THE GREAT GARBO: PART THREE

‘The Braveness
To e Be Herself

IN PRIVATE AFFAIRS OR IN PUBLIC
GARBO IGNORES OTHERS' OPINIONS

by JOHN BAINBRIDGE

 

STILL STRIKING FIGURE, GARBO PAUSES ON A NEW YORK CORNER

 

GRETA GARBO maintains that her most famous remark has always been misquoted. “I never said, ‘I want to be alone,'” she told a friend recently. “I only said, ‘I want to be let alone!' There is all the difference.” The difference, indeed, is that between the legend of Garbo the recluse and the actual life of Garbo the woman.
     Garbo has undergone periods of determined solitude, but she has seldom been literally alone. She has always had friends, although they have admittedly been few, and she has frequently had close male friends, although the exact nature of her attachment to them has often been shrouded in fascinating ambiguity. The source. of the ambiguity has been Garbo herself, and the reason for it has perhaps been her ultimate urge to be “let alone.” This fear of involvement may to a considerable extent also account for the strange and seemingly aimless life Garbo leads today, in her 49th year, and for the mystery of her 13-year absence from the screen.
     In Hollywood, city of the floodlit romance, only once was her name “linked,” as they say there, with another star's in a manner that movie fans found satisfactorily exciting. That star was John Gilbert, and her late 1920s romance with him (LIFE, Jan. 10) wound up most unsatisfactorily from the gossip columnists' viewpoint. They were to be equally disappointed during the 1930s when Garbo briefly raised their hopes by keeping company with the actor George Brent and the director Rouben Mamoulian.
     More interesting only because more off the beaten track have been Garbo's casual attachments to three Swedish fellow countrymen of widely varying backgrounds: a prince, a youthful dilettante and a construction engineer.
     Garbo met 21-year-old Prince Sigvard of Sweden while en route home after her great mentor, Mauritz Stiller, died in 1928 (LIFE, Jan. 17). When word got out that she and the prince had enjoyed a few dinners and evenings on the town together, Swedish and American newspapers began gleefully hinting at a royal romance. When a reporter asked her about it on her return to New York, Garbo coolly remarked, “I don't play around with kids.”
     On this same trip Garbo met Wilhelm Sorensen, who was the son of a wealthy Swedish industrialist and is now a film writer. So smitten was he that shortly afterward he turned up in Hollywood. On his first night there he was allowed to use the guest room in Garbo's house, an almost unheard-of privilege. The next day he moved to a hotel, but he and Garbo subsequently spent much time together and long after the friendship ended a small bust of him shared honors in her home with a photograph of Mauritz Stiller.
     Another Swede for whom Garbo had a fondness was a self-made construction engineer named Max Gumpel, who first met her when she was a department store clerk named Greta Gustafsson. Gumpel recalled many years later her dismay when, after accepting a dinner invitation from him, she was confronted with her first artichoke. With his help she mastered the vegetable, and the two spent a good deal of time together in the ensuing year or so before she entered Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theatre school in 1922. In 1932 Gumpel received a phone call from a woman who said she was Greta Garbo. Although he strongly suspected a practical joke, as most people tend to in these circumstances, Gumpel invited the caller to dinner. When Garbo arrived, she was wearing only one piece of jewelry–a small diamond ring Gumpel had given her years before. Thereafter the two were seen together around Stockholm often enough to inspire rumors that they were planning to marry. Actually most of the time that Garbo was not playing tennis with Gumpel she was getting useful counsel from him on investments in Sweden.
     During all of these episodes Garbo was relentlessly pursued by fans, by reporters and by gossip–and just as determinedly she fended them off. Repeatedly the myth of Garbo's “aloneness” was built up by her dogged defenses of her personal privacy; her furtive comings and goings from her Beverly Hills home; her headlong flights from fans and reporters in Hollywood, New York and in Europe; her refusal to allow strangers or even strange technicians on the sets of her movies. A hundred times in various ways she expressed the plaint she had made to a photographer in a Swedish crowd: “Man, think of my feelings!”

