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John Gilbert's Later Career on TCM


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Wendy,

 

I think they have run off a fresh transfer of THE CROWD? I hope so. The Thames version TCM has been running was produced in 1981. It still won't look as good as the master of THE BIG PARADE, because Warner's does not have the Original Camera Negative to draw from with THE CROWD.

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I haven't watched it yet, Jeff.... another sheepish grin......

 

I much prefer to watch the silent version, and I would watch a big grey rock wall if it had a score by Carl Davis. I am sure he would make it the most fascinating rock wall in the world.... :)

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As I said, Gilbert's final film (after the completion of his MGM contract) THE CAPTAIN HATES THE SEA was for Columbia..... Mayer hated the idea of Gilbert in Garbo's QUEEN CHRISTINA but he had to give in (ha ha).... and Gilbert was just fine. Gilbert's contract apparently called for him to have billing above the title. I thought it was for SOLE billing above the title, but I think others (like Wallace Beery) shared billing above the title with him. What a shame Gilbert hadn't gotten the John Barrymore roles in GRAND HOTEL and DINNER AT EIGHT.

 

He was slated for a role in Marlene Dietrich's GARDEN OF ALLAH (a Technicolor hoot) when he died. It seems unclear if he was slated for the starring role that went to Charles Boyer or some other role. I assume he was slated for the starring role, and it could have been a whole new start for him.

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My first exposure to a John Gilbert talking picture was Tuesday's "Gentleman's Fate". If this is typical, I just don't get why Gilbert didn't do well in talkies. His acting and speech were fine. His voice was perhaps a bit higher pitched than I expected, but it was far from laughable or squeaky. The movie itself was OK - not great, but good enough to hold my interest.

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Finally watched GENTLEMAN'S FATE yesterday, and found myself fascinated by John Gilbert all over again. I think the brotherly relationship between him and Louis Wolheim worked better on film than it did on paper -- a real tribute to both men's talents. The fight scene in the hotel room worked particularly well, despite some choppy editing.

 

After I watched this film, I got out Mervyn LeRoy's previous film, LITTLE CAESAR, and noticed a great similarity in his direction of both films. Lots of low angle shots, and at least one framing shot in GENTLEMAN'S FATE, where LeRoy shot a scene with John Miljan through the carved back of a chair. The banquet scenes in both pictures advanced the story in much the same way, too. I don't think it was an accident that LeRoy was borrowed from Warner Brothers for this film.

 

Even though the story of GENTLEMAN'S FATE creaks and groans a bit, I still like the way John Gilbert throws himself into his talking films. I think sound made him a more disciplined and focused actor than he was in his silent films, where he sometimes lapsed into extravagant gestures. (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. captured this quality perfectly when he imitated Gilbert in OUR MODERN MAIDENS.) In just about all the Gilbert talkies I've seen, there are some incredible leaps of logic, like his fatalistic descent into a life of crime in GENTLEMAN'S FATE, but somehow Gilbert makes you believe them. It's uncanny.

 

And yet, and yet -- it's not enough. Watching his talkies -- even a minor masterpiece like DOWNSTAIRS -- you just know that Gilbert was capable of so much more, and yet he and the friends who tried so desperately to help him succeed couldn't bring him back in the eyes of the public. Why? I think back to the last thing that his second wife, Leatrice Joy, said about him in Kevin Brownlow's Hollywood: "He was an enigma -- I never solved him. I have heard people described as mercury, but Jack Gilbert was mercury. Touch him, and he vanished." Gilbert has a smoldering intensity in all of his films, both silent and sound, and yet you can't get hold of him. Sound diminished the distance between actors and audience, and maybe Gilbert couldn't bear the scrutiny. Ultimately, sound diminished him.

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Well said, Dan. John Gilbert remains one of my all-time favorites partly because of his great performances in films like DOWNSTAIRS and THE BIG PARADE. It's hard to believe it's the same actor. But he's also fascinating because of the great tragedy his career became. Despite great performances in admittedly many B talkies, the public was simply finished with him. Yet more than 70 years after his premature death, John Gilbert remains one of the most talked about silent stars.

