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FATHER Karl Gustafsson had to earn his meager living at such unskilled jobs as this one at a slaughterhouse. He bequeathed Greta only his good looks.

FLAT in Stockholm where Greta spent her childhood was on fourth floor of apartment in center above. It still looks out across muddy lot where she played.

DOLLS she longed for in her youth were collected by Garbo after she became a star. In her childhood her main amusements were skiing and skating.



Greta's Haunted
Path to Stardom



NOBODY” Greta Garbo has said, “ever thought of me as a little girl.” Although just as laconic as the other autobiographical remarks she has made publicly, this comment may explain why, after becoming the most fabled film personality of our time, she indulged herself in making a collection of beautiful and expensive dolls. It may also account for the volumes of Peter Rabbit and other children's classics that during one period in Hollywood were her favorite bedtime reading.
     Greta Lovisa Gustafsson was born on Sept. 18, 1905 and grew up in a four-room, cold-water flat on Stockholm's south side, a district regarded as the city's slums. Although not a slum when compared with, say, New York's East Harlem, it is barren of lawns and trees, and the drab buildings that line its streets form an unbroken facade of monotonous gray. Shortly before 1900 Karl and Anna Gustafsson migrated there from the farming country of southern Sweden. Although a striking ly handsome man, Karl had few other attributes to help him make his way in the city. Frequently he was not well enough to hold the unskilled laborers' jobs that were all he could ever get.
     One of Greta's duties as a girl–she was the youngest of three children–was to take her father once a week for treatment at a hospital. She has recalled to friends the humiliation and sadness she felt in having to watch him„ suffering great pain, wait what seemed an endless time for attention. She determined then that she would never be financially dependent on anybody.
     When she was 14 her father died. That year Greta went to work. The best job she could get at first was as a tvalicka–“soap-lather girl” who prepared the customers for the barber's razor. The cashier at one of the shops where she worked remembers two things about her: that “she was a sunbeam” and that her locker was covered with pictures of the musical comedy star Carl Brisson. Her moonstruck attitude toward the theater in general and Brisson in particular also made a lasting impression on her fellow clerks at the PUB department store, where she worked next. The 15-year-old Greta firmly told them that she planned to be an actress, though about all she did toward achieving the ambition was to spend her spare time standing around the stage door of the Mosebacke Theatre in the hope of being able to talk to Brisson.
     Brisson ultimately played a minor part in furthering her career, but her first couple of sorties before the camera were accidental and tentative. Having caught the PUB advertising manager's eye while modeling some fussy hats for still photographs, she was picked for a commercial film the store was making. In it she was swathed in a ridiculous outfit that gave the ladies of Stockholm a horrible example of what was not being worn that year. The film's producer liked her work so well that when a Stockholm bakery ordered an advertising movie he picked Greta to cram herself with cookies and cream puffs, which she did with suitable enthusiasm if undiscernible finesse.
     This sort of work was not solid enough to permit Greta to quit the store, but just as she despaired of ever being able to do so she had a chance one day to wait on Eric Petschler, then known as the Mack Sennett of Sweden. So earnest was her appeal to him and so fetching her figure that he decided to give her a bathing beauty part. Proudly she tendered PUB her resignation: “reason for leaving -to enter the films.”
     Greta looked appropriately bouncy wearing a voluminous black bathing suit in Peter the Tramp, but when the shooting was over Petschler had no other immediate plans for her. But he did help her gain admittance to the Royal Dramatic Theatre school, training place for nearly all successful Swedish actors.


AS STUDENT, the 10-year-old Greta Gustafsson was marked “Perfect” in behavior and application for all her seven years at Katarina grammar school.

YOUNG MODEL Greta (left) earned $2 by posing for publicity photograph in a Lancia with one of her dramatic school classmates, Mona Martenson.

EARLY FILM was a commercial job made for Stockholm bakery. Greta acted the part of a hungry girl happily stuffing her face with cookies on a picnic.

HER MOVIE DEBUT in 1921 fashion short gave Garbo a comic role showing off outlandish costume.

