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John Gilbert (actor)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Gilbert
Gilbert in 1931
John Cecil Pringle

(1897-07-10)July 10, 1897
DiedJanuary 9, 1936(1936-01-09) (aged 38)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
Other namesJack Gilbert
EducationHitchcock Military Academy
  • Actor
  • director
  • screenwriter
Years active1914–1934
Olivia Burwell
(m. 1918; div. 1921)
(m. 1922; div. 1925)
(m. 1929; div. 1931)
(m. 1932; div. 1934)

John Gilbert (born John Cecil Pringle; July 10, 1897[1] – January 9, 1936) was an American actor, screenwriter and director. He rose to fame during the silent era and became a popular leading man known as "The Great Lover". His breakthrough came in 1925 with his starring roles in The Merry Widow and The Big Parade. At the height of his career, Gilbert rivaled Rudolph Valentino as a box office draw.[2]

Gilbert's career declined precipitously when silent pictures gave way to talkies. Though Gilbert was often cited as one of the high-profile examples of an actor who was unsuccessful in making the transition to sound films, his decline as a star had far more to do with studio politics and money than with the sound of his screen voice, which was rich and distinctive.[3]

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Early life and stage work

Born John Cecil Pringle in Logan, Utah, to stock-company actor parents, John George Pringle (1865–1929) and Ida Adair Apperly Gilbert (1877–1913), he struggled through a childhood of abuse and neglect, with his family moving frequently and young "Jack" having to attend assorted schools throughout the United States. When his family finally settled in California, he attended Hitchcock Military Academy in San Rafael.[4] After he left school, Gilbert worked as a rubber goods salesman in San Francisco, then performed with the Baker Stock Company in Portland, Oregon, in 1914.[5] He subsequently found work the following year as a stage manager in another stock company in Spokane, Washington, but he soon lost that job when the company went out of business.[6]

Promotion of Ince's rising "juvenile" star in studio directory, 1916

Film career

After losing his stage job in 1915, Gilbert decided to try screen acting, and quickly gained work as a film extra through Herschell Mayall. Gilbert first appeared in The Mother Instinct (1915), a short directed by Wilfred Lucas. He then found work as an extra with the Thomas Ince Studios in productions such as The Coward (1915), Aloha Oe (1915), Civilization (1915), The Last Act (1916), and William Hart's Hell's Hinges (1916).[6]

Kay-Bee Company

During his initial years in films, Gilbert also performed in releases by Kay-Bee Company such as Matrimony (1915), The Corner (1915), Eye of the Night (1916), and Bullets and Brown Eyes (1916). His first major costarring role was as Willie Hudson in The Apostle of Vengeance, also with William S. Hart.[6] Viewed by studio executives as a promising but still "juvenile" actor at this stage of his career, Gilbert's contract salary was $40 a week ($1,076 today), fairly ample pay for most American workers in the early 1900s.[7] Gilbert continued to get more substantial parts at Kay-Bee, which billed him as "Jack Gilbert" in The Aryan (1916), The Phantom (1916), Shell 43 (1916), The Sin Ye Do (1917), The Weaker Sex (1917), and The Bride of Hate (1917). His first true leading role was in Princess of the Dark (1917) with Enid Bennett, but the film was not a big success and he went back to supporting roles in The Dark Road (1917), Happiness (1917), The Millionaire Vagrant (1917), and The Hater of Men (1917).[8]

Triangle Films and other studios

Gilbert went over to Triangle Films where he was in The Mother Instinct (1917), Golden Rule Kate (1917), The Devil Dodger (1917) (second billed), Up or Down? (1917), and Nancy Comes Home (1918). For Paralta Plays, Gilbert did Shackled (1918), One Dollar Bid (1918), and Wedlock (1918) and More Trouble (1918) for Anderson, but the company went bankrupt.[7] He also was cast in Doing Their Bit (1918) at Fox and then returned to Triangle for The Mask (1918). Gilbert also did Three X Gordon (1918) for Jesse Hampton, The Dawn of Understanding (1918), The White Heather (1919) for Maurice Tourneur, The Busher (1919) for Thomas Ince, The Man Beneath for Haworth, A Little Brother of the Rich (1919) for Universal, The Red Viper (1919) for Tyrad, For a Woman's Honor (1919) for Jess Hampton, Widow by Proxy (1919) for Paramount, Heart o' the Hills (1919) for Mary Pickford, and Should a Woman Tell? (1919) for Screen Classics.[9]

Actor, screenwriter and director for Tourneur

Maurice Tourneur signed him to a contract to both write and act in films. Gilbert performed in and co-wrote The White Circle (1920), The Great Redeemer (1921), and Deep Waters (1921). As a writer only, he worked on The Bait (1921), which starred and was produced by Hope Hampton. For Hampton, Gilbert wrote and directed as well, but he did not appear in Love's Penalty (1921).

Fox and stardom

Gilbert (center) with Barbara Bedford and unidentified actor in Gleam O'Dawn (1922)

In 1921, Gilbert signed a three-year contract with Fox Film Corporation, which subsequently cast him in romantic leading roles and promoted him now as "John Gilbert". The actor's first starring part for the studio was in Shame (1921).[10] He followed it with leading roles in Arabian Love (1922), Gleam O'Dawn (1922), The Yellow Stain (1922), Honor First (1922), Monte Cristo (1922), Calvert's Valley (1922), The Love Gambler (1922), and A California Romance (1922). Many of the scenarios for these films were written by Jules Furthman.