 

The Leatrice Joy interview in the HOLLYWOOD series was very moving. Although Gilbert was married to my grandfather's cousin, Ina Claire, I always felt that the talented Joy was probably his great love (and I've never liked Claire much in films). The big dope just didn't realize it.

 

I just acquired Gilbert's 1923 CAMEO KIRBY (with Portuguese titles), so I have yet another John Gilbert "adventure" awaiting me. Long live John Gilbert.

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I saw the film shown last week with Gilbert, I think he is wonderful, those eyes, no wonder he swept a very young Garbo off her feet! His voice was not that it was too high, it was too sophisticated for his image, in contrast, Garbo's voice only enhanced her image, that was the problem, they MGM, should have tried to make Gilbert's voice more down to earth, more earthy, not to prim and proper, as we know, he was not so prim and proper....that I think contributed to his downfall, what a shame, I truly like him and would welcome more of his films on TCM He was OK in Queen Christina, but his acting seems to be a throw back to Silents - the contrast between him and Garbo's acting is very noticeable, did not anyone see it when it was finished?

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actually cross off Ina Claire....my feeling is that she sort of trapped Gilbert into marriage to ensure her entry into films. A STAR IS BORN is partly based on the rising (briefly) Claire and falling Gilbert. Claire never really sustained any success in films.

 

Gilbert's final wife, Virginia Bruce, might have had some real feelings for him. They had a child together. Whatever happened to him/her? His daughter with Leatrice Joy was a minor child actress named Leatrice Gilbert; she finally produced a (terrific) biography of the father she hardly knew.

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Before writing this, I want to preface what I am about to say with a note- I love John Gilbert. I think he was a fine actor, in my opinion, the best leading man silents ever knew.

 

He had enormous possibilities, but was unable (for reasons not of his own making) to step away from himself to work on his own weaknesses as an actor.

 

_CoffeeDan_ - Yours is the best description I have read of Gilbert's failure to connect in sound film. The reality is that there is some lessening of his personality in talkies. The mystery has somehow vanished. He is maybe not as interesting as the audiences had thought (I personally find him fascinating, but that's another story). In a way, his talkie performances (that I have seen) are a "what you see is what you get" kind of thing. He holds nothing back, which is admirable in an actor, but it spells doom in a STAR, and we lose interest. The stars who made the transition enhanced their mystery in sound. Gilbert is all out there, we see every little detail, even the ones we don't want to.

 

And _Johnbabe_ - you are right as well, his voice is prim and proper, not at all what we would want from such a mercurial performer.

 

Unfortunately, both of these problems could have been fixed over time, with the right directors working on his films, and with good guidance. But without the proper coaching, directors, and a strong mentor at the studio, Gilbert continued to founder. I wish he had had one final movie that brought back the mystery that made him a star in the first place.

 

Message was edited by: JackFavell

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Jack: I agree with you, but I do not think his voice is that bad. I think the real problem is John

Gilbert's voice is not what you would _expect_ it to be. In Queen Christina, he is very charming and gives a good performance. A romantic movie which shows the chemistry of Gilbert and Garbo. He sounds fine in that movie. Perhaps if his voice were deeper he could have been another Ronald Coleman, but I think the fates were working against him in many ways after another failed marriage and Mayer's vendetta against him. Plus his ongoing health issues, major drinking problem and four failed marriages, probably did not help him either. He was a broken man in spirit when he died.

 

I read Ina Claire, wife #3, his rebound relationship after Garbo, rubbed it in his face that she was able to transition to talkies and he could not. I hope that is untrue. But Claire was a Diva who thought a lot of herself. She considered herself to be a "serious stage actress" and as such "superior to lowly" Hollywood types. I think that just makes her a snob. Garbo said on more than one occasion he was "a great artist" and he helped her tremendously with her acting and her English. Jack was a good fellow. That niceness is what makes his story so poignant. He was generous of spirit and giving and then, he got pushed aside in return.

