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Friday, April 30, 2010


Time for more random encounters! Hope you find these entertaining ;)

When Louise Brooks and her new husband, director Eddie Sutherland (above), finally made the move from New York to Los Angeles, they were looking for a bungalow to call their own. While out house-hunting, they found an apartment that seemed to be a good fit. However, they got a shock when they knocked on the landlady's door: it was Mary Miles Minter (below), the reclusive actress who had gone into hiding, and slightly mad, after the scandalous death of William Desmond Taylor! How the mighty had fallen... Though Mary seemed harmless, albeit a bit loopy, Louise and Eddie decided to look elsewhere, settling down in the luxurious Laurel Canyon near soon-to-be pals John Gilbert and King Vidor.

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Clara Bow was a huge success when she began filming on The Plastic Age. The entire American population seemed to have fallen in love with her, as well as her co-star, Gilbert Roland, with whom she would have an on-again-off-again affair for years to come. Though Clara was the current talk of the town, there was a man destined to be an equally huge star lingering in the crowd of extras. Knowing Clara's eye for attractive men, it is quite possible she noticed the young and handsome Clark Gable, but the two never had any kind of relationship. The same could not be said of Gary Cooper, who later had a bit part as a reporter in It and the male lead opposite her in Children of Divorce. These two became lovers, and Clara didn't mince words when describing just how "huge" a  star Coop really was!

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Wallace Reid (above with pal Adela Rogers St. Johns) was slowly making his name in the business when he made the film The Ways of Fate in 1913. People had begun to take notice of the handsome leading man, but it would be another two years-- after he took his shirt off in Birth of a Nation-- that his star really began to rise! However, with his good looks and charm, he seemed to be a shoe-in for success, unlike the quiet, character actor who was milling about the Fate set as an extra. It would take another six years before Lon Chaney (below) crawled to fame as the contorting, "crippled" con-man, Frog, in The Miracle Man. After this show of gut-wrenching acrobatics, the entire world would know his face, or rather faces. All 1000 of them!

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When Vivien Leigh (right) was attending the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Roehampton, England, she was already certain of her future. She knew that she wanted to be an actress, and she had no qualms about telling pretty much every one within ear shot that she was going to be a star! Imagine her surprise when, as a struggling actress, it was one of her old classmates who made it to the big screen first: Maureen O'Sullivan (below with Johnny Weissmuller)! After seeing Maureen in Tarzan the Ape Man of 1932, Vivien was more determined than ever to make it! She used her friend's success to re-light the fire in her own belly. She worked hard and tread the boards of the stage before making an on-screen debut in 1935's Look Up and Laugh. She would have to wait another 4 years for the role of a lifetime in Gone with the Wind.

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The Baby: Jean Harlow

Most stage mothers push their children into the business to fulfill their own desires to be famous. Such was the case with Jean Harlow's mother: Jean Harlow! The younger Jean's given name was actually Harlean. She took her mother's name as her stage name when she began acting. (I wonder whose idea that was)? In 1923, Mama Jean and Baby Jean would move from Kansas City to Hollywood so that the senior lady could pursue a career on the silver screen. However, because Mama lacked the charisma later found in her daughter, they only remained for two years before packing it in and returning to Missouri. During her first brief stint in H-town, Baby Jean would attend The Hollywood School for Girls where she would befriend its only two male students: Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joel McCrea (below, respectively). In a few years time, these three tykes would be reunited, but this time as major Hollywood superstars!!!

Who will be star-crossed next? Stay tuned. Happy weekend!!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

HOT SPOTS... On the Internet!!!

As any movie lover knows, in this modern age of consumerism it is never enough to see a movie just once. When you fall in love with a film, just like any other romance, you are filled with an unquenchable need to possess the object of your desire. Unfortunately, we true movie-buffs find this difficult, because sometimes the most sought-after and adored films of all time are unavailable to the general public. Sure, there's the occasional re-release of a beloved classic and great venues like The Egyptian or The Silent Movie Theater that will unlock the vault of cinematic past for our present pleasure, and there is nothing like seeing a feature on the big screen. However, if you are as compulsive as I am, when you see something you like, you want it! Even though you know your bank account is low; even though you know buying new shoes would be a wiser choice of expenditure.

