Clark Gable as Gay Langland, aging cowboy
Nevada desert, Summer 1960
Film: The Misfits
Release Date: February 1, 1961
Director: John Huston
The Misfits was released sixty years ago today on what would have been star Clark Gable’s 60th birthday. As the actor died three months earlier in November 1960 (just days after filming wrapped), audiences strolling into the theater were already aware that it had been the screen icon’s swan song but were tragically unaware that it would be the last for Marilyn Monroe, who died in 1962 before she could complete production in Something’s Gotta Give.
As it turned out, none of the film’s leading trio would survive the decade as third-billed Montgomery Clift died at the age of 45 in July 1966.
Though not warmly received at the time of its release, The Misfits‘ reputation has benefited from contemporary reconsideration over the years as critics have come to appreciate this somewhat offbeat take on a group of lovable losers and no-account boozers, to pinch a phrase from Billy Joe Shaver.
Isabelle: Him? He’s a cowboy!
Gay: How’d you know?
Isabelle: I can smell, can’t I?
Old-school cowboy Gay Langland has just kissed off another paramour and is sitting down for drinks with his high-flying mechanic friend Guido (Eli Wallach) when they spy the newly divorced Roslyn Tabor (Marilyn Monroe) and her sharp-witted landlady Isabelle (Thelma Ritter) downing some whiskey in the corner. As one would expect of any men who see Marilyn Monroe in a bar, the two buddies strike up conversation with the pair, inviting them out to join them in the desert country outside Reno where there’s nothing to do but “just live”. With a sigh, Roslyn despondently asks “how do you ‘just live’…?” to which Gay enthusiastically responds:
Well, you start by goin’ to sleep. You get up when you feel like it. You scratch yourself, you fry yourself some eggs, you see what kind of a day it is. Throw stones at a can. Whistle!
Sounds like a damn good life to me… and evidently to Roslyn, who impulsively decides to rent a car and join them in the desert, taking heed of Isabelle’s sage but skeptical advice: “Cowboys are the last real men left in the world… and they’re about as reliable as jackrabbits.”
What’d He Wear?
Gay Langland dresses like the prototypical cowboy in his weather-beaten hat and boots, snap-front shirts, and Lee Westerner jacket and pants, but—unlike some Hollywood gents—the grizzled Clark Gable easily sells us on the role. The King of Hollywood may have risen to stardom during the presumed “golden age” when the best-dressed actors typically took to the screen in elegantly cut three-piece suits, but Gable was among the few who could convincingly wear an immaculately tailored worsted suit with a fedora and oxfords in one movie and Western denim with a cattleman’s hat and Lucchese boots in the next.
Gable may have been one of the first to sport on-screen the beige Lee Westerner set that would appear throughout the decade worn by the likes of Sidney Poitier and Elvis, to name a few. Lee had confidently introduced this as the flagship of its “Lee-Sures” line in 1959, just a year before The Misfits went into production. While it may stretch reason to consider that an old-timer like Gay Langland would wear something so new (and ironically marketed to non-Westerners), Gable wears it as effectively as if he’d had the set in his closet for decades.
While Gable often wore his own tailored clothing in his movies, more character-defining pieces like this were evidently sourced from costume departments as the Christie’s, Bonhams, Gotta Have Rock and Roll, and Invaluable auction listings describe “Western Costume Co., Hollywood, Calif.” stamped along the inside in blue ink as well as “No. 21-99-42, Name Clark Gable 1, Chest 46” typed on the label.
Gable’s screen-worn Lee Westerner jacket follows the modernized “trucker jacket” template set by Lee and Levi’s in their competing quest for American denim supremacy, albeit made in a creamy beige cotton sateen rather than the blue jean fabric of the traditional Lee Rider jacket. Just a touch longer than a shirt, the Westerner jacket has six copper rivet buttons up the front and chest yokes that slant toward the center.
Patch-style chest pockets are placed directly below the yoke seams, covered by rounded asymmetrical flaps that each close through a single rivet button; the left pocket flap has the black branded patch with “Lee” embroidered in yellow. Each button is also emblazoned with “Lee”.
A single pleat strip extends down from the front yokes (under the pocket flaps) to the waist hem, which can be adjusted for tightness with a short button-tab toward the back of each side. The set-in sleeves also close at the squared cuffs with a single rivet button. A horizontal yoke also extends across the back with gently tapering seams down from each side to create a keystone-shaped back piece.
Gable wears three similarly styled snap-front shirts as Gay Langland, the pearl snap closure reportedly innovated by Rockmount Ranch Wear founder Jack A. Weil in the early 1900s “for better functionality for cowboys and rodeo riders in the event their cuffs were snagged on a fence,” according to Blue Owl. Rockmount’s site even features Gable in The Misfits among its celebrity galleries and in a 2014 Tweet suggesting that he wore Rockmount style no. 640 shirts on screen.