Gilbert returned temporarily to Tourneur to costar with Lon Chaney in While Paris Sleeps (1923). Back at Fox, he starred in Truxton King (1923), Madness of Youth (1923), St. Elmo (1923), and The Exiles (1923). The same year he starred in Cameo Kirby (1923), directed by John Ford, co starring Jean Arthur. He went into The Wolf Man (1923) with Norma Shearer, not a horror film, but the story of a man who believes he murdered his fiancée's brother while drunk. Gilbert also performed in his last films for Fox in 1924, including Just Off Broadway, A Man's Mate, The Lone Chance, and Romance Ranch.[11]


Under the auspices of movie producer Irving Thalberg, Gilbert obtained a release from his Fox contract and moved to MGM, where he became a full-fledged star cast in major productions. First starring in His Hour (1924) directed by King Vidor and written by Elinor Glyn his film career entered its ascendancy. He followed this success with He Who Gets Slapped (1924) co-starring Chaney and Shearer and directed by Victor Sjöström; The Snob (1924) with Shearer; The Wife of the Centaur (1924) for Vidor.[12]

The next year, Gilbert would star in two of MGM's most critically acclaimed and popular film productions of the silent era: Erich von Stroheim's The Merry Widow and King Vidor's The Big Parade.[13]

The Merry Widow (1925)

Gilbert was assigned to star in Erich von Stroheim's The Merry Widow by Irving Thalberg, over the objections of the Austrian-American director. Von Stroheim expressed his displeasure bluntly to his leading man: "Gilbert, I am forced to use you in my picture. I do not want you, but the decision was not in my hands. I assure you I will do everything in my power to make you comfortable." Gilbert, mortified, soon stalked off the set in a rage, tearing off his costume. Von Stroheim followed him to his dressing room and apologized. The two agreed to share a drink. Then Gilbert apologized and they had another drink. The tempest subsided and was resolved amicably. According to Gilbert, the contretemps served to "cement a relationship which for my part will never end."[14]

The public adulation that Gilbert experienced with his growing celebrity astounded him: "Everywhere I hear whispers and gasps in acknowledgment of my presence...[t]he whole thing became too fantastic for me to comprehend. Acting, the very thing I had been fighting and ridiculing for seven years, had brought me success, riches and renown. I was a great motion picture artist. Well, I'll be damned!"[15]

The Big Parade (1925)

Gilbert was next cast by Thalberg to star in King Vidor's war-romance The Big Parade (1925), which became the second-highest grossing silent film and the most profitable film of the silent era. Gilbert's "inspired performance" as an American doughboy in France during World War I was the high point of his acting career. He fully immersed himself in the role of Jim Apperson, a Southern gentleman who, with two working class comrades, experiences the horrors of trench warfare. Gilbert declared: "No love has ever enthralled me as did the making of this picture...All that has followed is balderdash."[16]

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 (1926) which also starred Lillian Gish. He then did another with Vidor, Bardelys the Magnificent (1926).

Greta Garbo

In 1926, Gilbert made Flesh and the Devil, his first film with Greta Garbo. Gilbert first encountered Garbo on the set during filming of the railway station scene, and the chemistry between the two was evidently instantaneous. Director Clarence Brown remarked approvingly that he "had a love affair going for me that you couldn't beat, any way you tried." Garbo and Gilbert soon began a highly publicized romance, much to the delight of their fans and to MGM.[17][18]

Publicity photo for Love (1927)

He made The Show (1927) with Adoree for Tod Browning then did Twelve Miles Out (1927) with Joan Crawford and Man, Woman and Sin (1927) with Jeanne Eagels.[19]

Gilbert was reunited with Garbo in a modern adaptation of Tolstoy's 19th-century novel, Anna Karenina. The title was changed to Love (1927) to capitalize on the real life love affair of the stars and advertised by MGM as "Garbo and Gilbert in Love."[20]

Though officially directed by Edmund Goulding, Gilbert, though uncredited, was responsible for directing the love scenes involving Garbo. He was perhaps the only person in the industry whose "artistic judgment" she fully respected. As such, MGM approved of this arrangement.[21]

Gilbert with Garbo in A Woman of Affairs (1928)

Gilbert made The Cossacks (1928) with Adoree; Four Walls (1928) with Crawford; Show People (1928) with Marion Davies for Vidor, in which Gilbert only had a cameo; and The Masks of the Devil (1928) for Victor Sjöström.

Gilbert and Garbo were teamed for a third time in A Woman of Affairs (1928). His last silent film was Desert Nights (1929).

