Recommended Reading

"John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars"

by Eve Golden (University of Kentucky Press, 2013, 366 pages)

Published in 2013, silent film fans may wonder why he or she should purchase Eve Golden's bio of John Gilbert when said fan already owns and has read Leatrice Gilbert Fountain's wonderful bio of her dad, "Dark Star: The Meteoric Rise and Eclipse of Jon Gilbert" (St. Martin's Press, 1985). Well, the main reason is that the two books don't compete with one another -- they complement each other. Would that silent movie fans were fortunate enough to have more biographies written by the children of the stellar parents (of course, some stars's memories are probably better off without the reminisces of their offspring). These books offer us a unique perspective of our idols of silence. However, gifted and talented writers such as Eve Golden who have spent many years immersed in silent movie history have a diverse knowledge of the bigger picture of that all too short era and can relate an actor's life to the historical perspective that surrounds them, typically providing us an alternate perspective that enlarges our knowledge and understanding of the star. Golden does just that, and she does it in her usual engaging and accurate style. For example, Gilbert's drinking problems are well-known, however, Golden recounts how the scandals of the early twenties (Ince's death, the Arbuckle trials, the William Desmond Taylor murder, etc.) were rocking the movie colony causing Gilbert's drinking and general lifestyle to be a concern for his bosses, although he did avoid scandal (Golden points out that Gilbert was not a drug user, choosing, instead, alcohol as his stimulant). She also recounts the evolution of MGM and parallels Gilbert's life with this evolution and his eventual assimilation into the studio. While giving absorbing accounts of the star's famous love affair with Garbo and his ongoing battles with Louis B. Mayer, she also clears up many of the legends that have been passed down inaccurately over the years about such events such as the supposed wedding that Garbo failed to show up for (a double wedding with King Vidor and Eleanor Boardman that has been recounted so many times in books over the years), as well as the legend that Gilbert decked Louis B. Mayer when he suggested Gilbert not marry Garbo but sleep with her instead. The reader will appreciate Golden's thoroughness in quoting the different stars' and friends' memories of these and other events in Gilbert's life and how they many times conflict with one another. In Golden's assessments (she is no doubt a Gilbert fan), she takes a common sense approach to weeding out the grain from the chaff. Golden certainly offers the best account of Gilbert's four marriages and his downward spiral during the thirties. Regarding legends, she also doesn't explain his cinematic demise with a simple "he had a high pitched voice that wasn't suited to talkies," or that "Louis B. Mayer sabotaged his career." No, Golden wisely takes a more in-depth look at the events and circumstances of his life during these years and notes a variety of factors that contributed to his failure to make it in movies after so many silent successes. Golden's bio paints a vivid picture of a successful, adored, talented and driven star whose end was all too sad mainly due to his own personal demons. Get it! Read it!

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