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Greta Garbo Poster

Biography

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Overview (5)

Born in Stockholm, Stockholms län, Sweden
Died in New York City, New York, USA  (pneumonia)
Birth NameGreta Lovisa Gustafsson
Nicknames The Face
The Swedish Sphinx
Garbo
La Divina
Height 5' 7½" (1.71 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Greta Garbo was born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson on September 18, 1905, in Stockholm, Sweden, to Anna Lovisa (Johansdotter), who worked at a jam factory, and Karl Alfred Gustafsson, a laborer. She was fourteen when her father died, which left the family destitute. Greta was forced to leave school and go to work in a department store. The store used her as a model in its newspaper ads. She had no film aspirations until she appeared in short advertising film at that same department store while she was still a teenager. Erik A. Petschler, a comedy director, saw the film and gave her a small part in his Luffar-Petter (1922). Encouraged by her own performance, she applied for and won a scholarship to a Swedish drama school. While there she appeared in at least one film, En lyckoriddare (1921). Both were small parts, but it was a start. Finally famed Swedish director Mauritz Stiller pulled her from the drama school for the lead role in The Saga of Gösta Berling (1924). At 18 Greta was on a roll.

Following The Joyless Street (1925) both Greta and Stiller were offered contracts with MGM, and her first film for the studio was the American-made Torrent (1926), a silent film in which she didn't have to speak a word of English. After a few more films, including The Temptress (1926), Love (1927) and A Woman of Affairs (1928), Greta starred in Anna Christie (1930) (her first "talkie"), which not only gave her a powerful screen presence but also garnered her an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress (she didn't win). Later that year she filmed Romance (1930), which was somewhat of a letdown, but she bounced back in 1931, landing another lead role in Mata Hari (1931), which turned out to be a major hit.

Greta continued to give intense performances in whatever was handed her. The next year she was cast in what turned out to be yet another hit, Grand Hotel (1932). However, it was in MGM's Anna Karenina (1935) that she gave what some consider the performance of her life. She was absolutely breathtaking in the role as a woman torn between two lovers and her son. Shortly afterwards, she starred in the historical drama Queen Christina (1933) playing the title character to great acclaim. She earned an Oscar nomination for her role in the romantic drama Camille (1936), again playing the title character. Her career suffered a setback the following year in Conquest (1937), which was a box office disaster. She later made a comeback when she starred in Ninotchka (1939), which showcased her comedic side. It wasn't until two years later she made what was to be her last film, Two-Faced Woman (1941), another comedy. But the film drew controversy and was condemned by the Catholic Church and other groups and was a box office failure, which left Garbo shaken.

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 and raising 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 her went the "Garbo Mystique". She was 84.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Denny Jackson (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Trade Mark (1)

Enigmatic personality

Trivia (68)

