Height: 5' 7"
"Anna Karenina" (1935) the train pulls into the Moscow train station, a cloud of steam envelopes the exit of a first class car and then a woman emerges from the cloud. The figure is aristocratic, the face is a
vision. But it's the eyes that enthrall the viewer and Vronsky who has expected his mother to be the first woman off the train. Bosley Crowther, New York Times film critic from 1940 to 1967, had this to say about the
Garbo eyes: "Set in the face of classic structure were large, sad, luminous eyes that expressed a limited but intense emotional range". Crowther did not include this film in his short list of Garbo's major
artistic achievements. His list: "Anna Christie" (1930) where Garbo "made the role of the cynical dockside ex- prostitute a thing of poetic beauty;" "Camille" (1936) where she played the
Paris courtesan who had inspired novels, concertos and an opera with "alabaster loveliness;" "Ninotchka" (1939) where Garbo "demonstrated that she had the wit and flexibility to be a fine
comedienne;" "Grand Hotel" (1932) where Garbo, then only 26, played a fading ballerina; and "Queen Christina" (1933) where Crowther was impressed by how she "deftly romped in masculine
costumes". All of Garbo's films were in black and white and black and white enhanced her mystery and romantic allure. In real life, Garbo knew when to make her exit from Hollywood and the public eye. Her sense of
timing, when to make her entrance and her exit -- perhaps she learned something from Tolstoy whose "Anna Karenina" must have been based on a woman just as real as Maureen O'Sullivan's Kitty in that film whom a
man like Tolstoy won when Kitty lost Vronsky to a woman who could reveal so much through her eyes.
Lovisa Gustafsson was born in Stockholm, Sweden on September 18, 1905. She was 14 when her father died, leaving the family destitute. Greta was forced to leave school and go to work in a department store. The store used
her for her modeling abilities for newspaper ads. She had no film aspirations until she appeared in an advertising short at that same department store while she was still a teenager. This led to another short film when
Eric Petscher, a comedy director, saw the film. He gave her a small part in the film, PETER THE TRAMP (1920). Encouraged by her own performance she applied for and won a scholarship in a Swedish drama school. While
there she appeared in two films, EN LYCKORIDDARE in 1921 and LUFFARPETTER the following year. Both were small parts, but it was a start. Finally famed Swedish director, Mauritz Stiller, pulled her from drama school for
the leading role in THE ATONEMENT OF GOSTA BERLING in 1923. At 18, Greta was on a roll. Following DIE FREUDLOSE GASSE (1925) both Greta and Stiller were offered contracts with MGM. Her first US film was THE TORRENT in
1925. It was a silent film where she didn't have to speak a word of English. After a few more films, such as THE TEMPTRESS (1926), LOVE (1927), and A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS (1928), Greta starred in 1930's ANNA CHRISTIE (her
first 'talkie') which not only gave her a powerful screen presence, but also gave her an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress. Unfortunately she didn't win. Later that year she filmed ROMANCE which was somewhat of a
letdown, but bounced back as lead role in SUSAN LENOX: HER RISE AND FALL with Clark Gable. The film was a hit and led to another exciting title role in MATA HARI in 1931. Greta continued to give intensified performances
in whatever was handed her. The next year Greta was cast in another hit GRAND HOTEL. But it was MGM 1935's ANNA KARENINA where she, perhaps, gave the performance of her life. She was absolutely breathtaking in the title
role as a woman torn between two lovers and her son. In 1939, Greta starred in NINOTCHKA which showcased her comedic side. It wasn't until two years later she made what was to be her last film that being TWO-FACED
WOMAN, another comedy. After World War II, Greta, by her own admission, felt that the world had changed perhaps forever and she retired, never again to face the camera. She would work for the rest of her life to
perpetuate the Garbo mystique. Her films, she felt, had their proper place in history and would gain in value. She abandoned Hollywood and moved to New York City. She would jet-set with some of the world's best known
personalities such as Aristotle Onassis and others. She spent time gardening flowers and vegetables. In 1954, Greta was given a special Oscar for past unforgettable performances. She even penned her biography in 1990.
