Greta Garbo

Her story should have been one of those fabled rags to riches success fables that the positive thinker promoters like to tell.  But I don’t remember any of them being about Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, better known as Greta Garbo.

Greta was born as the youngest child of Karl Gustafsson and Anna Lovisa of Stockholm on September 18, 1905.  The family lived in the slums of Stockholm. Greta remembered her childhood environment. “Where we lived, all the houses and apartments looked alike, their ugliness matched by everything surrounding us.” 

The shy girl enjoyed directing her playmates in make-believe plays and games, and later participated in amateur theatre.  But the reality of poverty was always present. As a 13 year old she had to take care of her severely ill father who had lost his job because of his sickness from the Spanish flu.  The father died in 1920. Greta was only 14.

Greta began working at a barber shop, but was encouraged to better herself.  Her employment at the prestigious PUB Department Store lead to a hat modeling position for the store catalogues.  Soon she became a well paid fashion model for PUB.  By late 1920, Greta was cast as a model in fashion advertising film commercials.  Her very first commercial screen appearance happened in mid-December of 1920. 

The commercials came to the attention of the director Erik Petschler who cast Greta in “Peter The Tramp”, a comedy short.  In the early 1920s Greta studied at the Royal Dramatic Theatre Acting School at Stockholm.  Then in 1924 she was cast in a principal role in Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf’s “The Saga Of Gosta Berling”. Garbo’s mentor was Mauritz Stiller who trained her in the fine points of acting and career building.  In 1925, Garbo starred in a German film, “Die Freudlose Gasse” (The Street of Sorrow). 

Garbo’s American connection began after Louis B. Mayer, general manager and vice president of Metro Goldwin Mayer, saw the actress in the German movie.  Mayer instantly noticed Garbo’s charisma and star quality.  Mayer prioritized a contract to bring Garbo and Stiller to the states in 1925.

In her first two MGM films, Garbo was cast as a vamp. In “Torrent” she costarred with Ricardo Cortez, the film was a hit. In “The Temptress”, she was given top billing. It was one of the top grossing movies of 1926 and 1927, but still lost money. However,the reviews were glowing and MGM was graced with a new diva.  She had another eight silent movies that were quite successful with the public.

In 1930, Garbo was given her first speaking role in a “talkie”. Her first line became cliche’, “Give me a whiskey, ginger ale on the side, and don’t be stingy baby.” “Anna Christie” had the biggest box office take of 1930 and yielded Garbo’s first Oscar nomination.  A second nomination, in 1930, was for her role in “Romance”.

In 1931, Garbo played the spy in “Mata Hari.  In 1932 she played a Russian ballerina in “Grand Hotel.  These two films marked her greatest popularity.  The press dubbed the craze as “Garbomania”.  She was also the highest paid actress of the time earning as much as $300,000 per film. 

After several more successful appearances, her third Academy Awards nomination came with her role in George Cukor’s “Camile”.  Many people believe this was her greatest performance. Garbo’s career slumped until she appeared in her first comedy, Ernst Lubitsch’s “Ninotchka”.  The role garnered her a fourth Oscar Nomination. 

Her most memorable movie quote of all time was, “I want to be alone. I just want to be alone.” It was the theme of her private lifestyle.  She didn’t answer fan mail or sign autographs.  She prefered to spend off-camera time alone or with her small circle of friends.

She dropped out of film making during the 1940s. However, she did sign a contract for “La Duchesse de Langeais”, but the film was abandoned after the money failed to materialize.

During her retirement, Garbo had a relatively simple lifestyle of solitude and enjoying the companionship of her circle of friends.  She also enjoyed a jetsetting and sophisticated life of leisure. 

On April 15, 1990, Garbo died of complications from pneumonia and renal failure.  Garbo’s cremains were interred at Skogskyrkogården Cemetary near Stockholm, Sweden. Ironically, despite her great efforts to avoid publicity, she had become one of the all-time, most famous women in the world.

Hej då

The Blue Jay of Happiness remembers that the Guinness Book Of World Records, at one time, designated Greta Garbo as the most beautiful woman who has ever lived.

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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