I haven’t seen the new documentary “Garbo The Spy” about WWII double agent Juan Pujol Garcia, now in limited release. But I knew from research who Garcia was and what an amazing role he played in helping the Allies win. Less known are the espionage exploits of Greta Garbo, the movie star Garcia’s handlers saw fit to code-name him, supposedly for his “great acting” ability. Unlike Garcia, Garbo’s wartime efforts remain shrouded in mystery to this day. Nevertheless, what little is known of Garbo’s clandestine life is fascinating stuff.
IN HER OWN WORDS
At a private dinner party in the mid-1960’s, reclusive and normally taciturn movie star Greta Garbo dropped a bombshell on her friend Sam Green:
“Mr. Hitler was big on me. He kept writing and inviting me to come to Germany, and if the war hadn’t started when it did, I would have gone and I would have taken a gun out of my purse and shot him, because I’m the only person who would not have been searched.’
Stunned, Green went on to say this about Garbo’s revelation:
“That’s a direct quote. She said it to me over dinner, and it was so out of character. It wasn’t her habit to make up such a story to stop a dinner party. Or maybe not so out of character. As a child, she had had fantasies that ‘I might shorten the life of a cruel king and replace him by a romantic knight’”.
What I find fascinating and intriguing about the quote is how Garbo expressed concern over the timing of the war, yet her ability to dispose of the despot she never questioned. That got me thinking, what if Garbo had embarked on her secret mission and simply ran out of time en route? What would have happened to her trapped on the open sea? I knew I had a great premise for a book. And after extensive research, there was ample evidence to believe the movie star who once played Mata Hari was not only serious about her secret plot to pre-empt World War II, but actually volunteered to spy for the Allies in Europe and personally saved Jews in Denmark.
Garbo was shaping up to be a very real hero, not unlike the roles she had portrayed on film. The movie queen and fashion icon’s influence over pre-war Europe was turning every head of state, including Hitler, who owned a personal copy of “Camille” and obsessively watched Garbo’s courtesan die over and over onscreen. Hitler wrote her fan letters and considered Garbo his ideal Aryan Goddess. But Hitler wasn’t the only one obsessed with Garbo. She was also the first international star to be hounded by paparazzi, decades before the phrase was coined, her every movement recorded daily in the tabloids. The more Garbo sought privacy, the more insatiable the public’s desire to know about her. Garbo’s refusal to give interviews in the mid-thirties only fueled the public’s interest and the paparazzo’s efforts to catch her in candid moments. Not good when you’re a famous movie star trying to be a spy. But to this day, we don’t know to what lengths she went to save the world from evil precisely because she was so private. So, maybe the real Garbo was a better spy than anyone ever imagined.