John Gilbert (actor)

John Gilbert (actor)

Infobox actor
name = John Gilbert

imagesize = 200px
caption = John Gilbert
birthname = John Cecil Pringle
birthdate = birth date|1899|7|10|mf=y
birthplace = Logan, Utah
deathdate = death date and age|1936|1|9|1899|7|10|mf=y
deathplace = Hollywood, California
othername = Jack Gilbert
yearsactive = 1915 - 1934
occupation = actor, director, writer
spouse = Olivia Burwell (1918-1923)
Leatrice Joy (1922-1925)
Ina Claire (1929-1931)
Virginia Bruce (1932-1934)
awards = Walk of Fame - Motion Picture
1751 Vine Street

John Gilbert (July 10, 1899 - January 9, 1936) was an American actor and major star of the silent film era.

Known as "the great lover," he rivaled even the great Rudolph Valentino as a box office draw. Though he was often cited as one of the high profile examples of an actor who was unsuccessful in making the transition to talkies, his decline as a star in fact had to do with studio politics and money and not the sound of his screen voice. [ Brownlow, Kevin: The Parade's Gone By, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1968 ] According to the actress "Eleanor Boardman" and others, a fight between "Louis B. Mayer" and Gilbert erupted at what was to be his marriage to "Greta Garbo" for which she was a no-show, when Mayer made a snide remark. Gilbert promptly knocked his boss down, for which Mayer swore he'd get even. Mayer then proceded to sabotage the recording of his voice by increasing the treble; giving direction of his films to an inexperienced director who was on narcotic pain medication; refusing him good scripts, such as "The Dawn Patrol" which directors wanted to star him in; and editing his projects to ruin his films. [ Fountain, Leatrice Gilbert: Dark Star, St. Martin's Press, New York, NY 1985 ]

Life and career

Born John Cecil Pringle in Logan, Utah to stock company actor parents, he struggled through a childhood of abuse and neglect before coming to Hollywood as a teenager. He first found work as an extra with the Thomas Ince Studios, and soon became a favorite of Maurice Tourneur, who also hired him to write and direct several pictures. He quickly rose through the ranks, building his reputation as an actor in such films as [ "Heart o' the Hills"] opposite Mary Pickford. In 1921, Gilbert signed a three year contract with Fox Film Corporation, where he was cast as a romantic leading man. Some of his films for Fox include: "Monte Cristo", an adaptation of "The Count of Monte Cristo" ; "St. Elmo", an adaptation of a popular book of the period; "The Wolf Man" , which despite its title is the story of a man who believes he murdered his fiancee's brother while drunk, not someone who turns into a werewolf; and many others. At the time, Gilbert did not sport his famous mustache, which made his features more uneven and a little less handsome, and Fox plainly did not realize what huge potential he had.

In 1924, he moved to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he became a full-fledged star with such high-profile films as [ "His Hour"] directed by King Vidor and written by Elinor Glyn; "He Who Gets Slapped" (1924), co-starring Lon Chaney, Sr. and Norma Shearer, and directed by Victor Sjöström; and "The Merry Widow" (1925) directed by Erich von Stroheim and co-starring Mae Murray. In 1925, Gilbert was once again directed by Vidor in the war epic "The Big Parade", which became the second highest grossing silent film in cinema history. His performance in this film made him a major star. The following year, Vidor reunited Gilbert with two of his co-stars from that picture, Renée Adorée and Karl Dane, for the film "La Bohème" which also starred Lillian Gish.

Gilbert married the highly successful film actress Leatrice Joy in 1922. The union produced a daughter, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, but the tempestuous marriage only lasted two years. The couple divorced in 1924, with Joy charging that Gilbert was a compulsive philanderer.

In 1926, Gilbert made "Flesh and the Devil", his first film with Greta Garbo. They soon began a very public relationship, much to the delight of their fans. Gilbert planned to marry her, but Garbo changed her mind and never showed up for the ceremony. Despite their rocky off-screen relationship, they continued to generate box-office revenue for the studio, and MGM paired them in two more silents "Love" (1927), a modern adaptation of "Anna Karenina", and "A Woman of Affairs" (1928). The former film was slyly advertised by MGM as "Garbo and Gilbert in "Love"."

Career Decline

Throughout his time at MGM, Gilbert frequently clashed with studio head Louis B. Mayer over creative, social and financial matters. One crucial event occurred on September 8, 1926. While guests were waiting for Garbo to show up for a proposed double wedding ceremony -- Garbo and Gilbert with the director King Vidor and his fiancee, actress Eleanor Boardman -- Mayer allegedly made a crude remark about Garbo to the distraught Gilbert that caused him to fly into a rage and he physically attacked the mogul. Rumor had it that after that event, Gilbert's career began its downward slide. This story has been disputed by some historians, despite its having been reported over a period of twenty years by one major eyewitness, the other bride, Eleanor Boardman who described Mayer's final look at Gilbert as "terrifying". Gilbert did have a powerful supporter in production head Irving Thalberg. The two were old friends and Thalberg made efforts to reinvigorate Gilbert's career, but Thalberg's failing health probably limited such efforts.

With the coming of sound, John Gilbert first spoke in the film "His Glorious Night" (1929), in which his voice allegedly recorded in a high-pitched tone that made audiences giggle. He spoke again in the all-talking musical "Hollywood Revue of 1929", appearing in a Romeo and Juliet Technicolor sequence along with Norma Shearer in which they first played the part straight and then modernized it. Reviewers for the film did not note any problems with Gilbert's voice at this time and, in fact, some praised it. Gilbert's career faltered mainly due to the quality of the projects he was given -- though it is certainly true that his light tenor voice and precise stage diction did not match his dashing screen persona, or what his many fans had imagined him to sound like. A recent documentary, "The Dawn of Sound: How the Movies Learned to Talk" (2007), convincingly demonstrates that with improved recording equipment Gilbert's voice was suitably deep. In fact, noted film historian Leonard Maltin in a rare flash of almost-anger expresses outrage that in the "twenty-first century" people still believe the "rumor" that Gilbert's voice was deficient, and calls for killing that story once and for all.

