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The 'I want to be alone' quote

This famous C.S. Bull Portrait of Greta Garbo, used to promote Mata Hari in 1931, is one of the most recognised ‘Garbo’ images. With hands placed so as to frame her face, hair magnificently pulled back and her eyes looking down, she is shown in her own world, distant, dignified, a true goddess in her solitude….. alone.

GGs by famous Bull portrait on a postcard

Garbo's most famous quote was ”I want to be alone”. In 2005, the American Film Institute voted it to be the 30th most memorable movie quote of all time. It is derived from the 1932 film Grand Hotel in which she famously said, “I want to be alone” emphasised immediately by “I just want to be alone.” Garbo seemed to enjoy this gentle self-mockery as did both the press and her studio, MGM.

1.  The Famous line in Grand Hotel
2.  ‘Alone’ in her Films
3.  Garbo on her 'I want to be alone' quote

4.  More ‘alone' quotes by Garbo
5.  Friends on her ‘being alone’?
6.  GG’s quote spoofed in cartoons

The Famous line in Grand Hotel
For moviegoers, Grand Hotel stands as the film where Garbo finally voices the words that had long been attributed to her: “I want to be alone.”

She speaks these words, first pathetically to her maid and manager, then as a plaintive cry; and, finally, as a futile declaration to a stranger. The stranger becomes her lover and she is no longer alone.

Miss G in Grand Hotel (USA 1932)

In Vicki Baum's novel, Grusinskaya would utter “I wish to be alone” as often as “I want to be alone.” MGM producer E. Goulding changed that to ‘I want to be alone’, which sounded very like something that Garbo would say in real life. Garbo made the word “alone” sound like an entire line of dialogue and he had her say it not once, but three times.

The screenwriters had some fun with her film character, and, for the first time, Garbo was scripted to be outwardly lampooning her reputation, though Greta later declared that the sentiment wasn't hers.

‘Alone’ in her Films
The ‘I want to be alone’ theme echoed in several of her other roles.

Written by Garbo Types! for

     1.  Wild Orchids (1929)

     This picture includes one of the few occasions where a Garbo character said she doesn't want to be alone.


John Sterling
You can't travel in that condition. You'll have to stay here and we'll come back for you.

Lillie Sterling
But dear— I don't want to stay here alone.

     2.  The Single Standard (1929)

     MGM writers embellished the scenario with personal details from Garbo's life.

     The boat that she and her lover, Packy Cannon, sail away on is called All Alone and even earlier you can read
     the word ‘alone’ on a title card after a man follows her down the street.


Arden Stuart
I'm walking alone because I want to walk alone.

Packy Cannon’s boat is called: 'All Alone SF’

     3.  Inspiration (1931)

Now darling, don't try to be polite. I know that you'd much rather be alone.

Yvonne Valbert [laughing]
How did you guess it?

     4.  Susan Lenox (1931)

Susan Lenox
This time I’ll rise… [shrugs] or fall…ALONE.

     5.  Mata Hari (1931)

Lt. Alexis Rosanoff
Perhaps next spring, the war will be over... You and I... Mata Hari:

Mata Hari
I never look ahead. By next spring, I shall probably be quite alone.

     6.  Grand Hotel (1932)

Where have you been?

I want to be alone.

I suppose I can cancel the Vienna engagement.

I just want to be alone.

You’ll be very much alone, my dear madame.  This is the end. [Leaves angrily]

Please let me stay.

But I want to be alone.

That isn’t true. You don’t want to be alone. You were in despair just now.
I can’t leave you now. You mustn’t cry anymore.  You must forget.

     7.  Queen Christina (1933)


If you could travel with me to it impossible?

Yes, I must go alone.

     8.  Anna Karenina (1935)

Anna Karenina
I face the truth.

What truth?

Anna Karenina
That one day I shall find myself...alone.

     9.  Camille (USA 1936)


She wants to get rid of us. Can't you see she wants to be alone with my friend?

For once in your life, you're quite right, Gaston!

     10.  Ninotchka (1939)

Do you want to be alone, comrade?