Whether wearing his Lee jacket or not, Gable tends to keep the back of his shirts flipped up, possibly to protect his neck against the blazing desert sun.
The first and last shirts are very similarly shaded in the black-and-white photography, differing primarily in the cloth texture and the number of mother-of-pearl snaps on the cuffs and gauntlets; the first shirt has a total of four while the third has five. All of the shirts have single-pointed Western yokes—one on each side of the front and one on the back—and two chest pockets with a “sawtooth” double-snapped flap, with Gay constantly drawing from a deck of Kents he keeps in the left pocket.
Focusing on the first shirt the cloth appears to be a dark cotton sateen that shines in the light of the desert and inside Guido’s ramshackle home, with a candid photo of Gable and Monroe on set suggesting a dark brown color. The triple-snap cuffs have a single additional snap to close each gauntlet over the wrist.
Gable briefly wears a differently patterned shirt, printed with a blue-and-white mini check but otherwise similarly cut and styled with its Western yoking, double sawtooth-flap pockets, and four-snap cuff configuration.
The rest of Gable’s Western garb remains consistent, from the worn hat and boots to the Lee Westerner jeans worn occasionally with the jacket.
As of January 2020, Rockmount Ranch Wear offers a cotton snap-front shirt patterned in a small navy and white gingham check, style no. 615, that continues the look that Gable wore in The Misfits, albeit with a slightly more prominent check and diamond-shaped snaps rather than the round ones seen in the movie.
This checked cotton shirt appears during the montage that chronicles much of Gay’s burgeoning romance with Roslyn while the others are away, beginning with the scene where Marilyn Monroe famously caught Gable off-guard by appearing completely naked under the sheets and concluding with a romantic embrace on the cigarette-strewn beach where Monroe’s skimpy, skin-toned bikini makes her look nearly naked. (Yes, there’s a theme here, and it’s not unpleasant.)
For the second half of The Misfits, Gable returns to wearing a dark, solid-colored snap-front shirt, with color photography (see below) illuminating for us that the color is a rusty russet, closer to maroon on the red-brown spectrum than the first shirt. The cloth looks somewhat heavier and coarser, likely a cotton flannel more adequately suited to the rigors of rounding up wild mustangs.
This final shirt also has an additional snap closure on each wrist; the cuffs close with the usual three but there are two snaps over the gauntlets for a total of five snaps, evenly spaced in a row at the end of each sleeve. Otherwise, the Western-yoked shirt with its pair of sawtooth-flap pockets continues the style established by the previous shirts.
As stated, Gable wears the Lee Westerner jeans-style trousers that match his jacket, made from the same light beige cotton sateen cloth. These were included with the screen-worn jacket in the Gotta Have Rock and Roll auction in April 2014, when the total set sold for $5,849.
Though not traditional denim, these flat front pants share the basic properties and configuration of Lee’s classic 101 Rider jeans with their five-pocket layout and copper-riveted corners on the front pockets.
The spade-shaped back pockets are detailed with the brand’s trademark “lazy S”—or “compound curve” as Lee more diplomatically names it—in a low-contrast thread. The back right pocket is marked by the black patch with a yellow-embroidered “Lee” along the top, while the top corners of both pockets are reinforced with the “X”-tack that had replaced copper rivets on the back pockets of all Lee jeans by the late 1930s to avoid scratching saddles. (You can read more about the signature details of all Lee jeans here.)
Gable wears a flashy brown tooled leather belt, contrast-stitched at the edges and detailed with rhinestones and diamond-shaped metal studs. The belt gently tapers before the buckle, a large horseshoe-shaped engraved silver single-prong buckle.
As a contrast to his more extravagant belt, Gable wears plain cowboy boots with brown napped leather uppers that have subtle decorative stitching on the shafts.
For rounding up wild mustangs, Gay protects himself with the added layer of a tanned rawhide vest, matching chaps, and work gloves. According to listings at Julien’s Live and Worthpoint, the non-fastening vest is stamped “FERNANDO VALLEY/SADDLERY/NUYS, CALIFORNIA”, likely referring to the San Fernando Saddlery off Woodman Avenue in Van Nuys, co-operated by Cliff Ketchum and Art Hugenberger from the early 1950s through its closure in 1967.
Sleeveless vests and waistcoats were often favored by cowboys for having less fabric than coats that could potentially snag on trees or fences while also offering an additional protective layer and a few extra pockets, such as the two patch pockets toward the bottom of Gable’s screen-worn vest. While it may be a bit hot for an extra layer, the protective qualities proved invaluable to Gay once he found himself being dragged by a stallion.
