Greta Garbo was known as the Swedish Sphinx during her time on the big screen. She rose to fame during the world wars, captivating viewers with her expressive eyes and sensual beauty. But did you know she was accused of being a spy during the war?
Greta Garbo wanted to meet Adolf Hitler when the Nazi leader sent her a fan mail. Garbo told her friends that she wanted to meet Hitler and kill him with a gun hidden in her purse.
Greta Garbo’s Younger Years
Greta Lovisa Gustafson was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on September 18, 1905. She was born to a low-income family where her father was an unskilled laborer, often out of work and sickly. At the age of 13, Garbo was forced to drop out of school to take care of her father. He died two years later due to kidney failure. Garbo’s experience caused her to ensure that she would not fall into the same financial hardship as her family.
Following her father’s death, Garbo took a job as a saleslady in a Swedish department store. You can say that Garbo’s modeling career started at this store, as she was made to model clothes for their advertisements. Garbo then landed a role in the 1922 film Peter The Tramp with her newfound talent in acting.
Garbo enrolled in the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theater but left after only a year when she met director, Mauritz Stiller. She was soon cast in Stiller’s 1924 film, The Legend of Gosta Berling. This film and the 1925 Streets of Sorrow cemented both Garbo’s and Stiller’s fame in European cinema and caught the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production chief Louis B. Mayer. (Source: Biography)
Garbo’s Success in the American Film Industry
Mayer wanted director Stiller to work with MGM in the US. The flamboyant director agreed, but with one condition. Stiller’s condition was that Garbo would join him as he worked in MGM. Mayer reluctantly agreed, and in 1925, the 19-year-old Garbo came to the US.
Garbo’s first American film was The Torrent which was shown in 1926. The film was immediately followed up with The Temptress and Flesh and the Devil. Garbo’s films were an instant success, catapulting the young actress’ career to international fame.
Garbo knew that the films she starred in brought in a big profit for MGM. She knew she had negotiation leverage for the contracts on her following films. Keeping in mind the experience of financial hardship in her youth, Garbo did not hesitate to negotiate for a contract of $270,000 per movie and unprecedented control over her roles and which movies she would star in.
The advent of sound in the film industry caused a predicament with MGM. The company was reluctant to let the audience hear Garbo speak, fearing that the public would not accept her thick Swedish accent and low, throaty voice. But Garbo’s 1930 movies Anna Christie and Romance proved MGM executives wrong. Garbo earned Academy Award nominations for both films.
Garbo starred in more films such as Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise, As You Desire Me, Grand Hotel, Queen Christina, Anna Karenina, Camille, and Conquest. However, her stardom began to decline as the country went into the Great Depression. Her cosmopolitan style was no longer warmly received by the public. (Source: Biography)
Retirement and Garbo’s Later Years
After another contract dispute with MGM in 1941, Garbo, only at 36, retired from the movie industry. She was initially only taking a break from acting but never returned anymore. Not much was known about Garbo’s life, as she was very reclusive.
However, it was known that she amassed a vast collection of paintings and 18th-century French furniture. Garbo was also known to keep her circle of friends very small and usually avoided any limelight. There were speculations that Garbo was a spy who collected information from Nazi sympathizers and fed it to the British Intelligence Service. Another story is that Garbo wanted to meet Hitler, who was one of her fans, to kill him. (Source: Mental Floss)