Stokowski's speedy overture

IN 1937 Garbo began a romantic interlude beside which those with the prince, Sorensen and Gumpel looked pale indeed. The companion whom the newspapers then called her “dream man” was the famous and flamboyant conductor, Leopold Stokowski. Stokowski approached romance with Garbo just as directly and systematically as he might have tackled a new symphonic problem. Arriving in Hollywood to do some movie work, he looked up his old friend Anita Loos, author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and beseeched her to arrange a meeting between him and the world's most famous blonde. “Stoky didn't waste much time on the overture,” one of those who watched the ensuing romance has said, describing how he immediately began to pour on the charm. “He told Garbo they were destined to have a history-making romance, like Wagner's with Cosima.... The gods had made their decision. Mere mortals could only obey. It was the direct attack mixed with a little mystical stuff. Any kind of mystical stuff made quite a hit with Garbo in those days.”
     In December 1937, Stokowski's second wife, Evangeline Brewster Johnson, obtained a Nevada divorce from the maestro. By this time Hollywood was getting used to the sight of the 32-year-old Garbo and the 55-year-old Stokowski doing the rumba at parties and Garbo had been heard privately referring to Stokowski as “my boyfriend.”
     In February 1938, Stokowski departed for Italy, where he proceeded to the tiny, historic village of Ravello, near Naples. There he had taken a month's lease on the ancient, handsome Villa Cimbrone, on a mountainside commanding a magnificent view of the Mediterranean. Within a week he was joined by Garbo, who had been in Sweden visiting her family. She arrived wearing blue flannel trousers and a pair of sweaters. Her luggage consisted of one small suitcase, much the worse for wear. No other luggage followed.

 

HER ROMANCES, real and rumored, in years since 1928 have involved (from top) young Swedish prince, a writer, engineer, conductor, businessman.


PRINCE SIGVARD

WILHELM SORENSEN

MAX GUMPEL

LEOPOLD STOKOWSKI

GEORGE SCHLEE

ITALIAN RETREAT of Stokowski and Garbo was ancient Villa Cimbrone near Ravello, where they were besieged by scores of newspapermen who climbed trees and theroofs of adjoining houses in attempts to get pictures.

 

     The two were able to enjoy the first three or four days of their holiday in peace. Then journalists of all nationalities descended on Ravello like an invading army. The couple retired into the villa behind a line of defense consisting of a locked gate with a large KEEP OUT sign on it, four policemen and three police dogs.
     The demand for news about Garbo and Stokowski was running so far ahead of the supply that even the shoddiest journalistic wares were snapped up by editors. A typical story out of Ravello told how Garbo and Stokowski strolled into the barnyard of the villa, where a cow named Emma was being milked. “After stroking the cow's nose and murmuring a few Swedish endearments, Miss Garbo sat down on the stool, while Stokowski held the cow's head, and drew three quarts of milk.” Other and equally fanciful newspaper tales described how Stokowski “picked fresh white camellias and presented them with conductorial bows to ‘my lady of the camellias,'” and how the two walked side by side “holding hands like puppy lovers.”
     Subsequently an American who had close connections with the Villa Cimbrone and its servants learned how Garbo and Stokowski actually did spend their days under siege.
     Garbo's single, battered suitcase was unpacked by the villa's housekeeper, an elderly Swiss woman who had spent most of her life in the service of the English aristocracy. Her opinion of Garbo as a mere actress was confirmed by a look inside the visitor's luggage. The suitcase contained not a single dress. In it were a pair of blue espadrilles, several pairs of dark glasses, a bathing suit, a pair of coarse sleeping pajamas and several pots of jam.

 

HARASSED SIGHTSEERS Garbo and Stokowski were caught by a news photographer as they came out of the Vatican Museum in Rome, where they fled after an attempted truce with the reporters at Ravello had broken down.

SPOOFING THE SOVIETS in Ninotchka, 1939 satire that was her only successful comedy in the U.S., Garbo parodied a grim Red May Day marcher.

 

     Garbo told the maid she wanted the pajamas washed every morning, ironed and returned to her room by evening. The jam Garbo guarded jealously. When she came down to breakfast each morning, she brought a pot of it with her. Her main breakfast dish was a bowl of corn flakes over which she spread several spoonfuls of the jam and then poured a cup of coffee. As soon as breakfast was over, she took the jam back upstairs and locked it in her bedroom.
     To work up an appetite for this morning meal Garbo spent 30 minutes in her bathing suit on the terrace with Stokowski doing vigorous Swedish calisthenics. Garbo, who led the exercises, was overheard one morning chanting, “One, two, one, two, Mis-ter Sto-kovf-ski, why can't you keep time, one, two.”
     Lunch was served promptly at noon and invariably consisted of raw carrots, although for variety both yellow and red carrots were served. They were eaten straight, without salt, which was never allowed on the table. At tea between 3:30 and 4:30 Garbo plied herself with sandwiches, honey, jam and cake. At dinner she reverted to her vegetarian diet, consuming only raw salad and fruit. The day was over at 8 o'clock, when Garbo went to bed.
     After three embattled weeks Stokowski moved to raise the siege by striking a bargain with representatives of the various large news agencies: in return for an interview with Garbo they would agree to call off their watch.
     The delegation of correspondents was solemnly ushered into the villa's library by Stokowski, who then left the room, rubbing his hands nervously. Garbo rose from a sofa as her interrogators entered and began walking back and forth in front of the big fireplace. The reporters were seated. “Well,” she said, “what do you want?”
     A reporter asked whether she intended to marry Stokowski. She shook her head. Another correspondent asked, “Are you married?” She shook her head again. Then, looking at the journalists and giving them a slight, cold smile, she said, “There are some who want to get married, and others who do not. I have never had any impulse to go to the altar.” She paused, gazing out the windows toward Amalfi Bay.
     “I haven't many friends,” she said suddenly. “I haven't seen much of the world. My friend, Mr. Stokowski, who has been very much to me, offered to take me around and see some of the beautiful things. I optimistically accepted. I was naive enough to think I could travel without being discovered and without being hunted.” She spoke more rapidly, “Why can't we avoid being followed and examined? It is cruel to bother people who want to live in peace.”
     The reporters went on with their questions. One asked Garbo if she had plans for marriage any time in the future. “Marriage?” she mused. “I wouldn't know. There seems to be a law that governs all our actions, so I never make plans.”
     With that she indicated that the interview was over. She smiled slightly as she thanked the newspapermen for their visit and bravely shook hands with them as they filed out.
     A week later Garbo and Stokowski left Ravello. After a sightseeing trip to North Africa and across Europe they went early in May to Sweden. Here for nearly three months they managed to find a little privacy at a country estate called Harby, which Garbo had purchased in 1936 for the equivalent of $55,000. Situated 40 miles south of Stockholm on Lake Sillen, Harby comprised a thousand acres of farmland and forest with a handsome, 15-room house commanding a fine view of Lake Sillen. Signs reading KEEP OUT and ABSOLUTELY PRIVATE were placed around the estate. In addition Garbo had purchased a tract of land on the opposite side of the lake, evidently to preclude telescopic spying.

 

LAST FILM, Two-Faced Woman, in 1941, showed off Garbo's new hair-do, new oomph-girl qualities.

 