Sound era

With the coming of sound, Gilbert's vocal talents made a good first impression, although the studio had failed to conduct a voice test. The conventional wisdom of the day dictated that actors in the new talkies should emulate "correct stage diction". Gilbert's strict adherence to that method which produced an affected delivery that made audiences giggle, rather than any particularity in Gilbert's natural speech. Indeed, the "quality of his voice compared well with that of co-star Conrad Nagel, regarded as having one of the best voices for sound."[22]

Gilbert signed an immensely lucrative multi-picture contract with MGM in 1928 that totaled $1,500,000. The terms of the agreement positioned MGM executives Irving Thalberg and Nicholas Schenck, both sympathetic to the star, to supervise his career.[23] Gilbert, however, frequently clashed with studio head Louis B. Mayer over creative, social and financial matters. A confrontation between the two men, which became physical, occurred at the planned double-wedding of Garbo and Gilbert and director King Vidor and actress Eleanor Boardman. Mayer reportedly made a crude remark to Gilbert about Garbo, and Gilbert reacted by knocking Mayer to the floor with his fist.[24] While that story has been disputed or dismissed as hearsay by some historians, Vidor's bride, Eleanor Boardman, insisted that she personally witnessed the altercation.[25]

In the all-star musical comedy The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929), Gilbert and Norma Shearer played the balcony scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, first as written, then followed with a slang rendition of the scene. The comic effect served to "dispell the bad impression" produced by Gilbert's original "mincing" delivery.[26]

His Glorious Night

Audiences awaited further romantic roles from Gilbert on the talking screen. The next vehicle was the Ruritanian romance His Glorious Night (1929), directed by Lionel Barrymore. According to reviewers, audiences laughed nervously at Gilbert's performance. The offense was not Gilbert's voice, but the awkward scenario along with the overly ardent love scenes. In one, Gilbert keeps kissing his leading lady, (Catherine Dale Owen), while saying "I love you" over and over again. The scene was parodied in the MGM musical Singin' in the Rain (1952), in which a preview of the fictional The Dueling Cavalier flops disastrously, and again in Babylon (2022).

Director King Vidor speculated that, had he lived, the late Rudolph Valentino, Gilbert's main rival for romantic leads in the silent era, probably would have suffered the same fate in the talkie era. It was Gilbert's inept phrasing, his "dreadful enunciation" and the "inane" script as the genuine sources of his poor performance, that drew "titters" from audiences.[27]

"Squeaky voice" myth

The persistent myth that John Gilbert had a "squeaky voice",[28] that doomed his career in sound films, first emerged from his performance in 1929 in His Glorious Night. It was even rumored that Louis B. Mayer ordered Gilbert's voice to be gelded, by manipulating the sound track, to give it a higher, less masculine pitch.[29] Later, after analyzing the film's sound track, British film historian, Kevin Brownlow, found that the timbre and frequency of Gilbert's speaking scenes in His Glorious Night were no different than in his subsequent talkies. From that analysis, Brownlow also reported that Gilbert's voice, overall, was "quite low". With regard to the alleged manipulation of Gilbert's footage by Mayer or by anyone else, television technicians in the 1960s determined that the actor's voice was consistent with those of other performers on the same print, casting doubt that any targeted "sabotaging" of Gilbert's voice had occurred.[30]

Film critic John Baxter described Gilbert as having "a light speaking voice", a minor defect that both MGM and the star "magnified into an obsession."[31][32] Despite any conflicting opinions or myths surrounding the actor's voice, Mayer's lingering resentment and hostility toward Gilbert remained apparent, especially after MGM's star signed a new contract for six pictures at $250,000 each. Those ill feelings fueled additional speculation that Mayer deliberately assigned Gilbert bad scripts and ineffective directors in an effort to void the contract.[33]


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cast Gilbert in a film adaptation of The Living Corpse by Tolstoy re-titled as Redemption (1929). The bleak atmosphere and maudlin dialogue presaged the disaster looming in the star's personal life and career. Gilbert's confident screen presence had vanished, while his use of the exaggerated stage diction that elicited laughs from the audience persisted. In one scene Gilbert declares ominously "I'm going to kill myself to let the whole world know what it has lost."[34]

MGM put him in a more rugged film, Way for a Sailor (1930) with Wallace Beery. He followed it with Gentleman's Fate (1931). Gilbert became increasingly depressed by progressively inferior films and idle stretches between productions. Despite efforts by studio executives at MGM to cancel his contract, Gilbert resolved to thwart Louis B. Mayer and see the six-picture ordeal through to the end.[35]

Gilbert's fortunes were temporarily restored when MGM's production chief Irving Thalberg gave him two projects that were character studies, giving Gilbert an excellent showcase for his versatility. The Phantom of Paris (1931), originally intended for Lon Chaney (who died from cancer in 1930), cast Gilbert as a debonair magician and showman who is falsely accused of murder and uses his mastery of disguise to unmask the real killer.

Downstairs (1932) was based on Gilbert's original story, with the actor playing against type as a scheming, blackmailing chauffeur. The films were well received by critics and fans but failed to revive his career. In between, he appeared in West of Broadway (1931). Shortly after making Downstairs, he married co-star Virginia Bruce; the couple divorced in 1934.

Gilbert fulfilled his contract with MGM with a perfunctory "B" picture – Fast Workers (1933) directed by Browning. He left the studio in 1933, terminating his $10,000 a week contract.

