It was a twist of a Hollywood plot that put Otto Winkler on the plane.
Years before as a cub reporter, he had covered a paternity trial in which
Gable had been unsuccessfully sued. The actor had liked Winkler and had
gotten him a job at MGM. Later, Winkler was best man at Gable and Lombard's
wedding. When Carole went on the war bonds drive, Gable persuaded Winkler
to tag along as a chaperon.
The plane went down a few minutes after take off. It was a clear night.
The pilot may not have been at the controls. According to the folklore that
surrounds the crash, the pilot left an inexperienced co-pilot in charge and
wandered over to talk to his famous passenger who had starred in Twentieth
Century with John Barrymore.
It took the original search party some twelve hours to reach the
wreckage. The rough mountain trails were buried by winter snow. The party
was led by an Indian guide. The peak of the mountain glowed crimson in the
night where the plane wreck burned.
The mountain cliff is scarred where the plane hit. One of the engines is
still embedded in the rock. Rusted landing gear lies nearby. All around is a
tangle of wires, shards of windshield, and crushed aluminum--still shiny in
the summer sun.
Gable waited at the foot of the mountain throughout the night for word
from the rescue party. Eddie Mannix, MGM's security chief, talked the actor
out of joining the expedition. Mannix wanted to spare him the gruesome
sight. Finally, word came down from the mountain: There were no survivors.
Everyone aboard had been killed instantly.
A heart shaped clip belonging to Carole was found near the site. Gable
had it made into a locket and wore it around his neck. Even today, other
artifacts turn up: buttons, safety pins, brassiere clasps that may have
belonged to Carole, a lone earring. For years after the crash, Gable
annually sent out a search party hoping to find Carole's wedding ring and
her V for Victory broach.
Lombard was deeply patriotic. She would cry when they played The Star
Spangled Banner. When war was declared, she urged Gable to enlist. He was
reluctant to give up his career and leave the idyllic life they lived on
their San Fernando Valley ranch.
After Lombard's death, Gable drank heavily and sat up nights re-running
her old movies. Later, he enlisted in the army as a private and served with
distinction as an aerial combat photographer in Europe.
Before putting his career on hold, Gable finished the movie he had begun
with Lana Turner. It was a melodrama called, Someday I'll Find You.