     Occasionally Garbo and her guest motored to the nearby village of Gnesta to do marketing. For the most part the villagers paid little attention to them but Garbo's habit of haggling over her purchases is still remembered by local merchants. “‘Carrots cost too much' seemed to be her favorite expression,” one merchant says.
     At the end of July, Stokowski returned alone to the U.S. Garbo arrived in New York a couple of months later and to the surprise of newspapermen granted a shipboard interview.
     After she had parried questions about Stokowski she was asked if she ever planned to marry. “If I could find the right person to share my life with–perhaps I would,” Garbo answered. Someone wanted to know if she considered “single blessedness” the proper state for a professional woman. “If you are blessed, you are blessed, whether you are married or single,” Garbo replied.
     About her visits to an infant that had been born on the voyage, she said, “I am always very interested in babies. The birth of a baby is always a miracle.” Would she like to have children of her own? Garbo shrugged. “No. The world now seems much too difficult. ... I would not want to raise a son or any children to go to war. ...” Had she enjoyed her vacation? Sighing huskily, she replied, “You cannot have a vacation without peace and you cannot have peace unless left alone.”
     After spending a few days in New York, during which she was never seen with Stokowski, Garbo left for Hollywood. There is no record of the two having met since.
     Soon Garbo was hard at work with director Ernst Lubitsch on Ninotchka, a brilliant satire of Communism, in which Hollywood recognized after 14 years the comic talents that she had displayed in her first movie roles in Sweden. On the set of Ninotchka she was so uncommonly cheerful that people who had worked with her before were bewildered. She joked with the crew; she played in an impromptu noonday baseball game on the lot (revealing a good throwing arm–the result, she said, of youthful snowballing in Sweden) ; and she even gave an autograph to a fan, a teen-aged girl who accosted Garbo as her car slowed down to pass through the studio gates.
     But all this unwonted geniality did not spring solely from Garbo's delight in the opportunity to play comedy or to be directed by the talented Lubitsch. Primarily accountable was the dietitian, lecturer and writer, Gayelord (Look Younger, Live Longer) Hauser. Garbo fell under his bubbly influence after she had gone with a friend to a party at Hauser's Beverly Hills estate. Disappointed when Garbo's shyness made it hard for him to talk to her, Hauser implored her friend to persuade the actress to accept another invitation. Garbo at length sent word that she would come to dinner on condition that no other guests would be present. Nothing could have pleased Hauser more. When she made her solitary visit, Hauser served her one of his most tempting dishes: wild rice hamburgers, which are made of wild rice and chopped hazelnuts or walnuts, mixed with an egg, and fried in butter or peanut oil. Hauser later dedicated the recipe for them to Garbo.

 

RARE TALKATIVE MOMENT startled New York ship newsmen who met Garbo in 1938, heard her hold forth cheerfully on marriage, babies and war.

 

     Garbo was charmed by both the food and her handsome, ebullient, six-foot-three host. Before tong he had become her constant and exceedingly attentive escort.
     After converting Garbo to the blessings of some of his other dietary inventions, Hauser set out to change her social habits as well. Owing in large part to her natural longing to be led, Garbo submitted to Hauser's management withdocility. Their friendship began to be the subject of much comment in the press. The two were, said Louella Parsons, “thataway.”
     Not exactly troubled by such publicity, Hauser began dropping into his lectures such remarks as, “I ain't a vegetarian, and Garbo does not have big feet,” to the vast titillation of his female listeners. Garbo did not seem to mind and in fact even attended a few of the lectures.
     After the premier of Ninotchka, Garbo and Hauser departed together for New York, Palm Beach and the Bahamas. In New York, before they left for Florida, Hauser gave a friend at International News Service a complete advance story of his coming wedding to Garbo. As soon as the ceremony had been performed, Hauser promised, he would confirm the event by telephone and give I.N.S. a news beat. The Florida-Bahamas idyl lasted more than a month, but the confirming call never came. Despite this disappointment, Hauser continued to be Garbo's close friend and escort for many months after their return to Hollywood, but at length they drifted apart.
     Just as sadly inconclusive as Garbo's long and fruitless search for, as she has put it, “the right person to share my life with” were the circumstances surrounding Garbo's departure from motion pictures. In 1941 Metro executives apparently decided that Garbo must be transformed into a fun-loving American glamor girl. The picture selected for her debut in this new incarnation was called Two-Faced Woman. It was destined to be her last.
     As Two-Faced Woman went into production, the Metro publicity department began to prepare the American public for the emergence of “the new Garbo.” It became known that she would appear for the first time on the American screen in a bathing suit–a brief one she had designed herself. Not only that, it was breathlessly revealed, but she would also be shown wrestling with her man while clad in “filmy finery.”
     Although M-G-M did indeed deliver on these two promises, Two-Faced Woman otherwise provided Garbo mainly with sleazy double-entendre dialog and a creaky plot. Based on a dusty Hungarian farce, it required her to play the part of a wife who wins back her straying husband by impersonating her own highly seductive twin sister. M-G-M made the most of the many opportunities provided for suggestive humor, with the result that when Two-Faced Woman was released in November 1941 the National Legion of Decency condemned it as immoral and in some localities it was banned.
     The producers withdrew the film to purify it, but they succeeded only in making it more ludicrous. By the time the laundered version of Two-Faced Woman came out, the occasion was far from auspicious: it was less than a month after Pearl Harbor. Of the critics, only a few diehard Garbo fans had a good word for it. TIME called it “a trick played on a beautiful, shy, profoundly feminine actress. ... Its embarrassing effect is not unlike seeing Sarah Bernhardt swatted with a bladder.”
     The astonished and deeply hurt Garbo became convinced that malevolent forces were at work to bring about her downfall. “They've dug my grave,” she told an intimate friend. This unreasonable but apparently sincere belief, together with the effects of the war, the fact that she had all the money she needed and her natural lack of direction combined to make her lose interest in her career. So it was that at the height of her dramatic power, the 36-year-old Garbo quietly withdrew from motion pictures. She has never returned.

