Greta Garbo (1905-1990)

Greta Garbo - Silent and Sound Movie Star

“I never said, ‘I want to be alone.’ I only said, ‘I want to be left alone.’ There is a whole world of difference.” – Greta Garbo

The glamorous and enigmatic movie star Greta Garbo was born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in Stockholm, Sweden on September 18th, 1905. Her father died of nephritis when she was fourteen, and to help support her family she went to work in a department store, selling hats. To look at early photos of this future film star one would never guess she would be the physically beautiful actress Greta Garbo, screen legend of American films from the 1920’s to the 1940’s: in her youth she was rather plain, large-boned and clumsy, with big feet. Hollywood – specifically M-G-M – transformed her.

The store Greta worked for put her in a little advertising film (still surviving), and she found she enjoyed the experience, so she applied and was accepted to the Royal Dramatic Theater School in Sweden on a scholarship. At the school, film director Mauritz Stiller discovered her and made her his protégée. After making several foreign silent films, she was offered a contract by M-G-M. Greta responded that she would not accept, unless her mentor Stiller was given a contract as a director. Though Louis B. Mayer did not consider Greta a sex symbol, he changed his mind when her first American film “The Torrent” (1926) was a big success financially. After this film, she received top promotion and publicity from the studio. A typical Garbo film usually found her character acting outside the social norms, and suffering the consequences. This inspired the sympathy of American women, in particular, and everywhere they tried to copy her style. After her second silent film, “The Temptress” (1926) her mentor Mauritz Stiller was fired by M-G-M and returned to Sweden, dying two years later. Greta was heartbroken.

Greta was cast opposite some of the most handsome and famous male stars of the early silent and sound era, including John Gilbert, Antonio Moreno, Lew Ayres, Conrad Nagel, Nils Asther, Ramon Novarro, Robert Taylor, Melvyn Douglas, John and Lionel Barrymore, Fredric March, Charles Boyer, and Clark Gable. She was reportedly always punctual for work, but aloof with the crew on sets, claiming she worked better with just the cameraman, the director, and her co-stars present.

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Flesh and the Devil (1926)
Colorized by Golden Silents

Greta’s most popular silent films were the ones she made with John Gilbert, since the gossip columnists had a field day discussing their on-screen, off-screen romantic chemistry in their fan magazines, and audiences swarmed to their films with relish to see what all the fuss was about. In my own personal opinion, not much. I thought she had the best chemistry with fellow Swedish actor Nils Asther in her pictures with him, “The Single Standard” and especially “Wild Orchids” (both 1929). Check them out to see some real passion on screen.

In 1927 Greta almost married John Gilbert, but failed to show up on her wedding day. This kind of behaviour, even though he had allowed her to live rent free on a cottage on his estate, did not endear her to many in Hollywood. Aloof as always, she failed to attend John Gilbert’s 1936 funeral as well.

With voice training to minimize her Swedish accent, Greta made the transition to sound with great success. She appeared in some genuine sound film classics, such as “Grand Hotel” (1932), “Anna Karenina” (1935 – a remake of her 1927 silent film “Love”), and the matchless anti-communist comedy “Ninotchka” (1939). Her last film was in 1941 and she retired from the screen. She bought a home in New York City, and lived there until her death from pneumonia on April 15th, 1990. She was cremated, and her ashes returned to Sweden to be buried near her family. ~ Copyright © 2004

Greta Garbo Photo Gallery

Photo One Photo Two Photo Three Photo Four Photo Five Photo Six

Greta Garbo’s Silent Films

Kiss, The (1929) …. Irene Guarry

Greta Garbo and Conrad Nagel in The Kiss (1929)

Single Standard, The (1929) …. Arden Stuart Hewlett
Wild Orchids (1929) …. Lillie Sterling
Woman of Affairs, A (1928) …. Diana Merrick Furness
Mysterious Lady, The (1928) …. Tania Fedorova

Young Greta Garbo

The young Greta Garbo, before arriving in Hollywood, USA

Divine Woman, The (1928) …. Marianne
Love (1927) …. Anna Karenina
… aka Anna Karenina (1927) (UK)
Flesh and the Devil (1926) …. Felicitas
Temptress, The (1926) …. Elena
Torrent (1926) …. Leonora Moreno, aka La Brunna
… aka Ibáñez’ Torrent (1926) (USA)
Freudlose Gasse, Die (1925) …. Greta Rumfort
… aka Joyless Street (1925) (UK)
… aka Joyless Street, The (1927) (USA)
… aka Street of Sorrow, The (1927) (USA)
… aka Viennese Love (1925) (Canada: English title)
Gösta Berlings saga (1924) …. Countess Elizabeth Dohna
… aka Atonement of Gosta Berling, The (1924)
… aka Legend of Gosta Berling, The (1924)
… aka Saga of Gosta Berling, The (1924)
… aka Story of Gosta Berling, The (1924)
Luffarpetter (1922) …. Greta
… aka Peter the Tramp (1922)
Konsum Stockholm Promo (1921)
Lyckoriddare, En (1921) …. Maid
Herr och fru Stockholm (1920)
… aka Herrskapet Stockholm ute pa inköp (1920) (Sweden)

To learn more about Greta Garbo visit her profile on The Internet Database


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