I have sought in vain for many a film, particularly when I am deep in researching a certain individual. The number of titles that are either completely lost or being held hostage astound and frustrate me every time. So many great storylines and brilliant performances have either deteriorated, been burned for silver, or are sitting in a lonely vault somewhere. But, through my diligence i.e. obsession, I have been able to find quite a few sites that can offer the needle-in-a-haystack pieces that even the almighty cannot provide, (though praise be to Allah that such a site exists too)! Since I consider us comrades in arms, I want to aid you in your common quest. Here is a list of sites for the most loyal of you movie-hunting lovelies. I would say don't spend your money all in one place, but if you live in a glass house, you shouldn't throw stones! Haha ;)

See it through the Grapevine:

When I randomly stumbled onto Grapevine Video's website, I thought I had died and gone to heaven! So many films from the silent era, starring its biggest as well as its lesser remembered stars, are here for the plucking! Salivating at the mouth, I managed to put 4 movies in my cart before I remembered that I had rent to pay and should probably restrain myself. The great thing about this site, aside from the number of titles and the great quality of the films, is that the majority of the discs are double-features or include some sort of short film or comedy, so it's more bang for your buck. The site is also easy to navigate, because it allows you to search by title, director, genre, or performer, so if you have a favorite actor, he and his work will be easy to find. If Rudy's your man, look no further. If you're partial to Blanche Sweet (above, left), it doesn't get any sweeter! They accept credit or Paypal, so the money exchange is a cinch. 

Vintage is always in fashion:

Vintage Film Buff has quite the plethora of forgotten 1930s and 1940s productions. If you like B-movies, horror films, westerns, or noirs, you will find great flicks and hidden jewels at this website. Overlooked stars like George Raft, Miriam Hopkins and Anna May Wong (right) are finally given a chance to shine here, and there are fabulous and scandalous pre-code films sure to aid you in indulging your naughty side. Many of these films are boundary pushing oddities, which makes them interesting to watch and easy to enjoy.

Unknown, But Not Forgotten:

I was able to find this company after buying a couple of their dvds through Amazon. Unknown Video houses a great deal of silent classics, particularly comedies and westerns. Mabel Normand and William S. Hart (left) are highly favored here, as well as racing gent, Wally Reid. The website doesn't seem to list all of their available movies, but each time I order from them, a small catalog is provided, which includes more of their releases. A cute bonus about these films is that they each come with a collectible magnet. I now have Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel hanging on my fridge.

Clara Bow Bound:

If you love Clara-- and let's face it, who doesn't-- this website is fantastic for finding nearly all of her films!!! Yeah, I know; I too found it almost too good to be true. Yet, there it is. The Clara Bow Page contains Bow's greatest silent and talkie films, so you can sink your teeth into Mantrap and Hoopla with no trouble at all! (Who needs the Library of Congress)?! These films are burned onto a dvd at your specification, and you get two for the price of one! The quality is great and the transaction is easy, with the option of checks, money order, or Paypal. There are also several other titles available with various stars, such as Ann Harding and Pola Negri. Definitely worth the gander.

Lon Ain't Gone!

Since Chaney remains my favorite actor, and it seems that his throne is secure from future usurpation, I was more than miffed when in the beginning of my adolescent studies, I was unable to find the majority of his titles on video (this was back in the age of VHS). Still, with the coming of Digital Video Discs, he was nowhere to be found. I sadly cherished my copy of The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame and considered all other films exiled into oblivion. Not so! Unique Dvd has an ENTIRE collection of Chaney's greatest films in one fantastic pack! The downer is that you can't purchase one film alone, and you have to get the whole shebang; but for $50 you get 20 films, plus a copy of a Lon Chaney documentary. Where East Is East, Tell It To the Marines, and While the City Sleeps... They're all there! Chaney's diverse film work is available at long last, and the "Man of a Thousand Faces" can finally be appreciated for some of his less monstrous ones! Each film is the best known surviving copy of its kind, and a few incomplete films are included and edited together for the best possible version. For a true fan, it's like a dream come true. (Also available at the site are a collection of fascinating, banned cartoons and other various series). (Unfortunately, it looks like this site has been shut down. I hope it is only temporary, as avid Lon fans need access to his work. Stop holdin' it hostage, people!).

