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Garbo's Back

"Think an artist who abandons his art is the saddest thing in the world, sadder than death. There must have been something about Garbo's film career that profoundly revolted her."

(Tennessee Williams 1911 - 1983)


Garbo's grand-nephew Scott Reisfield said that over the decades m any have asked him and his family, "What did Garbo do for so long after her last film?". Scott always said that Garbo was involved with several unrealized film projects until the late fifties.

The project that came closest to fruition was The Duchess of Langeais, a Walter Wanger project that was developed in 1949 but finally fell apart due to financing and censorship issues in 1953.

In the eighties,  Garbo told her niece Gray Reisfield that she would still make a film if the right role came along. It never did.
Unrealized Projects
La Duchesse de Langeais
After Garbo's last film

Although Garbo's last film Two-faced woman, released in 1941, didn't become a big success, it shouldn't remain her last movie at all. Nobody dared to maintain that. And nobody believed it actually.

Garbo had signed a new MGM contract. The major studio was surely convinced to find a new fitting role for its top star, all fans worldwide were waiting for a new Garbo movie- and even Garbo herself didn't think of getting retired at the age of 36. It would have been more than silly to leave the business that young. A divine woman couldn't do so.

Every big star of the film industry had made very successful movies and flops as well. Famous and popular actors and actresses had to suffer from box office poison during their careers. 1941, in the middle of World War II, it wasn't a very good time for a Garbo movie like Two-faced Woman. It was a fatal fact and a disappointment but that shouldn't mean the end of an incomparable career.

Garbo as an icon of beauty and as actress of excellency knew that. And she was quite convinced to make a new movie after the last desaster which would be successful again. Maybe she had become hyper careful regarding her role selection and didn't want to do a mistake again. But she also knew there were a lot of wonderful roles available she could take and play.

The Girl from Leningrad

On December 20, 1942, Garbo signed a one-picture contract with MGM offering her the same basic terms as her Two-Faced Woman agreement.

Within a few short months, however, Metro canceled the project. One could only speculate about the reasons. “Perhaps Garbo's enthusiasm was not emphatic enough, or they did not want to make afilm sympathetic to the Soviets,”   Salka offered . Garbo found the script 'depressing'.

Due to the bailout, according to the terms of her contract, she was entitled to full payment. Louis B. Mayer had a check for $80,000 prepared, but much to his amazement, Garbo refused it.

She could not accept what she had not earned. Even when it would have been to her financial advantage, the actr ess refused to play games, said producer David Lewis. “She simply existed within what she really was.”

MGM was busy to find her a new role

As long as she lived in Hollywood after her last movie, her own studio was busy to find a new role for her.
Mayer hired a number of people to look for Garbo properties.  Adela Rogers St. John was one of them. She alone wrote more than four hundred memos (!!!!) to Mayer with ideas for Garbo films, usually running to ten or twelve pages.  Mayer sent those he liked to Garbo, then checked with her.

But also many other producers, directors, writers and friends offered or suggested fitting subjects and wanted to get Garbo for a new project. Garbo was very particular. She hesitated so often when  she wasn't completely convinced of the quality of a new film and her special part.

Garbo herself had her own ideas. She was fascinated by crossdressing parts. She could imagine to play Cyrano de Bergerac, Hamlet, Dorian Gray or Peter Pan.  MGM thought differently. A beauty and screen goddess as an ugly Cyrano or an unglamourous man? Impossible!

Garbo was waiting. She received numerous offers. All great historical persons or the famous ones of world literature, books and stage plays. George Sand, Marie Curie, Saint Joan, Cesar and Cleopatra, Jane Eyre, Mourning becomes Electra, Madame Bovary (Garbo liked the book by Flaubert very much!) and many more.

The comeback that never was

Then, years later, at the end of 1948, one special project was planned and seemed to get reality. Walter Wanger wanted to produce Balzac's La Duchess de Langelais with Greta as Duchess and under direction of Max Ophüls. Her leading man should be James Mason. Garbo liked the story and was willing to do that film.

The screen-tests

In 1949 she made 3 different screen tests for the new movie under three different cameramen, among them her trusted “friend” William Daniels. Those screen tests are just fabulous!


Garbo plays with the camera, laughs, smiles, touches her hair, is in a funny mood and gives the impression of being incredibly happy to act infront of a camera again. Finally! There wasn't a single doubt that she would become the best Duchess one could imagine. She still was the divine Garbo, 8 years after her last movie. And even more beautiful than ever….

Garbo was very disappointed...

But the fatal strike happened again. A lot of problems had arisen, especially financial ones. Finally it was evident that the planned film couldn't get financed. Garbo was very disappointed and sad. She had been looking forward to the Duchess so much. And now there wasn't any chance left to do the film.

Garbo travelled around. She wanted to forget what had happened. And probably she even knew she has to leave Hollywood forever, to move somewhere else. To New York.

But even in the Fifties in New York where she lived until she died, she still didn't give up hope to return to the cinema one day. She was an independent woman without financial sorrows, she was a globetrotter, she had her friends and relationships, she was still popular and unforgotten. And producers, directors, writers and friends kept on to convince her to come back.

Even decades after her last movie she still received numerous offers. A streetcar named desire by Tennessee Williams, Orphee by Jean Cocteau, Ulysses by Homer, Mother Courage by Bert Brecht, Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, all great stage roles and literature parts for a mature woman were offered to her. In vain.

The best directors tried to get her

The best directors tried to get her, Hitchcock, Duvivier, Ophüls, Visconti even Cukor again. She received screenplays for new movies which became very successful lateron- but starring other Hollywood actresses because Garbo declined.

My Cousin Rachel, Eleonora Duse, Sarah Bernhardt, Lady Chatterly, Out of Africa, Anastasia, Sunset Blvd., 55 Days in Peking, Tschaikowsky, Ludwig II, Fedora, Mother Theresa, Zelig, In search of a lost time and many many others. But nobody could bring her back, nothing could convince her.

Garbo's magic didn't vanish

Garbo's magic didn't vanish. Films were made about her person without her participation, TV shows, documentaries, musicals, songs, books, stage plays. Garbo had retired somehow- but actually she was still the unique person for the whole world.

It is maintained that we know from more than 300 offers and suggestions in the time from 1941 till 1990. Although she had become a private person, she still was the divine symbol, the divine icon. And Garbo herself? Well, even as an old lady she could imagine to do a new film if the screeplay and the role would fulfill her desires and requests. She told that to her family. So we know it for sure.

The fatal strike was stronger. She didn't have a comeback. But that doesn't matter. Because a divine screen goddess will remain divine forever….Immortal.

Garbo about coming back

Winston Churchill  urged me to make a come-back!

"I met Winston Churchill several times while staying on the Riviera, mostly through Onassis. Churchill couldn't understand why I stopped filming, and urged me to make a come-back."

He felt I should start working again the very next day. "I t's never too late,” he said. “Look at me, I didn't become Prime Minister until I was over fifty years old and I had to fight a World War."

Who would want a second term as a president?

"Don't ever ask me about the movies, especially why I left them...I mean, who would want a second term as  president? I've dodged the past. Imagine if other actresses my age hibernated the way I do-they'd probably  commit suicide.

I'm sorry for a lot of things, for quitting things, but I've always lived my own peculiar way, willy-nilly. I'm sort of a free-going spirit, otherwise I can't exist."

Did you know?

 She had her first comeback in 1933 with Queen Christina.


Unrealized Projects
La Duchesse de Langeais


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