Greta Garbo(born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, 18 September 1905 – 15 April 1990) was a Swedish-American actress. Regarded as one of the greatest actresses of all time, Garbo was known for her melancholic, somber persona due to her many portrayals of tragic characters in her films and for her subtle and understated performances. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Garbo fifth on its list of the greatest female stars of classic Hollywood cinema.
Garbo launched her career with a secondary role in the 1924 Swedish film The Saga of Gösta Berling. Her performance caught the attention of Louis B. Mayer, chief executive of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), who brought her to Hollywood in 1925. She stirred interest with her first American silent film, Torrent (1926). Garbo's performance in Flesh and the Devil (1927), her third movie, made her an international star. Garbo's other well known films from the silent era are A Woman of Affairs which catapulted her into becoming MGM's highest box-office grossing star.
Garbo's first sound film was Anna Christie (1930). MGM marketers enticed the public with the tagline "Garbo talks!" That same year, she starred in Romance. For her performances in these films, she received her first of the three nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress. In 1932, her success allowed her to dictate the terms of her contract, and she became increasingly selective about her roles. She continued in films such as Mata Hari (1931), Inspiration (1931), Grand Hotel (1932), Queen Christina (1933), and Anna Karenina (1935).
Many critics and film historians consider her performance as the doomed courtesan Marguerite Gautier in Camille (1936) to be her finest. The role gained her a second Academy Award nomination. However, Garbo's career soon declined and she was one of the many stars labeled box office poison in 1938. Her career revived upon her turn to comedy in Ninotchka (1939) which earned her a third Academy Award nomination, but after the failure of Two-Faced Woman (1941), she retired from the screen, at the age of 35, after acting in 28 films.
After retiring, Garbo declined all opportunities to return to the screen. Shunning publicity, Garbo led a private life. Garbo was an art collector whose collection contained many works that were of negligible monetary value, but also included works from Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pierre Bonnard, and Kees van Dongen, which were worth millions of dollars when she died.
Greta Lovisa Gustafsson was born in Södermalm, Stockholm, Sweden whose mother worked at a jam factory, and whose father was a laborer.
The Gustafssons were impoverished and lived in a three-bedroom cold-water flat at Blekingegatan No. 32. They raised their three children in a working-class district regarded as the city's slum.
It was eternally grey—those long winter's nights. My father would be sitting in a corner, scribbling figures on a newspaper. On the other side of the room, my mother is repairing ragged old clothes, sighing. We children would be talking in very low voices, or just sitting silently. We were filled with anxiety, as if there were danger in the air. Such evenings are unforgettable for a sensitive girl, but also for a girl like me. Where we lived, all the houses and apartments looked alike, their ugliness matched by everything surrounding us."
Garbo was a shy daydreamer as a child. She disliked school and preferred to play alone. Garbo was a natural leader who became interested in theatre at an early age.Garbo directed her friends in make-believe games and performances, and dreamed of becoming an actress. Later, Garbo would participate in amateur theatre with her friends and frequent the Mosebacke Theatre. At the age of 13, Garbo graduated from school, and, typical of a Swedish working-class girl at that time, she did not attend high school. She later acknowledged a resulting inferiority complex.
Garbo first worked as a soap-lather girl in a barber shop before taking a job in the PUB department store where she ran errands and worked in the millinery department. After modeling hats for the store's catalogues, Garbo earned a more lucrative job as a fashion model.
In 1920, a director of film commercials for the store cast Garbo in roles advertising women's clothing. Her first commercial premiered on 12 December 1920 In 1922, Garbo caught the attention of director Erik Arthur Petschler, who gave her a part in his short comedy, Peter the Tramp.
From 1922 to 1924, she studied at the Royal Dramatic Theatre's Acting School in Stockholm. She was recruited in 1924 by the Finnish director Mauritz Stiller to play a principal part in his film The Saga of Gösta Berling, a dramatization of the famous novel by Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf. Stiller became her mentor, training her as a film actress and managing all aspects of her nascent career.
In 1925, Greta Garbo, who was unable to speak any Englihs, was brought from Sweden to USA, and her first film in Hollywood was Torrent (1926), an adaptation of a novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, with director Monta Bell. She played a peasant girl turned singer. Torrent was a hit, and Garbo's performance was well received. She was cast in a similar role in The Temptress (1926), based on another Ibáñez novel. After only one film, she was given top billing, playing opposite Antonio Moreno.
After her lightning ascent, Garbo made 8 more silent films which were all hits.