 

Gilbert Roland (December 11, 1905 ? May 15, 1994) was an American actor. He initially intended to follow in his father's footsteps and become a bullfighter but the family moved to the United States, he was literally picked off the streets for a role as an extra. He chose his screen name by combining the names of two of his favorite actors, *John Gilbert and Ruth Roland.*

 

Message was edited by: AnnieLaurie

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I read Eleanor Boardman and King Vidor were good friends with Gilbert and the fight story was true. I will try to find the precise source, one of my movie books. As to her disliking Garbo, I do not know, but I am sure _his friends_ were sympathetic when she stood him up at the altar. The account I read said she did this twice, one for the double wedding and another time for a planned elopement. The Fountain book says Garbo was distraught when she heard Gilbert was going to marry Ina Claire, begged an agent and friend to do something, but she did nothing to stop it herself. Claire did not like Garbo and ironically, they later worked together in Ninotcka (sic).

 

A reliable source told me Garbo had an early marriage to her mentor and lover Maurice Stiller before she came to Hollywood. If that is true, that may help explain her not wanting to marry again. She was despondent after Stiller's death. Since Garbo remained single the rest of her life, had many lovers, was untraditional and did not wish to be tied down.

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AnnieLaurie,

 

Here is your namesake as potrayed by Lillian Gish. Have you seen this movie?

 

 

LillianGishScottishMaiden.jpg

 

*Lillian Gish, Scottish Maiden. From ANNIE LAURIE (1927)*

 

 

GishFromAnnieLuarie-1.jpg

 

*Lillian Gish, As ANNIE LAURIE*

 

 

AnnieLaurieLillianGish.jpg

 

*ANNIE LAURIE (Lillian Gish.)*

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It has been said that Garbo did marry Stiller in Constantinople at the age of 17 or so, under her real last name (before it was legally changed to Garbo) of Gustaffason, they did not marry in Sweden, it is rumored, because they would have been married in the Lutheran Church of Sweden, and bans would have to be announced, and Stiller being of the Jewish faith, perhaps this would have been some sort of problem, there has been a rumor that Garbo wrote to a very close girl friend of hers, Mimi, that she was going to marry Stiller, did not really want to, and there the letter ends,//// that would explain why she did not (or could not) marry Gilbert, she was already married! She could have easily married Gilbert and became an automatic American citizen (since then it has been changed, you cannot become a US citizen by simply marrying one) but in 1926 you could, Gilbert told her Mayer could not threathen to deport her, as he frequently did( if she married him, they claim that Stiller told her to keep their marriage a secret so as to not to hurt her career, it seems very plausible, she went back to Sweden when Stiller died, visited his grave, and inherited, I have read, most of his estate whatever he had left, he was broken hearted over Gilbert and Garbo, and when home, alone, after reportedly begging her to come back with him, She stayed in California, and so it goes........I wonder if she ever told Gilbert any of this how many out there have heard this and believe it to be true?

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drednm wrote:

 

"A STAR IS BORN is partly based on the rising (briefly) Claire and falling Gilbert. Claire never really sustained any success in films."

 

Hmmm. Not to get OT, but I have always heard that the 1937/1950's/1977 incarnation of the "A Star is Born" story was based on Barbara Stanwyck's marriage to Frank Fay. She was an unknown when they married in 1928, and he was a popular vaudeville star. By the time they divorced in 1935 his career was gone and he was an alcoholic while she was now the star. Of course the original film, "What Price Hollywood" (1932), which has the rising star not romantically involved with the self-destructive director that discovers her, predates both couple's stories, so I guess that either basis is possible.

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No I have not seen that Gish film and until yesterday did not even know it existed. She looks so pretty in those pictures, I wish my curls were in neat rows like that! I have a friend who has tons of silent DVDs. I am hoping she has that one. Also, I am bummed I did not see Gentleman's Fate when it was on. I have been busy, not paying attention to the TCM schedule the way I should. I recently saw He Who Gets Slapped which I loved. That film is a gem.

 

And, am hoping to borrow Downstairs from another friend. I agree with the poster who said Gilbert should have become a writer or director. He clearly had creative talent, and that would have been better than dealing with a monster like Mayer. The studio execs had too much power in those days.

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