Exhausted and demoralized by his humiliations at MGM and his declining success at the box office, Gilbert began to drink heavily, contributing to his declining physical and mental health.[36]

Queen Christina (1933)

Gilbert announced his retirement from acting and was working at Fox as an "honorary" director when, in August 1933, he announced he had signed a seven-year contract with MGM at $75–100,000 a picture.[37] The reason was Greta Garbo insisted that Gilbert return to MGM to play her leading man in Queen Christina (1933), directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Garbo was top-billed, with Gilbert's name beneath the title. Queen Christina, though a critical success, did not revive Gilbert's poor self-image or his career.[38][39] Garbo was reported to have dropped the young Laurence Olivier scheduled to play the part, but director Rouben Mamoulian recalled that Olivier's screen tests had already eliminated him from consideration.[40]


In 1934 Harry Cohn, head of then low-budgeted Columbia Pictures, gave Gilbert what would be his final chance for a comeback in The Captain Hates the Sea. Cohn was always on the alert for current stars who had been dropped by other studios, so that he could sign them for their name value. He also wanted to show, as author Bob Thomas noted, that he could succeed with an MGM castoff: "Never was Cohn more satisfied than when he could score some such victory over M-G-M."[41] Director Lewis Milestone guided Gilbert through a screen test, which impressed both Milestone and Cohn. Cohn told Gilbert, "If you keep your nose clean on this picture, I'll see that you get work. I'll go to bat for you with every producer in town."[42] Gilbert's conduct was exemplary for two weeks, until self-doubts came to the surface, resulting in drunken episodes and ulcer flare-ups. Gilbert's resolve was further weakened by other cast members (Victor McLaglen, Walter Connolly, Walter Catlett, and Leon Errol) plying Gilbert with cocktails and encouraging his alcoholism. "It's too goddam bad," muttered Cohn, "but if a man wants to go to hell I can't stop him."[42] Gilbert completed the film, giving a capable performance as "a dissipated, bitter [and] cynical" playwright,[43] but it failed to revive his career. It was his last film.

Biographer Kevin Brownlow's eulogy to John Gilbert considers the destruction of both the man and his career:

"The career of John Gilbert indicates that the star, and the person playing the star, were regarded by producers as separate entities, subject to totally different attitudes. Gilbert, as an ordinary human being, had no legal right to the stardom that was the sole property of the studio. When Gilbert, as an employee, tried to seize control of the future of Gilbert the star, the studios decided to save their investment from falling into the hands of rivals, [so] they had to wreck their property. Other properties – books, films, sets – could be destroyed with impunity. But the destruction of a star carried with it the destruction of a person…it seems somewhat abhorrent that it took such tragedies as that of John Gilbert to bring us our entertainment."[44]

Personal life

Gilbert was married four times. His first marriage, on August 26, 1918, was to Olivia Burwell, a native of Mississippi whom Gilbert had met after her family moved to California. They separated the following year and Burwell returned to Mississippi for a while. She filed for divorce in Los Angeles in 1921.[45]

In February 1921, Gilbert announced his engagement to actress Leatrice Joy. They married in Tijuana in November 1921.[46] As Gilbert had failed to secure a divorce from his first wife and the legality of Gilbert and Joy's Mexican marriage was questionable, the couple separated and had the marriage annulled to avoid a scandal.[47] They remarried on March 3, 1922. The marriage was tumultuous and, in June 1923, Joy filed for legal separation after she claimed that Gilbert slapped her face after a night of heavy drinking. They reconciled several months later. In August 1924, Joy, who was pregnant with the couple's daughter, filed for divorce.[48] Joy later said she left Gilbert after discovering he was having an affair with actress Laurette Taylor.[49] Joy also claimed that Gilbert had conducted affairs with Barbara La Marr (with whom he had a romance before his marriage to Joy), Lila Lee and Bebe Daniels.[50] Gilbert and Joy had a daughter, Leatrice Gilbert (later Fountain; September 4, 1924 – January 20, 2015).[51][52][53] Joy was granted a divorce in May 1925.[54]

In 1929, Gilbert eloped with actress Ina Claire to Las Vegas.[55] They separated in February 1931 and divorced six months later.[56][57] Gilbert's fourth and final marriage was on August 10, 1932, to actress Virginia Bruce, who had recently costarred with him on the MGM film Downstairs.[58][59] The entertainment trade paper The Film Daily reported that their "quick" wedding was held in Gilbert's dressing room on the MGM lot while Bruce was working on another studio production, Kongo.[60] Among the people attending the small ceremony were the head of MGM production Irving Thalberg, who served as Gilbert's best man; screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart, whose wife Beatrice acted as Bruce's matron of honor; MGM art director and set designer Cedric Gibbons; and his wife, actress Dolores del Río.[60] Bruce retired briefly from acting following the birth of their daughter Susan Ann; however, she resumed her career after her divorce from Gilbert in May 1934.[61][62]

Before his death, Gilbert dated actress Marlene Dietrich from 1935 until his death in 1936 as well as Greta Garbo from 1926 to 1927.[63] When he died, he had recently been slated to play a prominent supporting role in Dietrich's film Desire.[64]


By 1934, alcoholism had severely damaged Gilbert's health. He suffered a serious heart attack in December 1935, which left him in even worse condition.[65] A second heart attack on January 9, 1936, at his Bel Air home, was fatal.[66]

A private funeral was held on January 11 at the B.E. Mortuary in Beverly Hills. Among the mourners were Gilbert's two ex-wives, Leatrice Joy and Virginia Bruce, his two daughters, and stars Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Myrna Loy, and Raquel Torres.[67][68]

Gilbert was cremated and his ashes were interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale in Glendale, California.[69][70]

Gilbert left the bulk of his estate, valued at $363,494 (equivalent to $7.67 million in 2022), to his last ex-wife Virginia Bruce and their daughter, Susan Ann. He left $10,000 to his eldest daughter Leatrice, and other amounts to friends, relatives and his servants.[71][72]

