Skip to main content

Greta Garbo, the most beautiful woman who ever lived

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Greta Garbo was a charismatic, breathtakingly beautiful Nordic actress who set her own standards and became a legend in her own time.She had an unforgettable face with perfect bone structure and was voted by The Guinness Book of World Records as the most beautiful woman who ever lived.

Regarded as one of the greatest as well as the most enigmatic movie stars ever produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the Hollywood studio system, Garbo received a 1955 Honorary Oscar "for her unforgettable screen performances" and was ranked as the fifth greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute.


Early Days

Born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in Stockholm, Sweden, the youngest of three children born to Karl Alfred Gustafsson and Anna Lovisa Johansson. Her older sister and brother were Alva and Sven.

She was 14 when her father, to whom she was very close, died of nephritis, leaving the family destitute. Greta was forced to leave school and go to work in a department store. The store used her for her modeling abilities for newspaper ads. She had no film aspirations until she appeared in an advertising short at that same department store while she was still a teenager. This led to another short film when Erik A. Petschler, a comedy director, saw the film. He gave her a small part in the film, _Luffarpetter (1922)_ . Encouraged by her own performance she applied for and won a scholarship in a Swedish drama school.

From 1922 to 1924 she studied at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm. During that period she met Mauritz Stiller, the foremost Swedish director, who gave her an important role in Gösta Berlings Saga (1924; "The Story of Gösta Berling"), gave her the stage name Greta Garbo, and trained her in cinema-acting techniques.

Garbo in 1925

In 1925, when Stiller went to the United States to work for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, he insisted that Garbo be given a contract also. It was only after shooting commenced on her first American film, The Torrent, 1926, that MGM realized it had a potential great star. Stiller was not successful in Hollywood, but Garbo became MGM's biggest star.

In all, she appeared in 27 films (two in Sweden, one in Germany, and the remainder in Hollywood); her other major silent films were The Flesh and the Devil (1927) and Love (1927), both with the popular leading man John Gilbert, whose name was linked with hers in a much-publicized romance and she was said to have left him standing at the altar when she changed her mind about getting married.

New Amazon Plexo

Greta Garbo as Mata Hari, 1931

The most beautiful or not?

The Talkies - and Superstardom

Garbo's first Talkie, always a worrying time for Silent actors at this crucial changeover period in cinema technology, was Anna Christie (1930). (The film was publicized with the slogan "Garbo Talks"). Her rich, husky voice and polished acting were a great success, although Garbo herself despised her performance. It earned her the first of her four Academy Award nominations for best actress. That same year, Garbo earned another Academy Award nomination for her role in Romance.

After successfully and seductively playing the title role in Mata Hari (1932)(see left) Greta was next part of an all-star cast in Grand Hotel in the same year, which won the Best Picture Oscar and featured her as a Russian ballerina.

She 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 movies. She exercised that control by getting her leading man in Queen Christina (1933), Laurence Olivier, replaced with Gilbert. In 1935, David O. Selznick wanted her cast as the dying heiress in Dark Victory -- filmed with Bette Davis in 1939 at Warner Brothers -- but she insisted on being cast instead in another screen version of Tolstoy's classic, Anna Karenina. (She had made a silent version of Anna Karenina entitled Love with John Gilbert in 1927.)

Her performance as the doomed courtesan in Camille (1936), directed by George Cukor, was called the finest ever recorded on film. She subsequently starred opposite Melvyn Douglas in the comedy Ninotchka (1939), directed by Ernst Lubitsch, which she herself enjoyed making, and which was one of her favorites.

Famous Ending of "Queen Christiana", 1933

Click Here for the best of Classic Hollywood

Greta Garbo in "Two-Faced Woman" , 1941

Final Years

Garbo was the highest paid actress in America in the Thirties, but her last film, Two Faced Woman, made in 1941,was not a success. She retired from movies immediately permanently although she was almost lured out of retirement to make Hitchcock's The Paradine Case, 1947, but decided against it. She lived in New York city and was often seen strolling the streets near her apartment. She died from pneumonia on April 15th 1990 in New York City. Her ashes were returned to Sweden to be buried near her family.

A Great Star

Scroll to Continue

Reader Feedback

tracey lamplugh on October 16, 2019:

She has a perfect face, but so did Vivian Leigh, Ava gardner and Hedy Lamarr. All beautiful!!!!

Wilson on December 16, 2016:

Yes would have to agree she is one beautiful lady to bad ended her career as a very young age she's a very good actress as well what can one say what a great loss to such a talented woman and beautiful as well

Rino on December 03, 2016:

Excellent actress and beautiful woman. I enjoyed this article very much

Allen on October 13, 2014:

Garbo was gorgeous. Her bone structure was magnificent and her features were so striking. Without a doubt one of the most beautiful women that I have e ever seen.

aaxiaa lm on April 21, 2014:

Oh my gosh, the eyes!

anonymous on November 19, 2012:

Greta Garbo was drop dead gorgeous. This is a lovely tribute, thanks for sharing!

anonymous on October 29, 2012:

if you want to see the most beautiful woman ever go to urbzone.blogspot and check out the Top 50 Most Beautiful Woman Ever

tricomanagement on March 30, 2012:

Great talent often comes with a great price. Who knows what price this lovely woman paid.

julieannbrady on March 11, 2012:

There was definitely an allure and magic about Greta Garbo.

CoeGurl on September 01, 2011:

What a face!

irenemaria from Sweden on January 21, 2011:

I really like her too. She has a special way of talking without saying a word. Her face is expressive.

globaleagle on November 27, 2010:

I am 58 yrs old and saw my first Garbo movie 2 weeks ago. The movie was Ninotchka, and it is arguably one of my favorite movies ever. I have fallen under the Garbo spell, and since then have read three books, and seen 4 more movies by her. I absolutely agree that she is the most beautiful women I have ever seen anywhere.

anonymous on April 07, 2009:

I am a great admirer of Greta Lovisa Gustafsson. An original free spirit and among the first if not "the" first to get a percentage of her movies take. What a face, who can forget the last scene of "Queen Christina." All she had to do was think of nothing.

Thanks for the lens. five stars, favourite and lensroll to my "The Lux Radio Theater" lens.

anonymous on November 09, 2008:

Really enjoyed this lens.

Would like to have you join our group:

Delia on September 30, 2007:

Great lens! I love Greta Garbo, my mother was mistaken for her many times when she was young go see link

bobrew on September 28, 2007:

She's really beautiful. A honey.

Classic LM on August 06, 2007:

Wow. Very nice lens, but I am used to your high quality lenses already! Greta Garbo was a divine beauty and an excellent actress. 5*s! if you have time, please visit my lens entitled Louvre. Thank you.

Related Articles