HER FIRST PROFESSIONAL ROLE in 1922 required 17-year-old Garbo (left) to play a bathing beauty scene in a Mack Sennett type of comedy called Peter the Tramp, filmed outside Stockholm.

SEAMY REALISM was prevailing mood of The Streets of Sorrow made by Director G. W. Pabst in Berlin in 1925. In this sequence in a house of ill repute, Garbo (left) is tempted by a life of vice.

ROMANTIC INNOCENCE of role in The Story of Gösta Berling brought Garbo first critical praise.


     Her dramatic school classmates remember her as shy, mysterious about her background and earnest and energetic about her studies. Her energy in pursuing her old idol Carl Brisson had not flagged. When her schoolgirl crush moved her to carve surreptitiously on the door of his dressing room the legend “GG loves CB” Brisson decided he had to do something about this fervent 17-year-old admirer. He thought of his friend Mauritz (“Moje”) Stiller, the movie director, and mentioned her name to him. When Stiller sent a call to the dramatic school for two actresses for his next film, he specified that one of them be Greta Gustafsson, whom he had never seen.
     Stiller was at the time the most imposing figure in Swedish films. Between 1911 and his encounter with Greta Gustafsson in 1923 he had turned out some 40 motion pictures. With his friend and colleague Victor Seastrom he was credited with being the dominant force in “the golden age of Swedish films.”
     Stiller's appearance and manner were magnificently in keeping with his reputation as a virtuoso. Over six feet tall, with an abnormally large head and enormous hands and feet, he draped his large frame in winter in an ankle-length yellow fur coat trimmed with a black fur collar and belt. His neckties were made for him out of antique embroidered waistcoats that he collected. His gold tiepin was encrusted with oriental pearls, and on his hamlike hands he usually wore gold and platinum rings set with sapphires, diamonds and pearls. His canary-colored sports roadster, one of the fastest and most generally feared conveyances in Stockholm, was known as “the yellow peril.”
     Stiller was intense, ambitious, noisy, egotistical, immensely discerning and brutally outspoken. He was always a director and always a perfectionist. When he walked into a room he could not resist suggesting how the furniture should be rearranged to produce what he considered a better effect. He was given to grand and sentimental gestures. Once, shortly before Christmas, he met on the street an actress friend who he discovered had been out of work for some time. “I was on my way to get you some flowers for Christmas,” Stiller said. “But here, why don't you pick them out yourself?” He put a 100-kronor bill into the woman's hand and walked on. To offset such extravagances he practiced small and ridiculous economies. His command, “Give me a cigaret,” was as closely associated with him as his embroidered ties.
     Stiller's background was even more humble than Greta Gustafsson's. The fifth child of a Jewish musician in Helsinki, Finland, he had been orphaned at 4 and adopted by a small merchant, for whose business Stiller had shown no talent whatsoever. Drifting onto the Helsinki stage, he played bit parts for five years.
     When he was 21 Stiller ran afoul of the czar's government, which then ruled Finland, for failing to report for compulsory military duty. He headed for the Swedish border and talked his way across it. As he rose in the Swedish theater and film industry his courage became part of his legend. He had a little ritual of firmly seizing his coat lapels and snapping back his head. “Do like Moje Stiller,” he would say, “and you become a new and braver man.”
     Stiller, who was 39 when he met Greta Gustafsson, had never married. “He liked to have beautiful women around him,” a friend has said, “and he was interested in them, but he was never in love with them.” Nevertheless he had built up a mental image of his perfect female. The ideal woman he was seeking, as he described her to friends, would be not only beautiful but “supersensual, spiritual and mystic.” When he found the woman who fitted his specifications, he decided, he would mold her into an actress such as the world had never seen. He had even asked his assistant, Arthur Norden, a student of history, to think of names for his star. Norden suggested the Hungarian king, Gabor Bethlen, and arrived at the name Mona Gabor. Stiller tried some variations–“Gábor, Gabor, Gabro, Garbo.”
     For the actress who was to fulfill his dream Stiller now had a name and a plan. When he met Greta Gustafsson, he had the woman.

