“John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars” by Eve Golden, listed on Amazon.com.
Now that you have all read my 2013 biography of John Gilbert [meaningful pause as you all guiltily order your copies on Amazon], you are all bursting at the seams to see him in action, yes? I recommend The Big Parade, The Show, Love (a much better version of Anna Karenina than the staid 1935 remake), Downstairs (his best talkie) and The Captain Hates the Sea (his last film, and an underrated corker).
Everyone goes nertz about the Garbo and Gilbert love affair, but really, it lasted less than a year and Garbo was less “in love” with him than “bowled over and terrified.” What I find more interesting is his last dalliance, with Marlene Dietrich, in the last year of his life. After he’d been given the bum’s rush by MGM and Columbia by 1935, and Marlene took it upon herself to dry him out, buck him up, and get him a supporting role in her delightful crime-caper comedy Desire. Gary Cooper was cast as her leading man, and Jack Gilbert was to play her partner in crime—exactly the kind of smooth villain he adored and was so good at.
In the summer or fall of 1935, Paramount took these color tests shots of him, although Desire was eventually released in black and white. They show a dapper, heartbreakingly handsome Jack, 38 years old—just look at that smile and swoon:
Aside from a Technicolor segment in MGM’s 1929 Hollywood Revue, this is all the color footage of him that exists. But shortly after these tests, he had either a heart attack or an aneurysm and was dropped from the film (a perfectly serviceable John Halliday took his role). On January 9, 1936, Jack died at his home, basically from drinking and malnutrition.
As an extra bonus, I give you an amateur home movie taken on one of those San Simeon house parties, in 1926. Jack, Irving Thalberg and British director Anthony Asquith are seen here in a western parody—I adore Jack bounding to the rescue on his chair horsie; what a shame he was so rarely given any comedy roles: