“Never mind. Soon I shall be a famous diva–and then a princess!” And the little seamstress, looking at her, forgot to laugh.
AN OBSCURE hat clerk, waiting on sty old ladies all day–and desperately, blindly in love. Greta could stand working at anything is it gave her enough money to see Carl Brisson at the South Side theater once a week. One night she and her sister, Alva, waited from him at the stage door. Trembling, more than a little afraid, with a heavenly kind of fear. As he came out, the young Greta thrust a bunch of violets into his hands, violets that matched the luminous eyes turned so eagerly up to his. He bent low over her hand, murmured words of appreciation.
The night following, Carl Brisson was crossing to his dressing room when a slight-figure materialized out of the shadows. How had she managed to steal into the theater, his little friend with the gorgeous eyes? They were alone. Quickly Greta threw her arms about his neck and pressed her fresh young mouth to his. Brisson's arms went around her. …
They have called her “unemotional,” this Greta. They have called her “ice!” But– every step of her career has been inspired by love!
It was because of Brisson that he assented so readily when a certain Captain Ring asked her to “star” in his short advertising film. Her mane was not to be billed by maybe Carl would see her, recognize her. And she would be wearing such beautiful clothes!
Carl Brisson did not see her. Someone else did. A comedy director, Eric Petschler. He found out who she was and sent for her. “I'm starting a new picture, Eric the Tramp –would you like to play a part in it?”
“Is–is Mr. Brisson ever at your studio?”
Petschler laughed. “Not at ours! But he works in the movies sometimes!”
That decided her. “I'll come,” she said shortly.
She had visions of being swept to fame, of playing opposite him Sitting there on the dingy set in her silly make-up the little Greta dreamed. …
It was to have a strange ending–that dream.
In the meantime there was sharp reality. The comedy finished, she was out of a job. True, Petschler had been successful in having her entered at the Royal Dramatic School, but one had to eat, too. And so, she took part-time work in that small tobacco shop on a forgotten side street.
Only by chance the Stranger wandered into it. He was too engrossed in thought to note particularly where he was going. A mixture of Armenian, Jewish and Scandinavian bloods, he was pure genius. And he was searching, in the careful way of genius, for a lovely puppet through whom to express his own dominating artistic desires. It didn't occur to him that he had found her until he had left the shop, until he was back in his own hotel room. Then Mauritz Stiller whirled about, put on his coat and went out into the night again. She had become the Face in the Tobacco Store to him but for the life of him Stiller couldn't remember which tobacco store!
DAY after day he walked about Stockholm, peering into every shop whose windows displayed pipes and cigars. She was worth waiting to find, this girl. He recalled the silent, still look of her, her exquisite features, and he redoubled his efforts. But it was to no avail until that night he dropped into the Royal Dramatic Theater to witness a performance of Farewell Supper . There, in the leading role, was the girl he sought!
A hurried note backstage … a conference over an after-theater supper table … … and “Garbo” was born. Did they come to love each other, these two? Were they ever married? The truth is tragic.
All during the time Stiller was moulding and shaping her and finally when he directed her through that momentous first picture, The Atonement of Gosta Berling , Greta clung to him frantically. Often she lit his cigarettes–and kissed him lingeringly before she put them between his lips. She mothered him in a subtle way of her own, gave him every attention. But love? It was Greta herself who gave the answer to the whole situation shortly after they came to America. “You have seen me sit on his lap, yes. He holds me like a child. It I so good when his arms are around me for sometimes I am afraid. But it is not love.”
No. It was the bond between two people united in crating a masterpiece–the Garbo . The tragedy accrued when Stiller fell wildly in love with his subject–and it was too late.
Contrary to popular belief, it was Greta, not Mauritz, whom Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cabled for after the release of Gosta Berling . But she refused to come to a new country without her mentor.
What did Hollywood do to Greta Gustafson? First, it gave her that glossy touch of glamour that only Hollywood can give. It raised her eyebrows and reduced her eighteen pounds and dressed her in diaphanous chiffons. But it couldn't affect that startlingly real, startlingly honest personality of hers. The artificiality she saw drove her more within herself. She became known as a recluse. Greta shrugged. What did it matter? She had a few friends to dance to riotous jazz with. She never drove her car less than seventy. And the first American word she learned was “applesauce!” …
IT WAS dark in the projection room that fateful evening. Greta knew al about projection rooms now. She had made two pictures, The Torrent and The Temptress . Neither of them should have been a success. Some of the players had been openly against her. They called her “that Swede.” The director was on edge, continually watching for a spark of temperament. Once she had told him, “I am important.” And he had turned on her fiercely. “What d'you mean–important?” Greta stammered unhappily. “Oh–I not mean that! I mean imported –you know, like a can of sardines!”