‘Miss, you are much too fat'

ON the day of her screen test Greta took the streetcar to the studios of Svensk Filmindustri, in the suburb of Rasunda. After she had been made up, Greta, who was wearing a plain, tailored suit, was conducted to a set where Stiller and a couple of colleagues were waiting. When she was introduced to Stiller, she curtsied.
     Stiller's greeting was, “If you want the part you'll have to lose at least 20 pounds.” Greta blushed. “But look,” Stiller went on, turning her around and talking partly to her and partly to his associates, “isn't she beautiful? ... Did you ever see such eyelashes? ... But, miss, you are much too fat. ... Yes, she is very pretty. ... Notice her feet–such beautiful heels, one straight, fine line.” As Stiller continued in this vein his colleagues exchanged looks of amazement.
     “Now, miss,” Stiller said, indicating a divan, “lie down and be sick.” Greta hesitated. Confused and self-conscious, she was able to register no emotion except fright. Stiller strode over to the divan. “For God's sake,” he shouted, “don't you know what it is to be sick? Have you no feelings? Do you know nothing of sadness and misery? Act, miss, act!” On the verge of tears, Greta tried again. Stiller told the cameraman to take some close-ups of her as she walked about the set, then curtly told her she could go home.
     Stiller's colleagues thought that the would-be actress had done rather poorly. He remained enthusiastic. “She is shy,” he said. “She has no technique, so she can't show what she is feeling. But she will be all right. I'll see to that.”
     He cast her as the second female lead in his film version of the Swedish classic, The Story of Gösta Berling. She played the role of a . pure and beautiful woman whose love redeems a minister with a thirst for hard liquor and the inclinations of a Casanova. From this point on, Stiller took command of the 17-year-old Greta. He taught her, bullied her, encouraged her, fought for her. Far more than a professional mentor, he was an intimate friend who told her how to dress, what to think; how to behave before the camera and away from it.
     A woman who worked at Svensk Filmindustri at the time tells of watching the two together: “As time went on we nicknamed them ‘Beauty and the Beast,' because she was really very attractive, especially her figure. I can still see Stiller and that young girl–forever walking up and down, up and down, in the shade of a little grove just outside the studio. Stiller was always teaching and preaching, Greta solemnly listening and learning. With that hypnotic power he seemed to have over her he could make her do extraordinary things. But we had little idea then that he was making over her very soul.”
     Earnest and tractable though she generally was, Greta on one occasion lost her temper on the set as a result of Stiller's ceaseless pressure during a difficult scene. He continued to bully her until she finally exclaimed, “Damn you, Stiller, I hate you!” But he did not relent.
     On increasingly frequent occasions the two were seen together at the theater, in restaurants and at parties. To help her overcome her natural diffidence he would sometimes call upon her to entertain when they were out among friends. An acquaintance remembers a party at his house when Stiller abruptly asked her to get up and sing. “She had a pleasant voice,” the friend has said. “She sang until he told her she could stop.” Except on such occasions, Greta was inclined to be pitifully silent and retiring.
     She did, however, speak with unusual frankness to a Stockholm journalist who interviewed her during the filming of Gösta Berling. Stiller “creates people and shapes them according to his will,” she said. “As for myself; I am a nice girl who gets very sad if people are unkind to her.” During the same period Stiller told a dramatic critic friend, “She receives instruction excellently, follows directions closely. She is like wax in my hands. Greta will be all right. I believe in her.”
     By the time Gösta Berling had been completed, Stiller's dominion over his protégée was secure. She did nothing without his permission, saw only the people he wished her to see and had legally become Greta Garbo. In name, at least, “The Star” had been born.
