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Greta Garbo Breaks Her Silence
by Helen Starr

*** Orginally by ***

"Darling, are you happy?" In those beautiful Palisades gardens near the sea at Santa Monica mothers hold tightly to small dimpled hands and smile into round, eager faces. "Darling, are you happy?" they ask, again and again. Greta Garbo walks there, too. And this simple nursery question has made a profound impression on the foreign star. The intense interest American mothers taken in the happiness of their children is something new to Greta. She may be a sophisticate of a high order in her screen characterizations. To many studio associates she is a complete enigma - to others a fascinating mystery and to some an individual of hopelessly negative personality.

But there is something more. Just a chance revelation of the heart of the real Greta Garbo which gives indication of the unfolding of a most interesting future. As a screen seducer by day, she might well be supposed to follow De Millish ideas of night life when astute bankers, pillars of professional life and industrial chiefs are supposed to throw off the fetters of Godliness and float about in gondolas to sip champagne and flint confetti at ladies with no backs in their dresses. But Greta Garbo is not one of the ladies of any mad whirl. The first day she arrived at the station in Los Angeles two and one half years ago she modestly asked the people from the studio who came to meet her for "a small room in a private family."

And Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer officials had engaged a luxurious suite at the Ambassador for her in advance! But the big hotel did not hold her long. She soon found a quiet, restful spot near the sea where she has remained ever since. And she has changed almost none-at-all since she arrived. Which must be qite a personal blow to Hollywood, North America - the village supposed to radically affect all newcomers as to temperament, inclinations, mode of living and social contacts. A foreigner who is not affected is an individual indeed! The Change Everything Club would have molded her long ago if they could. If they had caught the young Greta as an immigrant child from Scandinavia, they would hae taught her to march and spell, swing the flag and clean her teeth with hourly percision. We are so tiresomely businesslike about everything over here! Algebra would have queened it over artistic talent and hustle-bustle would have replaced dreaming.

But her own kid pattern had been cut by the time Greta Garbo passed Ellis Isle, so she escaped conformity and came to us as a highly interesting person. "Be your age," is a slogan that Greta Garbo ignores in that languid slow-sure way of her own. Those sophisticated roles make her appear much older but she is only twenty-one. There is none of the sheep, herd-like quality in the Garbo. (Hollywood has a way of calling its foreign stars by their last names.) American girls of twenty-one all about her may be Flaming Youths Getting Their Man or Their Wild Oat , but none of our ready-cut American samples affect Greta in the slightest.

"Your girls of twenty-one amaze me," says the Swedish star. "They do so much. They go in for athletics of all kinds and dancing, drive their own cars, make their clothes, read all the late plays and books, go to a great many social affairs and are continually taking trips here and there. Or women at home learn to cook and embroider. Some of them take up painting, but that is the extent of our accomplishments. Even our professional women, actresses and singers, do nothing outside their own line of art. Your picture actresses crowd a dozen engagements into each day. I am too tired after my work at the studio. I can do nothing more."

She is always a little tired. At the studio, they whisper that there are many times she cannot understand the English spoken. but when the direct says, " That will be all today, Miss Garbo," she understands with unusual readiness. She seems to look forward to the hour when she can go home and rest. her work is just a little of a tax. She is not strong and her periods of rest are to her a matter of physical necessity as much as a desire for mental seclusion. In her secret soul, she may be sure that the peppiness, the eternal energy and the brutal frankness of our flappers is not carrying them to any big ends after the north of Europe way of thinking. Life is placid, but flows to more deliberate destinies in Sweden. But there is no pose about Greta Garbo.

She would never hold herself up as a critic. She simply desires to be sombre and reflective, quiet and reclusive even if nobody else on earth is living that way. And her studio and her directors very philosophically put it, "Well, if Greta got suddenly robust and became peppy and impulsive, she wouldn't be worth a darn on the screen!" They know that the mature power she showed in The Divine Woman and in Love and other pictures is the force that keeps great crowds of people miling about like cattle in front of box offices. On any studio lot early in the morning you will hear American professionals calling sonorously "Hello, there. How are you this morning?" This bellowing of cheery greetings keeps up until dressing rooms and sets absorb the professional throng. Greta does not bellow riotous "good mornings." Not that she is high hat. The gesture simply isn't natural to her.

She may work in four pictures in succession with many of the same players, extras and crew and while she is pleasant on the set, even sweet by nature, she carries none of these contacts away from the studio. She does not gossip over the luncheon table in the studio cafe with other professionals. In her own little portable dressing room, her luncheon is served to her and she only emerges from her quiet little retreat on wheels when she is called to the set. In the evening, at her hotel by the sea, she does not mingle with the elderly tourists in the public parlors but dines alone. Between pictures, she does not answer her telephone or respond to any demands of studio or acquaintances.