‘I'm sort of drifting'

FOR 13 years Greta Garbo has been the world's most fascinating lady in retirement. Returning from Europe in 1946, she was asked by reporters about her plans for the future. “I have no plans,” she said, “not for the movies, not for the stage, not for anything. I'm sort of drifting.” It would be hard to find a more apt phrase for her existence since leaving motion pictures. In recent years she has made her headquarters mostly in New York, where she now has a seven-room apartment in midtown overlooking the East river. Not long ago a friend asked her how she spent her time in the city. “Oh,” she replied, “sometimes I put on my coat at 10 in the morning and go out and follow people. I just go where they're going. I mill around.”
     Just catching a glimpse of Garbo “milling around” is still a thrilling event in the lives of most of those who do. A middle-aged lawyer who has an office on upper Madison Avenue was entranced on a recent evening to recognize Garbo standing in front of a small linen shop that was advertising a going-out-of-business sale. The lawyer, a loyal Garbo admirer since his college days, watched from a respectable distance as she gazed for some five minutes at the rather uninteresting display. He followed as she moved down the street, stopping here and there, window-shopping. Then he watched as she turned down a side street and strolled off into the night while he reluctantly hurried to catch his train to the suburbs. There he greeted his wife with, “Guess who I saw on the street today?” It happens all the time.
     Though Garbo's wanderings about New York follow no charted course, she has some more or less regular ports of call. She is a familiar figure in Third Avenue antique shops and has become friendly with several of the proprietors who describe her as charming, unaffected and pleasant to everyone. The shopkeepers have learned that she likes to be let alone as she wanders about by the hour, looking at this, picking up that and occasionally asking the price of something. Her purchases are extremely infrequent. A favorite Garbo haunt is a shop which has a workroom where antiques are restored. Saying little, she sits there by the hour watching the artisans at work.
     On her strolls Garbo also frequently drops in at Hammacher Schlemmer, the fashionable home-furnishings emporium on East 57th Street, to buy kitchen utensils, glassware and other such items for her apartment. Her purchases are nearly always in the reasonable price range. At Wynne and Treanor, a select Madison Avenue food store, she sometimes lets herself go, splurging on fresh caviar at around $30 a pound, but just as often her sole purchase will be one can of French soup.
     When the weather is bad, she may pass part of the afternoon at the Plaza Theatre, a small moviehouse on East 58th Street that often shows foreign films. “Garbo doesn't like to be fussed over,” the theater manager has said. “If the house is crowded and we offer her a box, she always says, ‘Oh, thank you,' in a surprised way. She never demands favors the way other actresses do who come here.”

 

WITH BARON ROTHSCHILD (center) Garbo stopped off at Salzburg, Austria during 1952 tour on which she used the incognito “Harriet Brown.”

 

