Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Garbo, Greta from Philip's Encyclopedia

Swedish film actress. Garbo's aura of mystery and enigmatic beauty made her an adored screen idol. Her first lead role was in Torrent (1926). Her first 'talkie' was Anna Christie (1930). She played the leads in the classics Anna Karenina (1935) and Camille (1937), and the comedy Ninotchka (1939). She retired in 1941.


Summary Article: Garbo, Greta from Movies in American History: An Encyclopedia

Greta Garbo is considered by many to have been the most glamorous actress in Hollywood during the 1920s and 1930s. Her enormous talents as an actress combined with her distinctively husky voice made her one of the few actresses to transition successfully from silent films to talking movies.

Greta Garbo was born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson on September 18, 1905, in Stockholm, Sweden, to parents Anna Lovisa Karlsson, a homemaker, and Karl Alfred Gustafsson, a landscaper. She was the youngest of the family's three children. When she was 14 years old, her father died of tuberculosis. She was forced to quit school and get a job in order to help support her family. Following her first job as a soap latherer in a barbershop, she was hired as a salesperson at the Paul U. Bergstrom Department Store, where she eventually was asked to appear in short promotional films for the store. In 1922, Garbo was one of seven students admitted to Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theatre School. That same year, she also appeared as a bathing beauty in E. A. Petschler's film The Vagabond Baron. While attending the school, Garbo met director Mauritz Stiller, who in 1924 hired Garbo to portray Countess Elizabeth Dohna in her first silent movie, The Atonement of Gosta Berling. In 1925, she moved to the United States with Stiller to work at MGM. She arrived in New York City on July 6, 1925, and, shortly thereafter, posed for a series of photographs taken by Arnold Genthe that appeared in the magazine Vanity Fair. She arrived in Hollywood on September 10, 1925, and soon became one of MGM's most popular and lucrative silent movie stars. In 1926, her first American film, The Torrent, was released, followed by The Temptress in 1927. In both films she was cast in extremely “sexy” parts. In 1927, she co-starred with John Gilbert in the popular movie Flesh and the Devil. The actors' on-screen chemistry led to a very public offscreen romantic relationship. The publicity surrounding their relationship was in harsh contrast to Garbo's normally very private personal life. Throughout the remaining years of the 1920s, she continued to star in box-office successes, including Love (1927), The Divine Woman (1928), The Mysterious Lady (1928), A Woman of Affairs (1928), Wild Orchids (1929), A Man's Man (1929) and The Single Standard (1929). In 1929, she portrayed Madame Irene Guarry in her last silent movie, The Kiss. This was also the last silent movie produced by MGM.

In 1930, MGM released Garbo's first sound movie, Anna Christie. Its success inspired MGM to release a second, German-language version. Garbo had demonstrated that she could successfully transition from silent films to talking movies. Throughout the 1930s, she maintained her status as one of Hollywood's most glamorous movie stars. In 1931, she starred with Clark Gable in the box-office hit Susan Lennox: Her Fall and Rise. In 1932, she starred in three commercially successful movies: Mata Hari, Grand Hotel, and As You Desire Me. During the latter part of the decade, Garbo starred in several additional popular movies including Queen Christina (1933), The Painted Veil (1934), Anna Karenina (1935), Camille (1937), Conquest (1937), and Ninotchka (1939). In 1941, she starred in what would be her last movie role, Two-Faced Woman. Unfortunately, this film would be her only box-office failure.

During her career, Garbo appeared in 11 silent movies and 15 talking movies. She also became the highest-paid actress in Hollywood during the 1930s. Today, Garbo remains a legend in American cinematic history. She died in a New York hospital on April 15, 1990.

Greta Garbo embodied romance and mystery in the silent era and the 1930s, playing tragic heroines such as Anna Karenina and Camille. (The Illustrated London News Picture Library)

References
  • Paris, Barry. Garbo. University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis, 2002.
  • Vieira, Mark A. Greta Garbo: A Cinematic Legacy. Harry N. Abrams New York, 2005.
  • Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Golden Girls of MGM: Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, and Others. Carroll & Graf New York, 2003.
  • Heiney, Bernadette Zbicki
    Copyright 2011 by ABC-CLIO, LLC

    Related Credo Articles

    Full text Article Garbo, Greta (1905 Stockholm, Sweden-1990 New York City)
    Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films: 1895-1930, An

    Courtesy of Silents Are Golden at< SilentsAreGolden.com > The actor later idolized by Hitler and called simply “The Face”...

    Full text Article Garbo, Greta (Greta Lovisa Gustafsson) (1905-90)
    Chambers Film Factfinder

    Swedish, born in Stockholm. A shop assistant and model, she won a bathing beauty contest and studied at the Royal Dramatic Theatre before making...

    Full text Article Garbo, Greta (1905 - 1990)
    Bloomsbury Biographical Dictionary of Quotations

    I want to be alone. Words spoken by Garbo in the film Grand Hotel , and associated with her for the rest of her...

    See more from Credo