Garbo's Signature
- By Jonathan W. -



Introduction

The legend of Greta Garbo's signature and it's rarity, can be traced back to her early years in Hollywood, when she refused to sign autographs,  give interviews, attend film premieres or answer fan mail, some fifteen thousand letters a week, which were burnt, unopened by the sackfull: “Who are all these people who write? I don't know them. They don't know me. What have we to write each other about? Why do they want my picture? I'm not their relative.”(1)

A Scandinavian Attitude

It was a typically Scandinavian attitude that viewed asking for autographs as being undignified. She found it confusing  to be pursued because of a two-dimensional  screen image, as, in her eyes she was just peasant stock.  But  by not cooperating,  by remaining distant and aloof,  she helped cultivate the 'air of mystery'  that  would keep her legend alive. Intimacy is for mortals and Garbo realized the best way to guarantee 'immortality' would be to cloak her life in mystery. Her glacial reserve had to be preserved at all costs, so few people were allowed to get too close. MGM cameraman William Daniels famously preferred to shoot Garbo in long shot or extreme close-up, the perfect metaphor for a star of such remoteness, so near and yet so far away.

A Page from Garbo's Dramaten (Acting School) notebook

Greta attended the Dramaten in Stockholm/Sweden from 1922 to 1924. This is a page of her Dramaten Notebook. Greta's lines are under scored.

A 10 year old girl managed the impossible

A 10 year old girl managed the impossible in March 1929.  Garbo was on a return  trip to New York from Stockholm and she was there to meet her idol, a dock pass having been provided by MGM publicist,  Hubert Voight.  She had made a beautiful scrapbook filled with hundreds of photos and clippings of Garbo.  Pale with excitement, the girl frantically looked at Voight, and then Garbo, before fainting.  Garbo knelt down and rubbed the girls temples until she regained conscious. “Give me a pen, somebody” she said,  before autographing the first page with large letters.(2)

Garbo and her legend

Garbo's legend meant everything to her,  and paradoxically, though she loathed all of the attention, recognition and publicity, it fulfilled a need in her. It became a sort of game. She was, in reality, quite narcissistic  and had a fondness for collecting pictures of herself and studying press clippings all her life.

The most expensive autograph in the world

In July 1985 at the Hotel Pardenn in Klosters, Sven Broman showed her a newspaper article about a 1984 auction of autographs in New York, where the  Ayatollah Khomeini's autograph had fetched the highest price, but  Garbo was now back on top. “Your autograph is the most expensive in the world!“ Pleased at the news, Garbo  raised her glass and in traditional Swedish fashion said: “Skol to us, Mr Broman.” The following day, it was still on her mind,  Garbo walked into the bar and the first thing she said was:  “Well then, I've got my top ranking back on the New York Exchange.....is my autograph the most expensive in the world?” Garbo signed her full name very rarely and it was usually on contracts, checks or official documents. Leaving  a New York  Hotel one day,  Garbo asked  Hubert Voight,  how much he thought she should leave the two receptionists as a tip. He suggested  $5 each, to which Garbo replied: "That's too much money for me!“ Voight's answered: “Write them a check - they'll frame it." (3)

A cheque by Garbo
For "Accurate Cleaning Co." (Dated October 19, 1983)

Harriet Brown, Mountain Boy, Eleanor, GG and G

Letters were mostly unsigned, even when they were it was usually with a pseudonym,  and the subterfuge even extended to a reluctance to date anything, so envelope postmarks  are  the only reliable  clue as to when they were written. When a signature was included, she preferred to use one of many nicknames and pseudonyms. Letters were mostly unsigned, even when they were it was usually with a pseudonym,  and the subterfuge even extended to a reluctance to date anything, so envelope postmarks  are  the only reliable  clue as to when they were written. When a signature was included, she preferred  to use one of many nicknames and pseudonyms.   Harriet Brown was a favorite, so she would just sign H.B. or Harry Brown, but at other times her mood would dictate different persona's: "Mountain Boy" (M-Boy) for her secret, contradictory, but gentle masculine side;  or  "Eleanor" for her wistful, feminine side.  They were mostly in pencil, and often on very inexpensive note-paper,  where she would lightly scratch her initials- GG or just G. Her signature was a lifelong concern.(4)

An unsigned holiday Greeting
Greta signed with 'Harry Brown'

GG or Miss G

In October 1975 she agonized, in a phone call with her friend Sam Green, over how to sign a Thank-you note.(5)

GG: Shall I sign it GG?...I loathe my first name. I'm so sorry I didn't change it while I was at it.
        When anyone calls me that I cringe.

SG: We'll just say 'GG'.
GG: Well, will he know who that is? He may not. If he doesn't, we're out of luck.
SG: Since he called you 'Miss G' all the time, it could be 'Miss G'.
GG: A funny way to sign it, I suppose........I could say 'Mr Green's friend Miss G'.
        He's probably in a state, too, and can't figure out who the hell Miss G is.
        I could also sign the full name. I never want to sign the full name but it's more sure he'll get who is.

SG: No mistake with 'Miss G'.
GG: But it would sound terribly funny to other people.
SG: It's not for other people.
GG: Okay, if you think so. If he takes it as fun, that's one thing.
        If he takes it as that I am always 'Miss', then it sounds sort of funny......

SG: You have to consider so many things in this business.
GG: You certainly do.

A Telegram by Garbo
Greta signed it with 'GG'.

What a Graphologist said:

Garbo's signature was broad and uncomplicated, the G was large and the letters loopy.  It showed a character that was not  temperamental or particularly delicate. In fact, Garbo did not like her own penmanship -another possible reason behind her refusal to sign autographs. For the 'Neues Wienerjournal' magazine, the Graphologist Harry Teitscher wrote in 1937: "What one notices, above all, in Greta Garbo's handwriting is the marked regularity. She writes her name with simple and emphatic letters. There is an obvious parallel between  the regularity of her handwriting and her facial traits. The strong tie between the different letters show that Garbo thinks logically, is clear in her deliberations and calm about her decisions. Her simple manner of writing corresponds to her simple way of life, e.g. the manner in which she dresses in her private life. Her style is natural. It also reveals a powerful system of nerves, lots of energy and endurance, and,  a woman with a very strong will-power. She abstains from cheap effects and can be hard as nails when it comes to true and inner values."(6)

A letter from Garbo to Sidney Guilaroff
Guilaroff was MGM's hair dresser.
    

An authentic signature sold for $17,909.20

Today it is very rare to find an authentic signature, consequently a good example with provenance is quite valuable. In 2004, at a online auction by R&R Enterprise Autograph Auctions, a signed photograph sold for $17,909.20. This stunning vintage matte-finish photograph of a sketch of Garbo, 9.25 x 11.5, showing her in profile, her head slightly raised, her eyes half open and her hair spilling across the back of her neck. Boldly signed and inscribed in the lower right corner in fountain pen to Eleanor Aherne, wife of actor Brian Aherne: 'Elly lilla: Greta Garbo.' Some light creases, two of which touch her cheek and neck, some triangular brown stains near lower edge, and some flecks of emulsion loss, mostly near edges, otherwise condition is fine. Accompanied by a very interesting six page article from the April 2000 issue of Vanity Fair by William Frye, a close personal friend of Garbo's, recounting many stories of Garbo and mentioning her friends, including Brian and Eleanor Aherne. This photo was originally acquired from the personal collection of Brian and Eleanor Aherne. A rare autograph of one of the most desirable, mysterious and reclusive Hollywood legends, practically nonexistent in signed photos of any type! (R&RAuction).(7)

Maintaining copyright of her name

Garbo's name and signature were also valuable commercially, but both Garbo and MGM avoided any endorsements throughout her lifetime. They decided to ignore the many minor infringements that included:-restaurants, stores, beauty products, hair salons and even a Swedish chocolate, - maintaining that litigation would be too expensive and create unnecessary, adverse publicity. After her death, however, Garbo's estate sought to copyright the name, as her will imposed no such restrictions on her heirs. In order to maintain copyright however , they must make use of it occasionally, through their management company, "Harriet Brown & Co". So today, her registered trademark 'signature' can be found on an extremely select range of products, for example:

The Greta Garbo Collection

Celebrating her family's Goldsmithing tradition in Sweden, which dates back to the 16th Century, her family created "The Greta Garbo Collection" . It aims to reflect her legendary style and exquisite glamour through Eighteen Karat Gold Jewelry. Each piece is 'signature' stamped, numbered, registered for authentication and showcased on the family's gretagarbo.com internet site. See  HERE!

Amerimade Coats Co.

This Italian company has used one of Garbo's favorite adages "Simplicity is Beauty" as the basis for another 'signature'  Collection of  high-end Coats. See  HERE!

Montblanc

The signature has also been lent to Montblanc's writing instruments, for their "Special Edition Greta Garbo" Cartridge fountain pen, released on the occasion of Garbo's 100th birthday in 1999. See  HERE!

 
Greta Garbo

The Signature's cachet confers the same qualities that Garbo herself possessed to the products endorsed:  elegance, class and timelessness, to name a few. Indeed it is so distinctive and symbolic of the star, that perhaps it's most poignant use has been on the marble headstone  which marks her grave.  No inscription was needed,  just two words carved in gold: Greta Garbo.

 
 
Sources
(1) Garbo -  Barry Paris. (1995, P. 220)
(2) Hubert Voight -  I Loved Garbo (New Movie Magazine Feb 1934)
(3)  Garbo on Garbo - Sven Broman (1990, P. 26 )
(4)  A Life Apart -  Karen Swenson (1997,  P. 431)
(5) Garbo -  Barry Paris (1995,  P. 494)
(6) Neues Wienerjournal - Harry Teitscher (1937)
(7) RRAuction Catalogue  (2004)
 
 
 
Garbo's Signature - Introduction
  
 
Signatures, Letters and Contracts - Part I 
  
 
Signatures, Letters and Contracts - Part II
  

 

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