A few years ago a pounting, sullen blonde could always be seen having lunch by herself in a film company's cafeteria in Hollywood. She could hardly speak a word of english, she hated nearly everybody, she was thoroughly miserable and looked it. She had only lately arrived in Hollywood and possessed two dresses, two hats, one set of underclothes and no friends. Her name was Greta Gustaffson - Garbo for short.
She was often by herself and lonely, she came from Sweden and, like many Swedes, was of an almost albino blondness with pale eyelashes; her hair was tousled, she showed no signs of being "soignée", but she photographed well and the company would use her for publicity pictures, posing in grotesque situations and clothes, and absurd animals belonging to the property man's paraphernalia would come in useful to make a 'stunning' caption.
In the photographs this young woman possessed a rare, eerie quality, and soon she improved her appearance a hundredfold by painting her face in a very definite and unusual, though to her very becoming, way, with the eyelids blackened heavily and the brows plucked in the shape of a butterfly's antennae. She looked like some pale being that belongs beneath the water, some ephemeral sprite or naiad to be seen for one fleeting glimpse in a greenish, unearthly light, with flowing, waving hair, holding cornucopias of shiny shells.
Today this young woman -The Garbo as she is known - is the most glamorous figure in the whole world; there is no one with a more magnetic, romantic or exotic personality, there never has been a film star with so wide an appeal... Greta Garbo is Queen of Hollywood, her salary is fabulous, her word law. She has pointed features in a round face, her mouth is wide and knife-like. Her teeth are large and square and like evenly matched pearls; her eyes are pale, with lashes so long that when she lowers her lids they strike her cheeks; her complexion is of an unearthly whiteness and so delicate that she looks to have one layer of skin less than other people, and the suspicion of a frown is sooner perceptible.
Garbo by Beaton
Her sinuous movements are panther-like, mermaid-like, and though she is tall, with massive arms, hands and legs, she is an ethereal wraith. How mysteriously beautiful she was as the pale orphan in her first big role in the german film The Joyless Street. Surely there never has been such beauty before. She was like a rare, white convolvulus, and her acting was so simple and poignantly touching that one wondered why no other actress had been able to act like that before; her smile seemed so spontaneous and candid that it looked easy to smile like that.
Hollywood then claimed her and discovered that she could be the world's most voluptuous lover, that she could kiss better than anyone else, and possessed more sex appeal... She appeared in such films as Flesh and the Devil, The Temptress, Love, The Kiss, A Woman of Affairs, The Mysterious Lady. The young officer, in Ruritanian uniform and wearing gloves, would bow formally and kiss her hand; they would look at one another with half-shut eyes, half-opened mouths and trembling nostrils; and this would lead to close-ups of smouldering embraces...
Her whole film carrer is but a passing phase in her existence, which one feels began and will end with time itself. With her slightly insane look, eyes that are thinking strange thoughts, and weary smile, she is Leonardo's Gioconda, a clairvoyant who, possessed of a secret wisdom, knows and sees all.