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Gilbert has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1755 Vine Street.[73] In 1994, he was honored with his image on a United States postage stamp designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.[citation needed]


Year Films Role Notes
1915 The Coward Minor role Uncredited
1915 Matrimony Extra Lost film
1915 Aloha Oe Extra Lost film
1916 The Corner Extra Lost film
1916 Bullets and Brown Eyes Lost film[74]
1916 The Last Act Extra Lost film[75]
1916 Hell's Hinges Rowdy townsman Uncredited
1916 The Aryan Extra Uncredited
1916 Civilization Extra Uncredited
1916 The Apostle of Vengeance Willie Hudson Lost film
1916 The Phantom Bertie Bereton Lost film [76]
1916 Eye of the Night Uncredited
1916 Shell 43 English Spy Lost film
1916 The Sin Ye Do Jimmy Lost film [77]
1917 The Weaker Sex Lost film
1917 The Bride of Hate Dr. Duprez's Son Lost film
1917 Princess of the Dark "Crip" Halloran Lost film
1917 The Dark Road Cedric Constable Lost film
1917 Happiness Richard Forrester Credited as Jack Gilbert
1917 The Millionaire Vagrant James Cricket
1917 The Hater of Men Billy Williams
1917 The Mother Instinct Jean Coutierre Lost film
1917 Golden Rule Kate The Heller
1917 The Devil Dodger Roger Ingraham Lost film
1917 Up or Down? Allan Corey Lost film
1918 Nancy Comes Home Phil Ballou Lost film [78]
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1918 Shackled James Ashley Lost film
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1918 More Trouble Harvey Deering Lost film [79]
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1918 One Dollar Bid Lost film
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1918 Wedlock Granger Hollister Lost film [80]
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1918 Doing Their Bit Lost film [81]
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1918 The Mask Billy Taylor Lost film [82]
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1918 Three X Gordon Archie Lost film
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1918 The Dawn of Understanding Ira Beasly Lost film
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1919 The White Heather Dick Beach Credited as Jack Gilbert
1919 The Busher Jim Blair Credited as Jack Gilbert
1919 The Man Beneath James Bassett Credited as Jack Gilbert
1919 A Little Brother of the Rich Carl Wilmerding Lost film [83]
1919 The Red Viper Dick Grant Lost film
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1919 For a Woman's Honor Dick Rutherford Lost film
1919 Widow by Proxy Jack Pennington Lost film
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1919 Heart o' the Hills Gray Pendleton Credited as Jack Gilbert
1919 Should a Woman Tell? The Villain Credited as Jack Gilbert
1920 The White Circle Frank Cassilis Lost film
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1920 The Great Redeemer Undetermined role Lost film
1920 Deep Waters Bill Lacey Lost film
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1921 The Servant in the House Percival Lost film
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1921 The Bait
Lost film
1921 Love's Penalty
Lost film
Writer, director, editor
1921 Shame William Fielding/David Field Lost film
1921 Ladies Must Live The Gardener Lost film
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1922 Gleam O'Dawn Gleam O'Dawn Lost film [84]
1922 Arabian Love Norman Stone Lost film
1922 The Yellow Stain Donald Keith Lost film
1922 Honor First Jacques Dubois/Honoré Duboois Lost film [85]
1922 Monte Cristo Edmond Dantes, Count of Monte Cristo
1922 Calvert's Valley Page Emlyn Lost film
Credited as Jack Gilbert
1922 The Love Gambler Dick Manners Lost film
1922 A California Romance Don Patricio Fernando Lost film
1923 While Paris Sleeps Dennis O'Keefe Lost film
1923 Truxton King Truxton King Lost film
1923 Madness of Youth Jaca Javalie Lost film
1923 St. Elmo St. Elmo Thornton Lost film
1923 The Exiles Henry Holcombe Lost film
1924 Just Off Broadway Stephen Moore Lost film
1924 The Wolf Man Gerald Stanley Lost film
1924 A Man's Mate Paul Lost film
1924 The Lone Chance Jack Saunders Lost film
1924 Romance Ranch Carlos Brent Lost film
1924 His Hour Gritzko
1924 Married Flirts Guest at party Cameo appearance
Lost film
1924 He Who Gets Slapped Bezano
1924 The Snob Eugene Curry Lost film
1924 The Wife of the Centaur Jeffrey Dwyer Lost film
1925 The Merry Widow Prince Danilo Petrovich
1925 The Big Parade James Apperson
1925 Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ Crowd extra in chariot race Uncredited
1926 La Bohème Rodolphe
1926 Bardelys the Magnificent Bardelys
1926 Flesh and the Devil Leo von Harden
1927 The Show Cock Robin
1927 Twelve Miles Out Jerry Fay
1927 Man, Woman and Sin Albert Whitcomb
1927 Love Captain Count Alexei Vronsky Director (Uncredited)
1928 The Cossacks Lukashka
1928 Four Walls Benny Horowitz Lost film
1928 Show People Himself Cameo appearance
1928 The Masks of the Devil Baron Reiner
1928 A Woman of Affairs Neville "Nevs" Holderness
1929 Desert Nights Hugh Rand Last silent film
1929 His Glorious Night Captain Kovacs Sound film debut
1929 The Hollywood Revue of 1929 Himself
1930 Redemption Fedya
1930 Way for a Sailor Jack
1931 Gentleman's Fate Giacomo Tomasulo/Jack Thomas
1931 The Phantom of Paris Chéri-Bibi
1931 West of Broadway Jerry Seevers
1932 Downstairs Karl Schneider Story
1933 Fast Workers Gunner Smith
1933 Queen Christina Antonio
1934 The Captain Hates the Sea Steve Bramley

