I don't think any film star so totally dictated the term's of their career than Greta Garbo. Once she obtained international stardom after the film Torrent the direction she moved was determined by her and her alone. Even Louis B. Mayer the autocratic boss of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer gave her a wide berth and treated her as an equal. And when she left the screen abruptly in 1941 she made her retirement stick.
Her mystique was intact and stayed intact. I recall several stars in their retirement years like Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, James Cagney, Randolph Scott who quit the field on top. Occasionally you would read small items about them, a stray photograph or two would appear. They would say thanks, but I'm enjoying my leisure. Of the four I mentioned only Cagney made a comeback and I think it was a mistake.
Garbo whose image was one of aloofness never looked back. Instead we looked for her if our travels took us to the island of Manhattan. She'd walk around Manhattan doing her window shopping, avoiding stares and cameras and we gave her a wide berth.
One of the best tributes I ever read about her came from one of her co-stars Robert Taylor. He had never even spoken to her on the lot before Taylor was cast as Armand in Camille. He was in awe of her, but she put him at ease and worked with him ceaselessly. She demanded excellence in herself more than any director could demand. She made him and others around her better performers, reaching for depths of emotion they never thought they possessed.
After the film was over she was aloof again. But Taylor in appreciation for what she did for him just gave Garbo her space and never thought of her as snobbish in any way. It was her way to be alone and he like so many of the public as well as her fellow players gave her what she wanted.
Kevin Brownlow did a wonderful assembling the film and the interviews to capture the aloof spirit that was Greta Garbo. From 1941 until 1990 she held us fascinated right up to when she died. That's quite an impression she made.
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