And she had gone on a salary strike when the studio would not permit Stiller to direct The Temptress … which complicated things generally. Then there had been that terrible moment when news was brought on the set of her sister's death. Alva, for whom she had planned so many beautiful presents and trips and joys, Alva lay death. … No, by all the signs and tokens, those two pictures should have failed. Instead, they were box office sensations. Her salary jumped from $250 to$4,000 a week. The “Swede” was made.
There in the projection room she fumbled for a seat. Her hand came in contact with a man's shoulder. Someone seized it. Someone helped her into a place and sat silently beside her. When the lights went up, she saw him … a young man with a flashing smile and with black, unruly hair. Where had she seen eyes like that before? All glowing and a-sparkle? Something stirred in her heart. …
“That's a grand test we've just seen of you, Miss Garbo,” said John Gilbert.
“You think so? I am glad.”
“Not half as glad as I am to be cast opposite you in this next picture, Anna Karenina .” Their glances locked and held. Stiller, coming in for Greta, paused for a moment and then left silently.
It was a mad affair of splendor and flame and a almost terrible intensity from the very beginning. Gilbert took her home that evening so that they “could go over the new script together.” It lay, unopened, in front of them for hours. … Greta had taken off her man's ulster and slouch hat and with them had shed her hermit personality that the studio knew. She appeared before Gilbert in softly clinging black velvet, as bewilderingly feminine and glamorous as the Garbo of the screen. And with all the eager impulsiveness of the little Gustafson girl … the personality, that bad been shadowed so long. …
The next morning a sheaf of white orchids and lilies-of-the-valley was brought into her with the note, “Today my life begins.” Just that. But rather, a new life began for Greta. A life of which she had only dimly dreamed.
For the first time she set foot in the popular Cocoanut Grove, with scared wide eyes and holding tightly to Jack's arm. “I–I can't go through that great door, my Jan,” she murmured in distress. “So many wonderful, famous stars. …”
“But darling” he laughed, “you're famous, too!” Impossible not to be carried along by his gay spirit, impossible not to be swept away by the strength of what lay between them. Fun . She had not known this kind of fun existed. Sitting in a box at the opera one night, racing down the chute-de-chutes at Venice Park the next. Whizzing up to Santa Barbara in search of a circus–and winding up, in deliriously happy mood, on a camel's back!
The modern world never has been rocked by such a romance. It fired imaginations, set pulses to leaping passionately. And Greta–Greta became the singing, recklessly joyous girl of that long ago day when she had found Beppo. …
And Mauritz Stiller, seeing the change, feeling his beautiful puppet slipping out of his grasp, knew the sudden stabbing pain of futility. He worshipped her. She was a living, breathing part of him. And could never be his. “But I do love you, Mauritz. You have given me everything that I have, that I am. I adore you!” she'd protest, clinging to him in the old way.
“Yes, yes. I know, my child,” Stiller would answer heavily, kissing her pale young forehead.
It was to him that Greta turned in one of those blackly dramatic moments that only the Gilberts of the earth can supply. She was at Jack's home. Her voice over the wire was strained, unnatural. “ Mauritz , can you come for me? At once?” The scene was to live in Greta's memory as a nightmare. Jack, his face livid with rage … denouncing Stiller … refusing to understand her relationship to him. Yet she forgave him this unpleasant scene as she forgave him everything … she loved the impetuous “Jan.”
Men have fought for her, even died for her, this Greta of the violet eyes. Mauritz Stiller went home to die. Without her, the will to live was not in him. It was something beyond the girl's power to help. You cannot command love … not the kind of love he longed for. …
But there at his grave, on her first visit back to Sweden, Greta wept until the hot tears seared her cheeks. She understood, because she too had suffered, the full measure of the agony he had gone through.
CHRISTMAS was at hand. Her trunks were filled with presents for her family. Sven had grown a mustache. Mamma was more gray, more gentle than ever. Its was such sport to swing along, her hand under her mother's arm, and stop in front of shop windows. “You like that? Come, we will by it!” And at the other's sputtering objections, her laugh would ring out. Where had Greta got so much money? Why was she bent on being o extravagant? To this day Mrs. Gustafson's genial soul fails to comprehend a daughter with a million kronen.
