Tag Archives: Garbo

Garbo: Her Run-In with Leo the Lion

23 Oct

Greata-Garbo-with-a-lion-cub

In 1925, Greta Garbo signed a contract with Louis B. Mayer’s MGM studios and came to the United States from Sweden with her director/mentor Maurice Stiller. She arrived in New York City where she languished for over 8 months before Mayer sent for her to come to Hollywood. The would-be movie star was already nervous and felt like she was being kept in a cage waiting for word on when and what she would be starting work on. It didn’t help that she could barely speak a word of English.

Greta-Garbo-with-Leo

In Spring 1926, Mayer finally got around to his newest star and ordered a publicity shoot to create some buzz for the Swedish Sphinx. Garbo was only 19 and must have been terrified when they drove her out to the Lion Farm where they kept Jackie the Lion (aka Leo the Lion) the MGM mascot and a quite large male. The photoshoot was conducted by Don Gillum, a renowned sport photographer at the time. You can tell in the above shot that Garbo isn’t too happy to be sitting beside the lion. And Jackie doesn’t look especially happy, either. He’s staring down the starlet as if she were trying to steal the scene.

9svznff4w1fh9hvw2nzzml7adgfpznmf 6c4o4gbfovf0bgo4

Garbo survived and like a true pro, agreed to mug it up with some lion cubs as well as act the lioness behind a chain-link fence. Fast forward 10 years and Garbo would be the queen of the silver screen. She would have her revenge on Louis B. Mayer and Leo the Lion by imposing a $5,000 a week salary on the notoriously stingy movie Mogul. Mayer would learn that Garbo would never again have to do anything she didn’t want to do and he would have to go along with it – or lose his biggest star for good.

Flesh-and-Devil-17

Garbo would learn that breaking into sound from silent pictures meant she could afford to keep quite. But that’s a story for another day…

Advertisements

Garbo’s Last Stand: New Novel Cover Reveal

13 Oct

perf6.000x9.000.indd

Excited to share cover of my very first novel out this December 8th by Fiery Seas Publishing!

Garbo’s Last Stand – a novel

James Main is stuck making cable documentaries in LA when he places an ad looking for anyone still above ground who knew glamorous movie goddess Greta Garbo. He’s delighted when salty old tabloid reporter Seth Moseley replies with the promise of an untold story of why the reclusive star left Hollywood at the height of her power and fame.

A big thanks to Tom Sylvan for the gorgeous cover design and Misty Williams at Fiery Seas for all her support!

Hope you enjoy the cover and look forward to telling you more about the book as we get closer to the release date!

Robert De Niro and Greta Garbo: A Match Made in Heaven

20 Jan

Garbo_by_DeNiro_Sr.

Greta Garbo in Anna Christie by Robert De Niro, Sr.

Robert De Niro premiered a new documentary at Sundance film festival this weekend. The half-hour doc was produced by HBO and is about the Oscar-winning actor’s father, the late artist Robert De Niro, at Sun. What’s interesting about “Remembering the Artist Robert De Niro, Sr.,” is how it sheds light on the mutual fascination father and son had for another star: Greta Garbo. De Niro, Sr.’s fascination for the movie star was such that he would bring his young son to all her movies – and De Niro, Jr. became fascinated in his own right with her. While his father would paint portraits of Garbo, his son would study Garbo’s acting technique which inspired him to become an actor himself. Who knew?

Greta Garbo was the undisputed Queen of Golden Age Hollywood, or more accurately, Tinseltown from her 1927 silent film debut up to her abrupt departure from the screen in 1941. So much has been written about Garbo that there is very little new light to be shed on the luminous screen creation that was Garbo. The one thing I can add to all the biographies and hagiographies of the iconic actress, however, is why she remains more relevant today than when she was the highest paid woman in the U.S. ($5,000 a week in 1932) and the most recognizable face on the planet. Garbo remains relevant to today’s celebrity-obsessed culture simply because she started it all. She was the first star whose private life became fodder for the tabloids, literally her every move became a matter of record in every newspaper throughout the world.

