Have you seen the movie The Artist? It was partially based on the life of John Gilbert, once billed as “The World’s Greatest Lover,” though many today do not know his name. He was one of the most popular stars of the silent era, and his on-screen chemistry with Greta Garbo is electric. He was a very handsome man, and his voice was not awful, but he none-the-less failed to make the transition into talking pictures. He did appear in a few, most notably Queen Christina opposite Garbo, at the starlet’s insistence, but nothing substantial.
There are many rumors as to why he failed to make this transition, the most popular being that he had a riff with one of the heads of MGM studio, Louie B. Mayer, where he was under contract. It goes that Mayer and Gilbert were set to have a double wedding. Gilbert’s love for Garbo was well-known, and after asking her to marry him several times, she finally said yes. But on the day of the wedding, she never showed, and Mayer made a crude comment about her, leading Gilbert to swiftly punch Mayer in the jaw. But, as with many things in Gilbert’s life, the truth has faded into rumor.
On April 18th, Eve Golden has a biography of the star (John Gilbert: Last of the Silent Stars) being released which promises to dispel some of these rumors and give us the entire portrait of the doomed movie star from his humble beginnings traveling with his mother in acting troupes, his rise to stardom, to his early death at the age of 38 due to alcohol related problems. Hopefully it will do a good job separating fact from fiction so the world’s greatest lover may once again be with us and capture our hearts and imaginations in the way John Dujardin did in The Artist.