Greta Garbo is arguably the most iconic actress of Hollywood's "Golden Age," bringing an unprecedented sensuality to the screen that bridged both silent and talkie eras. Born September 18th, 1905, in Stockholm Sweden, she was the youngest of three children to Anna Lovisa and Karl Alfred Gustafsson. The family moved to Hogsby not long after Greta's birth, where her father took odd jobs, wherever he could find them. They lived in a lower-middle or working class neighborhood, in a cold-water flat, where the atmosphere was grim at best. The circumstances lead Greta to daydream, temporarily removing her from the depression she saw around her. She was particularly close to her father, who in 1919 was struck by the Spanish flu epidemic in Sweden. At 13, Greta dropped out of school and cared for her sick father. He passed away one year later.
After her father's death, Greta did not return to school (a decision she later regretted, but one that was not unusual in working class communities). She took a job in a barbershop, lathering soap before a shave. Tired of this position, she then sought employment at a Swedish department store called PUB, where she joined the millinary department assisting hat makers. Greta began modeling the hats for the designers and soon was featured in publications and ads for the department store as a whole. Her appearances in these ads caught the attention of director Erik Arthur Petschler, who cast Greta in his film Peter and the Tramp (1922).
Subsequently, Greta was accepted to the Toyal Dramatic Theatre Acting School in Stockholm, where she studied for two years. Swedish director, Mauritz Stiller, was impressed by Greta's talent and suggested her to a Swedish friend at MGM by the name of Victor Seastrom. Seastrom was equally impressed with her look and talent and called Greta in for a meeting. In July 1925, Greta arrived in Hollywood, where she met Seastrom and immediately began acting in silent films. She completed over 8 silent films and became an immediate superstar.
Garbo was one of very few silent film stars who successfully manovered the path to "talkies." Her first sound film was Anna Cristie (1930), whose advertising campaign featured the slogan "Garbo Talks!" The film was the highest grossing of the year and garnered Garbo her first Academy Award nomination.
Garbo continued to appear in successful films until her late 40s. Her films were critically accalimed and financially successful. She earned four Academy Award nominations in her career and a lifetime achievement award in 1954.
Garbo despised the notoriety and fame that accompanied movie-stardom. She seldom took press interviews, signed autographs, or appeared in photographs. She is famously linked to the phrase: "I want to be alone," but strongly denied saying it. Although Garbo had the reputation of beign a recluse, she was not. The phrase "I want to be alone" was probably "I want to be let alone," referring to the intrusive media. In her retirement, she traveled alone and with friends, spent time at her Manhattan apartment, and went on daily walks throughout the city. In 1951 she became a US citizen.
Garbo never married, never had children, and always lived alone. Although she did have few Hollywood affairs, she was always careful to keep them private and out of public attention. Many speculators have suggested she was a lesbian or bisexual, having affairs with both men and women. She died in 1990 at the age of 84 of pneumonia and renal failure. She had successfully overcome breast cancer 6 years earlier. The entirety of her $20M estate was left to her niece, Gray Reisfield.
Greta Garbo maintained an aire of mystery throughout her life, most of which was strutinized in the public eye. This may be in part to her haunting beauty, quiet talent, or private lifestyle, but never undermines her overwhelming legacy that will remain undisputed.