The list of firsts involving the screen queen goes on and on:

The first time in history a newspaper hired a plane to fly over a celebrity’s house to capture a “candid” photo of the star sun-bathing nude.

The first time a King visited a movie set to pay homage to a movie queen (King Gustav of Sweden to MGM in Hollywood). Of course, Garbo refused to meet him.

The first time a celebrity (since Cleopatra) went by one name.

Garbo. Historians of film still talk about “the Rapture” seeing her face in close-up on screen had on theater audiences, both male and female, throughout the world. Never before had a human visage been captured in light so perfectly and so large – big enough to see every perfect pore of skin (covered in silver make-up made for her by Max Factor himself – so she would literally shine), every eyelash (all natural); ever internal thought conveyed through voluminous eyes.

Garbo, aka “The Face” was said to be the most beautiful woman who ever lived. But more than that, Garbo brought about modern screen acting, making her counterparts Norma Shearer and Marion Davies by comparison, appear to be pantomiming. Screen legend Bette Davis was so obsessed with Garbo’s acting that she stole onto a movie set to see Garbo in action. She came away nonplussed. Later, she saw the footage of that days shooting and was blown away by what the camera saw. Davis said Garbo’s affect on the artificial eye was nothing less than “witchcraft.”

All Garbo’s directors and fellow actors agreed. Seeing Garbo act with the naked eye seemed like nothing special. But then, when the film emulsion was processed and negative became positive – Garbo the screen goddess in all her glory appeared as if by alchemy. Nothing less than magic. Her ability to convey emotion without uttering a word, even moving, seemed supernatural. So much so that the occultists of the day considered Garbo to be more than mortal. She became known in the press as, “The Immortal One.”
Of course, Greta Garbo was not immortal. After her final film, “Two Faced Woman” flopped in 1941, she bid the world goodbye and moved into an apartment in Manhattan, New York and aged quietly, reclusively, until her death in 1990. Yet up until virtually her dying day, Garbo was stalked relentlessly by paparazzi while other glamorous movie stars of her era like Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth and poor Norma Shearer were forgotten once their beauty and fame faded from view.

Why? The easy answer is that Garbo’s steadfast rejection of the modern day cult-of-personality she helped to foment fueled our desire to capture her image evermore in the spotlight. As if, simply by virtue of the fact a famous person wanted to be left alone – we couldn’t allow it in our new age of media obsessed, fame monsters and attention whores. But I have a sneaking feeling there was more to it than that. My sense is that Garbo was more than met the eye, even when she became a shriveled, wrinkled, white-haired old lady. I think Bette Davis was onto something when she gazed at Garbo with those big, Betty Davis blue eyes of hers. I think Garbo was a witch. The most beautiful witch who ever lived, and whose cinematic spell will continue to be cast on generation upon generation of movie lovers – for as long as there is light.

Garbo: Viking Goddess and Independent Woman by Jacob M. Appel

20 Oct

Swedish actress Greta Garbo accomplished in less than two decades what advocates for women’s rights had sought for centuries: she showed the American public that feminine sexuality was compatible with intelligence. During the 1920s, when liberated flappers still attracted scorn from mainstream society, Garbo’s depiction of independent yet feminine beauties helped convince millions of American women that sexual initiative was not a man’s prerogative. Garbo “was allowed the right to have amorous needs and desires,” according to biographer Karen Swenson, and her popularity with both sexes enabled her to challenge “traditional roles with few negative consequences.” At the same time, Hollywood’s highest paid female star eschewed media attention and created a mystical image around her indifference to public opinion. At the age of thirty-six, Garbo retired to a life of almost hermetic seclusion. Film critic David Thomson saliently observed that “in making the journey away from fame into privacy she established herself forever as a magical figure, a true goddess, remote and austere, but intimate and touching.”