     When she feels the need of companionship Garbo may lunch at the Colony with friends or drop in at the Museum of Modern Art to see her bachelor friend Allen Porter, who arranges showings of her own and other old movies for her. Or she may stop by the apartment of one of her women friends. She never calls ahead of time and she departs as abruptly as she arrives. A retired professional woman upon whom Garbo calls every once in a while has described her visits by saying, “It's like being friends with a hummingbird. She lights on your hand, and there is this vivid creature, and then she flies away.”
     Probably the two strongest friendships that Garbo has formed during the years of her retirement have been with George Schlee and Baron Erich Goldschmidt-Rothschild. The baron, a distinguished looking man of extensive means and total leisure, is 61. He and Garbo take long walks together in Central Park, dine at expensive restaurants, go shopping, visit art exhibitions and otherwise while away the hours. Under the tutelage of the baron, who owned an important art collection in Germany before Hitler came to power, Garbo has developed an interest in art and has invested in a few paintings, including a Renoir, a Degas and a Soutine.
     It was Gayelord Hauser who brought Garbo and George Schlee together. As part of his energetic program to make Garbo look younger, live longer and generally be happier and healthier, Hauser aroused her interest in clothes and arranged for a friend to take her to the salon of the couturière Valentina to select a wardrobe. Schlee is Valentina's husband and business partner. As a consequence of Garbo's visit, Valentina and Schlee became good friends with their new customer and as time passed Garbo saw a lot of both the designer and her husband.

A man who can give her directions

IT is the notion of some of Garbo's intimates that she was attracted to Schlee because he resembles Mauritz Stiller. Like Stiller, who grew up in Russian-ruled Finland, Schlee has a Russian background. Like Stiller, Schlee has heavy features, large hands, and discourses fluently on nearly any topic. Schlee is also capable of giving Garbo directions, a faculty she has always appreciated.
     A while ago when Schlee was in the hospital, Garbo and Valentina sensibly spelled each other in providing him company. Garbo handled the afternoon visit while Valentina was tending to her work and Valentina took over the evening stint. Valentina continues to make many of Garbo's clothes. On one occasion Garbo and Valentina stunned the guests at a dinner party by arriving with Schlee between them, the two women attired in identical dark blue handkerchief linen skirts and white blouses, designed by Valentina.
     The manner in which Garbo arranges her social affairs nowadays may be indicated by her European visit a couple of summers ago. She flew to Paris with Schlee, who then escorted her to England, where she visited for three weeks with Cecil Beaton. (The previous fall, as Beaton's guest, she had met Princess Margaret, with whom, someone said, she got along “like a palace on fire.”) Leaving England, Garbo spent a few days in Paris in company with Schlee, and then went on to Austria for a trip with Baron Rothschild, his former wife and her mother. After leaving this complicated menage Garbo rejoined Schlee in the south of France.
     A couple of weeks after returning to New York she was asked at a party how her summer had been. Looking tragic, Garbo replied, “It was awe-ful, simply awe-ful.”
     It has always been Garbo's burden that because of her Sphinx-like air people constantly expect that she is on the verge of saying something of vast import. The Garbo remarks of recent years that have made a lasting impression on her friends arc notable less for profundity than mysteriousness. A traveling companion once found her sitting on the floor of her hotel room swathed from head to foot in blankets. Asked what she was doing, Garbo solemnly replied, “I am an unborn child.” Another time she suddenly told a friend, “I had an awful row with God this morning,” which was the more surprising since, despite her onetime affinity for Stokowski's mysticism, she almost never talks about religion.
     Similarly politics, literature and the state of the world concern her hardly at all. Friends who have given her books have been disappointed never to discover whether she has opened them. During the Second World War she displayed her grasp of world affairs by proposing, after she had learned that Hitler was devoted to her films, ‘that she go and try to talk him out of the awful things he was doing. “At least,” she said quite seriously, “if I can't make him change his mind, I could shoot him.” Later in the war her reaction to a dinner-table strategy session during the battle of Stalingrad was “Ooh, those Russian soldiers must be beautiful.”

‘Do you have a lover?'

