Road Gambler

Road Gambler

Monday, 21 April 2014

Clark Gable (1901-1960): America's image of a fancily dressed gambler.

Johnny Hughes on Clark Gable.

In real life, on stage, and screen, movie star Clark Gable was an elegantly attired gambler his whole life. America perceived gamblers to be like Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind, dashing, handsome, and totally consumed by one woman.

Gable played the heroic, brave, fair, square gambler in a series of movies: San Francisco, Manhattan Melodrama, Barbary Coast, A Free Soul, A Man Of Her Own, Lone Star, and Honky Tonk. Manhattan Melodrama has elements of Arnold Rothstein’s life in New York circa 1920 with his pals: Titanic Thompson, Nick The Greek, Minnesota Fats, Damon Runyon, and Bat Masterson. All these gamblers were known for their tasteful attire and tailor-made suits. In the trial following Rothstein’s murder in a poker game, Titanic Thompson was featured in newspapers coast to coast for his fancy clothes and diamond rings – the gambler’s collateral. Like watches, one could soak them. Many borrow on them.

The gamblers influenced Clark Gable and the movie stars and were influenced by the movies. Gable knew Bugsy Seigel. The early movie companies did business with the mob. The horse’s head in Godfather is the Mafia’s man with the movies and Las Vegas, Johnny Rosselli getting mob darling Frank Sinatra a part in From Here To Eternity. The group I write about in the Old West all dressed fancy, wearing tailor-made suits, starched shirts, and nice hats: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Luke Short, Ben Thompson. The women, Poker Alice and Lottie Deno, wore the finest New York evening gowns in the gambling halls to differentiate themselves from the soiled doves, ladies of the evening, that were many of the women in the Old West. They were called Sporting Women. Gamblers were called Sporting Men, and both along with alcohol were asked to stay in certain parts of all towns. These men had their suits made to conceal their barking iron.

When I turned out as a gambler, the older men taught me to dress very, very well. The producers, business men, oil men, farmers, and such want to see folks who look like they have some money. Titanic Thompson said, "To be a winner, you need to feel good about yourself, and have some advantage." We played poker in old auto shops, the back of car lots, barns, run down motels, and whore houses, but we dressed very well in wool slacks and sports coats, starched shirts, shined shoes, and nice dress hats. Some wore a tie, but not most. There is a controversy in poker because the new twenty-somethings in the tournament look like the three tramps in Dealy Plaza the day Carlos Marcello of New Orleans had John Kennedy killed.

At the early World Series Of Poker, Crandell Addington dressed the very best and was known as "the Dandy." He still holds the record for the most final tables. He is a great source of information for my articles. He might change suits two or three times a day and wore immaculate attire. He was Hollywood's idea of the Texas road gambler, with a Western suit, J.B. Stetson hat, neatly tied tie, and endangered species boots. He won a prop bet once that he would not loosen his tie during the whole tournament.

Mike Sexton has spoken out about tournament players dressing better. For many of the tournament players, it is their one chance to be seen on TV and it certainly seems to me they would wish to make a grand appearance. At the very least televised tournaments should suggest shirts with collars, sport coats, and slacks. They can still patch up with all the advertising like a NASCAR driver. I sure wish the young poker players would dress better on TV, and follow gambling’s tradition. This is one thing where the movies and real life coincide, overlap and are historically accurate. Down through history, gamblers dressed the very best of anyone.

Johnny Hughes is the author of Famous Gamblers, Poker History, And Texas Stories, on all Amazons.

Tags: Johnny Hughes, Clark Gable