     Neither Gösta Berling nor Greta Garbo's role in it drew rave reviews at the Stockholm opening. But Stiller was optimistic about the future of both the movie and his protégée. After the Stockholm premiere of Gösta Berling he went to work editing it into a shorter version for a showing in Berlin, where a critical success would assure its future throughout Europe. He shrewdly contracted to sell the German exhibition rights to David Schratter's Trianon Films for 100,000 marks ($25,000), a huge sum for that period, but he told Schratter there was one condition to the sale: Trianon must pay all expenses for himself and Garbo to attend the Berlin opening. She would, Stiller insisted, need some new clothes for the trip, for which he made Schratter advance 5,000 kronor.
     Schratter had no cause to regret the deal. The Berlin opening was a triumph. The shy Garbo, on her first trip away from home, was disconcerted by all the fanfare. When she and Stiller entered their box at the theater, binoculars were trained upon them from all directions. When she pushed her chair back from the edge of the box, Stiller pulled it up again. When the showing was over the enthusiastic audience demanded that Stiller take a bow. He rose, pulled Garbo to her feet and propelled her to the edge of the box to acknowledge the applause. The German critics applauded Garbo's acting, which appealed to them as “heartfelt,” “soul-revealing” and “touched with Weltschmerz.” The German exhibitors, who had figured on recovering their investment in four weeks, got it back in one.
     Stiller and Garbo had not been back in Stockholm long before Schratter reappeared to suggest that Stiller do his next film for Trianon. After Stiller had agreed to accept 150,000 marks for his own services, he said, “I have a contract with Greta Garbo. If you want me, you'll have to take her too.” Garbo was given a five-year contract.
     The Trianon people were under the impression that Stiller had agreed to produce a film version of a sentimental German love story. Stiller now revealed that he had bought the screen rights to a melodramatic tale about a young Russian girl–to be played by Garbo–who, on her way to Constantinople during World War I, is doped by some Turkish sailors and winds up in a harem. Stiller next broke the news that he planned to shoot most of the film in Constantinople.
     With some misgivings Schratter approved the expedition. Stiller told Garbo to prepare to leave for Constantinople. She obediently packed her bags. As she said years later, “I had not anything to do with my own things at that time.”
     At the end of December 1924, Garbo, Stiller, the actor Einar Hansson and a group of technicians arrived in Constantinople. The director was feeling even more ebullient than usual. He engaged splendid quarters for Garbo and himself in the luxurious Pera Palace Hotel. He bought Garbo a beautiful fur coat. Day after day she and Stiller wandered through the mosques and tombs, the elegant restaurants and coffeehouses. On leisurely shopping expeditions through the stalls of the Grand Bazaar, Stiller bought elaborate Oriental costumes for Garbo and Persian carpets for himself.
     One day Stiller discovered that he had run out of money. He thought this a nuisance, especially since he had not yet got around to organized shooting. He wired Trianon requesting a million marks. Two days passed and he received no answer. He wired again. Still no reply. He took the train to Berlin. There he found that Trianon had gone bankrupt.
     The Swedish and German legations agreed to advance enough money to get the rest of the company back to Berlin. When they got there Stiller told Garbo and Hansson that he had a number of irons in the fire and something would turn up. But all the German film companies had been severely hit by the inflation and word had got around that Stiller was a careless man with a mark.
     A young director named G. W. Pabst, on his way to becoming one of the outstanding figures in the European cinema, was then casting his third film, later released in America as The Streets of Sorrow. He had been impressed by Garbo in Gösta Berling. When he offered her a part in The Streets of Sorrow Stiller promptly took over the bargaining. The resulting terms enabled them both to live comfortably on in Berlin while Garbo made the movie.

