Famous Single - Greta Garbo
Garbo, the Setter of Trends
Did you know that it was Greta Garbo, the Hollywood screen legend of the twenties and thirties who set the trend for false eyelashes with her own original ones? Those extraordinarily long lashes cast alluring shadows on her luminous cheeks in scenes that have haunted moviegoers ever since her self imposed exile from the public scene in 1941.
Not just eyelashes, this enigmatic single woman also affected the fashion in hair, hats and sunglasses and inspired teenagers and even women in their twenties and thirties to don a light make up base from Max Factor, Silver Stone No.2 that had a touch of silver in it. It is partly why Garbo lights up the screen and oozes a luminescence that adds much to her legendary charisma.
The `Scandinavian Sphinx’
Much has been written about Garbo’s reticence in her rare interviews and her need for recognition that was constantly at war with her need for privacy. At one party, a columnist said
Garbo was charming and delightful to talk to till she discovered who she was talking to, and then she literally ran out the door, hat in hand. The press called her the `Scandinavian Sphinx’.
Garbo’s fear of publicity was undoubtedly fueled by the concept of `Jantelagen’, which is steeped in Swedish folklore and superstition. Swedish children from a very early age absorb
this generations-honoured code of social behaviour that advises humility and restraint.
Any glimmers of vanity and the attitude that one is superior to others is strongly discouraged. “In my country,” said Garbo, “the papers talk about the King and Queen and the royalty and otherwise about bad people. I do not want to have things printed about me because I am not one of any of these people.”She left Hollywood at the height of her fame.
The Lather Girl turns into a Star
Greta Garbo was born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson on September 18, 1905 in Stockholm to poor parents. She went to work at age 14,first as a lather girl in a barbershop, then as a clerk in a department storeand as a model. She took on several promotional roles in and won a scholarship to the Royal Dramatic Theatre training school in Stockholm. It was here that she was discovered by one of Sweden’s great directors, Maurice Stiller. Inall, Garbo did 27 films, two in Sweden,one in Germany and the restin Hollywood.
She was at her most seductive playing the World War 1 spy, Mata Hari and was in fact, mostly cast in the role of the femme fatale. I have watched Garbo in Mata Hari and have been mesmerised by the way she played this cold,cruel and at the same time, kind goddess.For goddess she is in the film, with her class, her clothes (said to betoo revealing at the time, but aren’t really, looking at them in the context oftoday’s style!) her power over men, her low rich voice, her utter beauty and serenity.
My favourite scene in the film is the one where she lights the lamp of the Madonna that she seduces her devout lover to put out in an earlier scene. “You do love me don’t you?” she asks, poisedin that famous supine pose. When heanswers that he loves her more than honour and his country, and would doanything for her, she commands him to extinguish the lamp that is alwaysburning. Her smile when she finallylights the lamp herself seems to say: “Here is your light. I won anyway, didn’t I?”
Although Garbo never won anAcademy Award, in 1935 the New York Times named her as best actress for herlead role in Anna Karenina. In 1954 the Academy however, did award her for her ‘unforgettable screen performances’.
Garbo’s One and only Romance
The one romance attributed to Garbo is her undeniable attraction to actor John Gilbert. In ‘Queen Christina’, she had Laurence Olivier fired and had him replaced with Gilbert. But Garbo never married and in1941, at the age of 36, after the flop of ‘Two Faced Woman’, she retired to asecluded life in New York. She died on April 15, 1990, but her legendary luminescence lives on in the eyes and hearts of those she left behind.