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John Gilbert (1895-1936)

  1. Ramon Novarro, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, 1925.    As Metro, Goldwyn, and Mayer tried to save their new merger being bankrupted by the much troubled Italian   locations, George Walsh was ejected from the chariot and almost everyone was considered as his successor - including Gilbert’s too thin body. The finished   $4m epic with Gilbert (and Myrna Loy) among the   extras, took six years to make a meagre profit..   
  2. Ramon Novarro, Daybreak, 1930.    For the film of Arthur Schnitzler's novel, Gilbert passed Willi to Novarro. The Austrian lieutenant in the Emperor's guards then falls for the sweet Helen Chandler has to obey the officers’ code and pay his gambling debts - or blow his brainbs out. Decisions, decisions.
  3. Richard Barthelmess, The Dawn Patrol, 1930.     Director Howard Hawks wanted Jack Gilbert (his screen name   for his first five years). “Then, (LB) Mayer said to Gilbert he wouldn’t have him if he were the last actor on earth.   He hated Gilbert... it was terrible.” This decided Hawks on making the film at First National (Warners), rather than MGM.
  4. Gary Cooper, Morocco, 1930.     At $1,750 a week, Marlene Dietrich was Paramount employee P-1167 but neither she, nor director Josef von Sternberg could loosen Gilbert from his MGM shackles. Or his bottle. 
  5. Bert Lahr, Flying High (UK: Happy Landing), 1930.    Didn’t matter who played Sport, as the movie, like the Broadway musical it stemmed from was stolen, hook, line and aerocopter (!),  by Bert Lahr. This was his movie debut leading  eight years later to his Cowardly Lion in  The Wizard of Oz.
  6. Clark   Gable, Susan Lennox - Her Rise and Fall, 1931.      Unlucky in love, Greta Garbo and Gilbert had fallen out and she would not have him in her movie. Two years on, she fought just as fiercely for him - over Ronald Colman, Leslie Howard, even Olivier   - to woo her Queen Christina
  7. John Barrymore, Arséne Lupin, 1931.   Gilbert and Robert Montgomery were also in the suggestions box but when the film opened, Barrymore and brother Lionel were on Time’s cover. This was the first time they’d acted together since The Jest play in 1919. John was the gentleman thief (a French take on the UK’s AJ Raffles), Lionel was Guerchard. The brothers made three more films as a unit.  
  8. John Barrymore, Grand Hotel, 1931.    Metro’s production genius, Irving Thalberg, promised him Vicki   Baum's   Baron - “fascinatingly handsome, debonair, with a step as elastic as a tennis champion.”And Garbo also wanted Gilbert  to play her lover. However, he was no longer on MGM chief LB Mayer’s Christmas card list. Barrymore was nervous but agreed to a triple-film deal to work with Garbo. And when they kissed, they kissed. Long after  Edmund Goulding yelled “Cut!”  Garbo got her way about Gilbert when she was  Queen Christina, 1932.
  9. Clark Gable, Red Dust,  1932.       Plan A was Gilbert and Jean Harlow.  Plan B worked better: Gable and Harlow. (But Spencer Tracy won the Oscar, his first). Harlow was absent for ten days after her second husband, Paul Bern, committed suicide, two months into their marriage. A year later, she wed Harold Rosson - Red Dust’s cinematographer. 
  10. Maurice Chevalier, The Merry Widow, 1933.     After ruining the Gilbert career by fiddling around with his vocal sound recordings and re-writing the Queen Christina box-office figures to make it appear a flop,  MGM czar Louis B Mayer refused to use him again, not even in the re-make of his perfect 1925 role… when Chevalier  tried to quit, bored with “the charming prince and lieutenant roles.” (Wizat acksent what did he expect?  Cowboys and gangsters!).

  11. Clark Gable, China Seas, 1935.      Director Tay Garnett wanted him. Mayer refused. Again.   Gilbert’s voice was, in fact, not unlike that of Douglas Fairbanks Sr and Jr.
  12. Charles Boyer, The Garden of Allah, 1936.      With a passion, Marlene Dietrich set out to save Gilbert from himself, put him back on the wagon, recharge his interest in life and work with as, his daughter phrased it, “the full sunlight of Morocco.” His alcoholic impotency ruled out sex - but not all the clamour talk for their Allah teaming. Truth was, he was no longer a leading man.
  13. John Halliday, Desire, 1936.    Nor a third banana! Marlene Dietrich was living with Gilbert and thought Carlos was the perfect comeback for him. They shot colour tests, he had a heart attack and died days later. “She had dried Jack out,” commented producer David Selznick’s stage producer wife (and LB Mayer’s daughter), Irene. “But she wrung him out, too.” Halliday was promptly called up while Dietrich bedded Gary Cooper (impossible during their Morocco) and insisted he play the Mr American Innocence lover of her perhaps-blonde, perhaps-Countess. The comedy was two in one. The first half all very Ernest Lubitsch (who produced and directed some scenes) and the rest all Frank Borzage.
  14. John Barrymore, Arsène Lupin, 1937.     One iconic John for another… Barrymore was the writer Maurice Le Blanc’s titular creation, the French jewel thief – hunted by brother Lionel as the Paris police chief. This was the first time the star siblings had co-starred). In the 1937 sequel, Arsène Lupin Returns, Melvyn Douglas was investigated by ex-FBI agent Warren William.


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