Interred at Skogskyrkogården Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden.
Lived the last few years of her life in absolute seclusion.
October 1997: Ranked #38 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list.
Letters and correspondence between Garbo and poet, socialite and notorious lesbian Mercedes de Acosta were unsealed on April 15, 2000, exactly 10 years after Garbo's death (per De Acosta's instructions). The letters revealed no love affair between the two, as had been rumored.
Garbo, according to director Jacques Feyder: "At 9 o'clock a.m. 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 at rushes nor goes to the premieres 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.
Once voted by The Guinness Book of World Records as the most beautiful woman who ever lived.
Her parents were Karl and Anna Gustafson, and she also had an older sister and brother, Alva Garbo and Sven Garbo. Her father died when she was 14 of nephritis, and her sister was also dead of lymphatic cancer by the time Greta was 21 years old.
Her personal favorite of all her movies was Camille (1936).
She disliked Clark Gable, a feeling that was mutual. She thought his acting was wooden while he considered her a snob.
Left John Gilbert standing at the altar in 1927 when she got cold feet about marrying him.
Before making it big, she worked as a soap-latherer in a barber's shop back in Sweden.
During filming, whenever there was something going on that wasn't to her liking, she would simply say, "I think I'll go back to Sweden!", which frightened the studio heads so much that they gave in to her every whim.
In the mid-'50s she bought a seven-room apartment in New York City (450 East 52nd St.) and lived there until she died.
1951: Became a US citizen.
Garbo's sets were closed to all visitors and sometimes even the director! When asked why, she said: "During these scenes I allow only the cameraman and lighting man on the set. The director goes out for a coffee or a milkshake. When people are watching, I'm just a woman making faces for the camera. It destroys the illusion. If I am by myself, my face will do things I cannot do with it otherwise."
Garbo was criticized for not aiding the Allies during WWII, but it was later disclosed that she had helped Britain by identifying influential Nazi sympathizers in Stockholm and by providing introductions and carrying messsages for British agents.
Garbo was prone to chronic depression and spent many years attacking it through Eastern philosophy and a solid health food regimen. However, she never gave up smoking and cocktails.
Except at the very beginning of her career, she granted no interviews, signed no autographs, attended no premieres and answered no fan mail.
Her volatile mentor/director Mauritz Stiller, who brought her to Hollywood, was abruptly fired from directing her second MGM Hollywood film, The Temptress (1926), after repeated arguments with MGM execs. Unable to hold a job in Hollywood, he returned to Sweden in 1928 and died shortly after at age 45. Garbo was devastated.
Garbo actually hoped to return to films after the war but, for whatever reason, no projects ever materialized.
She was as secretive about her relatives as she was about herself, and, upon her death, the names of her survivors could not immediately be determined.
Never married, she invested wisely and was known for her extreme frugality.
Related to Anna Sundstrand of the Swedish pop group Play.
Although it was believed that Garbo lived as an invalid in her post-Hollywood career, this is incorrect. She was a real jet setter, traveling with international tycoons and socialites. In the 1970s she traveled less and grew more and more eccentric, although she still took daily walks through Central Park with close friends and walkers. Due to failing health in the late 1980s, her mobility was challenged. In her final year it was her family that cared for her, including taking her to dialysis treatments. She died with them by her side.
She was originally chosen for the lead roles in The Paradine Case (1947), My Cousin Rachel (1952) and "The Wicked Dutchess". She turned down these roles, with the exception of "The Wicked Dutchess", which was never shot due to financial problems.
Popularized trench coats and berets in the 1930s.
According to her friend, producer William Frye, he offered Garbo $1 million to star as the Mother Superior in his film The Trouble with Angels (1966). When she declined, he cast Rosalind Russell in the part--at a much lower salary.