I hope that this information helps you all in your quest for the preservation of our cinema's history. If you purchase from these sites, be sure to thank them for the great contribution and honor they are doing for our artistic heritage. It is a truly noble effort, too little recognized. So, spoil yourself, get a little movie treat, and enjoy!

Monday, April 19, 2010

PERSONAL NOTE: Save the Sign!!!

The view of the Hollywood sign is in danger!!! A real estate development deal is under way that will forever tarnish the cultural landmark that we all hold so dear. To put an end to this heresy, please go to the following site to make a donation: Or, to simply give $5, you can text the word LAND to the number 50555. Please help! La La Land needs you!!!

**** Update: Cahuenga Peak has been saved!!! Thank you to all who donated. 12.5 million dollars was raised, and with some help from Hugh Hefner, Hollywoodland is safe. God Bless America! ;)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

HISTORY LESSON: Elinor Glyn gives "It" away

Hollywood owes a great debt to the many superb, female writers who contributed to the growth of cinema. Frances Marion and Anita Loos both had strong careers from the silent area through the golden age, and they penned some of the most popular and classic films of all time. Of course, authoresses like Ayn Rand and the always-in-fashion Jane Austin had their books adapted for the screen, providing compelling and intricate character pieces for many an ambitious actor. But there is one very interesting lady who took Hollywood, and thus all the world, by storm with her provocative and-- for the times-- sexually explicit literature.

Elinor Glyn was a well-bred but rebellious English girl who grew into an envelope-pushing misfit and cultural icon. As an author, Elinor was the Jackie Collins of her day, penning erotic novels that unapologetically explored female desire. In Three Weeks, for example, she describes a sexual tryst between a very entangled couple on a tiger-skin rug. It caused quite the uproar and became the topic of many a fiery church sermon, but Glyn most likely knew what she was doing. After releasing some sentimental romance novels, including the well-received Beyond the Rocks that, she spiced things up with a more scandalous brand of literature and coincidentally made a lot more money. By exploring her own secret passions, she tapped into a surging whirlpool of dormant desire that the majority of contemporary readers shared. She stuck to her new formula and never looked back.

 Women devoured her books like chocolate-- living out their sordid and impassioned fantasies-- largely due to the fact that the heroines in Glyn's novels were never shrinking violets, but the predators of assorted male prey. This early example of female empowerment came at just the right time, as the twenties really started to roar... and the women too! As a result, the public came to depend on Elinor as a source for all things romantic, sensual, and cultured. Her extensively publicized, and somewhat eccentric persona developed into an almost cartoonish fiction in the hands of the press, who turned her into the intellectualized Cher of the literary world. She was promoted as a person of great class and worldliness. As with many others whoa are touched by fame, Elinor couldn't help but take the bate, and for professional and perhaps egocentric reasons, she participated in maintaining her reputation. History records her notoriously lavish wardrobe and cosmetics, which included fake eyelashes and flame-red hair (which may or may not have been a wig). After willfully crafting herself into a social celebrity and a literary gold mine, it wasn't long before Hollywood came calling to get in on the deal.

Hollywood's poaching of this author made sense. If Glyn's saucy novels transferred to film, they were sure to reel in the big bucks. Elinor saw the possibilities as well, realizing the power that cinematic celebrities would have. She correctly predicted Gloria Swanson's fate, telling her that movie stars would be considered American royalty. She encouraged Gloria to play the part, on camera as well as off, which the actress did. Truthfully, Glyn wanted in on Hollywood as much as it wanted her. Anita Loos herself would say, "If Hollywood hadn't existed, Elinor Glyn would have had to invent it." Referred to as "Madame Glyn" by now, Elinor ingratiated herself with all the creme de la creme.  She spent time at San Simeon and Pickfair, and her declining popularity regained steam as her novels turned into films.

