Greta Garbo: Wikis


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Greta Garbo

Publicity still for film Susan Lenox
Born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson
18 September 1905(1905-09-18)
Stockholm, Sweden
Died 15 April 1990 (aged 84)
New York City, New York,
United States
Occupation Actress
Years active 1920–1941

Greta Garbo (18 September 1905 – 15 April 1990) was a Swedish actress during Hollywood's silent film period and part of its Golden Age.

Regarded as one of the greatest and most inscrutable movie stars ever produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the Hollywood studio system, Garbo received a 1954 Honorary Academy Award "for her unforgettable screen performances"[1] and in 1999 was ranked as the fifth greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute.[2]


Early life

Garbo was born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in Stockholm, Sweden, the youngest of three children of Karl Alfred Gustafsson (1871–1920) and Anna Lovisa Johansson (1872–1944).[3] Garbo's older brother and sister were Sven Alfred (1898–1967) and Alva Maria (1903–1926). The family lived in a small apartment at Blekingegatan No. 32 in Stockholm. She stated in the book Garbo On Garbo (p. 33) that her relationship with her mother was not strained.

Becoming an actress

c. 1920

When Gustafsson was 14 years old, her father, to whom she was extremely close, died. She was forced to leave school and go to work. Her first job was as a soap-lather girl in a barbershop. One day a young man by the name of Kristian Bergström, son of the founder of PUB department store, Paul U. Bergström, entered the barbershop for a shave. He eventually offered her a job as a clerk at PUB. She accepted the offer and started to work for PUB in July 1920 where she would also model for newspaper advertisements. Her first motion picture aspirations came when she appeared in two short film advertisements (the first for the department store where she worked). They were eventually seen by comedy director Erik Arthur Petschler and he gave her a part in his upcoming film Peter the Tramp (1922).

From 1922 to 1924, Gustafsson studied at the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. While there, she met director Mauritz Stiller who worked as a teacher. He trained her in cinema acting technique, gave her the stage name 'Greta Garbo', and cast her in a major role in the silent film Gösta Berlings Saga (The Story of Gösta Berling) in 1924, a dramatization of the famous novel by Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf. She starred in Gösta Berling opposite Swedish film actor Lars Hanson, then appeared in the 1925 German film Die freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street or The Street of Sorrow) directed by G. W. Pabst and co-starring Asta Nielsen.

During filming of Die freudlose Gasse (1925)

She and Stiller were brought to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by Louis B. Mayer when Gösta Berlings Saga caught his attention. On viewing the film during a visit to Berlin, Mayer was impressed with Stiller's direction, but was much more taken with Garbo's acting and screen presence. According to Mayer's daughter, Irene Mayer Selznick, with whom he screened the film, it was the gentle feeling and expression that emanated from her eyes which so impressed her father.

Unfortunately, her relationship with Stiller came to an end as her fame grew and he struggled in the studio system. He was fired by MGM and returned to Sweden in 1927, where he died the following year. Garbo was also a close friend of Einar Hanson, a Swedish actor who worked with her and Pabst on The Joyless Street, and then came to Hollywood to work at MGM and Paramount Pictures. Einar Hanson was killed in an auto accident in 1927, after leaving a dinner with Garbo and Stiller. Garbo's sister Alva died of cancer in 1926 at the age of 23 after appearing in one feature film in Sweden, adding to the melancholy Garbo felt at being in Hollywood. MGM refused to allow Garbo to attend her sister's funeral in Sweden. She was only able to return there for a visit in 1928.

Life in Hollywood

Greta Garbo in 1932

The most well received of Garbo's silent movies were Flesh and the Devil (1927), Love (1927) and The Mysterious Lady (1928). She starred in the first two with the popular leading man John Gilbert. Her name was linked with his in a much publicized romance, and she was said to have left him standing at the altar in 1926, when she changed her mind about getting married.[4]

Having achieved enormous success as a silent movie star, she was one of the few actors or actresses who made the transition to talkies, though she delayed the shift for as long as possible. Her film The Kiss (1929) was the last film MGM made without dialogue (it used a soundtrack with music and sound effects only).

