(September 18, 1905 - April 15, 1990)
was born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in Stockholm, Sweden, the youngest
of three children born to Karl Alfred Gustafsson (1871-1920) and Anna
Lovisa Johnasson (1872-1944). Her older sister and brother were Alva
When Greta was fourteen, her father died. Consequently, she was forced
to leave school and go to work. Her first job was as a lather girl
in a barbershop. She then became a clerk in a department store, where
she would also model for newspaper ads. Her first movie aspirations
came when she appeared in an advertising short for the department
store where she worked. That led to another short movie, which was
seen by comedy director Eric Petscher. He cast her in a small part
for the movie Peter The Tramp (1920).
1922 to 1924, she studied at the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theatre
in Stockholm. While she was there, she met the Swedish director Mauritz
Stiller. He trained her in cinema acting technique and cast her in
a major role in Gösta Berlings Saga (1924) (English: The Story
of Gösta Berling). He also gave her the stage name Greta Garbo.
She starred in two movies in Sweden and one in Germany.
Stiller went to the United States in 1925 to work for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer,
he insisted that Garbo be given a contract as well. But their relationship
came to an end as her fame grew. He was fired by MGM and returned
to Sweden in 1928, where he died soon after.
The most important of Garbo's movies were The Torrent (1926), Flesh
and the Devil (1927) and Love (1927). The latter two she starred in
with the popular leading man John Gilbert. Her name was linked with
his in a much publicized romance, and she was said to have left him
standing at the alter when she changed her mind about getting married.
achieved enormous success as a silent movie star, she was one of the
few who made the transition to talkies. Her low, husky voice with
Swedish accent was heard on screen for the first time in Anna Christie
(1930), which was publicized with the slogan "Garbo Talks."
The movie was a huge success, but Garbo personally hated her performance.
her one-time fiancé, John Gilbert, whose popularity was waning,
did not fare as well after the advent of talkies and his career faltered.
When she was filming, if something happened that she was not pleased
with she would say, "I think I'll go back to Sweden!" This
would frighten the studio heads, who gave in to her every wish. She
was known for always having a closed set to all visitors. No one could
watch as her scenes were shot. Garbo appeared very seductive as the
World War I spy in the title role of Mata Hari (1932). The censors
complained about her revealing outfit shown on the movie poster. She
was next part of an all star cast in Grand Hotel (1932).
then had a contract dispute with MGM and did not appear on the screen
for almost two years. They finally settled and she signed a new contract,
which granted her almost total control over her films. She exercised
that control by getting her leading man, Laurence Olivier, replaced
on Queen Christina (1934) with former costar John Gilbert. David O.
Selznick wanted her cast as the dying heiress in Dark Victory in 1935,
but she insisted on being cast in another screen version of Leo Tolstoy's
classic novel Anna Karenina. She had made a silent version, Love,
with John Gilbert in (1927).
performance as the doomed courtesan in Camille (1937) was called the
finest ever recorded on film. She then starred opposite Melvyn Douglas
in the comedy Ninotchka (1939) by director Ernst Lubitsch, which was
publicized with the slogan "Garbo Laughs."
was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for Anna Christie
(1930), Romance (1930), Camille (1937) and Ninotchka (1939).
Garbo was considered one of the most glamorous movie stars of the
1920s and 1930s. She was also famous for shunning publicity, which
became part of the Garbo mystique. Her famous byline was "I vant
to be alone." Except at the very beginning of her career, she
granted no interviews, signed no autographs, attended no premieres
and answered no fan mail.
her movie Two-Faced Woman (1941) failed at the box office, Garbo retired
at the height of her success, never again to face the motion picture
camera. She withdrew from the entertainment world completely and moved
to a secluded life in New York City, thereafter refusing to make any
By her own admission, Garbo felt that after World War II the world
changed, perhaps forever. Her movies, she felt, had their proper place
in history and would gain in value. In 1951, she became an American
citizen. She was awarded a special Academy Award for unforgettable
performances in 1954. In the mid 1950s, she bought a seven room apartment
in New York City at 450 East 52nd Street, where she lived for the
rest of her life.
would at times jet-set with some of the world's best known personalities,
such as Aristotle Onassis and others, but chose to live a private
life. She spent time gardening flowers and vegetables and was known
for taking walks through New York City streets dressed casually and
wearing large sunglasses, always avoiding prying eyes, the paparazzi
and media attention.
lived the last years of her life in absolute seclusion. She had invested
wisely, was known for extreme frugality, and was a very wealthy woman.
In 1990, she wrote an autobiography. She died at the age of eighty-four
in New York City as a result of renal failure and was cremated. Her
ashes were buried at the Skogskyrkogaarden Cemetery in Stockholm.
Garbo has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6901 Hollywood Boulevard