Virginia Grey's own love story was more tragic than her romance with Major Seth Adams on Wagon Train
The overlooked Hollywood beauty played Seth Adams' lost soulmate, but in the real world, her real soulmate, Clark Gable, got snatched away.
On Wagon Train, wagon master Major Seth Adams has a completely heartbreaking love story that's unpacked through flashbacks in the two-part episode "The Major Adams Story."
The love story goes like this: Seth falls for a girl named Ranie Webster, and then he gets called to go off to war. Desperate to have her be his, he asks again and again for her hand, but she says she won't agree to marry him until he returns. Seth goes to war, where he gets wounded so badly, he doesn't believe he will survive, so he decides to stop writing to Ranie so she would just assume he died.
That's exactly what happened, and Ranie marries another. But then, her husband dies, and she goes running back to Seth, finding him on the wagon train. Seth tries to resist his feelings, while another man tries to woo Ranie, and the whole thing ends in a crazy showdown between the two suitors. When Seth wins, he announces he will leave the train to marry Ranie!
You might think this means the love story is going to have a happy ending, but Wagon Train is a drama, my friend. Instead, Ranie reveals that she has a lung disease, and she dies, which we already know will happen, because the whole sequence starts with Seth standing over her grave.
What a painful way to lose your soulmate, right? Wagon Train knew how to be a tearjerker.
Well, the actor who played Seth Adams' soulmate, Virginia Grey, unfortunately had a similarly epic story of utter heartbreak in the real world.
Grey is a positively stunning beauty, and by the time she took this role on Wagon Train in 1958, she'd been featured in movies for more than two decades. For all her beauty and talent, though, she never got offered a leading role.
She did, however, snag a leading man when she began dating Clark Gable in the 1940s after he divorced his third wife. Their whirlwind romance found them canoodling in nightclubs from coast to coast, and in 1948, when Gable was filming the movie Homecoming, she could pretty much always be found hanging on his arm between scenes. She even bought him a dachshund puppy to cheer him up once, a dog that he named Rover.
The paparazzi and gossip mags, of course, loved this pairing, and there was wild speculation that Grey would become the next Mrs. Gable.
But then, without warning, Gable dropped Grey and married the socialite-model-stage actor Sylvia Ashley instead. Grey's heart was broken, and she reportedly said dating Gable ruined her for dating anyone else. "That makes any man seem secondary, after you've dated the best," Grey said.
Three years later, though, Gable's marriage ended, and it seemed he had second thoughts, seeking to reconnect with Grey. But too much damage had been done to Grey's heart, and she couldn't find it in her to trust their love was true.
In her whole life, Grey never married and she soon came to see acting as simply a profession, not an art. She said appearing on TV Westerns like Wagon Train became "a job" or "a routine," and she didn't have a connection with Ward Bond, even though she played his soulmate. "I didn't get to know Ward Bond personally," she said.
Her final appearance as Ranie on Wagon Train came in "The Beth Pearson Story," which adds a new twist to Seth Adams' love story in what became Ward Bond's final appearance on the show.
In this episode, Grey plays a woman named Beth Pearson who is the doppelgänger of Adams' soulmate Ranie. The episode features flashbacks showing Grey as Ranie, and then it shows Seth fall for Beth, but Beth worries he really just thinks of her as Ranie. The episode ends by proving Beth right, showing Seth's heart always belonged to Ranie, just as Grey's belonged to Gable, even though neither, in the end, got to be with their true love.
A 1941 feature on Grey in Silver Screen Magazine dubbed the overlooked starlet "The Girl Nobody Knows." Grey expressed her frustration with Hollywood, and it echoes the defeat she felt in heartbreak, feeling if she was really good for Gable, he would've chosen her:
"I can't be discovered. My face is too well-known to the public on the strength of the bits I've played in a lot of big pictures and my name is too well-known in Hollywood. Everyone out here, who has any say in casting a picture, knows me and they all figure if I was any good I’d have been given a good part long ago."