Her voice was first heard on screen in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie (1930), which was publicized with the slogan "Garbo Talks". The movie was a huge success. In 1931 Garbo made a German version of the movie.

Garbo appeared as the World War I spy Mata Hari (1931). She was next part of an all-star cast in Grand Hotel (1932) in which she played a Russian ballerina.

She then had a contract dispute with MGM, and signed a new contract with the studio in July 1932, departing for Sweden later the same month. She exercised her new control by having her leading man in Queen Christina (1933), Laurence Olivier, replaced with Gilbert. In 1935, David O. Selznick wanted her cast as the dying heiress in Dark Victory, but she insisted on doing Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Bette Davis would eventually play the Judith Traherne role in Dark Victory and score her third Oscar nomination.

Her role as the doomed courtesan in Camille (1936), opposite Robert Taylor and directed by George Cukor, would be regarded by Garbo as her finest acting performance. She then starred opposite Melvyn Douglas in Ninotchka (1939), directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

Garbo was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for Anna Christie (1930), Romance (1930), Camille (1937) and Ninotchka (1939).

Garbo received praise from many fellow actors:

Her instinct, her mastery over the machine, was pure witchcraft. I cannot analyse this woman's acting. I only know that no one else so effectively worked in front of a camera. —Bette Davis

During Garbo's Hollywood career, she was frequently caricatured in the animated cartoons of the day. These include Warner Brothers' Porky's Road Race, Speaking of the Weather (both directed by Frank Tashlin) and Hollywood Steps Out (directed by Tex Avery). She is also caricatured in Disney's Mickey's Gala Premiere, among others.

Later career

Greta Garbo together with her mother Anna Gustafsson during a trip in USA 1939.

Ninotchka was a successful attempt at lightening Garbo's image and making her less exotic. The comedy, Garbo's first, was marketed with the tagline, "Garbo laughs!". The follow-up film, Two-Faced Woman (1941), attempted to capitalize by casting Garbo in a romantic comedy, where she played a double role that featured her dancing, and tried to make her into "an ordinary girl". The film, Garbo's last, was directed by George Cukor, and was a critical (though not a commercial) failure.

It is often reported that Garbo chose to retire from cinema after this film's failure, but already by 1935 she was becoming more choosy about her roles, and eventually years passed without her agreeing to do another film. By her own admission, Garbo felt that after World War II the world changed, perhaps forever.

In 1949, Garbo filmed several screen tests as she considered reentering the movie business to shoot La Duchesse de Langeais directed by Walter Wanger; otherwise she never stepped in front of a movie camera again. The plans for this film collapsed when financing failed to materialize, and these tests were lost for 40 years, before resurfacing in someone's garage.[5] They were included in the 2005 TCM documentary Garbo,[6] and show her still radiant at age 43.[7] There were suggestions that she might appear as the "Duchess de Guermantes" in a film adaptation of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past: but this never came to fruition. She was offered many roles over the years, but always turned them down.

Her last interview was probably with the entertainment writer Paul Callan of the British newspaper Daily Mail during the Cannes Film Festival. Meeting at the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, Callan began "I wonder..." before Garbo cut in with "Why wonder?" and stalked off, making it one of the shortest interviews ever published.

She gradually withdrew from the entertainment world and moved to a secluded life in New York City, refusing to make any public appearances. Until her death, Garbo sightings were considered sport for paparazzi photographers. In 1974, pornographic filmmaker Peter De Rome tracked Garbo across New York and shot unauthorized footage of her for inclusion in his X-rated feature Adam & Yves.[8]

Despite these attempts to flee from fame, she was nevertheless voted Best Silent Actress of the Century (her compatriot Ingrid Bergman winning the Best Sound Actress) in 1950, and was once designated as the most beautiful woman who ever lived by the Guinness Book of World Records.[9][10][11]

Private life

A veiled Garbo in dark coat and hat writes at a counter.
Filling out U.S. citizenship paperwork in 1950

