John Gilbert’s Bio

John (“Jack”) Gilbert was born Cecil Pringle in Logan, Utah.  His mother was a stage actress.  His father was in the theatre too, but he was not part of Cecil’s life.  In fact, Cecil did not know who his real father was for a long time, although his parents had been legally married.

Cecil grew up backstage, so to speak.  As a child, he appeared on stage now and then.  His mother seemed more interested in her career than in Cecil, and her moods were unpredictable.  She had lots of boyfriends, and one day she remarried.  The stepfather, a comedian named Walter Gilbert, gave Cecil the name John, thinking that “Cecil” was a bit effeminate.  To make a long story short, Jack had a sad childhood with an unstable mother, and he never got over this.  (In my opinion, his childhood sabotaged his ability to form a lasting relationship with a woman, even though he desperately wanted a wife and family when he became an adult.)

Jack had little formal education until he attended Hitchcock Military Academy in California.  His mother died young and Jack returned to Utah knowing that his formal education was over.   At age fourteen, Jack Gilbert was on his own.  His stepfather gave him $10 and put him on a train bound for San Francisco.  Jack obtained a job as a tire salesman.  Then he worked for a newspaper.  Eventually, he went to Inceville hoping to become a movie star.  And he did.  But there were many stumbling blocks along the way.

He made around 100 films in his short lifetime, but what an impact those films made!  His best known film is THE BIG PARADE, a World War I film that portrays the reality of war.  It remained the biggest box office hit in Hollywood until GONE WITH THE WIND.  He is also well-known for the four films he made with his lady-love Greta Garbo: FLESH AND THE DEVIL, A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS, LOVE, and QUEEN CHRISTINA.  Of those films, FLESH AND THE DEVIL is the most popular.  It portrays the first horizontal love scene in cinema.

His other notable films are LA BOHEME; THE BUSHER; THE MERRY WIDOW; HE WHO GETS SLAPPED; DOWNSTAIRS; WAY FOR A SAILOR; FAST WORKERS; CAMEO KIRBY; BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT; MAN, WOMAN AND SIN; THE COSSACKS; TWELVE MILES OUT; DESERT NIGHTS; GENTLEMAN’S FATE; THE PHANTOM OF PARIS; THE CAPTAIN HATES THE SEA; THE SNOB; THE SHOW; REDEMPTION; MASKS OF THE DEVIL; FOUR WALLS; and MONTE CRISTO.  The films I’ve listed are a mix of silent films and talkies.  A persistent rumor has it that Jack Gilbert’s voice made him unfit for talkies.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  He made eleven talkies and would have made more had he not died at age 36.  He had a pleasant baritone voice that in my opinion was quite sexy.  If you doubt it, watch DOWNSTAIRS (MGM, 1932).  Warner Brothers now owns the movies that Jack made with MGM.  Many of these films are available online in video and DVD formats.

Publicity photo of Leatrice Joy from Stars of ...

Publicity photo of Leatrice Joy from Stars of the Photoplay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jack was married four times.  His wives were Olivia Burwell, Leatrice Joy, Ina Claire, and Virginia Bruce.  He had two children: Leatrice Joy Gilbert [Fountain] and Susan Ann Gilbert.  Susan Ann, whose mother was Virginia Bruce, never knew her father because she was an infant when he died of heart failure.  Leatrice Jr. was eleven years old and just getting to know her father.  In the short time they had together, Leatrice Jr. and Jack Gilbert developed a close relationship.

Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, John Gilbert’s daughter and biographer, wrote DARK STAR in 1985.  It’s outstanding.  I’ve read the book five times and interviewed Leatrice when I became president of the John Gilbert Appreciation Society, a job that lasted from 1998 to 2008.  Also, John Gilbert wrote an  autobiography for PHOTOPLAY magazine in 1928.  It will make you cry and laugh at the same time.  CLASSIC IMAGES reproduced the PHOTOPLAY interview in the 1980s.

My interview with Leatrice Gilbert Fountain was initially published at THE SILENTS MAJORITY: ONLINE JOURNAL OF SILENT FILM..  Most of the interview was republished in Michelle Vogel’s CHILDREN OF HOLLYWOOD (McFarland, 2005).

Eve Golden has written the latest biography called JOHN GILBERT: THE LAST OF THE SILENT FILM STARS.  VANITY FAIR featured it in it’s April 2013 edition.  Be sure check it out on Eve Golden’s Web site,, and for more details.



6 thoughts on “John Gilbert’s Bio

  1. ricksflicks

    I am impressed by the quiet elegance of the blog design. The minimal color and overall appearance seem appropriate for a site devoted to one of the greats. of the silent screen. I am in awe of the detailed knowledge of the life and career of the star.

    1. Sheryl Wright Stinchcum Post author

      Thanks, Richard. The theme is called “Vertigo.” i chose the red, black, and white colors to compliment Gilbert’s silent films. I have so material on John Gilbert but haven’t had time to put it all together. It’s an ongoing project.

    1. Sheryl Wright Stinchcum Post author

      Hi Sharon! That’s a good question. Susan, Virginia Bruce’s daughter, passed away some time ago. Unfortunately, I never knew her, but you can read about her in the biography, VIRGINIA BRUCE–Under My Skin by Scott O’Brien. Also, you might see photos of Susan and/or Virginia Bruce now and then on the “John Gilbert: Actor” facebook page.

  2. Anonymous

    Hi Susan Gilbert. We were friends in school days. You came over to my house in Huntington Palisades. You lived on Upper Amalfi. You also knew my brother Morley. I married Herbie
    Stothart. Sound familiar?
    Best to you. Roberta Bates
    Stothart. Now in Maine!


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