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John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars

by Eve Golden

Availablecloth$45.00s 978-0-8131-4162-6
Screen Classics
384 pages  Pubdate: 04/12/2013  6 x 9  62 b&w photos

Charming and classically handsome, John Gilbert (1897–1936) was among the world’s most recognizable actors during the silent era. He was a wild, swashbuckling figure on screen and off, and accounts of his life have focused on his high-profile romances with Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, his legendary conflicts with Louis B. Mayer, his four tumultuous marriages, and his swift decline after the introduction of talkies. A dramatic and interesting personality, Gilbert served as one of the primary inspirations for the character of George Valentin in the Academy Award–winning movie The Artist (2011). Many myths have developed around the larger-than-life star in the eighty years since his untimely death, but this definitive biography sets the record straight.

Eve Golden separates fact from fiction in John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars, tracing the actor’s life from his youth spent traveling with his mother in acting troupes to the peak of fame at MGM, where he starred opposite Mae Murray, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and other actresses in popular films such as The Merry Widow (1925), The Big Parade (1925), Flesh and the Devil (1926), and Love (1927). Golden debunks some of the most pernicious rumors about the actor, including the oft-repeated myth that he had a high-pitched, squeaky voice that ruined his career. Meticulous, comprehensive, and generously illustrated, this book provides a behind-the-scenes look at one of the silent era’s greatest stars and the glamorous yet brutal world in which he lived.

Eve Golden is the author of five theater and film biographies, including Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway; The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall; and Vernon and Irene Castle’s Ragtime Revolution.

“This book will certainly be the definitive biography of John Gilbert. Golden has created a gripping, detailed chronicle of Gilbert’s life, providing readers with the full tragic story of the amazing saga of an emotionally deprived child who gained tremendous fame and wealth through his looks, talent, and drive and then lost it all.”—James Robert Parish, author of Fiasco: A History of Hollywood’s Iconic Flops

“This may be Golden’s finest achievement yet. John Gilbert has been plagued by a barrage of bogus hyperbole throughout the nearly eighty years since his untimely death; Golden, through diligent and exhaustive research, has brilliantly debunked every one of these out-and-out ‘fish’ stories. She wields her pen with as much flourish and verve as Gilbert brandishing a sword in one of his action swashbucklers, and the result is a work that is both responsible and valuable.”—Mel Neuhaus, film writer for

“Well-written and highly informative. The reader is completely absorbed in the life and times of John Gilbert and the author succeeds in painting the picture of a real human being. It's well-balanced and far from dull, trashy movie star adoration. Highly recommendable, also for those who still have to discover John Gilbert and the movie stars of his era."-- Bettina Uhlich, author of the German biography on Jean Harlow, Das Leben der Leinwandgöttin Jean Harlow

"Here at last is a long overdue and definitive John Gilbert biography, the one that silent-film lovers have been waiting for. Debunking the longstanding myths about Gilbert’s demise, while also paying heartfelt tribute to his talent and versatility, Eve Golden provides a clear-eyed, intelligent, and utterly persuasive account of Gilbert’s rise and fall. Carefully considering each of the many factors that accelerated his ruin, including his self-destructive behavior (both professionally and personally), Golden absorbs readers in the aching, urgent drama of Gilbert’s downward spiral. Along the way, she brings the silent era, the transition to sound, and pre-Code Hollywood to vivid life, creating a compact and often illuminating picture of those times. With her astute analysis of his individual performances, and by acknowledging his perfectly acceptable speaking voice, Golden restores John Gilbert—the man reportedly loved by both Garbo and Dietrich—to his proper standing in film history, as both a silent superstar and a first-rate screen actor.
---John DiLeo, author of Screen Savers: 40 Remarkable Movies Awaiting Rediscovery

“Myths have distorted the legacy of John Gilbert, one of the giants of the silent screen. In her lively, well-researched, and clear-eyed biography, Golden tells a riveting life story while setting the record straight.”—Emily W. Leider, author of Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

"Eve Golden reels through the life of [the] silent film star."—Vanity Fair

It is a swell read. -- The Huffington Post

"Meticulous, comprehensive, and generouslly illustrated, John Gilbert is a multi-faceted biography that offers insight into stardom during one of the most definitive eras of Hollywood. Golden provides a behind-the-scenes look at the silent period, the most definitive eras of Hollywood. Golden provides a behind-the-scenes look at one of the silent period's gretest stars and the glamorous yet brutal world in which he lived." -- Alan W. Petrucelli,

"One of the virtues of Eve Golden's smart, funny biography of John Gilbert is that she doesn't make him seem too pathetic." -- Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post

"The ulitmate value of Golden's biography is in providing a balanced social and cultural view of the larger world within which Gilbert was navigating his career." -- Rita Kohn, Freelance Author, Broadside -- Rita Kohn -- Freelance Author, Broadside

"This is a finely detailed and gracefully written effort to set the record straight about this forgotten movie star whose life and career have become shrouded in myths and, according to the author, in half-truths." -- Dennis King,

"With a background in journalism and a lifelong dedication to classic film geekery, she is truly meant to write about the golden age of Hollywood. She clearly loves her topic, which makes reading her books as enjoyable as having a cup of coffee with a fellow fan." --