She was voted the 25th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Sister of Sven and Alva.
Her favorite American director was Ernst Lubitsch, although Clarence Brown, directed her in six films, including the classics Flesh and the Devil (1926), A Woman of Affairs (1928), Anna Christie (1930) and Anna Karenina (1935).
Her first "talkie" film was Anna Christie (1930).
She was voted the 8th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premiere Magazine.
Was named #5 Actress on The American Film Institute's 50 Greatest Screen Legends
Spanish sculptor Pablo Gargallo created three pieces based on Garbo: "Masque de Greta Garbo à la mèche," "Tête de Greta Garbo avec chapeau," and "Masque de Greta Garbo aux cils".
Is one of the many movie stars mentioned in Madonna's song "Vogue"
Pictured on a 37¢ USA commemorative postage stamp issued 23 September 2005, five days after her 100th birthday. On the same day, Sweden issued a 10kr stamp with the same design. The likeness on the stamps was based on a photograph taken during the filming of As You Desire Me (1932).
Once lived in the famed Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles (8221 Sunset Boulevard).
Aunt of Gray Reisfield (daughter of Sven Gustafson).
Grandaunt of Derek Reisfield and Scott Reisfield, children of Gray Reisfield and Donald Reisfield.
Her first film appearance ever was in a short advertising film that ran in local theaters in Stockholm.
Her performance as Ninotchka in Ninotchka (1939) is ranked #25 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
Her greatest confidante was Salka Viertel, a German friend who had known her back in Sweden. Viertel proved to be very manipulative of her, including relationships (particularly with Mercedes de Acosta), film choices and general living. It was Viertel, in fact, who persuaded her not to return to films. Ironically, Viertel was friendly with Marlene Dietrich, Garbo's enemy, whom Salka had known back in the period of Germany's Weimar Republic, and she had a lot of dirt on Dietrich's deepest secrets and past. Garbo's film choices were largely determined by Salka's persuasion; they co-starred in the German version of Anna Christie (1930), and shortly after that Garbo insisted that Salka be placed on the MGM payroll as a writer for her films.
Is portrayed by Kristina Wayborn in The Silent Lovers (1980)
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume Two, 1986-1990, pages 316-319. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.
In Italy, her first films (like Mata Hari (1931) and Grand Hotel (1932)) were dubbed by Francesca Braggiotti. Because Braggiotti had been living in the United States for many years and had a slight American accent, the Italian public didn't really accept her voice so the very Italian Tina Lattanzi was chosen as Garbo's official Italian voice instead (she even re-dubbed Mata Hari (1931)). For her last two films Ninotchka (1939) and Two-Faced Woman (1941), she was dubbed by Andreina Pagnani. When some of Garbo films were re-released in Italy in the 1960's, they were re-dubbed once more. This is how stage actress Anna Proclemer lent her voice to the divine Garbo.
Gary Cooper was reportedly one of her favorite actors. She requested him for several of her films, but nothing ever materialized.
Throughout her MGM career she insisted that William H. Daniels be cinematographer on her pictures. This may not have been purely superstition, as the two notable films she made without him--Conquest (1937) and Two-Faced Woman (1941)--were her only notable flops.
She was Adolf Hitler's favorite actress.
In late 1934, after Queen Christina (1933) and The Painted Veil (1934), which were both huge hits in Europe (making twice their budget in the UK alone) but underwhelming US successes, Garbo signed a contract with MGM saying that she would only make films under David O. Selznick and Irving Thalberg. Her next two films, Anna Karenina (1935) and Camille (1936), were notable hits at the US box office, and produced by Selznick and Thalberg respectively. In 1937 her contract had to be revised, as Selznick left the studio in 1935 and Thalberg had died. She made only three films after "Camille".