According to film reviews of the day, audiences actually laughed at Gilbert's overly ardent love-making in "His Glorious Night". Like a number of other romance-oriented early talkies, the dialogue was unintentionally ludicrous and the film played more like a comedy gone bad than a romantic drama. In one scene, Gilbert keeps kissing his leading lady (Catherine Dale Owen) while saying over and over again "I love you". This scene was famously later parodied in the MGM musical "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) where a preview of the fictional "The Dueling Cavalier" flops disastrously. Director King Vidor stated that Rudolph Valentino, Gilbert's main rival in the 1920s for romantic leads, probably would have suffered the same fate in the talkie era, had he lived.

Although Gilbert was given better roles in his later films, his career never recovered from this disaster. The film was released throughout the country to laughing audiences and his image as a great lover was tarnished. "His Glorious Night" has never been shown on television by Turner Entertainment because MGM sold the rights to Paramount for a remake, and Universal -- which currently owns the rights to all pre-1948 Paramount films -- has not done anything with it.

One of his few good talking films was 1931's "The Phantom of Paris", which was a project designed for the great Lon Chaney to star in until his death from cancer in 1930.

In 1932 MGM made the film "Downstairs" from Gilbert's original story, in which Gilbert played against type as a scheming, blackmailing chauffeur. The film was well received by critics, but did nothing to restore Gilbert's popularity. Shortly after making the film he married co-star Virginia Bruce; the couple divorced in 1934.

Gilbert starred opposite Garbo for the last time in "Queen Christina" (1933) directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Garbo was top-billed and Gilbert's name beneath the title. Although his scenes with Garbo are excellent the picture failed to revive his career, with his next film, The Captain Hates the Sea, being his last.

By that point, alcoholism had severely damaged his health, and he died of a heart attack without ever regaining his former reputation. Towards the end of his life, Gilbert became involved with Marlene Dietrich, and at the time of his death he was [ slated] to star opposite her in the film "Desire".

On his passing in 1936, at the age of 36, John Gilbert was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

He was married four times (including once to film and stage actress Ina Claire), and had two daughters. His daughter Leatrice Gilbert Fountain (from his marriage to silent film actress Leatrice Joy), wrote an acclaimed biography of her father's life published in 1985, and continues as a source of information on his life and career.

John Gilbert has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1755 Vine Street and in 1994, he was honoured with his image on a United States postage stamp designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.

elected filmography

* "Heart o' the Hills" (1919)
* "Cameo Kirby" (1923) directed by John Ford
* "He Who Gets Slapped" (1924)
* "His Hour" (1924) directed by King Vidor
* "The Wife of the Centaur" (1924) directed by King Vidor
* "The Merry Widow" (1925) directed by Erich von Stroheim
* "The Big Parade" (1925) directed by King Vidor
* "Ben-Hur" (1925)
* "Bardelys the Magnificent" (1926)
* "La Bohème" (1926) with Lillian Gish
* "Flesh and the Devil" (1926) with Greta Garbo
* "Love" (1927) with Garbo
* "The Show" (1927) with Lionel Barrymore
* "Twelve Miles Out" (1927) with Joan Crawford
* "A Woman of Affairs" (1928) with Garbo
* "The Phantom of Paris" (1931)
* "Downstairs" (1932)
* "Fast Workers" (1933)
* "Queen Christina" (1933) with Garbo, directed by Rouben Mamoulian


* Bangley, Jimmy (1999). [ “Interview with Leatrice Gilbert Fountain.”] . Retrieved May 6, 2005.
* DeBartolo, John (2001). [ “Man, Woman and Sin.”] Retrieved May 6, 2005.
* Fountain, Leatrice Gilbert (1985). Dark Star: the untold story of the meteoric rise and fall of legendary silent screen star John Gilbert. New York: St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 0-312-18275-9.
* Golden Silents (2004). [ “John Gilbert, Silent and Sound Film Star, Actor, Director, Writer.”] Retrieved May 5, 2005.
* Lussier, Tim (2002). [ “Merry Widow” commentary.] Retrieved May 6, 2005.
* Marowitz, Charles (May 2001). [ “Silent Writes.”] Written By.
* Silents Are Golden (2005). Cossacks, Flesh and the Devil, He Who Gets Slapped, His Hour, La Bohème, Love, Merry Widow, Show, Twelve Miles Out, Woman of Affairs. In [ “Vintage Reviews.”] Retrieved May 6, 2005.
* Thompson, Dean (2004). [ “Woman of Affairs” Commentary.] Retrieved May 6, 2005.

External links

* [ John Gilbert Appreciation Society] Official fan club
* [ Silent Ladies and Gents] Photo Gallery
* [ All Movie Guide] Entry for “John Gilbert”
* [ Sidereality review of “Gilbert and Garbo in Love”] Book review/essay with considerable biographical material concerning John Gilbert
* [ Silent Film Legend John Gilbert] Blog containing photos, clips and information dedicated to Gilbert.
* [ Interview] with Marlene Dietrich's daughter mentioning Gilbert
* [ John Gilbert at Classic Movie Favorites]
* [ Photographs of John Gilbert]

NAME= Gilbert, John
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Pringle, John Cecil
DATE OF BIRTH= 1899-7-10
DATE OF DEATH= 1936-1-9
PLACE OF DEATH= Hollywood, California

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