Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Greta Lovisa Gustafsson grew up in a poor neighborhood in
a shy child who preferred daydreaming and play-acting to school. When her
father died of Spanish flu in 1920, she had to leave school and go to work to
help support the family. Her first job was in a barbershop, as a "lather
girl," and she also found work as a department store model. Her modeling
jobs led to some small roles in advertising films for the store and for a local
While studying at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, she caught the eye of silent-film director Mauritz Stiller. He took her under his wing, changed her last name to "Garbo" and cast her in his film (1923). When Stiller signed a deal with MGM in
he insisted on bringing his star with him. The studio set about to craft a
persona for the aloof Swedish actress, portraying her as a woman of mystery,
and though they had only agreed to put her under contract to get Stiller on
board, they soon discovered that she had star potential.
(1926) made Garbo an international celebrity, and it was during the filming that she met and fell for her co-star, John Gilbert. Garbo and Gilbert went on to star in a silent film adaptation of , called (1927), as well as two more features, and got engaged. But Garbo called off the wedding at the last minute, and though she had a few high-profile relationships over the years, she never married.
Garbo traveled, and had many close friends, and she was fond of walking around
New York City — but she did guard her privacy
fiercely. Parodies of Garbo always include the line "I want to be
alone," delivered in a heavy Swedish accent. It comes from the movie (1932),
and it's always been strongly associated with Garbo since she appeared so
melancholy and solitary. But she once pointed out, "I never said 'I want
to be alone.' I only said 'I want to be alone!'
There is all the difference."