John Gilbert ‘The Great Lover’ was one of the few stars of the silent movie era who could rival Rudolph Valentino, and you can see why, handsome devil wasn’t he? Like Valentino his life ended tragically young (although not quite as young as Valentino) aged just 38. During this time he made in excess of 70 movies, but by his death his career was in decline due to a mixture of his alcoholism and studio politics.
A clean-shaven Gilbert began his career as a leading man with Fox in 1921, but didn’t realize his true potential until he moved to MGM and grew his famous mustache. In the photo below with Joan Crawford you can see what he looked like before his ‘tache.
He was notorious for having affairs with his co-stars, most notably Greta Garbo, whom he was rumored to have proposed to on numerous occasions. Always distrustful Garbo was reluctant to commit, and on the rebound he married Ina Claire. He also had affairs with Bebe Daniels and Barbara La Marr.
His move into talkies wasn’t successful, not because of voice, which was very good, but due to a combination of bad scripts (thanks to an ongoing feud with studio boss Louis B. Mayer) and a certain amount of overacting in the love scenes which had audiences snickering in their seats.
Despite his career going into a decline, Garbo insisted on having him as her leading man in the 1933 movie Queen Christina. Their relationship seemed to have been on and off for years and at the time of his death from a heart attach he was rumored to be seeing her again.
Above: Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in a publicity image for Flesh and the Devil (1926).