Greta Garbo was the most iconic actress to ever grace the American silver screen. Due to her mysterious, elusive quality on screen and her rich voice, she was one of the few actors to successfully make the transition from silent movies to the talkies. She starred in 27 films from 1922 to 1941 and set the stage in fashion and beauty. Her fans around the world still refer to her as one of Hollywood’s legendary “goddesses.”
She was Born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in Stockholm, Sweden.
Bette Davis once said of Garbo, “Her instinct, her mastery over the machine, was pure witchcraft…I only know that no one else so effectively worked in front of a camera.”
In Sven Broman’s book, Conversations with Greta Garbo, he describes her famed beauty: “Garbo’s face was considered by American photographic experts to be unique: it was quite perfect. The distance between her eyes, the height of her forehead, her mouth, her whole creation, was divine.”
The house Garbo grew up in was so small that she and her sister had to sleep in the kitchen.
When Garbo’s father died, she had to quit school and go to work to help support the family. She was fourteen at the time and had only attended school for six years. She never had the chance to receive more formal schooling.
Garbo’s first job was at a barbershop as a lather girl. Her second job was at PUB, a department store in Stockholm.
While she was working at PUB, she appeared in two filmed advertisements for the company in 1921 and 1922. (PUB was the first Swedish company to produce filmed commercials.)
When Garbo studied at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, she met Mauritz Stiller, an influential Swedish director who cast her in her first paid role as an actress when he filmed “The Story of Gösta Berling” in 1924. Like many of her good friends, Garbo and Stiller were to remain close throughout their entire lives. When the heads of MGM studios came to Europe looking for new talent to bring to Hollywood, they decided to offer Stiller a contract and bring him to America. He accepted, but only under the condition that Garbo also receive a three-year contract. In 1925, they arrived in Hollywood, where Garbo began what was to become a legendary career at MGM.
When the film studios switched from silent movies to the talkies, the first words Garbo spoke on screen were “Give me a whiskey!”
Rouben Mamoulian directed Garbo in the title role of “Queen Christina.” When asked to explain Garbo’s appeal, he said, “What was miraculous about Garbo was her innate mystique. It is difficult to describe a face of such radiant beauty…When an actor or actress walks on stage and you suddenly become aware that the stage has been lit up, that everyone’s eyes are fixed on the person in question—that kind of magnetism is nothing short of miraculous.”
Stared in several Alfred Hitchcock movies included one co-starring Cary Grant
Garbo retired from filmmaking, after 27 films, when she was only 36.
After Garbo retired from films, she spent much of her time traveling incognito through Europe. She would wear large hats and oversized sunglasses to conceal her identity, and she even used aliases—one of her “traveling” names was “Harriet Brown.”
Garbo’s favorite places to stay were the Klosters in Switzerland and Tistad Castle in Sweden, where she was a guest of Count Nils and Countess Hörke Wachtmeister.
Once dated Howard Hughes
Aristotle Onassis was one of Garbo’s good friends.
In 1951, Garbo became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Garbo bought an apartment in New York City in 1953. This apartment was her home whenever she was not traveling through Europe.
In 1954, she received an Honorary Oscar for her “unforgettable screen performances.”
In 2005, on the 100th anniversary of Garbo’s birth, the U.S. Postal Service and the Sweden Post issued a stamp with her likeness on it to honor her life and her career.
Orson Welles once said: “If it could be said that Hollywood had a Queen, that Queen was Greta Garbo!”
April 15, 1990: Although she survived Breast Cancer, Garbo enjoyed periods of solitude and never married, she traveled extensively and had many close acquaintances. By 1989, however, she had become too ill to travel to her beloved Klosters for the summer, so she stayed in New York. By spring, she had weakened even further. She was taken to the hospital on April 12, 1990, where she was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease and pneumonia. She passed away three days later, having been regarded by many as the most luminous, versatile actress Hollywood had ever produced. She was cremated and her ashes were buried in Stockholm Sweden’s Skogskyrkogården Cemetery.