She starred in three of them with the leading man John Gilbert and their on-screen chemistry soon translated into an off-camera romance, and by the end of the production, they began living together.
The impact of Garbo's acting and screen presence quickly established her reputation as one of Hollywood's greatest actresses.
During this period, Garbo began to require unusual conditions during the shooting of her scenes. She prohibited visitors—including the studio brass—from her sets, and demanded that black flats or screens surround her to prevent extras and technicians from watching her. When asked about these eccentric requirements, she said: "If I am by myself, my face will do things I cannot do with it otherwise."
In late 1929, MGM cast Garbo in Anna Christie (1930), a film adaptation of the 1922 play by Eugene O'Neill, her first speaking role. It was the highest-grossing film of the year and Garbo received her first Academy Award for Best Actress nomination for her performance.
Garbo followed with two of her best-remembered roles. She played the World War I German spy in the lavish production of Mata Hari (1931),The following year, she played a Russian ballerina in Grand Hotel (1932) (which won that year's Academy Award for Best Picture). Both films were MGM's highest-earning films of 1931 and 1932, respectively, and Garbo was dubbed "the greatest money-making machine ever put on screen".
Garbo's next major success is romantic drama Camille by George Cukor, for which she was nominated once more for an Academy Award. Garbo herself regarded Camille as her favorite out of all of her films.
Greta Garbo's last film Two-Faced Woman was also directected by George Cukor. In the film Garbor played a "double" role that featured her dancing the rhumba, swimming, and skiing. Garbo referred to the film as "my grave".
That was in 1941, she was thirty-six, and had made twenty-eight feature films in 16 years, and she never appeared on the screen again.
Although she refused to talk to friends about her reasons for retiring throughout her life, four years before her death, she told Swedish biographer Sven Broman: "I was tired of Hollywood. I did not like my work. There were many days when I had to force myself to go to the studio... I really wanted to live another life.
From the early days of her career, Garbo avoided industry social functions, preferring to spend her time alone or with friends. She never signed autographs or answered fan mail, and rarely gave interviews.Nor did she ever appear at Oscar ceremonies, even when she was nominated. Her aversion to publicity and the press was undeniably genuine, and exasperating to the studio at first. In an interview in 1928, she explained that her desire for privacy began when she was a child, stating, "As early as I can remember, I have wanted to be alone. I detest crowds, don't like many people."
In retirement, Garbo generally led a private life of simplicity and leisure. She made no public appearances and assiduously avoided the publicity which she loathed. As she had been during her Hollywood years, Garbo, with her innate need for solitude, was often reclusive. Contrary to myth, from the beginning she had many friends and acquaintances with whom she socialized and later traveled. Occasionally, she jet-setted with well-known and wealthy personalities, striving to guard her privacy just as she had during her career.
Beginning in the 1940s, she became an art collector. Many of the paintings which she purchased were of negligible value, but she did buy paintings by Renoir, Rouault, Kandinsky, Bonnard, and Jawlensky.Her art collection was worth millions when she died in 1990.
Still, she often floundered about what to do and how to spend her time ("drifting" was the word she frequently used), always struggling with her many eccentricities, and her life-long melancholy and moodiness.
On 9 February 1951, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States, and in 1953, she bought a seven-room apartment at 450 East 52nd Street in Manhattan, New York City, where she lived for the rest of her life.
Throughout her life, Garbo was known for taking long, daily walks with companions, or taking them by herself. In retirement, she walked the streets of New York City, dressed casually and wearing large sunglasses. "Garbo-watching" became a sport for photographers, the media, admirers, and curious New Yorkers, but she maintained her elusive mystique to the end.
Garbo was successfully treated for breast cancer in 1984.Towards the end of her life, only Garbo's closest friends knew she was receiving six-hour dialysis treatments three times a week at The Rogosin Institute in New York Hospital.
Garbo died on 15 April 1990, aged 84, in the hospital, as a result of pneumonia and renal failure. It was also claimed that towards the end, Garbo also suffered from gastrointestinal and periodontal ailments.
Because Garbo was suspicious and mistrustful of the media, and often at odds with MGM executives, she spurned Hollywood's publicity rules. She was routinely referred to by the press as the "Swedish Sphinx". Her reticence and fear of strangers perpetuated the mystery and mystique that she projected both on screen and in real life. MGM eventually capitalized on it, for it bolstered the image of the silent and reclusive woman of mystery. In spite of her strenuous efforts to avoid publicity, Garbo paradoxically became one of the twentieth century's most publicized women in the world.