– Is It Real?
By WINIFRED AYDELOTTE
THE glamour that is Garbo–is it natural or manufactured? Just what IS this subtle fascination that makes her, to-day, the supreme romantic figure on the screen, the high priestess of mystery, the most intriguing exponent of the art of living … and loving? The answer is to be found an the set, if anywhere. Garbo's fascination was not born within the veil of that secrecy which surrounds her. It is in her SELF. Ask any “extra” who has worked with her.
An “extra” is a person who cares little for anything but the telephone call that summons him to a studio for a day's work. He cares nothing for the director, the author, the star, or any of the featured players. He is accustomed to the emotional extravagance, the glare, the hustle and bustle of studios, and he is blandly unmoved by the sight of a stalwart, handsome, male star, or a ravishing, beautiful, female star. He has seen them all, worked with them, eaten with them, talked to them. No catch grips his throat, no awe creeps into his voice when a celluloid idol walks on the set.
That is, unless the star is Greta Garbo.
No “extra,” no matter how calmly indifferent he may be to the most shining of Hollywood's stars, con remain unmoved by the appearance of Garbo before the cameras.
I know–because I have interviewed “extras” who have worked in scenes in Garbo pictures. Of them all, not one discussed the experience with anything less than an emotional riot of excitement. And this from people who, on the whole, regard pictures and studios merely as a checkbook, and have long since lost that stage-struck–or, rather, screen-struck–attitude toward stars.
All of which goes to prove that the Garbo glamour is an integral part of her being, and that the effect she has upon her millions of admirers is essentially true and honest and not a cinemaccident.
One boy, who has been an “extra” ever since he was seventeen (he is now twenty-three) early worked on a Garbo set, and he told me that he dated everything from that one day–just as his grandmother dated everything from the year that “Paw brought me twenty yards of silk from Chicago–and us living on a farm!”
She Casts a Spell That Lasts
SAID he: “You get sort of used to seeing stars around you that other people gasp at on the screen. Nobody looks very glamourous to you when you've been standing around all day, working for your room rent. I can keep an even pulse on any set in Hollywood–except Greta Garbo's. She has something that is so real and breath-taking that not all the greasepaint and lights and disillusioning business of a studio set can dim it or make it tawdry or studied.
“I've been in pictures for six years. I don't think there's a star I haven't worked with. But there's something about Garbo, some deep, gorgeous beauty, something … Aw heck!” he finished lamely.
The next “extra” I interviewed about Garbo was a girl. Her age might be twenty-five–or forty. She was beautiful, blonde, and blasé. Many years in picture had made her all three. You could just imagine her saying. “Sure, Garbo's O.K., I guess. Just a lucky Swede. Me, I'm an American,” and saying it bitterly, too.
But did she? She did not!
“Yeah, I worked with her … and once I thought I could be an actress!” She laughed, and somehow I couldn't even smile while she was laughing. “Me! That's good. Why, Garbo wears the world on her little finger like she would a dinner wing, even when she's just sitting still on a chair on the set. In one flicker of her eyes she can put across an idea that would take me a year and a trunkful of dramatic calisthenics to put over.
“The day I worked with her was the day I decided that I was pretty darn lucky to be allowed before a camera even as an ‘extra.' Garbo is glamour, and glamour is Garbo, and me … I take my seven-fifty and to hell with everybody … except Garbo. She's wonderful!”
Saw Garbo in Love Scene
DIANE FULLER, twenty-three, wise, and extremely attractive, is an “extra” who worked on the “Susan Lenox” set. This is what she says:
“When I went on the set that morning, I didn't know what picture it was and I wasn't curious enough to ask. I didn't know that Garbo was the star, either. We waited around for about an hour, I guess, and I was bored and thirsty, so I wandered over to get a drink. While I was drinking, the door opened and in came Garbo.
“It was sort of a coincidence that I had just read the night before something about what big feet she had, how dumb she was and how awkward. The writer seemed to have first-hand information. I wondered at the time how she could be a success with all those handicaps. So here was a chance to see for myself.
“It's funny, the way she impressed me, coming through that door. It was the first time I had ever seen her, although I had worked with about every other big shot in the industry. She was laughing a little with the director, and she seemed sort of–well–lighted up, if you know what I mean. Her hair was so ALIVE. In fact, she was the most alive person I have ever seen, and much more beautiful than she ever is on the screen. She was graceful, too.