Gay’s chaps (shortened from the Spanish “chaparejos“) are cut in the traditional “shotgun” style that had emerged as the favorite of Texas cowboys in the years following the Civil War. Each leg is its own separate piece, tight through the legs but cut out completely over the crotch and seat, where they’re connected with a strap across the back that transitions to a basket-woven leather self-belt in the front that laces together via a short string-tie. Each leg is fully fringed along the side seam, and the front of each thigh is detailed with a sewn-on patch pocket that closes through a single-button shaped flap.
Gable appropriately wears a battered cowboy hat that appears to have seen almost as much living as its wearer. The beige felt hat has a cattleman-style crown with additional pinch to the front and a wide brim that curls up asymmetrically. The hat is finished with a narrow band of plain brown leather around the base of the crown, buckled on the left side.
Clark Gable was a lifelong watch collector who often wore his own timepieces in his movies, and The Misfits appears to be no exception as Gay Langland keeps time with a square-cased tank watch that may be Gable’s own Cartier Tank, worn on a brown tooled leather strap. The white square dial has black Roman numeral markers for each hour.
When Gay spots evidence of a rabbit eating the lettuce they planted, he grabs one of Guido’s pump shotguns and goes to load it with Winchester Xpert shells despite Roslyn’s protestations. He doesn’t get his chance to kill da wabbit as they’re still arguing when Guido and Isabelle return, but we see plenty of the shotgun which appears to be a Remington Model 870 Field Gun.
The manufacturer is evident by the shape and style of the wood-finished slide and Remington’s distinctive cross-hatched cap on the fore-end of the magazine tube. The raised barrel ribbing defines it as a field gun; some hunters have expressed that a raised rib helps sighting down the barrel while others think it adds unnecessary weight and encourages too many shooters to aim and fire a shotgun like a rifle. (You can read more about the ribbed-barrel debate as tactfully addressed by Phil Bourjaily for Field & Stream.)
What to Imbibe
“What you girls drinking?” asks Gay as he strides over to Roselyn and Isabelle, to which Isabelle raises her rye-and water: “Whiskey. We’re celebrating the jail burned down.”
This marks the first of much whiskey to flow through The Misfits, a quantity that’s only compounded after rodeo competitor Perce (Montgomery Clift) joins up with the band. Once Gay, Guido, Roselyn, and Isabelle move the party out to Guido’s spread, the foursome share from a bottle of Walker’s De Luxe rye that Isabelle purchased. This Canadian whisky, “guaranteed aged in wood” as its labels tout, originated at Hiram Walker’s distillery in Ontario, once the site of his experimental workers’ town of Walkerville. While the De Luxe-branded whisky is no longer produced, Canadian Club remains among the more popular Walker brands.
Gay: Turn on that ice, Guido boy! Let’s get this stuff a-flowin’ and make the desert bloom.
Isabelle: Well, let it flow slow… we only got the one bottle.
Once they all have a glass in hand, Isabelle toasts:
Well, here’s to Nevada! The “Leave It” State.
Production on The Misfits had been extensively chronicled by photographers like Eve Arnold and Elliott Erwitt. While it would be a massive undertaking (and beyond the scope of this blog) to comprehensively capture them all here, I did choose a select few of visual interest or that further highlight Gable’s wardrobe.
How to Get the Look
Of all the characters that have worn elements of the Lee Westerner “Lee-Sures” jacket and jeans, Clark Gable’s character in The Misfits arguably best embodies the image evoked by its name: a rugged, desert-bitten cowboy, perhaps a bit long in the tooth but who hasn’t lost his ability to tame wild horses… or wild women.
- Rust-brown cotton Western-yoked shirt with snap-front placket, two double-snap “sawtooth”-flap chest pockets, and triple-snap cuffs with gauntlet snaps
- Beige cotton sateen Lee Westerner “cowboy jacket” with 6 copper rivet buttons, two flapped chest pockets, and single-button squared cuffs
- Beige cotton sateen Lee Westerner flat front jeans with belt loops, slanted side pockets, spade-shaped back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark brown tooled leather rhinestone-studded belt with engraved silver Western-style single-prong buckle
- Brown napped leather cowboy boots
- Cartier Tank watch on brown tooled leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. If you’re interested in a more wizened review than my scribblings can offer, I suggest reading @MadZack’s analysis of The Misfits on Letterboxd. There are also some excellent thoughts about The Misfits available for fans on the Dear Mr. Gable tribute site.
Honey, we all got to go sometime, reason or no reason. Dyin’s as natural as livin’. The man who’s too afraid to die is too afraid to live.