And there were parties, those with her old friends and those given her by the upper strata of Stockholm society into which she had never walked before. Greta moved with equal ease at both. She was the most noted woman in Sweden–and the least conscious of it. It was at a magnificent private ball that she met the Lieutenant, very tall, very blond, very gracious. Greta, in shimmering silver, was the center of attraction but strangely, the other men made way for him. They danced. The slim arm of the girl rested lightly on his shoulder, her head was thrown back in the complete abandon she always has in dancing.
“But you are not cold ,” he whispered.
“But no! Why should I be? Those silly tales. …” She shrugged lightly.
He bent closer. “Will you ski with me tomorrow, say at five?”
“I don't know.” Her smile was hidden. It was the first time in history that the invitation of a Prince of Sweden had been treated so! In the guise of a lieutenant of the guards, he had come to the ball to see Garbo, the actress–and had fallen in love with Greta, the woman! “I'll call for you,” he challenged, “at five .”
But Greta was not there. She was on her way to Denmark. A chance notice in a paper had sent her. “Carl Brisson stars in new play a Copenhagen theater …” it read. She could laugh at her impassioned young idolatry of him now–but she would not. It had been too dear a thing, too precious. Without it, she might still be a humble little clerk in Bergstrom's department store. And so Greta, whom Hollywood had called “frozen, and placid as grass,” went to pay tribute to her young love.
There was a crowd surging around the stage door as Brisson stepped out of his car. He waved to them–and then a slender girl pushed to the foreground. In her hand was a bunch of violets. … “Carl, don't you remember me?” He took the small offering gallantly and said, “Of course I do! How nice to see you again.” But it wasn't until she was lost in the crowd that he remembered her. The little Gustafson girl who had made such a name for herself at the old Royal Dramatic school! After the show his sister came to him, greatly excited. “Garbo is out front. She wants to see you.”
“Yes. She was Greta Gustafson, you know.” But Brisson hadn't known. …
IT IS typical of the girl–the simplicity of that meeting. No fanfare. Nothing to show that she, too, was important. They reminisced for hours, until Copenhagen was gray dawn. Then Greta slipped out of the country as quietly as she had come.
A trans-Atlantic call waited for her at home. John Gilbert's. His voice was pleading, tender, all the old brilliant fire in his words. From 6,500 miles away he wooed–and won her. Greta took the next boat to America. From New York she long distanced him. “I'll be in California soon, my Jan. And then. …”
“Then,” he shouted, “you and I will take a little journey of our own!”
There was a new moon in the sky. The air along the ocean road was racy and pungent with a thousand damp, night odors. Gilbert and Garbo were eloping. As the lights of Tia Juana, below the border, loomed up, his hand closed over hers. He kissed her cool cheek, her lips. … “It's too late to get a justice of the peace now. We'll have to wait until morning, dearest.”
“Yes,” agreed Greta. But alone, in her little hotel room, a band tightened about her heart. Marriage was such a stupendous adventure. You couldn't give half to it. It demanded all. And suddenly, as if they had been shouted from the mountain tops, she heard those words of Stiller's. “You must make your choice between marriage and a career. No man is good for you if you are to succeed.” In the darkness she dressed an stole out of the hotel. …
It was years before she saw John Gilbert again. And that was when John was most in need of the help she, alone, could give him.
But Greta could not elude love. She is one of those rare women who is almost cosmic in her appeal to men. To men of every description. There is the “prop” man who manages to work on each of her productions and watches her with a sort of blind rapture. And there's the internationally noted writer–name withheld for obvious reasons–who dined with Greta, night after night, in a small Spanish restaurant on Olivera street. And always they clashed swords. Verbal swords. It amused her. It stimulated him. And tortured him, for he realized that rapier-like wit of his was his only defense against her. And he wanted so much more of her than friendship. It ended when he set sail for China. …
One day a distinguished young man drove his sleek, foreign car through the high gate of Greta's estate. “High walls–they always hid the princess in the fairytales,” he thought. “She would have them!” And he looked at the regal gardens and the tall cliff with its view of the distant sea. And Then he saw her standing there in the rose terrace. In white. She came to him slowly and leaned her forehead for an instant against the rough gray of his coat. “It is good you are here. I am so tired.” And William Sorensen knew he had come all the way from Sweden for this moment.