“They shut her off from the ‘extras' during the close-ups, with a big, folding screen. I happened to be lucky–too inconspicuous, I guess–and was allowed to see it all. And when she started to look at her lover the way she does–you know–well, everybody just couldn't stand it. I never had an actress thrill me on the screen as she did that day on the set.
Doesn't Worry About Make-Up
“ANOTHER thing I noticed was that she wasn't always primping and calling for the make-up man. She went from one scene to another without looking at herself all the time, the way most of the other stars do. Maybe it's because she is so sincere, and beauty comes naturally to anyone like that.
“I think the screen around her is a good idea. It's a necessity, really. If those ‘extras' had seen her while she gave just one of those looks of hers, they would have wiped their brows like the fellows around the cameras did, and added their ‘whews!' to theirs, and there would have been a hurricane clear out to the front gates!”
And all that came from a girl who played on a Garbo set just once, who didn't get within twenty feet of her, and whose long, difficult career as an “extra” Hasn't left her many illusions about anything of anybody connected with the motion picture business.
Marta Reeves, who used to be a showgirl in New York, and who is now one of the “extra” army, told me the following:
“I worked on the ‘Mata Hari' set with Miss Garbo. All the ‘extras' were more curious and exited about her than I've ever seen them about any other star. The sets for her are different, too, with only high-class ‘extras' called.
“She came on the set with no make-up on, and she was just as beautiful as she is on the screen. I've been around quite a bit, you know, but I never saw anybody to beat her.
“Extras” Couldn't Look Away
“THE ‘extras' talked about her continually, and watched every move she made, which was rather hard on her. But the director put up screens around her for the love scenes. Sometimes they tried to take a scene without the screen, and the ‘extras' were asked to turn their backs. But they kept on looking over their shoulders. They couldn't help turning around. Garbo is just that fascinating. Stars are seldom as attractive on the set as they are on the screen–or at a party.
“Garbo never fussed or raised her voice once that day. The director, George Fitzmaurice, whispered a few directions to her before the scene started, and then he never had to correct her.”
Marta Reeves paused, and tapped me on the arm.
“Let me tell you something,” she continued. “Garbo's scenes sizzle like nobody's business, and when a scene sizzles to an ‘extra,' what with all the usual, familiar paraphernalia–cameras, lights, cables, props, and so on–sizzle means something. It means just this, I think–Garbo is a great and extraordinary person.”
Ralph Carter, an “extra” who is in his late thirties, told me that anybody who once sees the Swedish star never forgets her.
“On the set,” he says, “she narrows her eyes to keep from having to look right at people, because they stare at her so. She really is frightened and sensitive, I think. Anyway, she's by far the most exciting person on the screen, and twice as exciting to those who work with her. She is always the same, always mysterious, always glamourous.
“She has a genuine sense of humor, too. Which is fortunate for those around her, because she has a lovely laugh. I know I'm one who will never forget it.”
What Jack La Rue Once Said
JACK LA RUE, when he was playing bits and was not the popular, coming star he is now, told me that the Garbo glamour on the set was one of the miracles of the Twentieth Century. And Jack, at the time, was an ambitious, earnest youngster, with his mind on just one thing–his own success–and not at all likely to be bowled over by a celebrity.
Hedda Hopper, who takes everything pretty casually and whose equanimity is famous, played with Garbo in “As You Desire Me.” Miss Hopper strolled onto the set, made-up and ready for rehearsal. Garbo was just finishing a short scene.
Suddenly a woman's excited voice pierced the momentary quiet of the set: “My God! She's MARVRLOUS!”
It was Miss Hopper, unable to restrain her enthusiasm, and not a bit ashamed of it.
And, of course, it is an oft-repeated rumor that every male lead in Hollywood who has ever played with Garbo has met his Waterloo of the heart on her set, and usually, after having appeared safely with any number of other stars.
So, let us see what we have. We have a Swedish miracle who is the romantic idol of millions of film-goers, and we have a woman whose personality and magnetism can make breathless those who are emotionally immune to the highest-paid beauty and talent in Hollywood.
In short, we have a star whose love scenes must be played behind screens, because they are too–well, too–(you finish it) even for her fellow-workers.
from: MOVIE CLASSIC November 1931
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