Creator: Greta Garbo

"I want to be alone."
— Garbo in Grand Hotel

Greta Garbo (1905-1990) was one of Hollywood's most famous sex symbols during the late silent era and The Thirties. She was born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in Stockholm, Sweden, the third and last child of a poor day laborer and his wife. Her first acting job was in an advertisement when she was fifteen years old. After going to drama school, she got her first big break when she landed the female lead in Swedish film The Saga of Gösta Berling. She came to the attention of MGM head Louis B. Mayer, who was enchanted, signed her to a film contract, and brought her to America.

Garbo spoke no English when she came to Hollywood but in the silent movie era this didn't pose a problem. She became an instant star—in her second film for MGM she got top billing. Her European sensuality was a revelation to American film audiences. Her career, however, was threatened by talking pictures, which sent several other European actors and actresses back home. MGM delayed her talking debut as long as they could; the last silent picture MGM ever made, The Kiss (1929), was a Garbo vehicle. Her first talking feature, Anna Christie, was marketed with the tagline "GARBO TALKS!" It was a smash hit, and Garbo continued to be hugely popular throughout The Thirties, playing the same kinds of roles she had in the silent era, as femme fatales or tragic lovers. Her Playing Against Type romatic comedy role in Ninotchka (1939) was another huge success, but she only made one more film. Various projects were proposed throughout The Forties but nothing came to fruition and Garbo eventually decided to retire from acting.

She gained a reputation as a recluse, but in fact she had an active social life and plenty of friends. When she was a huge movie star she had avoided the media, virtually never giving interviews or showing up for award ceremonies, and in retirement she continued to not talk to the press. She died of pneumonia and kidney failure in 1990.


Greta Garbo films on TV Tropes:

Tropes

  • Celebrity Is Overrated: She is perhaps the best illustration of this trope. Garbo became the most famous actress of the first half of the 20th century, but refused all publicity and interviews, thus making her more mysterious and glamorous as a result. At the height of her fame, in the 1940s, she quit acting altogether and appeared totally out of public view for the final 40 years of her life. She kept the press at a distance and photographing old age Garbo became something of a challenge for journalists, since hardly anyone knew what she looked like by this point.
    "Don't step on Greta Garbo as you walk down the Boulevard
    She looks so weak and fragile that's why she tried to be so hard
    But they turned her into a princess
    And they sat her on a throne
    But she turned her back on stardom
    Because she wanted to be alone."
    The Kinks, Celluloid Heroes
  • The Eeyore: She suffered from depressions and this only added to her image as a moody diva.
  • Europeans Are Kinky: Garbo's attractiveness outside Europe was based on the idea of the sexy Swede.
  • Ice Queen: This was her public image in many films. An icy cold, expressionless woman who cannot be humoured, yet very sexy and much in control over her men. In Ninotchka she laughed on camera for the first time, which was heavily publicized by film producers with the tag line Garbo laughs.
  • Leave Me Alone: Her most famous line is I want to be alone, from Grand Hotel, which can be seen as the epiphat of her entire life. It reappeared in many of her films as a Running Gag. She also used and subverted this line in Ninotchka.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: She spoke with a Swedish accent, which only added to her sensuality as an exotic foreigner in Hollywood.
  • Reclusive Artist: Garbo has always been someone who preferred being alone. Despite being the biggest female movie star of the first half of the 20th century she never gave much interviews, nor signed autographs or answered fan letters. From the 1940s until 1991, her death she virtually disappeared out of the media, gave no interviews and didn't allow herself to be photographed. In her private life too, she never married, had no children and lived alone. This image was also cultivated in the roles she portrayed on the big screen.
  • The Rival: To Marlene Dietrich.
  • Sexy Scandinavian: Garbo was the first internationally famous Swedish sex symbol.
  • Smoking Is Glamorous: She did this too, as many movie icons of her time did.

Greta Garbo in popular culture
  • She kisses Mickey Mouse near the end of Mickey's Gala Premier.
  • She appears in Mother Goose Goes Hollywood where she sits on a seesaw with Edward G Robinson and then says her famous line: I want so much to be left alone. To which Edward grants her wish, goes away, causing the seesaw and Garbo to fall.
  • She also appears in Hollywood Steps Out, a Looney Tunes cartoon.
  • In Reds she becomes the president of the UASR in an alternative history timeline.
  • She is the first actress namedropped by Madonna in her song Vogue from I'm Breathless (1990).