Extremely private started from nothing and became a star of Hollywood.
Greta Garbo's Early Life
Born Greta Lovison Gustafson on 18 September 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden to Karl Alfred and Anna Lovison Gustafson. Greta had a brother Sven and a sister Alva Marie. They lived in a poor section of Sweden with little money. After Greta's father took ill, she cared for him till he died when she was 13. Because of the family's finances, she went to work as a sales clerk, sometimes modeling for the store. Greta swore to herself to never live in hardship again, vowing to be an actress.
In 1914 a film director Mauritz Stiller caught her eye, and he signed her to a film called The Saga of Gosta Berling. At a private showing for MGM, Louis B. Mayer found Greta stimulating and invited her and Stiller to America for a screen test.
By this time, Stiller suggested Greta change her name, and after petitioning the ministry, on 9 November 1923, her name was officially changed to Greta Garbo. In July 1925, Stiller and Garbo arrived in New York and waited six months with no MGM word. Deciding to head to LA themselves, a Swedish friend helped to secure a screen test with director Irving Thalberg who was so impressed with Garbo he immediately began grooming her with her weight, dental work, and teaching her English. This was the period of silent movies, but Garbo's on-screen movies were scintillating, and the public was captivated. Her silent movies included Torrent (1926 and Flesh and the Devil. The sound was coming to film, and executives were concerned Greta's accent would be a downfall. As it turned out, they were wrong, for Greta was magnificent, sultry, beautiful, and provocative.
As Greta had her first interview and was asked about her life, she quipped, "I was born, I had a father and a mother, and I went to school; what does that matter?. This would imply her need for privacy early on and what made her even more sought after.
Garbo's Films and MGM
Things weren't always roses with MGM and the contract negotiations with Greta. She was now grossing $250,000 per picture and she was a major star. By 1933 she had made 17 films, 11 were Box Office Hits, 24 were in the Top 10 Box Office Hits, and had earned millions. Although never winning an Oscar, she had been nominated four times. In 1955 she was awarded an Honorary Oscar for her "unforgettable performances in films." She also received an award from the New York Critics Awards for Best Actress in two films, Anna Karenina and Camille. Camille was always Greta's favorite film. In 1983, Greta was awarded the Commander of Swedish Order of Polar Star by order of King Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden. In 1960, Greta received her STAR on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Greta was designated The Most Beautiful Woman in the World by the Guinness Book of World Records. Both the U.S. Post Office and the Swedish Posten issued stamps in her honor.
Garbo's Talking Films
- 1930 Anna Christie
- 1930 Romance
- 1931 Inspiration
- 1931 Susan Lennox
- 1931 Mata Hari
- 1932 Grand Hotel
- 1932 As You Desire Me
- 1933 Queen Christina
- 1934 The Painted Veil
- 1935 Anna Karenina
- 1936 Camille
- 1938 Nicotchka
- 1941 Two-Faced Woman
Documentaries of Greta Garbo
- 1990 The Divine Garbo
- 1998 Greta Garbo: The Mysterious Lady
- 2001 Greta Garbo: A Lone Star
- 2005 Garbo
The Biggest Box Office Hit was the film Mata Hari and the headdress played a crucial role itself. and is on display in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science Museum.
Greta Garbo's Retirement and Secluded Life
Garbo walked away from Hollywood in 1941, moving to a 5th-floor apartment at 450 E. 52nd St., Manhattan, New York. She seemed content and began purchasing art like Monet, Renoir, and others. She would walk the streets of New York in disguise visiting antique shops and art galleries. She lined her walls with art and other antique pieces of furniture. When she died, Sotheby's auctioned off her art and possessions at a tune of about 32 million dollars. Her entire estate was left to her niece. Garbo had never married and had no children. There were lovers along the way, both men and women, and rumors even included Marlene Dietrich.
When Garbo died on 15 April 1990, few knew of her health problems. Always the private Garbo, she was on dialysis three times a week at a hospital in New York. She died of heart, and kidney failure and, again being private, wanted no big doings after death. Her ashes are buried in Stockholm, Sweden.
Garbo lived up to her nicknames, The Face, The Swedish Sphinx, La Divina. She was truly a timeless actress. A unique and timeless actress. And, for most of her life, she lived by her famous quote "alone."
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on January 01, 2021:
Alicia, thank you for reading. Gald you found it informative.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 01, 2021:
Thanks for sharing the information. It was interesting to learn about Greta Garbo's life. I knew very little about her before I read your article.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on December 27, 2020:
Thank you for your visit. Privacy is certainly precious and hard to keep.
Rosina S Khan on December 26, 2020:
This is an interesting account of Greta Garbo. I have something in common with her in that I too always crave for privacy. I don't like people interfering in my life. But I guess it will get better with time. Thanks for the share, Fran.
MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 26, 2020:
I have read a lot about Greta Garbo and it's also thrilling. You have created a great picture of her I haven't seen any of her movies but I guess I must download some old ones from YouTube and have a look.