Her screen adaptations included the previously mentioned Three Weeks-- which was made in 1914 and again in 1924, the latter time with Eileen Pringle and Conrad Nagel-- and Beyond the Rocks, with Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino, (they are pictured together in a still from the film to the right). Her stories had to be toned down a bit for the censors, of course-- it was much easier to be naughty in print-- but the melodramatic tales of forbidden, torrid romances remained. By the time pre-production started for His Hour in 1924, Elinor had enough power to refuse casting decisions on her pictures. This held great sway with the public, for if she gave a thumbs down, it meant the star was no "star" at all; if she gave a thumbs up, it meant the actor must really be something special. At first, she did not want to allow John Gilbert to take the role of "Prince Gritzko" in His Hour, for she had learned that he was soon to be a father (of daughter Leatrice) and found that most un-sexy. However, after meeting the charming actor, she agreed to the casting decision and was proud of his intense and sexually charged portrayal.

John Gilbert and Aileen Pringle in His Hour

The studio made John take private lessons with Glyn to prepare for the role, which they were forcing many of their stars to do. Most of her pupils were unable to handle her overwhelming personality at first, considering quite comic and thinking-- perhaps correctly-- that she was full of baloney. John had to bite his lip and sit through her tutorials on decorum and etiquette. How he kept a straight face, knowing his wicked sense of humor, is a true testament to his acting ability. However, he and many others were able to learn from her, believing that her knowledge was accurate even if her presentation was a bit pretentious. Since John was still struggling at this point in his career, he cleverly put his need to work over his compulsion to guffaw. Doubtless, he couldn't help but joke about his odd tutor later with his friends. In fact, one of his pals, Charlie Chaplin, (above) was not so inclined to play it straight. He too was forced to go in for a meeting with the Madame, but he simply started bellowing with laughter at the ludicrous situation. The miffed Glyn was beyond insulted and made no qualms about telling Charles what  she thought of him. The comedian replied with a smirk: "That's too bad. I think you're a scream." In the end, Charlie and the rest of Hollywood was able to accept Elinor for what she was-- save for William Haines, who found her utterly ridiculous-- and she was able to earn some allies. Charlie would continue to poke fun, of course, but that goes without saying.

Clara Bow, oozing "it" in... It

Of course, the star Elinor is most tied to in history is Clara Bow, whom she would label the "It girl" in a big Paramount publicity campaign. A person who possessed "it," according to Glyn, was effortlessly charismatic and sexually enthralling. If you had "it" you had that special "X" factor that placed you much higher on the totem pole of desire and admiration than your social contemporaries. You were grand, refined, exciting... magical! After Glyn created this new definition, Paramount jumped at the chance to use it to promote Bow. After agreeing to meet Clara, who thought Glyn was absolutely cuckoo but was too sweet to say so to her face, Glyn agreed to let her star in her next adaptation, also entitled It, and forever gave those two letters their phenomenal power and Clara her nickname. With Glyn's magic wand of approval, Bow, who was already popular, became a sensation. With her electric, lovable energy, the title seemed rightfully bestowed. The film was a huge success, and as a result the writer-actress duo were coupled up on future projects, including Red Hair and Three Weekends, (though many critics agreed that in terms of story-- as far as the screenplays went-- Glyn and her co-writers were phoning it in, and Bow's performances were the only saving graces in these later vehicles).

Portrait of Glyn by Philip Alexius de Laszlo

As times changed, Elinor's themes and re-hashed storylines became old hat, as she did herself. Just as the talkies came swooping in, Glyn made her exit. She wrote a few more pieces before her death in 1943, but would never be as socially relevant as she had been during the 1920s. Her "moment" in time was interesting and perplexing, and did much to broaden the nature of fame. "Celebrity" became a title supposedly bestowed on the worthy few, as if by God himself, when in truth, celebrity was manufactured and built by the studio men. Glyn was not an exception, but the rule. She had broadcast her majesty and natural superiority to the world, yet she too was a carefully calculated contrivance. She was always very aware of the hypocrisy of the community in which she lived. She embraced it and simultaneously let it make use of her before making her curtsy and returning to the real world. That's Hollywood for ya'. Glyn couldn't have written it any better. Or could she?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Time for more battles of the casting couch! Next up, of course, is April's Actor: John Gilbert.


There was an unconscious and lengthy war waging between these two silver screen giants. As one's career was burning out, the other's was just starting to catch fire! As a result of the great depression and changing social attitudes towards the male image, John Gilbert slowly found himself being usurped time and again of various roles and always seemingly by the new MGM macho, Clark Gable. At first, the studio didn't know what to do with the hulking, big-eared actor. But they knew that he was a star, for when they put him in front of the camera, audiences reacted with relish! Gable more accurately symbolized the prototypical modern man to 1930s audiences. He was gruff, a bit dangerous, and "liberal" with his morals.