22z6sx9pw2huz2sh

Hollywood’s Viking beauty began life as Greta Lovisa Gustafsson on September 18, 1905. She grew up in an impoverished Stockholm household and went to work as a lather girl in a barber shop at age fourteen. By sixteen, the aspiring actress had garnered admission to Sweden’s exclusive Royal Dramatic Theater Academy. She soon impressed Scandinavia’s foremost director, Mauritz Stiller, with her perfect instincts and dignified beauty. He gave her the stage name Garbo and cast her as Countess Elizabeth Dohna in the silent screen masterpiece The Story of Gosta Berling.

2176023848_f9fbc0d5bf_b

A leading role in G. W. Pabst’s Joyless Street (1925) soon followed. The part, that of a struggling Viennese women on the verge of prostitution, permitted Garbo to explore sexuality on screen for the first time. The film itself shattered box office records and became an enduring masterpiece of realistic cinema. Garbo’s great break occurred when Louis Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer recruited Stiller for his Hollywood studios. The established director insisted that his relatively obscure nineteen-year-old starlet accompany him to the United States. Stiller was soon exported back to Stockholm while Garbo became a box office sensation.

2345783084_2f399db2d2

The eleven silent movies that Garbo filmed between 1925 and 1929 earned her critical claim as Hollywood’s most talented female actress. Starring across from leading man John Gilbert in Flesh and the Devil (1927) and Love (1927) she awed audiences and shocked censors with her forthright sexuality. Garbo displayed her wide range playing a Spanish opera singer in The Torrent (1926), a Russian spy in The Mysterious Lady (1928), an English aristocrat in A Women of Affairs (1928) and a southern belle in Wild Orchids (1929). The star’s appearance influenced an entire generation as millions of female fans copied her tastes in clothing and hair styles. Crazes for artificial eye lashes and cloche hats swept the nation. Meanwhile Garbo, whom Claire Booth Luce described as “a deer in the body of a woman living resentfully in the Hollywood zoo,” distanced herself from both the public and the Los Angeles social scene.

GarboAsMataHari

Garbo may have been one of the leading box office draws of the silent era but few critics expected her to make the transition to talkies. The advent of sound ended the careers of most silent stars and the Swede’s deep voice and heavy accent were expected to turn off audiences. Instead, the twenty-five-year-old actress gave her most compelling performance in an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play Anna Christie (1930). She played a waterfront streetwalker searching for her barge-captain father. Her opening words, at that time the longest sound sequence ever heard in a film, are cinematic legend: “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side … and don’t be stingy, baby!” Other hits followed. Mata Hari (1932), Queen Christina (1935), Anna Karenina (1935) and Camille (1936) confirmed her reputation as the leading lady of the early sound era. Garbo’s greatest role, that of the suicidal Russian dancer Grusinskaya in Grand Hotel (1932), ranks among the best female leads ever seen on the large screen. It is here that she declares her haunting wish: “But I want to be alone.” After surprising success as the comic lead in Ninotchka (1939), Garbo filmed the lackluster Two-Face Woman (1941) and then retired from the public eye. She was thirty-six years old.

!CFmHN8!CGk~$(KGrHqUOKpQE0U0uCNQBBNVqe!wzw!~~_3
During the last five decades of Garbo’s life, “The Scandinavian Sphinx” established herself as cinema’s leading enigma. She travelled extensively but turned down all requests for public appearances. Instead, she entertained such close friends as Winston Churchill and Martha Graham in her posh New York City apartment. As one of the grande dames of American cinema, her intimates included William Paley, Anthony Eden, Jean Cocteau, Irwin Shaw, Dag Hammarsjokld, Cole Porter, and Jacqueline Kennedy. She also devoted herself to amassing an internationally renowned art collection which boasted masterpieces by Renoir and Bonnard. Garbo received an Honorary Academy Award in 1954 for “unforgettable screen performances.” She died in New York City on April 15, 1990.

2800810136_6a56ab354e_o

Greta Garbo entered the American consciousness during the mid-1920s at an historical moment when gender roles were in flux. The young actress came to represent a palatable form of female liberation and brought the icon of the independent woman home to Middle America. As biographer Karen Swenson described the star, “Her intimate posture and kisses suggested a woman—not a vamp—who was secure in her sexuality.” Garbo’s influence endured long after she became film’s most celebrated recluse. Throughout her life, she remained private, elusive, and conspicuously unmarried. “There is no one who would have me. I can’t cook,” she once joked—displaying the combination of independence and feminine intelligence which made her famous.