‘Moje knows what is best'

STILLER presently learned that Pabst had initiated new contract discussions with Garbo and that she had taken part in the talks without consulting her mentor. Stiller accused his protégée of deceit, ingratitude and all manner of wrongdoing. In tears she promised to do nothing without his approval. Changing from the outraged protector to the patient father, Stiller took her hands in his. “Stay with me, Greta,” he said. “Moje knows what is best for you.”
     He was soon to be proved right. In the late spring of 1925, Louis B. Mayer, vice president and production chief of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, saw The Story of Gösta Berling in Berlin. A man who could turn out a picture like that, Mayer decided, belonged in Hollywood. Mayer called on Stiller and offered him a three-year contract at a starting salary of $1,500 a week. For once Stiller did not indulge in prolonged haggling. He did, however, insist on one not unexpected provision: he would go to Hollywood, he said, only if M-G-M also put Garbo under contract.


ARRIVAL IN U.S. of Garbo and Stiller in 1925 was heralded by standard shipboard poses of era. Only two New York papers mentioned the newcomers.


     “And who is Greta Garbo?” Mayer asked, acting as if he had not noticed her in Gösta Berling. “First,” Stiller began, “she is a great beauty, a type you get in front of a camera once in a hundred years. Second, she is an actress who will be the greatest in the world.” As Stiller was warming up, Mayer interrupted to suggest that it might be desirable for him to meet the young woman. Stiller called her into the room. Mayer seemed profoundly indifferent: But to make sure of getting Stiller, he promised Garbo a contract.
     Greta Garbo and Mauritz Stiller arrived in New York aboard the Drottningholm on July 6, 1925. They were welcomed by an M-G-M publicity man named Hubert Voight, who brought along a Swedishspeaking Metro employe as interpreter and a free-lance photographer named Jimmy Sileo. Sileo began snapping routine shipboard poses of Garbo and Stiller leaning on the ship's rail and of Garbo alone, leaning against a bulkhead, waving and smiling. One of these shots appeared next day in the New York Herald Tribune, another in the tabloid Graphic. After Voight had welcomed the new arrivals he conducted them to the Commodore Hotel, where, oppressed by New York's summer heat, Garbo promptly immersed herself in a tub of cold water.
     She was to spend much of the subsequent two months this way while Stiller bickered with M-G-M, which gave no sign of putting him and Garbo to work right away. Stiller threatened to break his contract and return home. M-G-M talked him out of this, but he insisted that he would not go to the Coast until definite plans were made for Garbo. After long argument, Stiller got her a screen test, which he spent a week supervising. When the Metro officials saw it they muttered about her being “too unusual.” Stiller vainly tried to explain that this was precisely what made her a great find.

The fateful photographs

ONE day the actress Martha Hedman, whom Stiller had known in Sweden, invited him and Garbo to lunch. Afterward she took them to the studio of her friend Arnold Genthe, the famous photographer. Genthe recalled their visit in his memoirs: “‘I would love to have you make some pictures of me sometime,' Miss Garbo said. ‘Why sometime?' I inquired. ‘Why not now? ...' She smiled, but protested earnestly. ‘No, not now. Look at my dress, and I don't like my hair.' ‘Never mind that,' I said. I am more interested in-your eyes and in what is behind that extraordinary forehead.' And without any further preparations, Greta Garbo let me make a number of pictures of her. Her face had unusual mobility of expression and in the course of an hour my camera had captured a number of distinctive poses and expressions, all so different that it was hard to believe they were of the same girl.”


DRAMATIC PORTRAIT by Photographer Arnold Genthe shortly after Garbo came to U.S. helped convince M-G-M officials she should have a big role.


