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THE DAY JOHN GILBERT DID NOT MARRY GRETA GARBO

Matinee idol John Gilbert’s daughter, who had played a few minor film roles under the name of Leatrice Joy Gilbert, spoke passionately of the abuse inflicted upon her father during his days at MGM when I talked with her in 1977 for The New York Times. She expressed her outrage again in “Dark Star: The Untold Story of the Meteoric Rise and Fall of Legendary Silent Screen Star John Gilbert,” published by St. Martins Press in 1985. --GUY FLATLEY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


L
eatrice Gilbert Fountain, daughter of silent screen stars Leatrice Joy and John Gilbert, toils at her typewriter in Riverside, Conn., putting the finishing touches to her book about her father. She is determined to set the record straight. "I grew up thinking of my father as a has-been movie star. I saw him out when he died--I was 11 at the time--and it's true that he had a problem with alcohol. But he took terrible punishment from L. B. Mayer, and he took it gracefully. For quite some time, they had a series of minor squabbles. My father was very close to Irving Thalberg, which irritated Mayer, and he hung out with the literati, with Mencken and Carey Wilson and Herman Mankiewicz. These men were my father's friends and they were Democrats and Liberals. Mayer's daughter, Irene Selznick, told me that every time he had been out with John Gilbert, he came home quivering with rage.

"It would be difficult to prove that they tampered with the sound on my father's first talkie. But my mother, who was in vaudeville then, saw it in Milwaukee, and she said that his voice in the movie was nothing like his real voice. He had grown up in the theater and he was a serious actor with a wonderful speaking voice. It wasn't even a tenor; it was a high baritone. Clarence Brown told me that he ran into Douglas Shearer, Norma's brother, who was head of the sound department at M-G-M, and he asked him what on earth had happened to Jack's voice. 'My God,' Shearer said, 'didn't you know? We made a mistake and forgot to turn up the bass. We only turned up the treble.' I've also heard it said that Lionel Barrymore, who directed 'His Glorious Night,' was paid a lot of money by Mayer to scuttle the movie any way that he could.

"Mayer and my father had tolerated one another until the day of Sept. 8, 1926. That was to be the day of a double wedding at Marion Davies's house in Beverly Hills. King Vidor was to marry Eleanor Boardman and my father was to marry Greta Garbo. Garbo did not show up, and Eleanor Boardman told me years later what took place. My father was very upset and Mayer said to him, 'Why do you have to marry her? Why not just sleep with her and forget about her?' With that, my father slugged him and dragged him into the bathroom and began hitting his head against the tiles, sending his glasses flying. Eddie Mannix, Mayer's trusted friend and bodyguard, finally pulled Father off of him. Like a cobra, Mayer sat there and hissed, 'Gilbert, your career is finished. I'll destroy you if it costs me a million dollars.'"

 

To read Guy Flatley's "The Sound That Shook Hollywood" in its entirety--including interviews with Frank Capra, Raoul Walsh, Clarence Brown, Allan Dwan, Anita Loos, King Vidor and Buddy Rogers--click here.