Reader Cobra reminded me that there’s an article on my grandfather John Gilbert in today’s WSJ, which I’d been meaning to mention.
This Saturday marks the 80th anniversary of John Gilbert’s death. If you don’t know this silent-movie idol, you are not alone, for his renown peaked between the mid-1920s and early 1930s. Yet it’s a measure of how considerable his fame was that the U.S. Postal Service included Gilbert—born John Cecil Pringle in Utah in 1899—among such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino and Lon Chaney when it issued a series of stamps celebrating silent-screen stars in 1994. And unlike Valentino and Chaney, who died before talkies superseded silents, Gilbert made 10 pictures with audible dialogue before he died, at age 36, in 1936.
With his chiseled features, lean physique and raven mane, Gilbert had been a dashing leading man in silent movies, equally comfortable in both costume melodramas, like Erich von Stroheim’s “The Merry Widow” (1925), and then-contemporary stories, such as King Vidor’s World War I epic “The Big Parade” (1925), in which he played an eager if callow doughboy. His three silents with Greta Garbo,most notably “Flesh and the Devil” (1926), were touchstones of the period. In these films and others, Gilbert played flawed characters but radiated irresistible charm, which together with his shiny handsomeness left moviegoers swooning. His talkies, by contrast, found him cast in roguish, often unsympathetic parts.
And so on. Nothing much here, but it’s nice that ol’ grandpa is still remembered, even if only by film buffs.