Soon after her career took off, Garbo became known as a recluse; throughout her lifetime she conducted no interviews, signed no autographs, attended no social functions and answered no fan mail. Today she is often associated with her famous line from Grand Hotel: "I want to be alone", spoken in a heavy accent which substituted the w with a v sound. However, Garbo later commented, "I never said, 'I want to be alone.' I only said, 'I want to be left alone.' There is all the difference." Garbo neither married[12] nor had children; she lived alone.[13]

Garbo suffered from periods of depression, and has been described in various private letters as being narcissistic, possessive, and supposedly ashamed of her father, a latrine cleaner.[14]

There was some speculation that Garbo was bisexual, that she had intimate relationships with women as well as men, such as the actor John Gilbert.[15][16][17] They starred together for the first time in the classic Flesh and the Devil in 1926. Their on-screen erotic intensity soon translated into an off-camera romance, and by the end of production Garbo had moved in with Gilbert.[15] Gilbert allegedly proposed to her three times before she finally accepted.[15] When a marriage was finally arranged in 1926, she failed to show up at the ceremony.[18] After the affair ended, and Gilbert's career collapsed with sound films, Garbo showed great loyalty to him and insisted that he appear with her in 1933's Queen Christina, despite the objection of MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer.

Garbo was introduced to stage and screen actress Lilyan Tashman at a tennis party in 1927 and allegedly had an affair with her.[19] The two became inseparable companions who went shopping, swimming, and to Tashman's garden cottage.[20]

In 1931, Garbo befriended the writer and socialite Mercedes de Acosta, introduced to her by the author Salka Viertel. According to de Acosta, the pair ultimately began a sporadic and volatile romance, punctuated by long periods of Garbo ignoring her and disregarding her many love letters. After about a year, the relationship ended, but they maintained contact. Following de Acosta's claims about her many trysts with Garbo, in her controversial autobiography Here Lies the Heart in 1960, the pair were permanently estranged.

According to the memoir written by dancer, model, and silent film actress Louise Brooks, she and Garbo had a brief liaison.[21][22] Brooks described Garbo as masculine but a "charming and tender lover".[23][24]

The 1995 biography Garbo relates Garbo's relationships—which were often just close friendships—with actor George Brent, conductor Leopold Stokowski, nutritionist Gayelord Hauser, photographer Cecil Beaton, and her manager George Schlee, husband of designer Valentina.

Secluded retirement

Gravestone of Greta Garbo

Garbo felt her movies had their proper place in history and would gain in value. On 9 February 1951, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1954 she was awarded a special Academy Award.

In 1953, she bought a seven-room apartment in New York City at 450 East 52nd Street, where she lived for the rest of her life.

She would at times jet-set with some of the world's best known personalities such as Aristotle Onassis and Cecil Beaton, but chose to live a private life. She was known for taking long walks through the New York streets dressed casually and wearing large sunglasses, always avoiding prying eyes, the paparazzi, and media attention. Garbo did, however, receive one last flurry of publicity when nude photos, taken with a long-range lens, were published in People in 1976. Trim and relaxed, she was enjoying a swim.

Garbo lived the last years of her life in absolute seclusion. Having invested very wisely, particularly in commercial property along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, she was known for extreme frugality, and was very wealthy.

She died in New York Hospital on 15 April 1990, aged 84, as a result of pneumonia and renal failure. She had previously been successfully treated for breast cancer.[25]

She was cremated, and after a long legal battle her ashes were finally interred at the Skogskyrkogården Cemetery in her native Stockholm. She left her entire estate, estimated at $20,000,000 USD to her niece, Gray Reisfield of New Jersey.

