Friday, August 30, 2013

Introduction - Exclusive Interview with biographer Eve Golden on John Gilbert



I have been fascinated by John Gilbert since I first heard about him. And, what I heard wasn’t very flattering. All I knew about him, at the time, was that he failed to transition from silent to sound films for the reason that he had a high voice. I just had to find out for myself if this was true. Turns out that it wasn’t.

I became so fascinated by his story that I created a section here on Classic Movie Favorites about him.

Even with having done so much research about him for CMF, until reading Eve Golden's new biography titled, John Gilbert - The Last of the Silent Film Stars, I never really completely understood why he was considered to be such a liability by MGM or, why the studio hadn't helped him through the transition as they did with Greta Garbo.  At the time of his demise, he was still very handsome and highly talented, so why was he abandoned by the studio he had made so much money for? I thought his life tragic, so I wanted to know more.

The only book I had read on Gilbert until recently, was his daughter, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain’s book, “Dark Star.” Her account of her father’s life was a good one, but I still didn't find convincing answers to my questions about Gilbert’s failure in film. So, when Eve Golden’s book came out, I bought it right away. I also immediately contacted her and asked if she would be willing to be interviewed, and thankfully she said, "yes."

When we spoke, I was happy to find out that we have similar roots, both coming from Philadelphia and each of us huge classic movie fans who grew up sneaking into the living room to watch the "Late, Late show" on TV when we were supposed to be in bed. For us both, that love for classic film has never faded.

Until the last few years, I was never really interested in silent film, preferring sound films. But, now I've gained a new appreciation for silent films through meeting the great Kevin Brownlow, watching his documentary "Hollywood," and through films by stars such as the great, Garbo and of course, John Gilbert. My first viewing of a Garbo/Gilbert silent was "Flesh and the Devil," which is now one of my favorite films.

Here's the waltz scene from Flesh and the Devil:

My interview with Eve Golden took place last month and it was a joy. Below are just a few quotes from Eve that I wanted to particularly highlight from our discussion.

On watching silent films, Eve Golden says:
"You have to really sit still and pay attention, and its best with the lights out and it really takes you into another world, the way the talkies don’t."
On the transition from silent to sound films, Eve Golden says: 
"It’s funny because one of the things I liked about writing about John Gilbert was that whole change over from silent to sound that culturally never happened before or since where in a period of just three years, an entire art form died and an entire new art form was born, which is why you have films like Sunset Boulevard. When you look at Sunset Boulevard, you realize that Gloria Swanson [and her character, Norma Desmond] is still a young woman; she’s not even 50 and she’s talking about a period that’s only thirty years ago, like us talking about the 1990’s and yet, the silent era is like talking about the age of Louis the 16th."
For those who don't know much about Gilbert's career, before you read the interview, I suggest you watch this episode of Kevin Brownlow's documentary, "Hollywood." This episode features two of the biggest starts of the silent era who didn't make the transition to sound films, Clara Bow and John Gilbert. 

Clara Bow is featured first, and John Gilbert's portion starts at 18:24 minutes in. 

This interview with Eve is a long one that I have divided into four parts.

Click on the links below to read each section:

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