Ninotchka [about Leon's butler]
He looks sad. Do you whip him?

Leon [sarcastic]
No, but the mere thought makes my mouth water.

Ninotchka [to the butler]
The day will come when you will be free. Go to bed, little father. We want to be alone.


Garbo on her 'I want to be alone' quote
Garbo never actually said that she wanted to be alone, only that she wanted to be ‘left’ alone. The subtleties in meaning were lost on her followers. To them, the public and private personas of Garbo were one and the same – “being alone” was the operative phrase.

“I never said, ‘I want to be alone,” she told her friend, Allen Porter of the Museum of Modern Art, in a famous clarification of many years later: “I only said, ‘I want to be left alone.'”

GG 1938

The origin of this reiterating of her famous quote happened at the famous ‘Garbo and Stokowski Press Conference' in Ravello, Italy, 1938.

More info  HERE!

More ‘alone' quotes by Garbo
Erik A. Petschler (Director of Luffar Petter) first observed Greta in June 1922, standing in front of a shoe store in Norrmalm, Stockholm. He was transfixed, saying that he was fascinated by her profile, and that as he came closer, he saw her eyes and lips, which greatly appealed to him.

GG ca. early 1922

He stated: “As soon as she saw me looking at her she gave me the kind of glance which expressed more clearly than words: ‘Go away and leave me alone!'”

Miss G said…..

  Even when I was a tiny girl I preferred being alone.

  As early as I can remember, I have wanted to be alone.

  Marriage? I have told many times: I do not know. I like to be alone, not always with some other person.

  (As a child) I hated crowds of people, and used to sit in a corner by myself, just thinking. I did not want to play very
. I did some skating or played with snowballs, but most of all I wanted to be alone with myself."

  What a waste of the best years of my life – always alone – it was so stupid not being able to partake more. Now I'm
j      ust a gypsy, living a life apart.“

  It is a terrible sorrow to be all alone.”

  As early as I can remember, I have wanted to be alone.”

  (As a child) I never enjoyed playing with others, even with my sister and brother, but preferred to sit alone with my
      dolls and picture books ...”


Friends on her ‘being alone’?
Famous actor John Gilbert mentioned Garbo’s desire to be ‘alone’ in an early 1930's interview.

Gilbert, ca. late 1920s

“I am tired of being just a screen lover, and I hope someday to get a chance to be myself. I am rather like Greta in that I like to be alone. I love peace and quiet.”

Kaj Gynt on her ‘swimming alone’
Garbo loved to swim but according to her friend Kaj Gynt she always wanted to swim alone and so she did.

Childhood friends on her ‘sneaking away from home alone’
As a child, Greta often was sneaking away from home to frequent the popular Södra Teatern and the Mosebacke cabaret theater at the tender age of seven years. She always went alone, friends said in the 1920s when GG was a Hollywood star.

Later friends on her ‘walking alone’
It is quite well known that Garbo loved to walk alone. But friends said that she also liked to have a walking companion.

GG’s quote spoofed in cartoons
Garbo cartoons are funny - they are persiflages of certain peculiarities she had or her special famous quotation. There are quite many spoofs on this quote in those cartoons.

GG in Mother Goose, 1938 saying: ‘I so much, vant to be ALONE’

Here is a list:
1.  The Looney Toons: The CooCoo Nut Grove (USA 1936)
2.  Porky's Road Race (USA 1937)
3.  A Star is Hatched (USA 1937)
4.  Porky's Five and Ten (USA 1938)
5.  Mother Goose goes Hollywood (USA 1938)
6.  The Daffy Duckaroo (USA 1942)

See more pictures and info from the cartoons  HERE!

More trivia on her famous quote.

  Working Title for Ninotchka
      One of the working titles for the film was: We want to be alone.

  Tagline from Two-Faced Woman
      MGM used the ‘Alone’ reference as a tagline in the film trailer and asked movie goers: ‘Who doesn’t want to be alone

Garbo by Barry Paris
A Life Apart by Karen Swenson

Garbo Quotes - Introduction
I want to be alone
Personal Quotes
Film Quotes


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