As a result, when it came time to cast the scandalous films that were being slipped past the censors, Gable seemed to fit the bill more than the eloquent Gilbert, who was more recognized for romantic leads in period pieces. John was all man, no doubt about it, but his image was identified with a more distant past. He knew how to handle a sword and could win the day with heroic daring-do, but his success was the result of skill and wit, whereas Gable simply used brute force... and guns. When it came to the opposite sex, John would woo and win over a woman with his sensitivity and boyishness; Gable would simply manhandle. Thus, in 1931, when Gilbert was up for the role of the sinister and magnetic male lead opposite Norma Shearer in A Free Soul, he found himself unceremoniously intercepted by Gable (above, right). Audiences wouldn't have responded with as much ravenous lust had it been John who had thrust Norma down onto the couch. That is not how the "Great Lover" would treat a lady!

The same followed when Clark was cast in both Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise and Red Dust (above), both of which were originally slated to be Gilbert vehicles. What would it have been like to have John Gilbert in the center of a love triangle with Jean Harlow and Mary Astor? Of course, some of the reasoning behind Gilbert's shut-out most certainly had to do with Mayer's manipulation, but several factors went into the dissolution of John's career, including public sentiment and-- it seems-- fate. (Gable wasn't called "The King" for nothing). It is interesting to note that the gritty roles being offered to Gable were the very ones that the impassioned Gilbert had always craved, however they were normally denied him. Instead, the roles that would later be played by Errol Flynn seem more reminiscent of old John roles: a heroic figure who wins the ladies over without force, using only charm and a wink. I suppose the identity of John's onscreen persona can be found somewhere in between the images of both men.

Apparently, it was just Gable's time to shine, and shine he did in a lengthy and rich career, which has yet to be topped. While John was filming The Merry Widow back in his hey-day in 1925, he had no idea that one of the extras would take his place as the reigning sovereign of MGM. The ambitious and hungry Gable probably stood there in the crowd, studying the star and learning what it was to be a true lead. (Did Gilbert inspire his later mustache)??? He certainly took notes, for he was able to craft his own unique identity and win over the hearts of the American people. His career was also successful because he willingly worked with MGM to preserve his image, unlike the independently spirited Gilbert, and was close friends with both Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling.

Though John was overshadowed in the aftermath of the sound film phenomenon, he was not forgotten, and in a way, he had the last laugh... At least among those who knew him best. When Gable went on to star in Gone with the Wind, a film whose success and majesty matched and outdid Gilbert's prior war epic The Big Parade, he was at the crest of his stardom-- untouchable. John Gilbert was sadly dead and gone. However, David O. Selznick himself would hold in his heart an image of what could have been... One day, when speaking to Leatrice Joy, John's ex-wife, he would say, “You and I know, Leatrice, we buried the man who should have played Rhett Butler.” Now it is hard to imagine anyone else in the luscious role of the South's most beloved lecher, but this comment speaks volumes on the power of a once proud individual and incomparable actor whom history has laid so low.


John Gilbert wasn't always the victim, however. He did manage a few victories at his career's end. The last major one came with the help of former lover, Greta Garbo, who was about to star in the historical epic Queen Christina. The role of her romancer was to be played by an English import, Laurence Olivier, (above) who had been winning renown for lighting up the British stage. However, Greta would have none of it. Greta was always an insecure and sensitive actress, and she had relied on John Gilbert's help tremendously during the beginning of her career. She wanted a co-star she could both trust and lean on in this pivotal role. Mostly, she wanted to do a service for the man who had so generously helped her when she was fresh off the boat from Sweden. Despite John's declining popularity, she used her clout to insist that he star opposite her. The reunion of on and off-screen lovers remains sensational to behold. Not only does John prove that he can speak just fine in the film, eradicating all rumors of a high-pitched voice, but the scenes between him and Greta evoke a nostalgia for a romantic time long past. Though the film did not fare so well in its day, performing only respectably at the box-office, now it is like watching two long lost lovers come home. Few things are more perfect.

