunker) in 1949, and Joan in 1951, with Adolph Spreckels, heir to the Spreckels sugar fortune whom she had married in 1945. By 1953 the marriage had deteriorated. They had a very messy divorce, where he accused her of being a heartless gold digger, and she told stories of him beating her unconscious with her slipper and threatening her with an ax. Both accused the other of being an alcoholic and Adolph went so far as to accuse her of having an affair with Clark during their marriage, which was plausible.

Once again, out of the blue one day, in 1954, Clark called Kay and asked her to dinner. They instantly clicked and were inseparable from then on. Clark asked Kathleen to marry him as they sat by his pool one day in May. The engagement was short and they were married a month later. To avoid the press, Clark and Kathleen, invited only Clark’s friend, Al Menasco and his wife, Julie, and Kay’s sister, Elizabeth to the small town of Minden, Nevada, for their nuptials. Kathleen wore a navy blue Irene suit with matching heels, white gloves and pearls. Clark wore a dark blue suit, white shirt and dark tie. It was said that Clark was very nervous. They were married at the home of the Justice of the Peace, Judge Walter Fisher, at about 6:00 p.m. on July 11, 1955. The newlyweds immediately flew to the Menasco’s home in Northern California for a romantic five day honeymoon alone.

Friends of Clark said that he seemed to be finally contented, for the first time since Carole Lombard died. There were many similarities, between Kathleen and Carol (Clark’s third wife) such as Kathleen’s tendency for foul language and her ability to rough it with Clark on hunting trips. And, like Carole, she let Clark be who he was and did not try to change the ranch. Friends of hers had assumed that her two children would scare Clark away, but quite the opposite, Clark was an attentive stepfather. They were both overjoyed when Kathleen became pregnant. Clark told her, “It’s a miracle, a miracle! At last, we’re going to have a baby in the house. It will be like starting all over again. Kathleen–you’re 43 and I’m 59. Why, just think, between us we’re 102 years old and we’re having a baby!”

Clark had a heart attack, before the birth of his son, on November 6, 1960, and was rushed to the hospital. While he waited for the ambulance Gable indicated that he didn’t want his three months pregnant wife to upset herself over him. But Kathleen rode with him anyway in the ambulance to the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. Tests conducted there confirmed Gable had a coronary. He was given sedatives and anticoagulants and was observed by 24-hour nursing staff. Kathleen took a bed in an adjoining room. Bypass surgery being a thing of the future, rest was in 1960 considered the best treatment for heart attack victims. Just ten days later he was gone. Extraordinarily in the following ten days, Clark appeared to be recovering, so much so that his wife felt comfortable about leaving him for a couple of hours to return to the ranch to do a few things. It was reported that he was looking his old self again and that his color had returned. He was chatting to the nurses and sitting up in bed reading — and probably smoking as well. The night that Clark passed away Kathleen had dinner with Clark in his hospital room and then went across the hall to lay down. At 10:50 p.m. the doctor woke her up and told her that Clark had simply closed his eyes, his head fell back against the pillow, and he died.

Kathleen ensured that Clark had the simple funeral at the Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Trust at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California, that he had requested. She sat in the front row with her children, Bunker and Joan, her face covered by a black veil. Clark was laid to rest next to Carole, as he requested.

Kathleen delivered Clark’s son, John Clark, at the same hospital that Clark had died in months earlier, by scheduled cesarean section on March 20, 1961. Kay received many baby presents and cards from Clark’s fans around the world. Born and raised a Catholic, she decided to rejoin the church and her faith after Clark’s death and had John Clark baptized a Catholic, with many of Clark’s friends attending the christening.

Not interested in remarrying, Kathleen was very active in local charities and ensuring her children received the best education. She eventually retired to Houston, Texas, where she had family. She had suffered from angina for several years and went in for triple bypass surgery, ironically a procedure that might have had benefited Clark in 1960. Kathleen never regained consciousness and died on May 25, 1983, of heart failure. Kathleen is entombed in the same wall as Clark and Carole in the Mausoleum at Forest Lawn in Glendale. 

Kathleen Gretchen Williams and Clark Gable
Kathleen Gretchen Williams and Clark Gable.

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