For her contributions to cinema, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6901 Hollywood Boulevard. In addition, in September 2005, the United States Postal Service and Swedish Posten jointly issued two commemorative stamps bearing her likeness.[26][27]


Year Film Role Notes
1920 Mr and Mrs Stockholm Go Shopping Elder sister former title: How Not To Dress
The Gay Cavalier Extra uncredited
1921 Our Daily Bread Companion
The Scarlet Angel Extra uncredited
1922 Peter the Tramp Greta
1924 The Story of Gösta Berling Elizabeth Dohna directed by Mauritz Stiller
1925 Die freudlose Gasse Greta Rumfort The Joyless Street
1926 The Torrent Leonora Moreno aka La Brunna First American movie
The Temptress Elena
Flesh and the Devil Felicitas directed by Clarence Brown
1927 Love Anna Karenina directed by Edmund Goulding
1928 The Divine Woman Marianne Only a 9 minute reel exists. Source: The Mysterious Lady DVD
The Mysterious Lady Tania Fedorova
A Woman of Affairs Diana Merrick Furness
1929 Wild Orchids Lillie Sterling
The Single Standard Arden Stuart Hewlett
The Kiss Irene Guarry
1930 Anna Christie Anna Christie Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
Garbo's first talkie
Romance Madame Rita Cavallini Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
1931 Anna Christie Anna Christie MGM's German version of Anna Christie, released early 1931
Inspiration Yvonne Valbret
Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise) Susan Lenox
Mata Hari Mata Hari
1932 Grand Hotel Grusinskaya
As You Desire Me Zara aka Marie
1933 Queen Christina Queen Christina
1934 The Painted Veil Katrin Koerber Fane
1935 Anna Karenina Anna Karenina New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
1936 Camille Marguerite Gautier Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
1937 Conquest Countess Marie Walewska
1939 Ninotchka Nina Ivanovna 'Ninotchka' Yakushova Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
1941 Two-Faced Woman Karin Borg Blake


  1. ^ Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (11 March 2005). "Academy to Celebrate Greta Garbo Centennial". Press release. 
  2. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars". American Film Institute. 
  3. ^ "Garbo Facts."
  4. ^ Paris, Barry. Garbo. pp 124–125
  5. ^ Alberge, Dalya. "Why Garbo just wanted to be alone." The Times. August 20, 2005.
  6. ^ "Garbo: A TCM Original Documentary." Turner Classic Movies.
  7. ^ "Greta Garbo Profile." Turner Classic Movies.
  8. ^ Christakos, John. "Adam & Yves." Chicago Free Press. February 13, 2008.
  9. ^ Petrucelli, Alan W. "Garbo's lonely legacy: Seeking the actress's final resting place." Post Gazette. September 9, 2007.
  10. ^ Reynolds, Elisabeth. "Greta Garbo Returns." The Epoch Times. November 2, 2005.
  11. ^ Callahan, Dan. "DVD Review: Garbo – The Signature Collection." Slant Magazine. September 7, 2005.
  12. ^ Greta Garbo
  13. ^ Top 10 Most Reclusive Celebrities
  14. ^ Smith, Alex Duval. "Lonely Garbo's love secret is exposed." The Observer. September 11, 2005.
  15. ^ a b c Wayne, Jane Ellen (2003). The Golden Girls of MGM: Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, and Others. Carroll & Graf Publishers. p. xv, 88-89. ISBN 0786713038. 
  16. ^ Aldrich, Robert; Garry Wotherspoon (2001). Who's who in gay and lesbian history: from antiquity to World War II. Routledge. p. 175. ISBN 0415159822. 
  17. ^ LaSalle, Mick (2001). Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. Macmillan. p. 196. ISBN 0312284314. 
  18. ^ Greta Garbo.
  19. ^ Fleming, E. J. (2004). The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, and the MGM Publicity Machine. McFarland. p. 105. ISBN 0-786-42027-8. 
  20. ^ McLellan, Diana (2000). The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood. New York: Macmillan. pp. 68-9, 74-5. ISBN 0-312-24647-1. 
  21. ^ Brooks, Louise, Roland Jaccard, and Gideon Y. Schein. Louise Brooks: Portrait of an Anti-star. Phébus, 1977. ISBN 285940502X,.
  22. ^ Weiss, Andrea. Vampires & Violets: Lesbians in the Cinema. J. Cape, 1992. ISBN 0224035754.
  23. ^ Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Golden Girls of MGM. Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0786713038. p.89.
  24. ^ McLellan, Diana. The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood. Macmillan, 2001. ISBN 0312283202 p. 81.
  25. ^ Gibson, Greg (2009). It takes a genome. FT Press. p. 20. ISBN 0137137466. "The list of famous women who have had breast cancer..." 
  26. ^ United States Postal Service (2005-09-25). "Greta Garbo Has Starring Role on U.S. Postal Stamp". Press release. Retrieved 2008-07-09. "...the U.S. Postal Service and Sweden Post jointly issued two commemorative postage stamps bearing her likeness. Both stamps, issued near what would have been her 100th birthday, are engravings based on a 1932 photograph...." 
  27. ^ ed. William J. Gicker (2006). "Greta Garbo 37¢" (print). USA Philatelic 11 (3): 12. 