She may be away vacationing in some quiet retreat. She may be right at home resting quietly, but one ever knows. King Vidor and Eleanor Boardman, John Gilbert and a few others are friends but they are not intimates. Although she makes a few friends, she rouses no antagonisms by following her own whimsical tastes, and no one is offended. She has courage to live life just as she sees it and as it pleases her. "Social affairs?" repeated Greta. "No, you will not see my name among those who attend the dinners and parties in Hollywood. I went to two dances at the Mayfair Club, that is all. I am not a great talker and you must remember here everyone is talking a language still almost foreign to me and I cannot catch the drift of the conversation. You all talk so fast, and the slang, I cannot understand at all."

But if Greta talks little herself, her eyes are open to the fullest blue depths when others are talking, and she is all attention to try to catch what is being said. The foreign star has an interesting speaking voice which is low and flat in tone. Her accent is odd and her words are spoken slowly.

She could have bben a "blues" singer and when her studio friends are sure she won't be offended and when they manage to catch a glimpse of that plodding, slow sense of humor or hers, they ask her to sing "Muddy Waters" in her own Swedish way. The result is an American "blues" song sung with a delightfully ponderous, melancholy foreign accent. Greta Garbo seems to lose something of her grace off the screen. She is so extremely languid, a type almost anemic, and slops into comfortable chairs like any lazy, growing school-girl. She has a broad boned frame, and is tall, which makes her screen more robustly that she really is. Actually, she is very thin and almost gragile. Some people know instinctively they must save their physical strength. Perhaps that is Greta's reason for not getting in for strenuous social activities. I believe she sees into things deeply, seriously and tragically like the Scandinavian children of Ibsen's plays.

The juveniles of the "Master Builder" and other plays were all "melancholy Danes" with a seventh sense as to just what their elders were thinking about and doing. She was homesick when she first came to Hollywood. At home there was a sick sister and she kept feeling she ought to go home and see her. The sister has passed away since Greta Garbo has been in America. None of her older Swedish relatives have been over here to visit her. True, some of her European friends are not far away. There is Lars Hanson and his wife who also live in Santa Monica.

Hanson played the lead with Greta Garbo in the Swedish Film Company's production of Gosta Berling's Saga, the picture Louis B. Mayer, of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, chanced to see and which impressed him so much that he signed both Garbo and Hanson for American pictures. Victor Seastrom, the director, and his wife who was the well known European actress, Karin Molander, also live in Santa Monica and Max Reé was also a European acquaintance of Greta Garbo.

"The big studio over here bewildered me at first," says the foreign star. "I could not talk the language and an interpreter had to help me. And I am bewildered by the thousands of strange people who write me letters. They do not know me. Why do they do that?"

"I did not use your sort of make-up and had to be taught how. I was living in an unaccustomed daze and that is why I chose the homelike hotel with its lovely grounds near the seat at Santa Monica to go back to at night. There I can rest for I am not bewildered by crowds or the bigness of things. The fogs, the beat of the sea depress you Americans but I love it all. And when I miss the cold and snow of my native land too much, I go into the mountains to find it."

"From the time I was fourteen I attended the Swedish dramatic school that is financed by our government,"
she will tell you.

"There we walked and played our parts dressed only in tights. There were no pockets or belts in these garments where we could hide nervous hands. We had to learn to use our hands and arms in acting. And there was a rigid routine which included fencing, voice culture, music and dramatic work. When I made my debut at the King's Theater in Stockholm, Maurice Stiller, the director, saw me and signed me for pictures."

Her whimsical way of doing as she pleases is her own way of finding contrast from the tense work at the studio. In a brown tweed sports coat, a dark tan dress, low heeled oxfords, and a red felt hat pulled low over her pale gold hair, she will walk about the sea cliffs of Santa Monica as inconspicuously as any young girl. She wears no make-up and her skin is pale white from its absence of rouge. Her eyes are golden glinted blue and fringed with the long lashes that help pronounce her sex lure. Men everywhere are mad about Greta Garbo.

She doesn't want to be a heart-breaker again as she was in The Temptress. In her latest picture, The Divine Woman, she is not wholly bad and she feels better about that. She is constantly surprised that Americans are so happy. "I will do so, too." she says simply. And the love of mothers who say, "Darling, are you happy?" to their little ones has impressed her so deeply. She adores babies. She is far more maternal that sophisticate. She is becoming happier every day she is in America and although we have our faults, we may be glad to have taught her that. Greta Garbo's nature is due for an interesting transformation in the next few years.


from:   Screen Secrets,        May 1928
© Copyright by   Screen Sectrets



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