Swedish Greta Garbo (1905-1990) is often regarded as one of the greatest and most glamorous movie stars ever produced by the Hollywood studio system. She was part of the Golden Age of the silent film of the 1920’s and was one of the few actors who made a glorious transition to the talkies. She started her career in the European cinema and would always stay more popular in Europe than in the USA.
She was born as Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in Stockholm. When she was 14 her father died, leaving the family destitute. Greta was forced to leave school and to work as a clerk in the department store PUB, where she also would model for newspaper ads. She photographed beautifully. Her first film aspirations came when she appeared in two short film advertisements, Herr och fru Stockholm (1920, Ragnar Ring) and Konsum Stockholm Promo (1921, Ragnar Ring). They were seen by director Erik Arthur Petschler who gave her a small part as a bathing beauty in his comedy Luffar-Petter (1922, Erik A. Petschler). From 1922 to 1924, she studied at the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. She met Mauritz Stiller, who was Sweden's foremost filmmaker in the early 1920’s. He trained the 18 year old in cinema acting technique and gave her the stage name Greta Garbo. Stiller cast her in a major role opposite Lars Hanson in Gösta Berlings Saga (1924, Mauritz Stiller). This dramatization of a novel by Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf was internationally successful and made Greta a minor star. On the strength of Gösta Berling she was cast in the German prostitution and depression melodrama Die Freudlose Gasse (1925, G.W. Pabst), in which she co-starred with the legendary Danish star Asta Nielsen.
And then Hollywood called. Louis B. Mayer invited Stiller to work for MGM when Gösta Berlings Saga caught his attention. On viewing the film, Mayer admired Stiller's direction, but was unimpressed with Garbo's acting and screen presence. Stiller insisted on bringing his protégé to Hollywood, thus, Mayer contracted her as well. Garbo’s relationship with Mauritz Stiller came to an end as her fame in Hollywood grew and he struggled in the studio system. In 1928 Stiller was fired by MGM and returned to Sweden, where he died soon after. Garbo retired in 1949 after making some screentests for a never realised film project. She abandoned Hollywood and moved to New York City. She would jet-set with such personalities as Aristotle Onassis and Cecil Beaton, and spent the rest of her time gardening flowers and vegetables. In 1954, she was given a special Oscar ‘for her unforgettable performances’, and in 1999 the American Film Institute ranked her as the fifth greatest female star of all time.
Sources: All Movie Guide, Wikipedia and IMDb.
Dutch Postcard, nr. 41. Photo by Metro Goldwyn Mayer.