FOR Garbo, who was able to express emotions on the screen with such liberated clarity, self-expression away from it often seems an agonizing process. Her conversational manner is inclined to be tentative. She often prefaces a remark with something to the effect that, “I suppose this sounds silly, coming from me,” or, “You probably won't believe this, but ...” Like a child who has moved into a new neighborhood, she is apt to attempt conversation with people she has just met–if she attempts it at all–by asking direct questions: “What do you do? Are you married? Do you have children?” She dismayed a fashionable New York milliner she had just met by suddenly asking, “Do you have a lover?” The tragedy of Greta Garbo, it becomes clear, lies in the difference between what she was and the esthetic, romantic appeal she came to be and symbolize. The two entities, the woman and the legend, are at opposite poles, hopelessly irreconcilable. And yet Garbo must live with both.
     The legendary Garbo, the one whose peerless image graced the screen, is the creation of imaginative people who, one of them said in a moment of disillusion, “turned a healthy peasant girl into an exotic spy.” Not content to gaze upon the most fabulous face of the century, they invested its owner with mythical qualities that fascinated them and burdened her. They could not resist making up little stories about her. Garbo's intimates gossiped about her endlessly among themselves; and some of the facts and stories they related about her inevitably spread to outsiders ready to believe and pass on both facts and fancies. Thus the legend was spun and Garbo became in the minds of the imaginative. millions the myth that had been fashioned by the few–a strange, hermetic goddess, a temple figure of beauty, secrecy and omniscience.
     It may all have been, in the end, a great disservice, for the real Garbo has never been able to live up to the myth. She has always been what she is today–a woman with a child's charming, tragic innocence. She is shrewd, willful; instinctive, completely self-absorbed. She is secretive and she has a childlike indifference to all desires but her own. She is condemned to live in a small, cloistered world because of her reluctance or inability to accept the responsibilities of adult friendship.

Stirrings in her film ‘grave'

IN the past 13 years the question of Garbo's return to motion pictures has constantly recurred and repeatedly, for one reason or another, been dropped again. Although some of the countless movie projects proposed to her have been thwarted for reasons beyond her control, not the least of the reasons for her continued inactivity has been her own inability to come to grips with the idea of again becoming a film actress. Her more or less hopeless attitude toward the subject has been revealed in her references to the ill-fated Two-Faced Woman as “my grave.”
     Of the hundreds of scripts she has read since the war, Garbo has shown serious interest in about half a dozen. In 1947 she agreed to play the part of the fabulous French novelist George Sand in a film to be financed by British, French and American capital. Garbo was genuinely disappointed when, primarily because of trouble over distribution, the venture failed.
     For a while she was attracted by an idea of John Gunther's for a film about a foreign correspondent and a beautiful lady spy. With her encouragement and that of M-G-M production chief Dore Schary, Gunther went to work and wrote the scenario. After Garbo had read it, her only comment was, “I think it's a perfect part for Greer Garson.”
     In 1948 Garbo actually signed a contract for $200,000 with independent Producer Walter Wanger and accepted $25,000 in salary for preliminary work on a picture based on Balzac's La Duchesse de Langeais, a florid tale of a beautiful, worldly woman who finally takes a nun's vows and dies at 29. Garbo made screen tests, learned the script and in the summer of 1949 arrived in Rome, where the picture was to be filmed. But because of financial and other difficulties one postponement followed another, and at last the project was abandoned.
     In 1952 Producer Nunnally Johnson sent her proofs of Daphne du Maurier's novel My Cousin Rachel and through George Cukor invited her to undertake the title role in the film version of it. After reading the novel, Garbo said she was very interested in playing the part. Optimistically Johnson went to New York to arrange the details. When he got there, Garbo had changed her mind. “I'm sorry,” she told Johnson, “I can't go through with it. I don't have the courage ever to make another picture.”
     Not long ago an old and very good friend came to her and explained that he was about to undertake a television program and, having had no experience before a camera, asked if she would give him a few pointers. Garbo declined. “Oh, that is all in the past,” she said wearily. “I've forgotten all that.”
     The script of Garbo's life would have had a different, though perhaps no happier, finale if she had been able to allow herself to be molded into the standardized Hollywood product, sharing her life with the crowd. Garbo refused to do that. She had dignity and nobility, and she had genius. Like so many great actresses, she may never have possessed a particle of intellectual power, but she had genius before the camera because she was guided by instinct to do the right thing in the right way. She was a true artist and she practiced her art, to the extent she was permitted, as she has always lived her life, with a fine indifference to the opinion of the world. “She is brave, poor Garbo,” one of her oldest European friends has said. “She has the braveness to be herself.”

 

A LONELY FORM clad in a black sealskin coat, black hat and black boots, Garbo crosses, First Avenue near her New York home on a recent afternoon.

 

from:   LIFE      January 24, 1955
© Copyright by  LIFE

 

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