Death in Hollywood: Gilbert, John, Aged 38 (July 10, 1897–Jan 9, 1936)

Personal life

John Gilbert was married four times.

His first marriage, on August 26, 1918, was to Olivia Burwell, a native of Mississippi whom Gilbert had met after her family moved to California. They separated the following year and Burwell returned to Mississippi for a while. She filed for divorce in Los Angeles in 1921.

In February 1921, Gilbert announced engagement to actress Leatrice Joy, whom he married in Tijuana in November 1921. As Gilbert had failed to secure divorce from his first wife, the legality of Gilbert and Joy’s Mexican marriage was questionable, the couple separated and had the marriage annulled to avoid a scandal. They remarried on March 3, 1922, but the marriage was tumultuous and, in June 1923, Joy filed for legal separation, claiming Gilbert slapped her face after a night of heavy drinking. They reconciled several months later. In August 1924, Joy, who was pregnant with their daughter, filed for divorce.

Joy left Gilbert after discovering he was having affair with actress Laurette Taylor. Joy also claimed Gilbert had affairs with Barbara La Marr (with whom he had romance before marriage to Joy), Lila Lee and Bebe Daniels. Gilbert and Joy had a daughter, Leatrice Gilbert (later Fountain; September 4, 1924–January 20, 2015). Joy was granted divorce in May 1925.

In 1929, Gilbert eloped with actress Ina Claire to Las Vegas. They separated in February 1931 and divorced 6 months later.

Gilbert’s fourth and final marriage was on August 10, 1932, to actress Virginia Bruce, who had costarred with him on the MGM film Downstairs. Their “quick” wedding was held in Gilbert’s dressing room on the MGM lot while Bruce was working on another production, Kongo.

Among the people attending the ceremony were MGM head production Irving Thalberg, who served as Gilbert’s best man; screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart, whose wife Beatrice acted as Bruce’s matron of honor; MGM art director Cedric Gibbons; and his wife, actress Dolores del Río.

Bruce retired briefly from acting after the birth of their daughter Susan Ann; however, she resumed her career after her divorce from Gilbert in May 1934.

Before his death, Gilbert dated actress Marlene Dietrich from 1935 until his death in 1936 as well as Garbo from 1926 to 1927.

When he died, he had been slated to play prominent supporting role in Dietrich’s film Desire.

By 1934, alcoholism had severely damaged Gilbert’s health. He suffered a serious heart attack in December 1935, which left him in poor health.

Gilbert suffered a second heart attack at his Bel Air home on January 9, 1936, which was fatal.

A private funeral was held on January 11 at the B.E. Mortuary in Beverly Hills.

Among the mourners were Gilbert’s two ex-wives, Leatrice Joy and Virginia Bruce, his two daughters, and stars Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Myrna Loy, and Raquel Torres.

Gilbert was cremated and his ashes were interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale in Glendale, California.[67][68]

Gilbert left the bulk of his estate, valued at $363,494 (equivalent to $7.2 million in 2022), to his last ex-wife Virginia Bruce and their daughter, Susan Ann. He left $10,000 to eldest daughter Leatrice, and other amounts to friends, relatives and servants.

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Gilbert has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1755 Vine Street.

In 1994, he was honored with his image on a US postage stamp designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.