Unlikely Friendships & Colorful Characters
A few days ago I was driving into Kingman, Arizona, my adopted hometown, on the post 1937 alignment of Route 66 when a thought popped into my head. Clark Gable, Carol Lombard and Otto Winkler, Gable’s publicist, drove from Los Angeles to Kingman on Route 66 back in March 1939. Gable and Lombard were eloping to Kingman. What type of car was the trio driving? And that question led to another. Why did they elope to Kingman?
Over the years thoughts like these have often led to rather interesting adventures. And more often than not, the quest for answers has led to some fascinating discoveries. And in turn many of those discoveries became fodder for podcasts, presentations, books, feature articles, and assorted Jim Hinckley’s America programs and projects.
As I was delving for answers about Gable and Lombard’s nuptials, I stumbled on an interesting historic tidbit. Apparently, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Harpo Marx were good friends that shared more than a common career as thespians. They also enjoyed a love or fast cars, and bourbon. In the mid-1930s, Gable and Cooper bought powerful, supercharged SSJ Duesenberg’s. Marx drove a high-powered Mercedes-Benz SSK.
And if you think that Harpo Marx, Gary Cooper, and Clark Gable was an odd friendship, did you know that Groucho Marx and Alice Cooper were pretty good friends? That, amigos, is a story for another day.
Well, my search for answers led to some intriguing stories about celebrities and their cars. And as I greatly enjoy telling people where to go, and sharing America’s story, a few of thse stories were transformed into episode nine of Car Talk From The Main Street of America, a Jim Hinckley’s America podcast.
The podcast, the second one from Jim Hinckley’s America, was a no brainer. The sharing of automotive history is a cornerstone at Jim Hinckley’s America.
This podcast is in an embryonic state. But to date I have shared a number of interesting stories that, based upon comments received, are piquing peoples curiosity.
In episode four I shared the store of a series of races that were officially called the Desert Classic. But it was dubbed the Cactus Derby and the name stuck.
As with the search for answers about Clark Gable’s trip to Kingman, I stumbled on these long forgotten races while looking for information about Louis Chevrolet. He participated in the last of the Desert Calassic races in 1914.
As to the origins of the races, I am inclined to believe that drinking was involved. After all, I can’t think of an epic story such as this that started with, they were having a salad.
The initial race was the brainchild of Dr. George Vickers, owner of the Arizona Republican newspaper, now the Arizona Republic, in Phoenix, Arizona and Purdy Villard of the Maricopa County Automobile Club. According to local legend, the two men were having an intense discussion in a Phoenix social club about gasoline powered automobiles and cars with steam engines, and which was more practical.
In episode five I shared the story of another auto race. This motoring event was an epic worthy of Jason and the Argonaut’s. The staring line was in New York City, the finish line was in Paris, France. The year was 1908 and the drivers faced an incredible array of obstacles. One team became stranded in the Gobi Desert and had to wait for gasoline to be delivered by camels.
The first few days of the race aptly illustrate the challenges faced by the drivers and mechanics. A broken differential forced August Pons, driver of the French Sizaire-Naudin, to drop out of the race after only 96 miles. The De Dion, the Zust and the Thomas Flyer ran neck and neck with the Protos and the Moto-Bloc bringing up the rear.
In Hudson, New York, the cars were forced to plow through snow that was more than a foot deep in a single file with the Thomas Flyer, with no heater, no top, and no windshield, in the lead. Mechanics shoveled snow, and planks were put down for traction.
The trail out of Auburn, which the New York Times described as the worst road in the United States, lived up to its reputation. Three cars were mired axle deep at Dismal Hollow in the Montezuma Swamp. The men prepared to camp for the night, but an American guide hired by the Italian team arrived with a farmer and a six-horse team that pulled the cars from the quagmire.
Reflection on how random questions have led to some interesting discoveries, and how those discoveries became programs or books, has me rather excited. I still want to know what Clark Gable, Carol Lombard and Otto Winkler were driving and why they eloped to Kingman. I can’t help but wonder what will be found in my search for answers.