John Gilbert was undoubtedly one of the greatest stars of the silent film era. He worked his way up from bit player to being one of Hollywood’s most popular leading men. At the height of his career, he starred in classic films such as The Big Parade, The Merry Widow, and Flesh and the Devil. Some of his co-stars included Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish, Norma Shearer, and Lon Chaney. But John Gilbert found out all too well that what goes up must come down. With the advent of talkies, his once flourishing career came to a screeching halt. With his career in decline, John Gilbert was driven into a spiral of self-destructive behavior that led to his death at the age of 38.
In “John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars,” Eve Golden offers a clear, concise look at an often misunderstood star. It has a lot of good information without being overwhelming. If you’re just getting acquainted with John Gilbert’s films, this book is an excellent way to get to know more about him as a person.
Golden also does a nice job of examining the myths surrounding Gilbert’s life and career. However, there are some aspects of his life that aren’t given the amount of attention they deserve. Most notably, surprisingly little attention is given to one of the most legendary parts of his life — his relationship with Greta Garbo. After having read biographies on Garbo that discuss her relationship with Gilbert quite extensively, I was disappointed by how little Golden discusses the same subject. Admittedly, Gilbert and Garbo’s relationship is surrounded by enough mystery and rumor that it could easily serve as the basis of a book by itself. But it would have been nice to see something between an in-depth analysis and a brief overview included in this book.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.