Source: St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (2002) Gale Group

Noomi Rapace: The New Swedish Sphinx

24 Mar

Noomi is beautiful. Noomi is strong. She inherits the legacy of Garbo on her own terms. Her animal magnetism brought her to international stardom the same way Garbo’s did. The big difference is Garbo never kicked anybody’s ass. She shot people, sure. But lighting them on fire? No so much. Still, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo had a vulnerability to her. Lisbeth Salander was a complex character. Her pathos was purely and utterly perfect to the times in which she exists. And nobody (sorry, Miss Mara) could touch Noomi’s performance – especially in the first movie.

Now Noomi is in America and fluent in English ( a lot faster than Garbo did, maybe because Garbo made silent movies when she first hit our shores). Noomi has been in the Sherlock Holmes piece of crap, yet came up smelling like a rose. But her true American star turn will be in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. And I think she’s going to be HUGE. Like, Ripley in Aliens huge. That’s a lot of pressure for any actress, but not Noomi. She’s got such a work ethic and professionalism – I really think she could pull off any role she set her mind to. Maybe someday she’ll tackle the most demanding role imaginable and play the original Swedish Sphinx – Garbo. Now that I have to see!!

Norma Shearer – The Anti-Garbo

17 Feb

I can’t help but love Norma Shearer. She was so beautiful, ballsy and, in her day, the reigning queen of Hollywood. That is, if Garbo hadn’t been. Fascinating how someone who would otherwise be number one in the world, exists opposite another who is their match and then some. Just like John McEnroe had Bjorn Borg and Tom Brady has Eli Manning to contend with – Norma had the almighty Garbo raining on her Hollywood parade.

Not that we should feel too bad for Norma. After all, she was married to Irving Thalberg, the wunderkind at MGM who made silver screen art and tinseltown magic while Louis B. Mayer made money. But even though he was married to Norma and gave her all the choice parts, even Irving knew Garbo transcended her time. As accessible Norma was to the masses, Garbo was inaccessible like a true star in the sky. As likeable and glamorous in an earthly way as Norma was portrayed, Garbo was the goddess who touched down on terra firma long enough to steal our hearts – then quickly ascend back into the heavens. But this wasn’t the biggest reason Garbo has endured and been remembered while Norma Shearer has largely been forgotten. No, the biggest reason is how the two stars fates were constructed on-screen.

Norma always got her man. And, like in hugely successful THE WOMEN, she wasn’t above groveling to get him the lecherous ass back. In stark black & white contrast – Garbo was the vamp who found redemption through love, then died for it. She found truelove just before they shot her, like in MATA HARI, or, before she kicked the bucket in CAMILLE. These roles, inherently dramatic and romantic visions, couple with Garbo’s unbelievably gorgeous face – made her the queen of the silver screen without equal. Norma, beautiful and comedic – could never pull off such high drama even if she wanted to.

But this blog is about Norma Shearer. Taken by herself, she was an often wonderful actress opposite stars like Clark Gable in FREE SOUL. She was exuberant and shimmered an inner-glow that I believe she possessed in real life. Most attractive, however, was how she stuck by her man Irving in real life. Thalberg was a very sick man and died young. Norma truly loved him and protected his image long after he passed. Tragically, in her own life after Hollywood, Norma sought out seclusion (not unlike her arch-screen nemesis Garbo) and appeared frightened by the aging process we are all subjected to. It saddens me that we glorify our leading ladies at the height of their beauty, then toss them aside so easily once they hit 30, or younger. Are they not the same women we fell in love with at first sight in their 20’s?