In popular culture

John Gilbert is the subject of a mini-documentary film called Rediscovering John Gilbert (2010) featuring an on-camera interview with John Gilbert's daughter and biographer, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain. The short film, directed and produced by film historian Jeffrey Vance, has aired on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel and is also available on DVD from home video distributor Flicker Alley.[86]

Fictional portrayals

Gilbert has been portrayed in several films. Barry Bostwick appeared as the actor in the television film The Silent Lovers first shown in 1980. He has also been portrayed by his grandson, John Fountain, in Sunset (1988), Christopher Renstrom in La Divina (1989), and Adnan Taletovich in Return to Babylon (2012). Gilbert was the inspiration behind the character of George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin in The Artist (2011), and Jack Conrad, played by Brad Pitt in Babylon (2022).[87]


  1. ^ LaSalle, Mick (July 6, 2005). "Saved from ignominy: His daughter's stubborn campaign put unfairly maligned actor John Gilbert back in the pantheon of silent film stars – where he's always belonged". SF Gate. Retrieved September 8, 2020.
  2. ^ Koszarski, 1983: p. 150: "cemented John Gilbert's reputation as a romantic hero."
    Brownlow, 1979. p. 192: Gilbert "inherited the title of The Great Lover...after the death of Valentino." And: "The Merry Widow made John Gilbert famous" and he "soared to fame" in The Big Parade, in which "he gave a performance that ranks as one of the finest of the entire silent period."
  3. ^ Brownlow, 1979. p. 192: Gilbert "experienced a humiliating plunge from popularity." and p. 193: Brownlow reports that Gilbert's sound recordings for His Glorious Night was marred by his "dreadful enunciation" of his lines, a matter of that could have been corrected with elocution coaching and a better script, and not his natural voice which "was quite low" and p. 202: "the quality of [Gilbert's]...compared well with that of co-star Conrad Nagel, regarded as having one of the best voices for sound." And see p. 194: Gilbert refused to walk out on his MGM contract despite "harassment" and was "no longer on speaking terms with Louis B. Mayer." Gilbert was "subjected to one poor picture after another" and suffered "attempts at [his] humiliation, aimed at forcing him to quit" so as to breach his lucrative contract.
  4. ^ "John Gilbert, Film Actor, Dies of Heart Attack". Reading Eagle. January 9, 1936. p. 1. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  5. ^ "Tickled a Mean Guitar". The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon. September 10, 1923. p. 6 – via
  6. ^ a b c "John Gilbert Is Dead at 36; Forgotten by Four Ex-Wives: Only Firemen, Nurse and Doctor at Deathbed; Screen Idol Declared Love for Garbo Most Real Thing in His Life. John Gilbert Dead at 38". The Washington Post. Associated Press. January 10, 1936. p. 1.
  7. ^ a b "JOHN GILBERT, DASHING LOVER OF FILMS, DIES: Heart Attack Is Fatal to 36 Year Old Actor". Chicago Daily Tribune. January 10, 1936. p. 3.
  8. ^ "NOTED SCREEN ACTOR: John Gilbert's Sudden Death "THE PERFECT LOVER"". The Scotsman. January 10, 1936. p. 11.
  9. ^ Golden, Eve (2013). John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars. University Press of Kentucky. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-8131-4162-6.
  10. ^ Schallert, Edwin (June 1, 1921). "RADIOS.: ANOTHER STAR GLEAMS. GILBERT SAID TO HAVE WON THAT HONOR WITH FOX". Los Angeles Times. p. III4.
  11. ^ "JOHN GILBERT: Whom You Can Now See in "A California Romance"". Picture Show. Vol. 10, no. 248. London. January 26, 1924. p. 7.
  12. ^ Brownlow 1979, p. 192: "At once [Gilbert's] fortunes improved" upon working with Thalberg.
  13. ^ Koszarski, 1983, p. 150: Director Stroheim's Merry Widow his "greatest critical and popular success."
    Phillips, 2009: "[The Big Parade] was also the most profitable silent-era feature and remained MGM's most successful film until Gone with the Wind in 1939. In some American cities it screened for more than a year."
    Silver, 2010: " is arguably Vidor's finest achievement."
  14. ^ Brownlow 1979. p. 192: Brownlow is apparently quoting Gilbert from an interview or memoir of the incident.
  15. ^ Koszarski, 1983 p. 150: "cemented John Gilbert's reputation as a romantic hero."
    Brownlow, 1979, p. 192: Brownlow quoting from an interview or memoir by Gilbert, no date. Also p. 196: The film brought Gilbert "international renown."
  16. ^ Brownlow 1979, p. 192-193: "Gilbert gave a performance that ranks as one of the finest of the entire silent period" And: "Gilbert was playing a part he never played before", Vidor said. "He never had dirty fingernails before, and he’d never done a part without makeup before. Then he found that he liked it."
  17. ^ "Brownlow, 1979, p 198-199: See photo from set, with Garbo/Gilbert embracing".
  18. ^ "DEATH CALLS TO GILBERT, SCREEN STAR: Actor Dies After Heart Attack Great Lover of Films, Figure in Real Life Romances, Rose From Extra Ranks". Los Angeles Times. January 10, 1936. p. 1.
  19. ^ "JOHN GILBERT WON SPURS". Los Angeles Times. March 10, 1927. p. A11.
  20. ^ Baxter 1970 p. 25: Love (originally titled Anna Karenina) of 1927 should not be confused with director Clarence Brown's Anna Karenina (1935) with Greta Garbo.
