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Garbo, Gish and I

Updated on January 11, 2014

How I Obtained the Autograph of One of the Most Elusive Celebrities of All Time!

During a brilliant film career, Greta Garbo became a recluse, much like Howard Hughes, and she even refused to pick up awards she had won. She wanted to be left alone and her actions backed up her words.

From the time I was a teenager, I have been collecting autographs. In the 1980s, I did it as a competition with a friend who lived nearby. We wrote to famous celebrities and hoped to get responses.

We knew that one of the most cherished and sought after autograph was of Greta Garbo. So how does Lillian Gish tie into this story? Read on to find out.

Included are not only my stories of autograph collecting, I have interwoven some facts, trivia and fun relating to these famous actresses and also some tips about writing to celebrities for their autographs.

To get the full effect of this site, please click on the Greta Garbo Soundtrack Video below while you browse.

Thanks for the visit and I hope you enjoy my story!

Creative Commons Photo Credit

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

Greta Garbo

purple star
purple star

Soundtrack to Listen to While Browsing - Beautiful Images of Greta Garbo

The Reclusive Life of Greta Garbo

Greta Lovisa Gustafson who was born in 1905, never asked to be a movie star. She was born in Stockholm, Sweden and raised in a slum neighborhood. She was discovered, while shopping and was coaxed into becoming a movie star and was re-named Greta Garbo.

Garbo became an iconic movie star and mesmerized the American crowd but despite all the glamour and glitz of a Hollywood life, she really wanted to be alone. She avidly avoided the press and in one rare interview, she said that she could better express herself through her acting roles, than to reporters.

In 1941, she declared that she wanted a temporary retirement but that retirement lasted until she died in 1990, living a reclusive lifestyle in a New York apartment. She became a US Citizen in 1950 and was photographed in one of the few photos seen since her movies. If she was photographed outdoors, she would be seen in sunglasses and usually with scarves or hats covering her up.

She never married, never had children and did not live with anyone. She shunned autograph seekers, did not answer letters and also did not accept any awards, even a 1955 honorary Oscar.

She died alone in 1990 and is buried in Stockholm Sweden.

Birthplace of Greta Garbo - Blekingegatan 32, Södermalm, Stockholm, Sweden

Garbo birthplace
Garbo birthplace

Garbo...Through the Mail!

In the 1980s, I collected hundreds of autographs from famous celebrities, most through the mail. I never expected to receive a Greta Garbo autograph. I had heard so much about her famous signature that I had a desire to acquire one. Garbo was so enchanting in her motion pictures and the mysterious stories that circulated about her and her secret life made her autograph even more desirable to me.

I had tried on several occasions to obtain her signature through the mail, not unlike the thousands of Garbo fans throughout the century. I had heard that she never signed anything for anyone but I was determined to get the autograph, no matter what. A friend and I always competed in trying to get her to answer. We we got our mail, usually only minutes apart, we would kid about getting a "Garbo" knowing that it was virtually impossible. On one occasion, I even remember sending a certified letter to her knowing that she had to sign for it. Whether or not she answered my letter, I would still get her signature on the post office card. She never obliged my requests.

I decided to try another method. Since she obviously wouldn't sign for fans, through the years, she must have had contact with other stars of her era. I wrote to Bette Davis and asked for an old letter or something that Greta had written to her. The only thing I received was an autographed photo of Ms. Davis. I don't want to minimize that photo though, it was quite an addition to my collection and I still have it.

But since I collect autographs of others as well and did not only pursue the elusive Miss Garbo, my writing letters to others continued. One day I sent an old playbill to an actress that I admired, Lillian Gish with a self-addressed-stamped-envelope in the hopes to get it signed. I was saddened when my envelope was returned to me, empty. I immediately wrote a letter to Miss Gish again, asking what happened to my playbill. I received a letter back with an answer stating that she had probably sent it to another fan by mistake and that she would make it up to me somehow. She asked me to send her the value of the playbill and she would reimburse me. I wrote her, notifying her of the playbill's money but instead, of money, I would much rather have something that meant more to me, something that no one else had. I suggested that since she knew Greta Garbo, she could send me her autograph on an old letter or something else she had signed.