     One morning toward the middle of August Garbo stopped in to thank Genthe for the prints he had sent her. She said that she had also come to bid him goodby. “They don't seem to want me,” she explained. “I'm going back to Berlin.” Genthe asked if she had shown his photographs to the people at Metro. “No ...” she replied. “They have so many of me already.” Genthe insisted that she bring the pictures to the attention of M-G-M before taking further steps to return to Europe.
     When Stiller laid the photographs before the M-G-M officials, their chilliness vanished. If Garbo could be photographed to look like that, they told each other, they could make something of her. In September she left for California with a $400-a-week contract.
     In Hollywood Stiller rented a small house in Santa Monica while Garbo moved into the Miramar Hotel, a short distance away. She spent most of her time around Stiller's house swimming and sunbathing. A Swedish compatriot who visited Stiller at this time recalls watching the young actress as she sat on the beach in front of the house. Wearing a commodious bathing suit, she was contentedly peeling potatoes. Nodding in her direction, Stiller said, “You will see that something will become of her.”
     As the days passed and the studio continued to display a marked lack of interest in him and his protégée, Stiller began a campaign of polite but steady harassment of M-G-M. His dealings there were mainly with Irving Thalberg, the 26-year-old “boy genius” who had zoomed from a $35-a-week secretary's job at Universal to production manager at M-G-M. He resented the lordly Stiller and Stiller resented him. But finally, after more screen tests, some dental work and a visit to the studio's chief make-up man, Greta Garbo was given her first part.
     It was considered quite a choice one. She was cast as the female lead opposite Ricardo Cortez in a florid Spanish tale of unfulfilled love called The Torrent. When the studio assigned Monta Bell instead of Stiller to direct, Garbo was so stunned that she told Stiller she preferred to give up the part and go home. This notion he rejected instantly. Every evening Stiller rehearsed Garbo in the next day's scenes, coaching her in each movement and expression. He delivered her to the studio every morning and called for her every night.
     As shooting progressed, several Metro officials, including Thalberg, made a practice of dropping in to look at the rushes, and their comments were uniformly enthusiastic.
     When The Torrent was previewed in January 1926, among the interested spectators were Garbo, Stiller, the Victor Seastroms, the Lars Hansons and other members of the Scandinavian colony. “We all thought the picture was a flop and that Garbo was terrible,” Hanson recently remarked. “Stiller was raving mad, he thought it was so poor.”


BOSSES AT M-G-M were Louis B. Mayer (center) and Irving Thalberg (right) . Mayer hired Garbo reluctantly but was soon being praised for new “find.” With Mayer and Thalberg is M-G-M production supervisor Harry Rapf.


     American critics and filmgoers were of another mind. As good reviews came in and box offices reported very satisfactory business, M-G-M decided to repeat the formula. For The Temptress it began to stir up the same ingredients; including another Latin lover and another exotic and implausible role for Garbo. But this time Stiller was assigned to direct.
    “At last,” Stiller told Hanson, “they'll see what Greta can do.” Trouble started the minute he stepped on the set. “When I got there ready to start,” he later told his friend Ernest Mattson, “I saw 50 people standing around. ‘Who are all these people? What are they doing here?' I asked. I was told that one was an assistant director, another was an assistant producer, somebody called a script girl and so on. ‘Take them away,' I said. ‘I don't need them. All I need is a camera and actors.' But they all stayed.”
     Stiller succeeded almost at once in antagonizing the leading man, Antonio Moreno, one of the glossier Latin lovers of the era. First Stiller decided that the hero should be clean-shaven and ordered Moreno to get rid of his mustache. Stiller shortly afterward demanded that, in a shot of Moreno's feet under a table next to Garbo's, Moreno wear shoes several sizes too large for him to heighten the contrast. Moreno retired to his dressing room and staved there until Stiller gave up the idea.
     Playing his usual role of a tyrant with a megaphone, shouting, gesticulating and running about, Stiller alternately irritated and amused the other members of the cast. Frustrated by his inadequate English, he would circle around the actors and shout at them in a mixture of Swedish, English and German. When he wanted the cameraman to start shooting, he said, “Stop,” and when he wanted him to stop, he said, “Go.” In one scene he wanted a group of extras to applaud. “Now,” he shouted, “all explode.”
     “He liked to shoot everything and then make the film what he wanted it to be by cutting,” Lars Hanson has said. “He could never stick to a schedule. Mayer and Thalberg were very upset. They went to see the rushes, and they ... had no idea of even what he was trying to do. I remember Thalberg saying to me, ‘Is the man mad? Has he ever been behind a camera before?'”

The sorrows of Stiller

ONE night after Stiller had been working on The Temptress for 10 days he was summoned to Thalberg's Ace on the second floor of the M-G-M administration building. Albert Lewin, a Metro producer who was then Thalberg's assistant, caught a glimpse of the scene through the large front window of Thalberg's office.     “Irving was walking back and forth–he always walked around when he talked–and he was tossing that $20 gold piece of his up in the air, catching it and tossing it up again. I couldn't hear what was being said, of course, but it was plain that a very lively discussion was in progress. As I stood there I saw Greta Garbo walking up and down the asphalt street alongside the old wardrobe building. She would look up into the office where Irving and Stiller were talking, watch the characters inside for a moment and then walk away again. I watched her for quite a time as she continued that pacing up and down, up and down. ...”