As for poor Larry-boy, he was so insulted by the whole fiasco that he refused to work in America for several years. To be ousted is one thing, but to be ousted by the Great Greta Garbo?!?! Ouch. He would not make his big American debut until 6 years later in 1939's Wuthering Heights (below), where he finally fell in love with both film-making and film-acting and would spend the rest of his life enhancing the possibilities of both. He still held a grudge against Greta when they later met at a party, but it didn't take long for the beauty to make him forget the hard feelings. A jealous Vivien Leigh discovered the two walking arm in arm away from the rest of the crowd, looking very chummy indeed. Clearly, they had buried the hatchet.

 Woulda coulda shoulda or destiny devine? Whatever the possibilities were, this is how it all played out. Despite the upset feelings and particularly the heartbreak of dear John, I think the resulting films couldn't have turned out any better. They all remain classics, after all. That's saying something!!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Happy April Fool's Day! Don't worry, no pranks here. However, to commemorate the day, I have chosen to feature John Gilbert, a man who in the history of Hollywood most closely resembles fortune's fool.

John is not recalled for being a gifted actor, a handsome heartthrob, or a gallant gentleman. He is referred to in the history books as the symbol of the silent-talkie disaster. The story is thus: when films made the transition to sound, Gilbert's career was "ruined," because his voice recorded at too high a register. He stood in the crowd at a screening of His Glorious Night, listened as the audience laughed at him, and ran away in tears. His career was over... What a bunch of bull!!! In truth, there was nothing at all wrong with John's voice, which-- according to his own ex-wife Leatrice Joy-- sounded closer to Joseph Cotten's scotch-coated drawl than to a pipsqueak girly-man. This fact becomes obvious when one watches any of his sound films: Queen Christina, Redemption, The Hollywood Revue of 1929, etc, (the latter two of which were released BEFORE His Glorious Night). As for his running out of the movie theater in embarrassment, John was on his honeymoon in Europe with Ina Claire when the film premiered and wasn't even present to witness it!! Any laughter exhibited by viewers was a nervous reaction to the now spoken, romantic dialogue, which was received with awkwardness during every sound film at the time. Lovey-doveyness is always better on the page.

 In Flesh and the Devil with Greta Garbo--
the film on which they fell in love.

So, what's the big idea? Why is John remembered incorrectly as a wash-out? The answer: because Louis B. Mayer wanted it that way. Mayer and Gilbert never got along, for reasons I referred to in an earlier post, but I think the majority of the conflict lied in Mayer's own jealousy. John was handsome, talented, and could and did have pretty much any woman he wanted. Mayer was a short, fat, hard-boiled money-machine, who was only able to bed the beautiful women at his studio after he learned to leverage his position of power. In any case, Mayer set his sights on Jack's destruction and set about destroying his career. He placed him in mediocre films with poor production value until fans, who were used to seeing John in the sweeping epics of The Merry Widow and The Big Parade, had to look elsewhere for viable entertainment. Desert Nights wasn't cutting it! Then, to ruin his image, he planted the seed that Jack couldn't transfer to sound because of his voice. Releasing varying cuts of the His Glorious Night across the US, with unflattering editing and enhanced treble, rumors started circulating and soon fiction was accepted as fact. John's livelihood was pulled out from under him, and after duking it with out with Mayer until his MGM contract finally ended, John slowly disappeared from the limelight.

Waltzing in The Merry Widow with Mae Murray

Mayer's plot worked all too well, for John is still remembered incorrectly by these faulty historical reconstructions. If you hear a story told too many times, you eventually start to repeat it as fact. So it went when his tale was passed down the line. But John was no failure. He was a graceful and magnetic presence, a powerful and intense actor sincerely dedicated to his craft, and "The Great Lover" of cinematic history, onscreen and off. His films and his tumultuous relationship with Greta Garbo are legendary, and in his final days, it was Marlene Dietrich who was by his side. What else can you say about a man who was able to make the most complicated and elusive women in history salivate over him?!?! Please take the time to get to know this gifted and kindhearted individual, who martyred himself for us over and over again on that brilliant, silver screen. A charming rake and a gifted artist: ladies and gentlemen, John Gilbert!

Happy Easter!!!! :)