If anyone is to blame for my obsession with ST. ELMO (and thus John Gilbert), it is Effie Belle Butler (Wright), my grandmother. She loaned me her favorite novel, ST. ELMO, when I was 16-years-old and wouldn’t rest until I brought it back. ST. ELMO was made into a film, starring John Gilbert. I don’t know whether or not she saw the film, but she read the novel repeatedly. I named the main character in THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER after my grandmother. Coincidentally, John Gilbert’s first love was a young actress named “Effie.”
My grandmother kept her treasured copy of ST. ELMO on the bottom shelf of her bookcase. The bookcase was by the front door. You couldn’t miss it when you walked in. Oddly enough, my grandmother and I never discussed ST. ELMO. After all, I was just a teenager and more interested in boys than in books.
Effie Belle must have read ST. ELMO for the first time when she was a young woman. I say this because she named her firstborn “Inez,” after the title of Augusta Evans Wilson first novel. (She almost named her “Vashti,” after the title of Augusta’s fifth novel.) So I know that my grandmother was familiar with Augusta’s novels in her child-bearing years. I think that my grandmother’s second favorite novel was AT THE MERCY OF TIBERIUS, Augusta’s seventh novel.