When she heard that David O. Selznick, who had produced her hit Anna Karenina (1935), was leaving MGM in 1935 to start his own studio, she begged him to stay, promising that she would let him personally supervise all of her pictures exclusively. He said that it would be a great honor, but he had other plans. Ironically, the usually very finicky Irving Thalberg, Garbo's other favorite producer, was the first person to give Selznick money to start his company ($200,000).
Mentioned in The Killers' "The Ballad of Michael Valentine".
Mentioned in the song "Celluloid Heroes" by The Kinks.
Was offered the role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. (1950), but she turned it down. Gloria Swanson was cast instead and she went on to receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance.
A photograph of Garbo, probably cut from a movie magazine, was one of several images of movie stars, royalty, pieces of art, and family members used as decoration by Anne Frank on the wall of her room in the "Secret Annex" in Amsterdam where she and her family hid from July 1942 until their capture by the Nazis in August 1944.
Was offered the role of Mama Hanson in I Remember Mama (1948), but she turned it down. Irene Dunne was cast instead and went on to receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance.
Is going to be on the 50 Kronors banknote in 2015.
Mentioned in the song "Perfect Skin" by Lloyd Cole & The Commotions.
For her last acting role of Siobhan O'Dea on Murder, She Wrote: Wearing of the Green (1988), Jean Peters modeled her character after Garbo, as she was portraying a reclusive foreign actress who goes into seclusion following the demise of her lover at the height of her career.
In 1924 Mauritz Stiller planned to shoot a film in Turkey titled "The Odalisque from Smyrna" and had hired Conrad Veidt and Einar Hansen as stars. Stiller, along with Hansen and protégé Garbo, left for Istanbul but the promised financing vanished. Stiller reportedly returned to Berlin to raise backing, but failed. Garbo remained in Turkey sulking, not even communicating with fellow Swede Hansen. Eventually she returned to Berlin.
Director Clarence Brown said of her, "Working [with her] was easy because she trusted me. I never directed her in anything above a whisper. She was very shy, so we'd go through the changes I wanted in a little quiet whisper off in the corner, without letting others know what I was telling her. I learned through experience that Garbo had something behind the eyes that told the whole story that I couldn't see from my distance. Sometimes I would be dissatisfied with a take, but would go ahead and print it anyway. On the screen Garbo multiplied the effect of the scene I had taken. It was something that no one else ever had.
According to a 1974 Michael Parkinson interview with Orson Welles, Garbo did two bread commercials for theater use before she changed her name. The films existed at a Stockholm archive at that time.
At the Swedish School of Drama, where she studied from 1921-24, she made a close friend with Vera Schmiterlöw, which grew into a lifelong friendship. The intimate correspondence between the two are saved in the National Archives of Sweden. In 2005 three of these numerous letters were stolen from the archives and have not yet been found.
She was the last surviving person mentioned in the song "You're the Top" featured in the 1934 Cole Porter musical "Anything Goes".
First Swedish actress to be nominated for an Academy Award. The others are Ingrid Bergman, Lena Olin, Ann-Margret, and Alicia Vikander who won the Oscar. The only Swedish actor to be nominated is Max von Sydow.
Mentioned in the song "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes.
Mentioned in the song "She Keeps On Coming" by The Bee Gees.
Norwegian Air Shuttle has a portrait of Greta Garbo on the tail of one of their Boeing 737's. It is one of their many "Tail Fin Heroes".
According to director Albert Lewin "[on casting the leading role in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)]: One day, I received a message from Cedric Gibbons, who wanted to see me on a matter of urgency and secrecy. Gibby was the only close friend of Greta Garbo around the studio, and he had been deputed to tell me that Garbo wanted to play Dorian. Indeed, it was the only role she would come back to the screen for. Of course, I moved heaven and earth to set it up. But everyone had a fit: the censorship problem, formidable anyway, would have become insurmountable with a woman.