  21. ^ Brownlow 1979, p. 201: Garbo "looked for approval from Gilbert after every scene. If he failed to nod, Garbo refused to continue, so MGM found it simpler to let Gilbert direct...over half the production."
  22. ^ Brownlow, 1979, p, 193: "no provision for a voice test in his contract" and p. 202: "The obsession in those early days of sound was with 'pear-shaped tones' admired in stage acting."
  23. ^ Brownlow 1979, p. 193: Gilbert's contract "a staggering fee" and "Schenck had his own private feud with Mayer" and the contract provided Gilbert "protection…from the vindictiveness of Mayer…[the lucrative contract] was a severe blow to Mayer's act that he could not forgive."
  24. ^ Brownlow, 1979. p. 193: Brownlow confirms that Vidor and Gilbert "agreed to make it a double wedding" but Garbo failed to show. Brownlow provides some testimony from Boardman. See p. 200, wedding photo (without Garbo) is reproduced.
  25. ^ Brownlow, 1979. p. 193: Brownlow confirms that Vidor and Gilbert "agreed to make it a double wedding" but Garbo failed to show. Brownlow provides some testimony from Boardman. See p. 200, wedding photo (without Garbo) is reproduced.) Brownlow reports that Eleanor Boardman was present at the Mayer/Gilbert altercation, quoting Boardman: "Gilbert was getting very nervous...[and] violent" when Garbo failed to appear, she reports that Mayer advised Gilbert to "'sleep with [Garbo], don’t marry her'...Gilbert socked him, and knocked him down and [Mayer] hit his head on the tile. And that was really the beginning of the end of Gilbert's career." Lautrice Gilbert Fountain, Gilbert's daughter, is quoted by Brownlow: "After Jack had knocked [Mayer] down and drawn blood, Mayer said 'I’ll destroy you'."
  26. ^ Brownlow, 1979 p. 193: Gilbert's vocal delivery elicited "no complaints from the public...fortunately the scene was delivered in slang and the burlesque wiped out the bad impression" One review noted that Gilbert's speech was "too mincing and affected for words."
  27. ^ Brownlow, 1979. p. 193: Brownlow quotes from a contemporary Variety magazine review of the film, which pans Gilbert's performance. "When audiences saw and heard Gilbert in a serious love scene, they killed his career with laughter".
  28. ^ Brownlow, 1979, p. 193: "The [erroneous] idea that Gilbert had a squeaky voice has persisted for years."
  29. ^ Brownlow 1979 p. 193: "One theory suggests that [Gilbert] was sabotaged by a bad recording." Brownlow, however, makes no reference to "gelding"'.
  30. ^ Brownlow, 1979 p. 192-194
  31. ^ Baxter, 1976 p. 28-29
  32. ^ "John Gilbert, the silent era's talk of the town". Los Angeles Times. May 13, 2013. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  33. ^ Laurier, 2012: Gilbert "famously failed to make the transition to talking films, in large part as the result of studio connivance."
  34. ^ Brownlow 1979, p. 202: Gilbert's "whole demeanor had changed….[his confidence] evaporated." Gilbert's use of "proper stage diction" reflects the early industry "obsession" with stage elocution. And "with hindsight, one realizes that [Gilbert] was not acting at all" but predicting his own tragic fate.
  35. ^ Brownlow, 1979. p. 194: Gilbert refused to walk out on his MGM contract despite "harassment" and was "no longer on speaking terms with Louis B, Mayer." Gilbert was "subjected to one poor picture after another" and suffered "attempts at [his] humiliation, aimed at forcing him to quit" so as to breach his lucrative contract.
  36. ^ Baxter 1976, p. 28-29: "Despite efforts of many close friends...Gilbert destroyed himself with drink and melancholy."
    Brownlow, 1979 p. 194: By the end of his contract with MGM "Gilbert was drinking very heavily." Quoting Sam Marx: "I think Gilbert was his own most destructive enemy...He took to drinking very heavily and sort of willed himself to die." And "the attempts at humiliation…" by MGM executives."
  37. ^ "John Gilbert Signs Seven Year Contract as Actor for M-G-M". Chicago Daily Tribune. August 11, 1933. p. 21.
  38. ^ "Baxter 1970, p. 61-62: Gilbert "not especially good as the male lead, but works competently in a difficult part."".
  39. ^ "John Gilbert Wants Contract Interpreted". The Washington Post. December 6, 1933. p. 8.
  40. ^ Baxter 1970 p. 62: The story that Olivier was dropped "on Garbo's orders" is unlikely. Director Mamoulian, is reported have thought the "inexperienced" actor was "unsuitable" for the role, based on screen tests.
    Brownlow 1979, p. 194: "An outstandingly brave decision" on Garbo's part, and "a generosity rare in the film industry."
  41. ^ Bob Thomas, King Cohn, New Millennium Press edition, 2000, p. 97.
  42. ^ a b King Cohn, p. 98.
  43. ^ Brownlow, 1979 p. 194
  44. ^ Brownlow 1979, p. 194: Brownlow offers a striking metaphor of the studio system, where Louis B. Mayer is a scrap-yard owner, capable of "wrecking cars with the drivers still at the wheel."
  45. ^ Golden, 2013. pp.38, 43, 60
  46. ^ Golden, 2013. pp. 54, 56
  47. ^ Golden, 2013. p. 60
  48. ^ "Leatrice Joy Asks Divorce". The Telegraph-Herald. August 13, 1924. p. 22. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  49. ^ Golden, 2013. pp. 85–86
  50. ^ Golden, 2013. p. 57
  51. ^ Golden, 2013. p. 86
