Birth-Name: Greta Lovisa Gustafsson
Born: September 18, 1905, Stockholm, Sweden
Died: April 15, 1990, New York, NY
Education: Royal Dramatic Theater School, Stockholm

Greta Garbo is arguably the quintessential embodiment of the Hollywood star system. Her glamourous, Sphinx-like image - carefully cultivated by her employer, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer - captivated American and European viewers of both the silent screen of the 20s and sound films of the 30s. Garbo's personal decision to leave her film career in 1941 and maintain a notoriously private, reclusive lifestyle has only further enhanced her mystique. As a young model, she made her first screen appearances in Swedish advertising films and as an extra in features as early as 1921. While attending the Royal Dramatic Theater School, she was chosen by Mauritz Stiller to play the lead in "The Atonement of Gosta Berling" (1924) and he renamed his protégée "Garbo." After she gained further acclaim co-starring with the legendary tragedienne Asta Nielsen in G.W. Pabst's "The Joyless Street" (1925), she followed Stiller to Hollywood  in 1925. She first appeared in two Latin love stories drawn from Blasco-Ibáñez novels, "The Torrent" (1926) and "The Temptress" (1926). Her breakthrough came when MGM paired her with the silent screen's most popular leading man, John Gilbert, in "Flesh and the Devil" (1927). By all accounts, the two developed an instant and intense romantic rapport that carried over on-screen and encouraged the publicity and gossip about her off-screen life that has followed Garbo ever since. She worked only with leading directors. Metro fashioned Garbo's public image until it was the epitome of the studio's glamorous excess. It was during this time that Garbo developed the repertoire of roles that defined her as an actress. Although MGM avoided ruthless typecasting, the parts developed for its leading female star almost invariably presented her in period costume as a melancholy exotic who sacrifices her happiness for an unattainable love. Having made ten silent and a dozen sound films at MGM, all tragic dramas, Garbo concluded her career with a pair of comedies. Her winning performance as a Russian spy in Ernst Lubitsch's "Ninotchka" (1939) elevated her to a surprising new level of acclaim. But the disastrous attempt to present Garbo as a domesticated American in George Cukor's "Two-Faced Woman" (1941) slowed her resurgence. Then the divine Duse-figure whose image had captured the public imagination for two decades retired suddenly and permanently. That she shunned publicity ever afterward merely encouraged the mythos which prompted critic Roland Barthes to write, "Garbo still belongs to that moment in cinema when capturing the human face still plunged audiences into the deepest ecstacy...where the flesh gives rise to mystical feelings of perdition." (source)

Interesting Trivia:

  • Lived the last few years of her life in absolute seclusion.