Greta Garbo

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Greta Garbo : biography

18 September 1905 – 15 April 1990

A premiere of “Saga of Gosta Berling” took place in spring of 1924, and press showered Greta with compliments for her “eternal femininity”, “mysteriousness” and “naturalness”. On the tide of this success Stiller persuaded a classic of German cinema Georg Pabst to shoot a charming debutante in a film “The Joyless Street”. That’s how Greta appeared on the legendary Berlin studio UFA and found herself on the one shooting area with a European star Asta Nielsen. Greta was likely to climb the Olympus of European cinema, but the fate made other arrangements.

According to speculations, Mauritz Stiller wasn’t interested in women. But even if that was true, he obviously had more than friendly feelings for her Galatea. He carried out Greta’s business, introduced her to all his friends, and when Hollywood made him a flattering offer, he didn’t leave the actress in Stockholm. Under his pressure administration of a studio “Metro-Goldwyn Mayer” made a contract not only with him, but also with Greta Garbo, and in 1925 the director kook her to USA.

This contract wasn’t fruitful for Stiller. Even at that time masters of European cinema, who moved to Hollywood, had to build their career from the start. It also happened to a Swaden director – nobody allowed him to work independently, he was imposed to make certain films with certain actors. And Greta on closer examination didn’t impress a head of the studio Louis Mayer. He considered her clumsy and too plump, and local journalists even called her “a peasant woman”. It was chance again that helped her, and it happened very quickly – that year shooting of a film “Torrent” started, and Greta played in as an urgent substitution of an actress, who had fallen ill.

“Torrent” appeared in 1926, and the role of Leonora Moreno immediately brought Greta Garbo viewers’ love made her famous as the most beautiful Hollywood actress. There was no question of her clumsiness any more: astonished Americans saw a fatal vamp woman, a queen of men’s hearts and a possessor of passionate heart. But Stiller’s business became worse and worse – all the films that he shot practically failed in distribution. The second film with Greta Garbo was made by Stiller, but was finished by another director – Fred Niblo. The film’s name was “The Temptress” and it appeared in 1926. After it Garbo’s dramatic type never changed – she always was “a fatal woman” of Hollywood cinema.

Naturally, beauty and fame attracted men’s attention, but among great number of enamoured admirers Greta chose the worst alternative – John Gilbert, a famous at that time actor and not less famous playboy. They met on a shooting area – Garbo and Gilbert played the main roles in Clarence Brown’s film “Flesh and the devil” (1027). The love, which was played in the film, became a passionate love affair in reality, and it was the last straw for Maurice Stiller. He as it was understood, that he prevented the studio to have his Galatea, but when he knew about Gilbert, he was practically mad with jealousy. Attempts to talk to Greta finished with a great brawl, and it played into studio’s hands – it was a very good reason to fire Stiller. He returned to Sweden, and in November of the next year died at the age of forty five years.

His death was a real tragedy for Greta. She wasn’t allowed to go to his funeral. According to the legend, the actress was driven into despair and didn’t appear at their wedding with Gilbert because of it. John waited for her bride at the altar, and when she didn’t come, John also gave way to despair, and a poor joke of Louis Mayer, his boss and organizer of a splendid ceremony, brought him into the state of fury, and he punched him in a jaw. This incident damaged Gilbert’s career forever: all his roles after that were outright disadvantageous.

Greta didn’t like the atmosphere, that reigned on the MGM studio, because she had a very independent character: but actors weren’t allowed to have their own opinion and should obey leader. But a life of marionette didn’t suit Greta, and in 1927 – she was only twenty two years old – she demanded to increase her honorarium. This demand was absolutely well-grounded: Garbo, who played main roles as Gilbert, had only six hundred dollars a week, and Gilbert had ten thousand dollars. Greta asked for five thousand and Mayer refused, and then the actress pronounced a famous phrase about her returning home. She confirmed her words with deeds: she didn’t appear on shootings, what promised great losses for the studio. They had to give in – and soon Greta Garbo became one of the most well-paid Hollywood stars. She always used that phrase that she was going to return home, when she needed something – and always got what she needed.