John Gilbert Makes A Comeback

Categories: Film


The imminent Oscar contender The Artist puts a luminous spotlight on the days of silent films, with Jean Dujardin playing a star who's been described as sort of a Douglas Fairbanks who becomes a Fred Astaire.

But when you see the film -- which deals with the bumpy transition from silents to talkies -- you'll realize there's a big dollop of John Gilbert in there, too.

Utah-born Gilbert became a big star in the '20s, sizzling opposite Garbo in Love, A Woman of Affairs, Flesh and the Devil, and offscreen, too.

The popular story is that when talkies came in, Gilbert's unseemly screen voice ruined him, audiences squealing with amusement with the release of 1929's His Glorious Night.

But some reports say Louis B. Mayer purposely had Gilbert's voice sped up to wreck with his career because they'd had blowouts and the mogul simply wanted to blow off the actor's career.

Garbo gamely insisted on Gilbert as her co-star for 1933's Queen Christina, but after only one more film, the man -- a drinker, with confidence shattered -- died of a heart attack in 1936.

A toast to John Gilbert -- and let's not speed it up.

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest

Poor fellow, John Gilbert.  He's one of those who have gone down in history as one of the great "flops" of all time (like the Edsel...and Pia Zadora).  If you view any of his "talkies," you'll hear for yourself that he sounded no more tinny or ridiculous than most other actors during that technologically prehistoric time.  But whatever the reasons were, he went from the highest heights (it wouldn't even be inapt to call him the "George Clooney of his day") to a dead drunk at the age of 38.  I don't think he knew what hit him, once the powers that be conspired to ruin him.  I've always had a soft spot for him...watching his ineffable vigor in his prime, while knowing what an awfully unhappy ending lay just around the corner is grim.


PS: Just as Garbo had tried to cut John a break, so did Dietrich, his lover towards the end. But his career (and apparently life) was unsaveable. Hollywood sucks.

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

I doubt you'll get many posts about John Gilbert . It's like that awful contestant on the most recent "Project Runway": "But the '70s were before my timmmmmmmmmme!"

Well, the 20s were well before my time, too, but I can READ. Apparently, Gilbert started a fist-fight with Louis B. Mayer at a party. Mayer didn't have to "do" anything to Gilbert's voice in "His Glorious Night" (the movie audiences laughed at.) Sound was in its infancy and didn't always reflect the true timbre of voices. Gilbert had a perfectly serviceable tenor voice -- but it was so at odds with his "image" as a robust lover in the silents. I thought he was okay in "Queen Christina," but mostly because Garbo was so nakedly ardent with him, she made you believe what she wanted you to believe. And apparently Gilbert was actually among the (very) few of her male lovers.