OLD SWEDISH FRIENDS, Actor Lars Hanson (left) and Director Victor Seastrom, worked with Garbo on The Divine Woman after Stiller left the U.S.


     Stiller came out of Thalberg's office to announce that the picture was being turned over to another director and that no other assignment had been offered him by M-G-M. Garbo revealed her despair in a letter to Axel Nilson, a friend of Stiller's and hers in Sweden: “... When this thing happened to Moje, I thought the sun would never rise again. ...”
     The despondent Stiller was also far from well, though neither he nor Garbo fully realized it. As he sat on his terrace brooding, Garbo went about propping him up with pillows and doing what she could to cheer him up. The person who had been for so long her greatest source of strength had begun to crumble.
     The pervasive gloom lifted somewhat when Stiller rallied sufficiently to seek work. Paramount had recently brought over from Germany a brilliant producer named Erich Pommer, an admirer of Stiller's movies. Pommer borrowed Stiller from Metro to direct Hotel Imperial.
     Meanwhile, Garbo had finished The Temptress under the direction of Fred Niblo. Again the Swedes in the film colony turned out in a body for the preview and again they shook their heads collectively in disapproval. Stiller was so violently exercised that he sought out Thalberg in the lobby after the performance and berated him in German for having ruined Garbo as well as an excel­lent script. Thalberg did not speak German, so he simply nodded his head and said, “Ja ... ja ... ja.” Stiller rejoined his friends. “When I was at Metro,” he said, “that so-and-so pretended not to know any German. Now I find he speaks it fluently.”
     Stiller and the other critical Swedes again badly misjudged American critics and filmgoers. The Temptress was another distinct triumph for Greta Garbo. But Stiller was now so immersed in his own affairs that he could pay attention to little else. His Hotel Imperial got a warm reception from the Hollywood preview audience and soon was doing well in New York. Paramount offered him a contract at $2.500 a week. He accepted. “I'm going ahead and make one more picture,” Stiller remarked. “It will be genuine garbage, but I'll do that one and go home with the money.” Garbo too talked of leaving. “Moje and I will go home soon,” she said.

The final defeat

BUT STILLER went home alone. After Hotel Imperial he directed not one more picture but two. Both were failures and he got into a squabble with Paramount. When M-G-M announced its plans for Garbo's movie, The Divine Woman, his hopes were briefly revived. The Divine Woman, Stiller thought, was one film in which he and only he should direct Garbo. In it she was to play a role partially based on the career of the great actress Sarah Bernhardt–a role that would finally show the world Garbo's true artistic stature. The script was sensible and interesting, the locale European, and the supporting cast included Stiller's and Garbo's friend Lars Hanson. Despite his feud with Thalberg, Stiller hoped he could make M-G-M see that he was the logical choice for director. When the job went to his old friend Victor Seastrom it was the final humiliation.


GARBO AND MOTHER held a happy reunion during Garbo's 1928 visit home. In 1939 Garbo brought her mother to U.S. She died a few years later.