On April 15, 1990, Greta died of natural causes in New York and with it the "Garbo Mystique". She was 84.
Interred at Skogskyrkogården Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden.
Lived the last few year of her life in absolute seclusion.
(October 1997) Ranked #38 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list.
Was warned to pay ex(lesbian)lover, Mercedes De Costa who was broke, or Garbos love letters to her would
be made public. Garbo allegedly never paid but the fact remains that letters were kept secret. Ms De Costa died in 1968. 10 years after Garbos death (April, 2000) Philadelphia, Pa (USA)] Rosenbach Museum and Library
putting letters on display
Garbo according to movie director Jacques Feyder: "At 9 o'clock AM the work may begin. "Tell mrs. Garbo we're ready" says the director. "I'm here" a low voice
answers, and she appears, perfectly dressed and combed as the scene needs. Nobody could say by what door she came but she's there. And at 6 o'clock PM, even if the shot could be finished in five minutes, she points at
the watch and goes away giving you a sorry smile. She's very strict with herself and hardly pleased with her work. She never looks rushes nor goes to the premières but some days later, early in the afternoon, enters all
alone an outskirts movie house, takes place in a cheap seat and gets out only when the projection finishes, masked with her sunglasses".
"There is no one who would have me...I can't cook."
"Being a movie star, and this
applies to all of them, means being looked at from every possible direction. You are never left at peace, you're just fair game."
"You don't have to be married to have a good friend as your partner for life."
"I wish I were supernaturally strong so I could put right everything that is wrong."
"Life would be so wonderful if we only knew what to do with it."
"Anyone who has a continuos smile on his face conceals a toughness that is almost frightening."
"I never said, 'I want to be alone.' I only said, 'I want to be left alone.' There is a whole world of difference."
"She gave you the impression that, if your imagination had to sin, it could at
least congratulate itself on its impeccable taste." - Alastair Cooke sin, it could at least congratulate itself on it's impeccable
Biography from Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia:
Actress. (b. Sept.
18, 1905, Stockholm, as Greta Louisa Gustafsson; d. Apr. 15, 1990.) Few screen personalities have been totally successful in isolating their private lives from their public personas, but this enigmatic Swedish beauty
certainly accomplished it. What's most amazing is that, in avoiding media scrutiny and public contact, she did so in a way that actually enhanced the mysterious allure that had been so vital an element in her success.
Born into poverty, she worked as a shopgirl in a large department store and was chosen to appear in a short film promoting it. She made a few other such commercial appearances before deciding that acting might be her
ticket out of the working class. Remarkably, she won a scholarship to the Royal Dramatic Theater acting school and, while doing some minor stage work, was spotted there by film director Mauritz Stiller. He tested her
for and then signed her to play a role in The Story of Gosta Berling (1924).
Garbo's feature-film debut, while wellreceived, hardly made her an overnight sensation. But Stiller believed in the young actress, and
took her under his wing. She played second female lead in G. W. Pabst's The Joyless Street (1924, which also included Marlene Dietrich as an extra) before going to America with Stiller, who had been offered a Hollywood
contract by MGM's Louis B. Mayer. The highly regarded director used his influence to get Garbo signed as well, a move initially resisted by Mayer. She was assigned to play the female lead, a Spanish prima donna, in
Monta Bell's The Torrent (1926), opposite Ricardo Cortez, and although studio brass at first had little faith in her, they were amazed by the quality of her work. Moreover, studio publicity men crafted hard-sell
promotional materials that not only sold the film but launched the Garbo mystique, creating an air of mystery surrounding the naturally quiet, reticent woman.
As Garbo's star rose, however, Stiller's fell. Slated
to direct her next film, The Temptress he quarreled relentlessly with MGM management and was finally replaced with the prosaic Fred Niblo. Although the picture turned out to be a middling artistic success, Garbo's
femmefatale characterization attracted curious moviegoers and made it a commercial hit. For her next film, Flesh and the Devil (1927), she was teamed with John Gilbert, then MGM's reigning male star, with whom she
carried on a torrid affair that, not surprisingly, spilled over into their cinematic lovemaking. The release of Flesh her best film to date, saw Garbo a full-fledged superstar. Certainly there was no one else like her
on American movie screens, although other studios rushed to import similarly exotic European beauties and shroud them in synthetic cloaks of secrecy. Love (also 1927) reunited Garbo with Gilbert; she played Anna
Karenina in this Tolstoy adaptation, and once again moviegoers were treated to the sight of real-life lovers playing out their passion on the big screen.