I received another reply from Miss Gish who stated that she would send me a copy of one of her books, the money, or try to locate another old playbill. She mentioned nothing of the Garbo signature. I wrote to her again and stated that she could send whatever she wanted but I reiterated that I would really love Garbo's autograph.

I completely forgot about the request. Several weeks later, I opened a letter and the first thing I noticed was a slip of paper signed "Greta Garb." The letter accompanying it from Miss Gish said that she had not heard from Garbo from years and that she doubted I would ever hear from her either. She said the autograph had been in her files for years and she didn't know why. She stated that she would still continue to look for a playbill.

My suspicion is that she felt so bad about losing my item that she got in touch with Greta and had her sign an autograph for me.

I sent a copy to Herman Darvick, the President of the Universal Autograph Collector's Club at the time and he authenticated it. Her autograph was worth about $800 when she was alive and she passed away in 1990.

I suggest that you should never give up on an autograph. If you want it bad enough, you will be rewarded for your efforts!

Letter Lillian Gish Sent to Me in Response to My Letter Telling Her the Envelope Was Empty

Letter Lillian Gish Sent to Me in Response to My Letter Telling Her the Envelope Was Empty
Letter Lillian Gish Sent to Me in Response to My Letter Telling Her the Envelope Was Empty

Letter in Which Lillian Gish Offered to Reimburse Me for Her Mistake

Letter in Which Lillian Gish Offered to Reimburse Me for Her Mistake
Letter in Which Lillian Gish Offered to Reimburse Me for Her Mistake

Lilian Gish Letter That Came With Autograph She Sent to Me

Lilian Gish Letter That Came With Autograph She Sent to Me
Lilian Gish Letter That Came With Autograph She Sent to Me

Greta Garbo Autograph Sent to Met by Lilian Gish

Greta Garbo Autograph Sent to Met by Lilian Gish
Greta Garbo Autograph Sent to Met by Lilian Gish

Ponderings of Greta

Ponderings of Greta
Ponderings of Greta

Garbo Talks - 1984 - Starring Ann Bancroft - Very funny movie! Highly Recommended

Garbo Talks
Garbo Talks

I originally this movie about the same time I received Greta Garbo's autograph from Lillian Gish. While it seemed like a "Chick Flick," I still wanted to see it. I wasn't disappointed. It was very funny and timely for me. While it has some great acting, the story holds it together. It about a young man who is trying to get to Garbo so his mother can meet her; his Mother's dying wish. I don't think this is available on Netflix so please do yourself a favor and watch it. It is very moving and much better than I ever expected it to be.


"Garbo Talks" Movie Preview

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

Greta Garbo

Greta Meatballs
Greta Meatballs

I am not sure if Greta made these or not but it is as good a guess as any! I would have to New York to interview the residents above her to see if the smell wafted through the cracks of the 7th floor ceiling.

Creative Commons Photo Credit

  • Prep time: 20 min
  • Cook time: 20 min
  • Ready in: 40 min
  • Yields: 4


  • (1) Onion
  • (1) Tablespoon Butter
  • (1) Pound of mixed ground meat. Preferably beef and veal for the best taste
  • (1) Egg
  • (2 1/2) Cups bread crumbs
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • (1) Cup Milk
  • (1/2) Bunch of parsley
  • (2) Tablespoons butter or lard


  1. 1. Peel and chop the onion. Melt the (1) tablespoon butter in a pan and saute the onion
  2. 2. Thoroughly combine the meat with the egg and breadcrumbs, then mix in the onion
  3. 3. Season the meat mixture with salt and pepper and knead to a smooth mass. Add enough milk to keep it supple
  4. 4. Finely chop the parsley and stir it into the meat mixture. With your hands damp, form small balls from the mass
  5. 5. Heat the 2 tablespoons of butter or lard in a pan and brown the meatballs on all sides.
  6. Serve with rice or make Meatball Kebabs by using skewer sticks and alternating meatballs, cooked potatoes, onions and peppers.
Cast your vote for Greta Garbo Swedish Meatballs

What is a "Recluse?"