     Stiller resignedly packed his belongings. Only Seastrom and Garbo saw him off at the Los Angeles railroad station. Both she and Stiller wept when he kissed her goodby. “I will see you soon, Moje,” she called as Stiller waved to her from the departing train.
     When Stiller returned to Sweden, he was suffering from a lung ailment and an incurable circulatory disease. He refused to consult a doctor. In April 1928 he plunged into the job of directing a musical called Broadway. It was a success and Stiller's confidence revived. He even began to talk of going back to Hollywood. His friend, Hugo Lindberg, remembers his mentioning this at a party they both attended in the autumn of 1928. But three days later Stiller was in a hospital.
     It was there that Victor Seastrom, who had recently returned to Stockholm, found Stiller. “The moment I entered his room I saw a man marked by death,” Seastrom has recalled. “He cried like a child when he saw me.” Quickly composing himself, Stiller ordered the nurse to bring a bottle of champagne and was soon talking at a great rate.
     Seastrom visited Stiller daily, watching his old friend grow weaker and weaker. Repeatedly Stiller asked about Garbo. What Seastrom had to tell him must have given Stiller considerable satisfaction. The shy and awkward girl whom his colleagues at Svensk Filmindustri only five years before had viewed with monumental indifference was now one of the greatest stars of Hollywood (LIFE, Jan. 10) and had been able to dictate fabulous salary terms to the powerful Louis B. Mayer, whom Stiller once had to cajole into seeing her future greatness.
     When Seastrom told him that Garbo planned to return to Stockholm for Christmas, Stiller cheerfully predicted that he would be out of the hospital to meet her. “One day when I came home after having been with him for several hours,” Seastrom has said, “the nurse at the hospital called me on the phone and said that Stiller wanted me to come back as soon as possible because he had something very important to tell me. I hurried back and stayed with him more than an hour waiting for what he wanted to tell me. But he talked only about indifferent things.
     “The nurse finally came in and said she could not allow me to stay longer. Stiller got desperate. He grabbed my arm in despair and would not let me go. ‘No, no,' he cried. ‘I haven't told him what I must tell him!' The nurse separated us and pushed me toward the door. I tried to quiet and comfort him, saying that he could tell it to me tomorrow. But he got more and more desperate. His face was wet with tears. And he said, ‘I want to tell you a story for a film. It will be a great film. It is about real human beings, and you are the only one who can do it.' I was so moved I didn't know what to say. ‘Yes, yes, Moje,' was all I could stammer. ‘I will be with you the first thing in the morning and then you can tell me.' I left him crying in the arms of the nurse. There was no morning.”


STILLER'S GRAVE is in Stockholm's North Cemetery. After his death Garbo's friends sometimes overheard the actress saying, as though to herself, “He says I must do this,” or, “He doesn't want me to do that.”


     Stiller died on Nov. 8, 1928, at the age of 45. Seastrom cabled the news to Garbo.
     The wire was delivered to her on the set of Wild Orchids, where she was playing a love scene with Nils Asther. One of the men on the set remembers the scene clearly. “She turned deathly pale,” he has reported. “I thought she was going to faint. She walked slowly away from all of us, as if she were in a trance. When she got to the other side of the building, she stood there leaning against the wall with her hands pressed against her eves for several minutes. Then she pulled herself together, came back and continued the scene. She didn't say a word to anyone about what was in the wire.”
     Garbo did go home to Stockholm that Christmas. One morning she went to the office of Hugo Lindberg, who was executor of Stiller's estate. Garbo asked Lindberg for permission to look at Stiller's possessions, which were in storage awaiting auction. “I went with her,” Lindberg said recently, “and I remember vividly how she walked about the room touching this item and that. She seemed very upset emotionally and talked about Moje in a hushed voice, almost a whisper. ‘This was the suitcase he took to America,' she said, picking up the bag. ‘And these rugs–I remember when he bought them in Turkey.' We stayed for quite a time while she walked around among the furniture and paintings and all the other things. ... Then we started back to my office. As soon as we were on the street people recognized her and began to follow us. Greta walked faster and faster as the crowd grew bigger and bigger. Finally it got to be enormous and we were practically running. When we were back in my office at last, Greta seemed almost on the verge of tears. She sat down in a chair, took off her hat and threw it on the floor. ‘People are mad!' she exclaimed.”
     Garbo asked Lindberg for directions to Stiller's grave. He told her where to find it in the Jewish section of the North Cemetery on the outskirts of Stockholm and offered to accompany her there. “Thank you,” she said. “I will go alone.”




In his final instalment John Bainbridge writes candidly of Garbo's highly publicized romances-including those with a famous musician and a successful health specialist–as well as her periods of hermitlike, aimless existence in retirement. He analyzes “the tragedy of Greta Garbo ... the difference between what she was and the ... appeal she came to be and symbolize.”



from:   LIFE      January 17, 1955
© Copyright by  LIFE


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