Monday, July 10, 2017

Born Today July 10: John Gilbert


Actor, mostly of the silent era, John Gilbert was born John Cecil Pringle on this day in Logan, Utah.  His last name "Gilbert" was from his step father--he was unaware until later in his life that "Pringle" was his birth surname.  His nickname was "Jack" and he was often credited in films as "Jack Gilbert" early on.  Though he was born into a show business family--his parents were traveling actors--his childhood was not a happy one.  He suffered greatly from being forced from one school to another.  Despite this, it's hardly surprising that he got into acting himself.  He appeared in his first film in 1915 in the Bison Production of The Mother Instinct--a short drama.  He then made a few pictures for Kay-Bee Pictures, before being snapped up by Thomas Ince, who worked at both Kay-Bee in scenario writing, as well as owning his own production company.  The first film he appeared in for the Thomas H. Ince Corp. was Civilization in an uncredited part.  Several of the films that he had supporting roles in in 1915 & 1916 starred Frank Keenan.  He had steady work all through out the rest of the 1910's, albeit in many small roles--but he did work his way up through the ranks and by 1920 he was noticed by director Maurice Tourneur.  It was with Tourneur's help that Gilbert would add writing and directing credits to his name.  In 1921, he both wrote and directed Love's Penalty (he also aided in the editing of the film as well).  He was then signed to a three year contract at Fox Films, hired to play romantic leads.  This brought him his first taste stardom.  But it wasn't until he made the move to MGM in 1924 that he would become a movie star to rival even the likes of Rudolph Valentino.  There he was directed  by the likes of King Vidor, Victor "Seastrom" (that'sVictor Sjöström), and Erich von Stroheim.  It was reportedly on the set of The Merry Widow (1925), directed by von Stroheim, that Gilbert's birth father introduced himself, this is supposedly when he found out that his original last name was Pringle.  By this time he was one of the biggest stars that Hollywood had ever seen.  In 1926 he starred in The Flesh And The Devil with Greta Garbo; this ignited a torrid affair between the two that MGM made sure got out into the press. They even actually marketed one of the pairs films--A Woman Of Affairs  (1928) around the affair on the film's poster! There were even plans to marry, but ultimately, Garbo broke his heart.  He had other troubles as well.  His entire tenure at MGM included frequent run-ins with studio boss Louis B. Mayer.  The two had frequent and very heated arguments over all manner of subjects to do with the running of the studio--this spilled over into clashes over social matters (in one case, Gilbert may have struck Mayer over a crude remake that he made about Garbo--historians disagree whether this actually took place).  The animosity between the two would prove to be the beginning of the end of Gilbert's career.  By early 1928, Gilbert had a small in King Vidor's Show People, a partial silent--sound was making it's way permanently into film.  His next film, The Masks Of The Devil--a Sjöström movie--had two versions, one mono and one that was partially silent.  His first full sound mono film came next, with the above mentioned 1928 Garbo film.  It's not that Gilbert had an off putting voice, he didn't and was even greatly praised for his turn in The Hollywood Revue Of 1929 along side Norma Shearer; it would seem that Mayer wanted to use to transitional period to get rid of Gilbert.  There was a persistent rumor that Mayer ordered Gilbert's voice altered to sound much higher than it really was, and Mayer also had the power to put him inferior talkies.  He also must have begun to suffer the beginnings of the ailment that would eventually claim his life.  He did manage to grab one fairly prominent role in 1931, when he was cast in The Phantom Of Paris in a role meant for Lon Chaney Sr.; Chaney died in 1930 and Gilbert was handed the part.  His career, however was already in decline and the film did nothing to stop that.  Not even a part in the Garbo film Queen Christina (1933), directed by Rouben Mamoulian, stemmed the decline.  His last film came when Columbia cast him in The Captain Hates The Sea in 1934.  He had been suffering from premature heart failure for some time, not helped by depression or alcohol abuse, and a severe heart attack in 1935.  On the 9th of January he had a mild heart attack, but it was enough to take his life, as his heart was so weak.  He was just 36 years old.  [This, unfortunately still happens today, famed True Blood actor Nelsan Ellis passed away just two days ago from the same ailment at the age of 39].  During his time in Hollywood Gilbert was known to be quite the ladies man, he was linked with a number of starlets.  At the time of his death, he was seeing Marlene Dietrich.  He was cremated and interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

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