Gable and Lombard Street

Posted on March 30, 2012 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Was that an earthquake, or just Jeanette MacDonald rocking Clark Gable’s world? In the 1936 hit film “San Francisco,” it’s both. The 1906 quake (and Spencer Tracy) co-star as the film plays Monday, April 2 at 7 p.m. at the Sebastiani Theatre.

The film, a nominee for Best Picture and the biggest money maker of that year, shows again on Wednesday, April 4 at 1 p.m.

Gable runs a Barbary Coast gambling joint when he meets sweet-singing MacDonald, who aspires to be more than just a saloon act. A fight over who gets to book her, in more ways than one, ensues between the shady Gable and the owner of a more uptown venue. Tracy, a priest, is always at the ready to verbalize Gable’s conscience.

And then there’s the earthquake. A doozy even now, the effect was created by building sets on giant moving stages. With the city in ruins, MacDonald and Gable find each other among the homeless multitudes in Golden Gate Park, just in time for the uplifting finale.

The screening is part of the Vintage Film Series #4 presented by the Sebastiani Theatre Foundation. Tickets are $8. For more contact 996.9756 or

“San Francisco” trivia

1) What debuted first – this film, the Golden Gate Bridge or Herb Caen’s column in “The Chronicle?”

2) The title tune is one of San Francisco’s two “official” songs. Name the other.

3) For the aria scenes, Jeanette MacDonald’s voice was dubbed by Maria Callas. True or false?

4) Which actor was older: Clark Gable while making this film, Cary Grant in “Gunga Din” or Paul Newman in “The Hustler.”

5) Gable’s co-star Spencer Tracy was nominated for a 1937 Oscar for this role. Over the course of their careers, who took home more Academy Awards?

6) Walter Jurmann, co-writer of the song “San Francisco,” later wrote film music for what comedy team?

7) The most famous director went uncredited. What big name stepped in for W.S. Van Dyke to handle the earthquake scene?

8) “San Francisco” was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but lost to “The Great Ziegfeld.” Name the only film with the name of an American city in the title to ever win the award.

9) Two international cities have been Oscar-worthy. Name the movies.

Film trivia answers

1) Film: June 26, 1936. Bridge: May 27, 1937. Column: July 5, 1938.
2) “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
3) False. It’s all MacDonald, who was to become an accomplished opera singer.
4) They were all 35.
5) Tracy won two, and did so in the two years following this film, for “Captains Courageous” in 1938, and “Boys Town” in 1939. Gable has won his lone Oscar in 1934 for “It Happened One Night.”
6) The Marx Brothers.
7) D.W. Griffith
8) “Chicago,” in 2002.
9) “Casablanca” in 1943 and “An American in Paris” in 1951.

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