  52. ^ "Leatrice Fountain's Obituary on GreenwichTime". GreenwichTime. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  53. ^ "Leatrice Gilbert Fountain (1924–2015): Daughter of Hollywood Legends". January 25, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  54. ^ "FILM STAR GIVEN DIVORCE". Los Angeles Times. May 29, 1925. p. A8.
  55. ^ Monahan, Kaspar (July 12, 1933). "Hollywood's Shattered Romances". The Pittsburgh Press. p. 19. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  56. ^ "John Gilbert, Ina Claire Agree to Separate". Rochester Evening Journal and the Post Express. February 14, 1931. p. 7. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  57. ^ "Films Actress Given Divorce From Gilbert". St. Petersburg Times. August 5, 1931. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  58. ^ "John Gilbert Is Wed and Filming Resumed". San Jose News. August 11, 1932. p. 1. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
  59. ^ "Here's Proof John Gilbert Is Screen's Great Lover". Syracuse Herald. New York. August 11, 1932. p. 12. Retrieved August 19, 2018 – via Open access icon
  60. ^ a b "GILBERT'S QUICK MARRIAGE", news item, The Film Daily [New York (West Coast Bureau)], August 12, 1932, page 4. Internet Archive, San Francisco. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
  61. ^ "Fourth Divorce for John Gilbert of Films". The Southeast Missourian. May 26, 1934. p. 1. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  62. ^ "COURT GIVES DIVORCE TO MRS. JOHN GILBERT: Virginia Bruce, Former Stage Beauty, Is Fourth Wife to Quit the Actor". The New York Times. May 26, 1934. p. 12.
  63. ^ "Olivia Burwell". The Palm Beach Post. January 10, 1969. p. 1. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  64. ^ Mark Deming (2007). "Desire (1936)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 14, 2007. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  65. ^ "John Gilbert, Screen Lover, Dies Suddenly in Sleep". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. January 10, 1936. p. 1. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  66. ^ Gelb, Barbara (April 21, 1985). "Loved by Garbo and Deitrich". The New York Times.
  67. ^ "Pay Final Honor To Actor". San Jose News. January 11, 1936. p. 1. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  68. ^ "SERVICE FOR JOHN GILBERT: Two Former Wives Attend Funeral of Actor in Beverly Hills". New York Times. January 12, 1936. p. N10.
  69. ^ "Marlene Is Witness at Gilbert Cremation". The Milwaukee Journal. February 16, 1936. p. 8. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  70. ^ Boyd, Hal (June 27, 1947). "Forest Lawn Cemetery Is One Of Glendale's Big Industries; Great of Film World Lie Here". San Jose News. p. 7. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  71. ^ "Gilbert's Estate Set at $363,494". The Milwaukee Journal. January 28, 1936. p. 6. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  72. ^ "ESTATE OF JOHN GILBERT DISCLOSED TO BE $363,494". Los Angeles Times. January 28, 1936. p. A1.
  73. ^ "John Gilbert – Hollywood Walk of Fame". Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  74. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: Bullets and Brown Eyes
  75. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: The Last Act
  76. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: The Phantom
  77. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: The Sin Ye Do
  78. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: Nancy Comes Home
  79. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: More Trouble
  80. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: Wedlock
  81. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: Doing Their Bit
  82. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: The Mask
  83. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: A Little Brother of the Rich
  84. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: Gleam O'Dawn
  85. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: Honor First
  86. ^ Rediscovering John Gilbert at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  87. ^ Galuppo, Mia (December 2, 2020). "Margot Robbie in Talks to Replace Emma Stone in Damien Chazelle's 'Babylon'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 18, 2022.


  • Baxter, John. 1970. Hollywood in the Thirties. International Film Guide Series. Paperback Library, New York. LOC Card Number 68–24003.
  • Baxter, John. 1976. King Vidor. Simon & Schuster, Inc. Monarch Film Studies. LOC Card Number 75–23544.
  • Brownlow, Kevin and Kobal, John. 1979. Hollywood: The Pioneers. Alfred A. Knopf Inc. A Borzoi Book, New York. ISBN 0-394-50851-3
  • Koszarski, Richard. 1983. The Man You Loved to Hate: Erich von Stroheim and Hollywood. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503239-X
  • Laurier, Joanne. 2011. The Artist: An amiable gimmick. The World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  • Phillips, Richard. 2009. Several movies well worth revisiting: Sydney Film Festival 2009. World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved May 24, 2020.https://www.wsws.or g/en/articles/2009/07/sff5-j17.html
  • Reinhardt, Bernd. 2020. Rediscovering Hallelujah (1929), director King Vidor's sensitive film with all-black cast: 70th Berlin International Film Festival. World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved May 24, 2020.

External links

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