Beaton entered Garbo's life in a most romantic way in 1932. He had long been desperate to meet her and, as the current Hollywood houseguest of Edmund Goulding and his wife, Marjorie Moss, he had asked them to arrange it. They tried, but Garbo said no, on the grounds that "he talks to newspapers". Beaton was in despair, but on the last day of his visit he looked out the Gouldings' upstairs window to see Garbo below casually chatting with his hosts.
"If a unicorn had suddenly appeared in the late afternoon light of this ugly, ordinary garden, I could have been neither more surprised nor more amazed by the beauty of this exotic creature," he wrote. At their introduction, "she pervaded a scent of new-mown hay, and of freshly-washed children". They hit it off beyond his wildest dream. "You're so beautiful," she told him. "But you're so beautiful," he replied. "No," she said, "you should never return a compliment."
She spoke lightheartedly of "her coloured maid, whose husband had cold feet at night" and of "a woman who had an oversize Adam's apple". A vase of freshly sprayed roses was on the bar, and Garbo asked, "Oh, who put the dew on them?" She picked one out, kissing and fondling it "with an infinite variety of caresses."
Later, she became extremely interested in the sex of two cold chickens on the buffet. Suddenly, the air was electric. Garbo hated off-color jokes – most of all, for some reason, those related to the posterior. Goulding, said Beaton, had "idiotically proclaimed that if Garbo didn't do his bidding as director he'd turn her upside down and give her a smacking where she sits upon." Garbo reprimanded him sharply, and to help breach the gaffe Beaton asked her upstairs to look at his photographs. She went.
"Are you happy?" she asked him there. "Yes., ‘It's so easy to say Yes.' "And you?" She sighed, and gave a deeply soulful reply: "Tomorrow I go to work with a lot of people who are dead. It's so sad. I'm an onlooker. I've passed being active in life. It's not a question of time and age – it's just what you are yourself." But then it was past twilight, and the mood shifted again. They went downstairs, and everyone was soon dancing to the radio. Garbo imitated Douglas Fairbanks, swinging from the cross beams. They all did improvisations to Strauss waltzes, Rachmaninoff and "Wunderbar".
"Garbo, as a policeman, arrested me for some importunity," said Beaton. "The lights were turned out and our bacchanalia became wilder in the firelight." Suddenly, she announced she was leaving; she had to be at the studio in a few hours. As she sat at the wheel of her car, Beaton held her hand through the window and told her he was due to leave California but if she'd see him again, he would stay. Could he come and eat spinach with her at the studio that day? "No."
In desperation, he grabbed a feather duster that was lying by her side and asked if he could keep it as a memento. "No." Then this was goodbye? "Yes. I'm afraid so. C'est la vie!" It was better than The Green Hat or any movie script. Poor Garbo – Prey Girl of the Western World. Everyone was in pursuit of her, physically and emotionally. And poor Beaton – so honest and direct about it, and so neurotic. It was no secret that he used photography as a means of social entree, career advancement and personal ends. Jean Cocteau referred to him and his Hollywood articles as Malice in Wonderland. Beaton's Garbo accounts, then and later; were extremely revealing, to revealing, to his own detriment but to the benefit of history.