- NAME: Greta Garbo
- OCCUPATION: Actress, Pin-up
- BIRTH DATE: September 18, 1905
- DEATH DATE: April 15, 1990
- EDUCATION: Royal Dramatic Theater
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Stockholm, Sweden
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
- AKA: Greta Gustafsson
- Full Name: Greta Lovisa Garbo
- Originally: Greta Lovisa Gustafson
- Nickname: The Mona Lisa of the 20th Century
- AKA: Greta Garbo
Best Known For
Greta Garbo is best known for her acting career, in both silent and talking films before World War II.
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But the planned Garbo-Stiller partnership in Hollywood never materialized. Stiller wasn't hired to direct The Torrent, and after a subsequent blow-up with MGM executives he bolted for Paramount where he again encountered problems with his bosses. He returned to Sweden in 1928 and died a year later.
Garbo, however, proved to be an immediate star. Her next two films, The Temptress (1926) and Flesh and the Devil (1926),
were both hits and made the actress an international star.
For MGM, Garbo was their biggest asset. Her first three films amounted to 13 percent of the company's profits from 1925-26. Garbo, ever mindful of the financial difficulties she'd grown up with, knew she had leverage. After a contract dispute with MGM, Garbo, who'd threatened to return to Sweden, landed a new contract that paid her a record $270,000 per movie and gave her unprecedented control over her roles and the films she starred in.
In so many ways Garbo represented a new kind of Hollywood actress, one whose vulnerabilities, sexuality, passion and mystery swirled together to entice both male and female audiences. In addition, her style changed the course of American fashion, while her reclusiveness (she gave her last American interview in 1927) only fueled the public's fascination with her.
The advent of sound presented a predicament for MGM. The future of films was clear, but there was real hesitancy to let audiences hear Garbo speak. Executives worried her star power would be diminished by her accent and low, throaty voice.
Finally, MGM relented and in 1930 Garbo made her debut in sound in a film adaption of Eugene O'Neill's, Anna Christie. Despite MGM's concerns, Garbo's star did not fade. In 1931, she teamed up with Clark Gable in Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise, then co-starred with Melvyn Douglas in 1932's As You Desire Me. That same year she was part of an all-star cast that included John and Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford and Wallace Beery in Grand Hotel. The film won a 1932 Academy Award for Best Picture.
In 1933, Garbo took on her perhaps most ambitious role as a fictional Swedish monarch in Queen Christina. Other films followed, such as Anna Karenina (1935), Camille (1936) and Conquest (1937).
In the late 1930s, however, Garbo's box office appeal began to diminish. With America in the midst of The Depression, the actress' cosmopolitan style didn't resonate with audiences like it once had. Europe, meanwhile, where she had enjoyed incredible success, the continent was heading to war.
In an effort to remake herself, Garbo was cast in a pair of comedies, Ninotchka (1939) and Two Faced Woman (1941), neither of which matched her previous successes. After another contract dispute with MGM, Garbo retired from acting.
Away from the glare of Hollywood, Garbo retreated to a world she let few enter into. While she had several romantic partners, including, it seems, at least one woman, she never married.
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Explore our collection of famous recluses, including Howard Hughes, Greta Garbo, Bettie Page, Bobby Fischer, Lauryn Hill, Doris Day, Harper Lee, Emily Dickinson, Brian Wilson, Dave Chappelle and J.D. Salinger. See our picks, along with full biographies, photo galleries and videos, only on Biography.com.
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In the early years of motion pictures, actors were recruited from the stage, resulting in larger-than-life performances that seemed jarring when blown up to the size of a movie screen. As the years went on, actors began to understand the subtleties of the medium, and used more natural expressions to connect with their audiences. They became movie stars, known for their glamorous looks and identifiable personalities. As Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard would say, they didn't need dialogue, they had faces.
Silent Screen Stars 16 people in this group
Honorary Oscar Recipients 81 people in this group