Some of the greatest stars to grace the silver screen in the early years were the strong and silent type, but PAUL WELSH reveals how, when talkies were introduced, some were destined to fade for ever.

Eighty years ago, one of the biggest heart-throbs on the silver screen, only rivalled by the legendary Rudolph Valentino, was silent screen star John Gilbert.

Today, his name is all but forgotten, but in the Roaring Twenties he was a great romantic screen idol with millions of ladies swooning over his every new film.

In private, he had suffered an abused childhood, and to bolster his self-confidence he was a heavy drinker.

Under contract to MGM, they teamed him with Greta Garbo and that certain chemistry clicked both on screen and off.

They were supposed to marry in 1927, but Garbo left him standing at the altar.

On one infamous occasion, he met the all-powerful head of MGM, Louis B Mayer, and in a drunken rage punched him when Mayer suggested he should just sleep with her.

Legend has it that the studio head then vowed to destroy his career, and the onset of talking films gave him the opportunity.

When his first talking film was released, audiences laughed at his high pitched voice which seemed totally out of keeping with his image.

Whether the studio actually fiddled with the sound recording is still debated, and would MGM have destroyed a million dollar investment just for revenge?

Whatever the truth, John's career nosedived overnight, and although still being paid by the studio, he was left to stay at home and drink.

Garbo attempted to help by rejecting the studio's casting of a young Laurence Olivier in Queen Christina, and arranged for John to co-star, but it was to no avail.

In January 1936, Marlene Dietrich came to the rescue and agreed to star in a film to be made at Elstree, provided John was to co-star, but as contracts were being signed he died of a heart attack, aged only 38.

Today he lies in a simple grave in Hollywood's Forest Lawn cemetery, in the Whispering Pines section, with his grave marker just reading In memoriam John Gilbert'.

Marlene continued to have a successful screen career for another 20 years, having become an American citizen in 1937.

In fact, she came to Elstree in 1949 to star in Hitchcock's Stage Fright.

Despite her legendary screen stardom, in later life she remarked: "I was an actress and I made movies, but I never enjoyed it."

I managed to get her autograph during a cabaret appearance in London in the 1970s.

For the last 12 years of her life, Marlene became a recluse, unwilling to let the public or media see the ravages of time on one of the screen's great beauties.

She died aged 90, in 1992, and was buried in her birth city of Berlin with the legend intact.

Her rival for John's affections also chose a reclusive lifestyle in her last years.

Garbo remained a star throughout the 1930s, earning $500,000 for starring in Camille in 1936.

However, by the outbreak of the war, the public were demanding more realistic films, and after the comparative failure of her last film in 1941, she opted to retire.

In doing so, Garbo did not age into character roles like some of her contemporaries and, by refusing to be interviewed, became a mythical film figure.

Famously, she was often quoted as saying I want to be alone', whereas she actually said I want to be let alone', which of course has an entirely different meaning.

Upon her death, Garbo's ashes remained unburied for years until they were eventually interred in Stockholm, a long way from the glamour of Tinseltown.