Personal Quotes (37)

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 continuous smile on his face conceals a toughness that is almost frightening.
[on her famous Grand Hotel (1932) quote] I never said, "I want to be alone". I only said, "I want to be left alone". There is a whole world of difference.
I don't want to be a silly temptress. I cannot see any sense in getting dressed up and doing nothing but tempting men in pictures.
The story of my life is about back entrances, side doors, secrets elevators and other ways of getting in and out of places so that people won't bother me.
If only those who dream about Hollywood knew how difficult it all is.
Your joys and sorrows. You can never tell them. You cheapen the inside of yourself if you do.

There are some who want to get married and others who don't. I have never had an impulse to go to the altar. I am a difficult person to lead.
[asked in her later years by a fan if she is Greta Garbo] I WAS Greta Garbo.
If you're going to die on screen, you've got to be strong and in good health.
There are many things in your heart you can never tell another person. They are you, your private joys and sorrows, and you can never tell them. You cheapen yourself, the inside of yourself, when you tell them.
I live like a monk: with one toothbrush, one cake of soap, and a pot of cream.
[on secrets] Every one of us lives his life just once; if we are honest, to live once is enough.
[1926, on Hollywood] Here, it is boring, incredibly boring, so boring I can't believe it's true.
[1932, on her recreational preferences] If I needed recreation, I liked to be out of doors: to trudge about in a boy's coat and boy's shoes; to ride horseback, or shoot craps with the stable boys, or watch the sun set in a blaze of glory over the Pacific Ocean. You see, I am still a bit of a tomboy. Most hostesses disapprove of this trousered attitude to life, so I do not inflict upon them.
[1932, on another factor contributing to her decision to shun publicity] I am still a little nervous, a little self-conscious about my English. I cannot express myself well at parties. I speak haltingly. I feel awkward, shy, afraid. In Hollywood, where every teat table bristles with gossip writers, what I say might be misunderstood. So I am silent as the grave about my private affairs. Rumors fly about. I am mum. My private affairs are strictly private.
[1932, on director Mauritz Stiller, the nature of her relationship with him and the part it played in cultivating her well-publicized preference for privacy over publicity] Stiller's death was a great blow to me. For so long I had been his satellite. All Europe at that time regarded Stiller as the most significant figure in the film world. Directors hurried to the projecting rooms where his prints were shown. They took with them their secretaries and, in the dim silence, they dictated breathless comments on the wide sweep of his magnificent technique. Stiller had found me, an obscure artist in Sweden, and brought me to America. I worshiped him. There are some, of course, who say it was a love story. It was more. It was utter devotion which only the very young can know--the adoration of a student for her teacher, of a timid girl for a mastermind. In his studio, Stiller taught me how to do everything: how to eat; how to turn my head; how to express love--and hate. Off the screen I studied his every whim, wish and demand. I lived my life according to the plans he laid down. He told what to say and what to do. When Stiller died I found myself like a ship without a rudder. I was bewildered--lost--and very lonely. I resolutely refused to talk to reporters because I didn't know what to say. By degrees I dropped out of the social whirl of Hollywood. I retired into my shell. I built a wall of repression around my real self, and I lived--and still live--behind it.
My talents fall within definite limitations. I am not as versatile an actress as some think.
Is there anything better than to be longing for something, when you know it is within reach?
If you are blessed, you are blessed, whether you are married or single.
There are some who want to get married and others who don't. I have never had an impulse to go to the altar. I am a difficult person to lead.
I smoke all the time, one after the other.
I have been reading other life stories. Some people were born in red brick houses, others in plain white board ones. What is the difference? We were all born in houses. I will not have it printed that I was born in this house or that; that my mother was this or my father that. They were my mother and my father, just as yours were your mother and your father. To me that is what counts. Why should the world talk about them? I don't want the world to talk about my mother and my father.
[on her childhood] I was up and down. Happy one moment. The next moment, there was nothing left for me.
There seems to be a law that governs all our actions, so I never make plans.
I'm tired and nervous and I'm in America. Here, you don't know that you live.
[on America] It is bitter to think of one's best years disappearing in this unpolished country.
[1927 interview] Let's not talk of me! It is New Year's Eve. In Sweden, that means so much, so very much. There, we go to church and eat and drink and see everybody we know. I have been blue all day. At home, in Stockholm, they are skiing and skating and throwing snowballs at one another. The cheeks are red - oh, please, let's not talk of me.
[1927] I was born; I grew up; I have lived like every other person. Why must people talk about me? We all do the same things in ways that are just a little different. We go to school, we learn; we are bad at times; we are good at other. We find our life work and we do it. That's all there is to anyone's life story, isn't it?
The creative artist should be a rare and solitary spirit. My work absorbs me. I have time for nothing else.
I am not proud of being a film star. I have no reason to be. Compared with other professions, what I am doing is so unimportant.
[on seduction] Anyone who was seduced wanted to be seduced.
[on kisses] Don't waste them. But don't count them.
[on sex] In America, an obsession. In other parts of the world, a fact.

Salary (16)

Torrent (1926) $400 /week
Flesh and the Devil (1926) $600 /week
Love (1927) $5,000 /week
Love (1927) $2,000 per week
Anna Christie (1930) $250,000
Inspiration (1931) $250,000
Susan Lenox  (1931) $250,000
Mata Hari (1931) $7,000 per week
Grand Hotel (1932) $7,000 per week
Queen Christina (1933) $250,000
The Painted Veil (1934) $250,000
Anna Karenina (1935) $275,000
Camille (1936) $500,000
Conquest (1937) $500,000
Ninotchka (1939) $125,000
Two-Faced Woman (1941) $150,000

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