Recluse: a person who leads a secluded or solitary life

Word first used in the 13th Century

Citation - Merriam Webster

Famous Recluses in History

  1. Greta Garbo (1905-1990) Actress

  2. Howard Hughes (1905-1976) Entrepreneur

  3. Doris Day - Animal Rights Activist, Actress

  4. Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) Poet

  5. Bobby Fischer (1943-2008) Chess Player

  6. Lauryn Hill - Television Actress, Songwriter, Singer

  7. Harper Lee - Author

  8. Bettie Page (1923-2008) Pin-Up Model

  9. Brian Wilson- Songwriter, Singer (Beach Boys)

Greta Garbo in a Happier Moment - 1924

Greta Garbo in a Happier Moment - 1924
Greta Garbo in a Happier Moment - 1924

Ninotchka - 1939 - Starring Greta Garbo - Some say one of the best films of all time!


This movie was originally entitled "Garbo Laughs" and is Garbo's only comedy. I originally watched it one Sunday afternoon on cable when I was bored. If you like light Soviet-style comedy, this is for you. Three Communists travel with the crown jewels in an attempt to buy tractors for their country. It is pretty wacky but very funny. Amazon has this video and and as Ferris Bueller would say, "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."


"Ninotchka" Movie Trailer

"'If only those who dream about Hollywood knew how difficult it all is."

Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo - Filling Out Citizenship Papers - 1950

Greta Garbo - Filling Out Citizenship Papers - 1950
Greta Garbo - Filling Out Citizenship Papers - 1950

Greta Garbo at the End of the Path, Still Alone - Stockholm, Sweden

Greta Garbo at the End of the Path, Still Alone - Stockholm, Sweden
Greta Garbo at the End of the Path, Still Alone - Stockholm, Sweden

Lillian Gish in Her New York Apartment - 1973

Lilian Gish
Lilian Gish

A Lillian Gish Montage Set to Beautiful Music - John Pachabel - Canon in D Major

The Life of Lillian Gish

Lillian Diana de Guiche was born in 1893 in Springfield, Ohio. She had an older sister and her father was an alcoholic. She, her sister Dorothy and her Mother had to look for work because of their poor lifestyle. They all tried acting and until Lillian was 19, she starred with her sister in many stage productions. In 1912, she was discovered by famed Director D.W. Griffith. She made a total of 37 films in three years and in her 75 year career, she was like no other.

Her most famous film was 1915's "Birth of a Nation." She zoomed to the top of stardom with the nickname of "The First Lady of the Silver Screen." She was as regarded as Mary Pickford, who was known as "America's Sweetheart."

Unlike Greta Garbo, Gish did not thrive with the advent of "talkies" and starred in less movies. She was in a lot of talking pictures, however, and proved that she could still act with the best of them.

In 1987, she starred in "The Whales of August" and she garnered fans that did not know she even existed before then.

She died at age 99 in New York City in 1993.

Birthplace of Lillian Gish - 621 Linden Avenue,. Springfield, Ohio

Gish birthplace
Gish birthplace

Lillian Gish - 1915

Lillian Gish - 1915
Lillian Gish - 1915

The Birth of a Nation - 1915 Silent Film - Starring Lilian Gish

Birth of a Nation Silent
Birth of a Nation Silent

I know, this is a silent film. Not normally my forte but it is such a significant part of our history, I watched it anyway. I was surprised. It is a pretty one-sided view of the Civil War and the “Cause” of the South. This is a good film to show that HUGE stereotypes and perceptions of other races existed in Hollywood and that prejudice was rampant not that long ago. A must see for Civil War buffs and others interested in American, Civil War or Film History. Oh, and Lillian Gish is at her best in this one.


"The Birth of a Nation" Movie Trailer

Lillian Gish - 1921

Lillian Gish - 1921
Lillian Gish - 1921

Dorothy & Lillian Gish with Famed Director D.W. Griffith - March 27, 1922

Dorothy & Lillian Gish with Famed Director D.W. Griffith - March 27, 1922
Dorothy & Lillian Gish with Famed Director D.W. Griffith - March 27, 1922

Duel in the Sun - 1946- Starring Lilian Gish - Nominated for Best Supporting Actress

Duel in the Sun
Duel in the Sun

This is a later film that starred Lillian Gish. Since David O. Selznick did Gone With the Wind, this was a further attempt to produce another mega-epic film. Surprisingly, this did not get very good ratings and was seen by those who liked lusty films, the predecessors of modern-day soap operas. Despite the fact that it was not a huge box office draw, I enjoyed it. It is jam packed with huge Hollywood stars, including Gish. I recommend it!