They had known each other since Greta's days at the old Royal Dramatic theater. They had been pals. The son of Stockholm's millionaire box-maker and the little tobacco store clerk who could play Shakespeare better than any actress in Europe. He had asked for her love then. He knew better than to ask for it now. So he served as friendly adviser. With Sorensen, Greta made her first visit o the Salvation Army quarters. It fascinated her–the sweet-faced women with their little bonnets and the human derelicts they were helping. One of the workers was having difficulty with a Mexican woman who had just lost her child and Greta quietly went to her aid. If Hollywood could have seen the Garbo that night. …
It was Sorensen who forced Greta to take a rest in the desert and to watch her health more closely. She leaned on him almost as much as she had on Stiller. But it is hard for a man in love to remain merely a prop. So he, too, left.
THEN came Ramón Novarro, dazzled by appearing in the same production as the Pale Splendor. He was not prepared for a gay woman whose laughter rang out, who could send amusing notes to a man with a bouquet of yellow roses. Ramón came nearer to romance than he has ever permitted himself before.
But Greta–not for years had her heart been really touched. Not during any of her trips home when she had the run of the boats–and the officer's affection! Not until that day she called a number and said in that haunting voice of hers, “This is Greta Garbo, Mr. Mamoulian. I am so interested in your work. Is it–could we meet?” She wanted him for the director of her next picture. She had not expected to find love again. …
Rouben Mamoulian has the flash of a Gilbert and a brilliance all his own. People like that have always been able to effect an extraordinary transformation in Greta. She was like a carefree child. Her eager laughter. Her eyes shining with a thousand lights. They went to the Roosevelt for dinner–and openly held hands. He lives with his parents and Greta sent Mrs. Mamoulian flowers every day for three months. She dined there often. And before Hollywood had time to suspect anything, they were off on a lark to Yosemite Valley. Then Greta went to Arrowhead. She registered as “Mary Brown” at the inn and, every morning at eight, she set out alone in a boat for parts unknown across the lake. Rouben would be waiting there–but no one knew. In an idyllic setting, roaming through a wonderland of fresh cool colors in the stillness of the mountains, Greta gave her heart again.
They planned for it like two excited youngsters–their wedding. “Look,” said Mamoulian, “we'll fly up to Nevada and stop here .” “No!” said Greta, poring over the map beside him. There might be lions in Nevada!” And she rumpled his hair. “We'll take my car and drive to the Grand Canyon. Maybe there is sow there–like in Sweden.” But they had to finish the production of Queen Christina first. All unwittingly, they were central figures in one of those tense backstage dramas. … Greta had insisted that John Gilbert appear with her, had wanted so much to give him a new start in talking pictures. She has an almost fanatic sense of loyalty to those who have befriended her–to those she has loved. In front of the camera, she passionately embraced the man who had once meant life itself to her. In back of the camera, her hand sought eagerly for her director's. … What Gilbert thought about no one knew.
They were off at last, Greta and Mamoulian, dressed in skiing clothes and headed for the altar! And five days later, a white, silent Greta came back to her great house–alone. The public had caught up with them. Romance dies in the spotlight. They savagely denied their intention to wed and it was a broken, embittered girl who walked fifteen miles up the coast road that night in an effort to forget. “Marriage is not for me, I am–fated,” she told a woman friend. It was the only comment she would make. But she has refused to see “Mamou” since.
A GIRL of moods and whims and genius–and a delicious femininity that breaks through her resolves.
She hadn't meant to like him. She had meant to be more withdrawn than ever from all men. But when the mad, delightful Irishman who is George Brent strolled onto her set and nonchalantly offered her a stick of gum, it was more than Greta could stand, She giggled. Brent, who fears neither flood nor famine nor exotic “sphinxes” built up by ambitious press agents, salaamed. “Your humble servant,” he announced.
“Mine to obey?”
“Yours to obey.”
They had lunch together that noon–in Greta's bungalow. And the next night if Richard Arlen had been looking around the corner from his house to the place Brent has taken on Toluca Lake, he would have seen an antique Rolls Royce slide silently to a stop before it. A veiled shadow stepped out. But it was a real enough woman who greeted George in the little English living room. A very human sort of person with very human desires and hopes and longings.
Brent amuses Garbo. He is another of those beings touched with the magic joy of living, and they never fail to attract her. But Love?
Greta has known much of love, much of its suffering. She has tasted more deeply of life than most people. She is not afraid. But sometimes during the long night she draws a plain little gold ring from under her pillow and the tears come. The she remembers the Garbo that Stiller raised to be one of the most famous women in the world–and silently she puts it back. Little Greta Gustafson has laid her sacrifices on the altar of fame. …
from: True Confessions February 1935
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