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Creator / Greta Garbo

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

Greta Garbo (born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson; September 18, 1905 – April 15, 1990) was a Swedish actress, and one of Hollywood's most famous sex symbols during the late silent era, The Pre-Code Era and the early years of The Golden Age of Hollywood.

She was born 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 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 '30s, 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. With the attack on Peal Harbor and the American entry into World War II, Garbo officially announced that she was going to go on a indefinite hiatus from Hollywood, at least until the war was over. Various projects were proposed throughout The '40s but nothing came to fruition and Garbo eventually decided to extend her hiatus into entirely retiring from acting.

For nearly a half-century, she would gain 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 simply continued to not talk to the press. She died of pneumonia and kidney failure in 1990.

According to available evidence, Garbo was bisexual. She had some high-profile relationships with men during her life, and clandestine same-sex ones. Mercedes de Acosta, a former lover (and open lesbian), hinted at her having a relationship with Garbo (among many other women) in a controversial biography, which caused Garbo to end their friendship. She may have had a relationship with actress Lilyan Tashman, and another with her rival Marlene Dietrich. Actress Louise Brooks said the two were briefly involved too. Garbo's estate, which controls her existing letters, released some letters of hers written to fellow Swedish actress Mimi Pollak suggesting romantic feelings for her, though many more of them have been held back.

Greta Garbo films on TV Tropes:

Tropes about her career:

  • Celebrity Is Overrated: She is perhaps the best illustration of this trope. Garbo became one of the most famous actors 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: a cold, expressionless woman who cannot be humoured, yet very sexy and much in control over her men. It occasionally led to When She Smiles moments onscreen, such as in Ninotchka when she laughed on camera for the first time note , which was heavily publicized by film producers with the tagline "Garbo laughs".
  • Last-Name Basis: Reportedly preferred to be referred to as "Ms. Garbo" and referred to other people by their surnames too.
  • Leave Me Alone!: Her most famous line is "I want to be alone" from Grand Hotel, which could have summarised her life. It reappeared in many of her films as a Running Gag, but she also used and subverted the quote in Ninotchka.
  • Meme Acknowledgment: A possible reference to the overuse of her "I want to be alone" quote from Grand Hotel, Garbo said:
    I never said, "I want to be alone." I only said, "I want to be left alone." There is all the difference.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: She spoke with a Swedish accent, which only added to her sensuality as an exotic foreigner in Hollywood.
  • Pop Culture Osmosis: Everyone say it together: "Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side, and don't be stingy, baby!"
  • 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 many interviews, nor signed autographs or answered fan letters note . From the 1940s until 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. When Dietrich came to Hollywood, she was marketed as Paramount's answer to Greta Garbo.note 
  • 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.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: She had expressive blue eyes that were always commented on as adding to her mystery. A photographer called William Daniels said that he regretted never taking a colored photo of her because "I had to get those incredible blue eyes in color," but it was very expensive at the time. However, there are many coloured professional photos of Garbo that can be found that highlight her eyes, such as this one.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: It's almost impossible to find an actor of her time that didn't comment on her beauty at some point, even to Even the Girls Want Her moments from some female actors who had met her, not to mention her regular appearances at the top of "most beautiful woman ever/of all time" lists in gossip magazines. Throughout the Western world, Garbo was the standard for female beauty for many decades, and her very name became a synonym to describe a beautiful woman.

Greta Garbo in popular culture

  • Garbo made several appearances in Looney Tunes cartoons. Commonly, she was drawn with a long, miserable face and comically-large feet note  the length of her torso.
    • She appears in "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood" sitting on a seesaw with Edward G. Robinson. She tells him, "I want so much to be left alone," so Edward jumps off his end.
    • She also appears in "Hollywood Steps Out" as a cigarette girl in the nightclub. Harpo Marx tries giving her the hotfoot, only for her to react very slowly, with one single deadpan "Ouch."
    • She appears in the Donald Duck cartoon "The Autograph Hound", traveling in a limousine that looks like her face. Upon realizing who Donald Duck is at the end, she gets her autograph book and runs to get Donald's autograph.
    • There were constant impressions that cartoon characters did of her accent, using her "I want to be alone" quote.
  • She kisses Mickey Mouse near the end of Mickey's Gala Premier.
  • The Expert's of Justice airship in Giant Robo: The Animation is named after Greta Garbo.
  • In the Alternate History timeline Reds!: A Revolutionary Timeline she never changes her name from Gustafsson and even becomes First Lady of the UASR.
  • She is the first actor namedropped by Madonna in the bridge of her song Vogue from her 1990 Dick Tracy-inspired Concept Album, I'm Breathless.
  • Garbo appears in Hollywood Visionary, as a potential investor in the player character's film studio.
  • She's name-dropped in the song "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes.
  • In ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.?, Adela, the grandmother, tries to get everyone to leave the house so she can have time by herself. After everyone finally leaves, she claims to understand Garbo. The finishing touch has her strike a dramatic pose and in Gratuitous English, utter the famous "I want to be alone".
  • In The Sopranos episode, "The Strong, Silent Type", Tony Soprano flirts with his uncle's Russian housekeeper, Svetlana, comparing her looks to Garbo's (though he misnames her as "Greta Garble").