Further reading

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I never said, "I want to be alone." I only said, "I want to be let alone! There is all the difference.

Greta Garbo (September 18, 1905April 15, 1990), born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, was a Swedish born actress and Hollywood icon.


  • I never said, "I want to be alone." I only said, "I want to be let alone! There is all the difference.
    • Quoted in John Bainbridge, Garbo (1955)
    • As the Russian ballerina Grusinskaya in Grand Hotel (1932), she had said "I want to be alone." These words had become associated with Garbo herself in the public imagination.

About Greta Garbo

  • Her instinct, her mastery over the machine, was pure witchcraft. I cannot analyze this woman's acting. I only know that no one else so effectively worked in front of a camera.
    • Bette Davis, in The Lonely Life : An Autobiography‎ (1962), p. 116
  • She is the most miraculous blend of personality and sheer dramatic talent that the screen has ever known and her presence in The Painted Veil immediately makes it one of the season's cinema events.
    • Andre Sennwald, in The New York Times (1934), as quoted in The Films of Greta Garbo (1963) by Michael Conway, Dion McGregor and Mark Ricci, p. 126
  • Garbo is lonely. She always has been and she always will be. She lives in the core of a vast aching aloneness. She is a great artist, but it is both her supreme glory and her supreme tragedy that art is to her the only reality. The figures of living men and women, the events of everyday existence, move about her, shadowy, unsubstantial. It is only when she breathes the breath of life into a part, clothes with her own flesh and blood the concept of a playwright, that she herself is fully awake, fully alive.
  • What, when drunk, one sees in other women, one sees in Garbo sober.
    • Kenneth Tynan, "Greta Garbo," Sight and Sound (April 1954), republished in Profiles (Harper Collins, 1990, ISBN 0-06-096557-6), p. 79
  • Except physically, we know little more about Garbo than we know about Shakespeare.
    • Kenneth Tynan, "Greta Garbo," Sight and Sound (April 1954), republished in Profiles (1990), p. 80
  • The mystery surrounding Garbo was as thick as a London fog.
  • Garbo still belongs to that moment in cinema when capturing the human face still plunged audiences into the deepest ecstasy, when one literally lost oneself in a human image as one would in a philtre, when the face represented a kind of absolute state of the flesh, which could be neither reached nor renounced.
    • Roland Barthes, "The Face of Garbo," Mythologies (1957), trans. Annette Lavers [Farrar, Straus, 1986, ISBN 8090-1369-X/0470], p. 56

External links

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Simple English

Greta Garbo (September 18, 1905April 15, 1990) was a Swedish actress, possibly the greatest and most famous of film stars.

Life and Career

Born Greta Gustafson in Stockholm, she studied at the Royal School of Dramatic Art in her native city, while working as a fashion model. She became a star in Sweden when Mauritz Stiller cast her in the 1924 silent film The Atonement of Gösta Berling.

Soon after, she came to the attention of Louis B. Mayer and went to Hollywood in 1925. She soon established herself as one of the world's most popular movie stars. Some of her most notable films include; Mata Hari (1932), Queen Christina (1933), Camille (1936), Conquest (1937), Ninotchka (1941).

She retired from films in 1941 and lived as a semi-recluse until her death in New York City. Her ashes were buried in Sweden.


  • The Illustrated Who's Who of Cinema, Portland House, New York, 1987.

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