From the Archives: Death Calls To John Gilbert, Screen Star


In the stillness of the master bedroom of his palatial mountainside home in Beverly Hills, John Gilbert, the screen’s greatest lover, passed into everlasting sleep yesterday morning. He was 38 years of age.

His death from heart disease closed one of the most colorful careers in the history of the film industry and threw Hollywood into mourning for he was beloved by all who knew him.

Gilbert’s death was painless. He died in his sleep, and 7:44 a.m. was the time given by his physician, Dr. Leo J. Madsen of Santa Monica, when his heart stopped.



Dr. Madsen signed a death certificate assigning acute myocarditis—constriction of the coronary artery of the heart—as the cause. He and Gilbert’s nurse, Miss May Jordan, were at his bedside when the actor breathed his last.

Born in Logan, Utah, July 10, 1897, Gilbert rose from a humble beginning on the stage to cut a wide swath to fame in silent pictures, only to have his career obstructed with the advent of the talking pictures to which his voice was not entirely suited.


He knew the ultimate of success and failure in matrimony.

There were four wives for Gilbert. His last was Virginia Bruce, to whom he left a daughter, Susan Ann, now about 2 years of age. To his second wife, Leatrice Joy, was also born a daughter named after her mother, Leatrice, who since remarried William Spencer Hook, Jr., wealthy business man.

His first marriage was to the former Olivia Burwell, a Mississippi society girl, which was cut short by divorce due to reverses in his career. His third wife was Ina Claire, New York stage actress.


And on the romantic side of the ledger are written such names as Greta Garbo, who he once almost married, and the vivacious Lupe Velez, Mexican actress, who is now the wife of Johnny Weissmuller.

Gilbert had been ill for about two months. His first warning that his heart was affected came while he was swimming in his pool at his home, 1400 Tower Grove Road, Beverly Hills.


This was a bad attack, too, equally as severe as the last one which ended his life. His stamina carried him through the first one, however, although he was never strong afterward and spent most of his remaining days close to his home.

His sinking spell came rapidly. He was apparently well until about 2 a.m. yesterday, his nurse reported. At that hour he awakened and went to the kitchen to get a drink of water. Miss Jordan was at his side.


At 4 a.m. she recorded his pulse and found it about the same as it had been in the past few days and there seemed no caused for alarm.

He dozed off into sleep then. At 7 a.m. he awakened, Miss Jordan said, and tried to lift his hands as though to ask for something. She noted his pulse again and found it quite low.

Miss Jordan administered a stimulant which had been left by Dr. Madsen. This failed of its purpose. Miss Jordan telephone Dr. Madsen and he arrived fifteen minutes later. She also summoned Gilbert’s business manager, Charles Greene.


Dr. Madsen used every resource in his power to revive Gilbert. A call was sent for the West Los Angeles fire department’s pulmotor and Acting Captain Alex Peterson and Fireman Jerry Tramutto responded, but it was too late.

He had gone into his last sleep, peacefully, quietly.

In the house at the time also was Don Veto, faithful Filipino butler who had served Gilbert for years, and the two firemen.

Miss Jordan had attended Gilbert on and off for the past several months for the ailment which took his life.


“The last attack came on January 2,” she said. “He appeared to get better and was able to get up and walk around the house. Two weeks ago he felt well enough to attend a luncheon.”

About dawn he began an incoherent mumbling of speech. “His last words were: ‘Gee but I’m awfully sleepy,’” the nurse said.

Although 7:44 a.m. was given as the time of his death, Dr. Madsen and the two firemen worked with the pulmotor and restoratives were administered for about an hour but to no avail.

The bedroom in which he died is located at the rear of Gilbert’s home overlooking a patio. The room was furnished in modernistic style.

News of his death spread immediately. His closet friends assembled at his home to take charge of affairs. These included, besides, Greene, Gilbert’s attorney, Peyton H. Moore, Cedric Gibbons, husband of Delores Del Rio and art director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; Edmund Goulding, the director; Willis Goldbeck, the scenarist, and Howard Strickling.

Moore supplied an interesting high light of Gilbert’s life in reporting that he was in good financial circumstances when he died.

Despite losses in the crash of the stock market and the closing of banks in which he had money, Gilbert invested heavily in annuities and stocks and bonds, and derived sufficient funds from the income of these to live in the manner to which he was accustomed, Moore stated.

Moore was reluctant to discuss a will or disposal of the actor’s properties at this time. Gilbert owned the home in which he died and which he remodeled on the occasion of his marriages to Ina Claire and to Virginia Bruce.


One of this outstanding romances was with Greta Garbo. They met soon after she came to the United States from Sweden and established herself as a coming star. They played together on the screen and often there were rumors they had been married, but this never occurred.

Gilbert and Miss Garbo long remained friends, however, and his was often credited with being the person who advised her to assume a hermit-like life in Hollywood—due to a series of bad interviews—and it was her seclusion that brought her so much fame and made her the most sought after actress in the news columns.


Gilbert began his career as a itinerant stock company actor and looked toward Hollywood to overcome his poverty. He first became a film cowboy and an extra player and not until 1922 did he gain recognition when he played in “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

He reached the top rung of success’ ladder in 1924 when “The Merry Widow” was released. This was the picture in which he appeared with Mae Murray and was made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for which company he was a ranking star for years.

The pendulum kept swinging for Gilbert. The release of “The Big Parade” added more fame and brought into the limelight Rene Adoree, who died some years ago.


From then on followed picture success after picture success, including several productions with Garbo.

His last appearance on the screen was at Columbia studio in the filming of Wallace Smith’s book, “The Captain Hates the Sea.” Previously he made “Queen Christina” opposite Garbo at M.-G.-M. in 1933.

Among his last friendships was one with Marlene Dietrich. That friendship dated some months back. They always denied there was any romance, both pointing to the fact that Miss Dietrich has a husband, Rudolf Sieber, the German director.