"Duel in the Sun" Movie Trailer

Lillian Gish Loved Beans

We have heard that Lillian loved a good plate of beans. No doubt, these came from the New York Bean Company. Do you think that's true or am I just full of gas?

Lillian Gish in Paris - 1983

Lillian Gish in Paris - 1983
Lillian Gish in Paris - 1983

Similarities of Greta Garbo and Lillian Gish

Despite their many differences, there were several surprising parallel similarities in the lives of Greta Garbo and Lillian Gish.

  1. Both were born into poor families

  2. Both had their names changed to enter show business

  3. Both were discovered by a Movie Director

  4. Both started in Silent Films and moved into Talkies

  5. Both lived in New York City, not far from each other

  6. Both lived in Apartments

  7. Neither married

  8. Both lived alone

  9. Neither had any children

  10. Both died in New York City

Home Addresses of Greta Garbo and Lillian Gish in New York City - At the time of their death

show route and directions
A marker7 Room Apartment of Greta Garbo -
450 East 52nd Street, New York, NY
get directions

B markerApartment of Lillian Gish -
430 East 57th St, New York, NY
get directions

"New York" by Frank Sinatra - Click "Play" and Browse While You Listen

How Do I write to a Celebrity to Get Their Autograph?

Autograph collecting is fun and can be profitable. I used to write a lot of celebrities for autographs but since I have thousands and since I have gotten older, I do not write as often. I have collected some of my favorite tips for those that want to write to celebrities and collect autographs. You can either be a newbie in the field or a seasoned collector as these are the things that I have found to be most useful.

Use valid home addresses. There are numerous sources and I will list some on this site. If you write to studios, film companies or agents, your letter will most likely never reach the celebrity.

Always send a self-addressed-stamped envelope (S.A.S.E.). While many celebrities return these back to you and send something to you in their own envelope, some people don't have the budget for postage or photos and will either write back to you on their own letterhead. Some will actually write on your letter, the back or under where you have written.

I don't recommend sending material to sign or you may never get it back. Unless you have written to that celebrity and had a very positive track record of responses, you are taking a chance. I had a friend who sent the same "cast" photo to several and each signed and returned, only to have the last one not return the item. What a loss that was!

Make your letters personal & ask questions. If the celebrity sees that you have an interest in them, they may write a letter in return. In the autograph collecting world (if you are doing this for value of the piece), a typed letter signed (TLS) is worth more than just an autograph, while a handwritten letter (LS) by a celebrity is worth even more. When content is good, the value can also increase.

Don't ask controversial questions. If you do this, you will probably not get a response.

Use handwritten letters and not typed. Celebrities know that you can pump out thousands of letters in a short period of time by just changing the address and name. They respond more favorably to hand-written letters. This shows that you took the time to write and actually care about them.

You can use a template if you would like and then change the body and write out many in one shot. I used to try to write 10 or so every time I wrote.

Don't expect everyone to write back. Some just don't like to give autographs and some never get their mail.

Know that some of the items will have "pre-printed" or form letters. You can tell if the signature or ink is real if you hold it up to the light. There is a difference when someone actually puts ink on an item. If a letter comes to you and says, "Dear Fan," it is not personalized and the same letter is used to send to many people.

Know that some of the items that you receive back will be signed or responded to by a secretary or partner. If that is the case and you really want to know for sure, there are authentication services out there. It will raise the value if you get an item authenticated but you will be throwing money away if it is not.

If you get a pre-printed or secretarial, it doesn't hurt to write that celebrity at another address, if you have one. Sometimes, they will have people answer their mail at certain addresses but will answer their mail at another.

BE PATIENT - Some celebrities may take a long time to answer. This could be due to them being on the set and/or busy. Some set times aside during the year, month or day to answer. I have received autographs back almost a year later after you write so be sure to use your change of address forms if you move!

This hobby can be quite fun and getting your mail can be like Christmas. If you want a better chance, write your politicians, including your Senators. Who knows who may be President someday? Also, you can write to your favorite sports player in care of their team. They usually respond in some way.

If you don't like to write, watch for celebrity sightings and go meet them in person...and be sure to take photos to prove you were there. I have had in-person autographs that were deemed fake, even though they were obtained in person.