Norma will always be remembered. Maybe not like Garbo. But even Garbo, while most know the name, has been relegated to a bygone era. Lost in the sea of technology, special effects and irrelevant, male-oriented storylines that disgrace our cinema screens today. I’m hoping for a resurgence of interest in golden age Hollywood stars as a result of this year’s silent screen Oscar-contender “The Artist”. The storyline of which was lifted from the very-real life love story between Garbo and John Gilbert. But that’s for another blog. Today I want to celebrate Norma. May she be remembered as a classy dame who knew how to have fun and hold her man.

CINEMUSES: Garbo, The Goddess of Witchcraft

12 Jan

Greta Garbo was the undisputed Queen of Golden Age Hollywood, or more accurately, Tinseltown from her 1927 silent film debut up to her abrupt departure from the screen in 1941. So much has been written about Garbo that there is very little new light to be shed on the luminous screen creation that was Garbo. The one thing I can add to all the biographies and hagiographies of the iconic actress, however, is why she remains more relevant today than when she was the highest paid woman in the U.S. ($5,000 a week in 1932) and the most recognizable face on the planet. Garbo remains relevant to today’s celebrity-obsessed culture simply because she started it all. She was the first star whose private life became fodder for the tabloids, literally her every move became a matter of record in every newspaper throughout the world.

The list of firsts involving the screen queen goes on and on:

The first time in history a newspaper hired a plane to fly over a celebrity’s house to capture a “candid” photo of the star sun-bathing nude.

The first time a King visited a movie set to pay homage to a movie queen (King Gustav of Sweden to MGM in Hollywood). Of course, Garbo refused to meet him.

The first time a celebrity (since Cleopatra) went by one name.

Garbo. Historians of film still talk about “the Rapture” seeing her face in close-up on screen had on theater audiences, both male and female, throughout the world. Never before had a human visage been captured in light so perfectly and so large – big enough to see every perfect pore of skin (covered in silver make-up made for her by Max Factor himself – so she would literally shine), every eyelash (all natural); ever internal thought conveyed through voluminous eyes.

Garbo, aka “The Face” was said to be the most beautiful woman who ever lived. But more than that, Garbo brought about modern screen acting, making her counterparts Norma Shearer and Marion Davies by comparison, appear to be pantomiming. Screen legend Bette Davis was so obsessed with Garbo’s acting that she stole onto a movie set to see Garbo in action. She came away nonplussed. Later, she saw the footage of that days shooting and was blown away by what the camera saw. Davis said Garbo’s affect on the artificial eye was nothing less than “witchcraft.”

All Garbo’s directors and fellow actors agreed. Seeing Garbo act with the naked eye seemed like nothing special. But then, when the film emulsion was processed and negative became positive – Garbo the screen goddess in all her glory appeared as if by alchemy. Nothing less than magic. Her ability to convey emotion without uttering a word, even moving, seemed supernatural. So much so that the occultists of the day considered Garbo to be more than mortal. She became known in the press as, “The Immortal One.”
Of course, Greta Garbo was not immortal. After her final film, “Two Faced Woman” flopped in 1941, she bid the world goodbye and moved into an apartment in Manhattan, New York and aged quietly, reclusively, until her death in 1990. Yet up until virtually her dying day, Garbo was stalked relentlessly by paparazzi while other glamorous movie stars of her era like Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth and poor Norma Shearer were forgotten once their beauty and fame faded from view.

Why? The easy answer is that Garbo’s steadfast rejection of the modern day cult-of-personality she helped to foment fueled our desire to capture her image evermore in the spotlight. As if, simply by virtue of the fact a famous person wanted to be left alone – we couldn’t allow it in our new age of media obsessed, fame monsters and attention whores. But I have a sneaking feeling there was more to it than that. My sense is that Garbo was more than met the eye, even when she became a shriveled, wrinkled, white-haired old lady. I think Bette Davis was onto something when she gazed at Garbo with those big, Betty Davis blue eyes of hers. I think Garbo was a witch. The most beautiful witch who ever lived, and whose cinematic spell will continue to be cast on generation upon generation of movie lovers – for as long as there is light.

GARBO THE (REAL) SPY

11 Jan

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.