"Life would be so wonderful if we only knew what to do with it."

Swedish actress, real name Greta Lovisa Gustafsson; b. Stockholm 1905-09-18, d. New York 1990-04-15. One of Sweden's most famous daughters.

Greta Gustafsson started her film career appearing in advertisements for the department store she worked in. She began to take on roles in other promotional films and gained a scholarship at the Royal Dramatic Theatre. While still in school, she was seen by Maurice Stiller who cast her in a film known as Gosta Berling's Saga which was highly praised by the European media. Under his mentorship, she gained access to the elite circles of European cinema. As her coach and manager, he brought her to the US in 1925 as a part of a Hollywood deal for himself.

By 1927 Stiller was fading out of the picture and Garbo's star was rising, fueled by her performances and the femme fatale image that MGM's marketers promoted. She starred in Flesh and the Devil and Love with her lover John Gilbert, bringing her real life passion to the screen and until 1932 she was the only redeeming feature of a series of mediocre films. Following Love and the Devil, she returned to Sweden for almost a year when MGM refused to raise her pay from $500 to $3000 a week. Eventually, MGM gave in.

Unlike many other actors, Gilbert not excluded, Garbo did not suffer from the transition from silent cinema to talkies. Her first talking appearance was in 1930 and went down well despite her thick accent. In 1934, she signed a new contract having MGM grant her virtually total control over her films. With this contract, she got none other than Lawrence Olivier fired from Queen Christina and replaced with John Gilbert whose career had been going downhill. From then and until 1941 came some of her greatest successes with Anna Karenina, Camille and Ninotchka.

In 1941, after the making of Two-Faced Woman, Garbo called it quits and retired to, basically, be left alone. The already mysterious woman added another dimension to the myth by disappearing from public view while still at her peak. She lived out the rest of her life in New York, not hidden but defying people to bother her, and socialised within a small jet-setting circle. She resisted the temptation to work on new projects.

While she never won an Oscar from her two nominations in 1930 and 1935, she was presented with a lifetime achievement award in 1954.

Garbo defined the term "diva." Mysterious, beautiful, apparently in charge of her surroundings, she avoided following many of her contemporary colleagues into self-destruction by doing things her way and then stepped out of the limelight when the time was ripe to create a myth. Like a true diva, stardom was something that came to her; she didn't chase it.

"I never said, 'I want to be alone.' I only said, 'I want to be left alone.' There is all the difference."

Filmography:

Original text for E2. Filmography from Amy's Classic Stars Page

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