Great Encounters #37: When Clark Gable came to the aid of Billie Holiday

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons.

This edition:
When Clark Gable came to the aid of Billie Holiday


Excerpted from Lady Sings the Blues, by Billie Holiday


     One day in Hollywood I went out for a drive with this rich young blonde starlet. She was running around with Billy Daniels, whom I used to work with back at the Hotcha. Billy had loaned her his pretty Cadillac to drive around in. She was taking me to the aquarium, when boom, this brand-new fishtail stopped and we couldn’t start it.

      There we sat out on this deserted spot near the beach. I knew from nothing about a car and she knew damn little more. I thought we were stranded until I saw a car down the road a piece. There was a cat lying under it, tinkering around, and he looked like he knew what he was doing.

      So I hailed him. “Hey, man,” I said, “there’s a couple of chicks in distress over here. How about coming over and seeing what’s wrong?” When he crawled out from under the car he had sunglasses on, but he looked familiar. I said, “I know you some damn where.” He was real nice; he recognized me from having been over to the joint in the valley and heard me sing.

      It only took him about two minutes to find out what was wrong and to fix it. Then he got behind the wheel and drove the car for a little to make sure everything was all right before he left us. Then he asked us if we wouldn’t like to stop and have a drink. I was ready, so he drove us up to a big fancy country club or something right near the beach.

      We walked in the bar and people were all eyes. I didn’t think anything of it. That was always happening. But there has to be one joker everywhere. And there was one there at the bar. When he finally got loaded enough he walked over to our table; he stared me up and down. Then he stared the blonde up and down. Then he turned to our mechanic friend and said, “Well, I see you get all the dames.”

      It wasn’t until our mechanic buddy got up from behind the table and flattened this cracker to the floor that I came to. It was Clark Cable who’d give us the lift.

      He laughed when I told him I recognized him by his fist work.


Excerpted from Lady Sings the Blues, by Billie Holiday