Away from the cameras, though, Garbo began to have second
thoughts about Gilbert (for reasons that were never made clear). They planned to marry, but she literally left Gilbert standing at the altar, which devastated him. (By this time her mentor Stiller had returned to
Sweden.) The iconoclastic Garbo resolutely clung to her individuality; she really did, as she famously said in Grand Hotel want to be left alone. And that impenetrable aloofness became an integral part of her mystique.
She continued to make silent films, all successful. The Divine Woman, The Mysterious Lady, A Woman of Affairs (all 1928), Wild Orchids, The Single Standard and The Kiss (all 1929) depended almost entirely upon
her presence alone. Her characters could be pure or sullied, willing or restrained, remote or accessible-it didn't much matter. It was Garbo people wanted to see. And hear. When MGM's publicity machine cranked out
promotional material for her first talkie, Anna Christie (a Eugene O'Neill play that, in retrospect, was an ambitious and risky choice for the foreign-born, thickly accented actress), the dominant message was:
"Garbo Talks!" And she did, in a husky voice that, although incongruous with her physical appearance, somehow suited her perfectly.
In unexceptional films like Romance (1930), Inspiration, Susan Lenox:
Her Fall and Rise (both 1931, in the latter opposite Clark Gable), Mata Hari and As You Desire Me (both 1932) she rose above often mediocre material; her mere presence made the films worth seeing. In Grand Hotel (1932)
she created an archetype for herself, as the fatalistic ballerina, and got to work opposite John Barrymore, whom she greatly admired. Queen Christina (1933), which, at her request, reunited her with Gilbert (whose
career had taken a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse with the advent of sound) was perhaps her best sound film. It contained several memorable moments, including a wordless scene in which, one morning af ter a
rapturously happy tryst with Gilbert, she lingers in the room, touching and feeling furniture and objects so as to indelibly etch every detail of the joyous experience in her memory. Who but Garbo could have made the
gesture so affecting?
After finishing The Painted Veil (1934), Garbo took the title roles in Anna Karenina (1935, a remake of Love and Camille (1937, as the doomed heroine, one of her best-remembered talkies),
delivering two more memorable performances in great parts perfectly suited to her persona. After Conquest (1937), she was off the screen for nearly two years, and when she returned, it was to star in a comedy-something
she'd never tried before. "Garbo Laughs!" the ads declared, and they were accurate. Ninotchka (1939), directed by Ernst Lubitsch from a Billy Wilder-Charles Brackett script, starred her as a Russian Communist
functionary who, while visiting Paris, falls in love with gay blade Melvyn Douglas. Lubitsch was the perfect choice to guide her through this territory, and she was charming in her comedy debut.
Two more years
passed before she made another movie. While willing to try another comedy, Two-Faced Woman (1941) was a poor choice. With European distribution curtailed during World War 2, MGM tried to Americanize and
"humanize" the star, with disastrous results. Stinging from this failure, Garbo weighed other script offers carefully. Several projects were planned, then abandoned, during the 1940s, and in 1949 she even
submitted to a screen test for the backers of a proposed film. But nothing came to fruition, and it was speculated that with each passing year, the idea of returning to the spotlight seemed less and less desirable to
the erstwhile actress. For the remainder of her life she lived as a loner, vacationing in Switzerland, on the French Riviera, and in Italy but making home base her apartment on New York City's fashionable Upper East
Side. Once in a while she would speak to passersby who saw her on the street, but by and large she avoided the public eye. The woman whose passionate love affairs once filled fan-magazine stories with speculation never
married. In 1954 she received a special Oscar (amazingly, she'd never won any during her career, although she'd been nominated for Anna Christie, Romance, Camille and Ninotchka for "her unforgettable screen
performances." Needless to say, she did not accept the statuette in person.