Please feel to email me for any tips or questions and happy collecting!

Have You Ever Written To a Celebrity for Their Autograph?

Writing for an autograph
Writing for an autograph

Have you ever written to a celebrity for their autograph? If so, please write your experience in the comments

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Asking For an Autograph in Person - Have you ever tried?

Gary Cooper signing an autograph
Gary Cooper signing an autograph

Have you ever asked a celebrity for an autograph in person? If so, please add your comment about the experience.

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    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      @CoeGurl: Very interesting. Did you write to Pickford or Fairbanks? I think Mary Pickford was probably the most popular Flapper.

    • CoeGurl profile image

      CoeGurl 5 years ago from USA

      Marvelous lens! I love the early cinema stars. Your personal story of contact with a Hollywood legend is fascinating. I have had contact with a Hollywood legend as well -- Pickfair, home of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.

    • cinefile profile image

      cinefile 5 years ago

      What a truly excellent lens. Congratulations on both the lens and the autograph.

    • jeffersonline profile image

      jeffersonline 5 years ago

      Great lens about a truly beautiful woman. Better go in case I get in trouble at home!

    • danniblaze profile image

      danniblaze 5 years ago

      Great lens I enjoyed reading it. I really want to get some celebrity autographs, I can only think of Stephen King at the moment. Well worth the purple star.

    • ReviewsfromSandy profile image

      Sandy Mertens 5 years ago from Wisconsin

      Well worth the purple star. Such a classic.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Love this stuff, it's one of my favorite past times. I watch old black and white movies often. You can't do better then the oldies. My favorite is "It's A Wonderful Life"

    • kindoak profile image

      kindoak 5 years ago

      Nice to see Greta represented. I actually pass by Garbo's grave once in a while when taking a walk here in Skogskyrkogården in Stockholm.

    • rachelscott profile image

      rachelscott 5 years ago

      So nice lens i appreciate you.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      Such an interesting story about how you have collected celebrity autographs during the years, it is a fascinating idea. I learned some new things about Greta Garbo and Lillian Gish and how they were similar in some ways.

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 5 years ago

      Loved your story and thanks for sharing with us. Congrats on your purple star.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Congratulations on receiving your purple star

    • profile image

      JZinoBodyArt 5 years ago

      Great story! I have never thought to write celebrities for autographs, it's just too intimidating. I have, however, acquired Steven Tyler's autograph. There's a bit of a story to that one. :)

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 5 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      Sounds like you have quite a collection. I've never collected autographs but I can see how it could become addictive. I enjoyed reading it and listening to the videos you selected. Congratulations on your well deserved purple star and sharing the front page with me. Angel blessing.

    • profile image

      RuralFloridaLiving 5 years ago

      I really loved these actresses. It's been awhile since I've even heard their names. Thanks for the really great lens.

    • amkatee profile image

      amkatee 5 years ago

      I love this. My mom forced me to watch old Black and White movies growing up, and now I'm so glad she did!!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      Loved your story ... Lillian Gish was a classy lady. I live in Los Angeles and see celebrities out shopping, etc. I would never ask for an autograph in public, but have received them while working on projects. I hear that Roseanne Barr often writes checks to merchants because they are seldom cashed. People would rather have her autograph.

    • Blonde Blythe profile image

      Blonde Blythe 5 years ago from U.S.A.

      Wonderful lens! Glad you finally got that autograph! :)

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 5 years ago

      Your search for Garbo's signature was resilient. Well deserved autograph. I love the lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Exquisitely done with every possible delight..I got a chill with the soundtrack playing and I am not ready for some of those famous meatballs! Dongratulations on front page honors and that very well deserved purple star!

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      What a great story. Love the correspondence with Ms. Gish.

    • wrapitup4me profile image

      wrapitup4me 5 years ago

      I love this story about the Garbo signature. Collecting autographs sounds like fun. I agree with Karen1960 that it is good to see Gish having been quite sensitive to care about having lost your programme.

    • MelonyVaughan profile image

      MelonyVaughan 5 years ago

      A truly fascinating lens - thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Karen1960 5 years ago

      Very impressed with your Garbo 'coup', also with Lilian Gish's graciousness and obvious remorse - I'm sure there are 'celebrities' out there who wouldn't have given your lost programme another thought.