Tag Archives: Glamorous

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Greta Garbo: Screen Goddess Found in the Men’s Room

19 Oct

Screen Goddess Greta’s Garbo’s personal belongings are on sale at Julien’s Auction in Beverly Hills this weekend. Many, many glamorous 30’s and 40’s hats, clothes, shoes and personal effects are being sold for 10 times what the auction house  set as their market value.  People not only remember Garbo, but consider her the most glamorous screen goddess from the golden age of Hollywood.  Garbo was the glamor queen of Hollywood, from a time in movie history when fans considered their stars gods.  Made famous by mogul Louis B. Mayer and MGM studios, Garbo was as big as they got.  Her appeal was her mystery, but in reality she was the most private of movie stars.

Seth Moseley was a  reporter during that same most glamorous time – the late 1930’s in New York City. A paparazzo 40 years before the term was coined, Seth worked for The Journal, the big-city newspaper to Manhattan, home to some of the world’s biggest stars. And he had his fair share of run-ins with Hollywood stars. But his favorite to tell was finding Garbo, the thirty-one year movie queen of the world, aboard the S.S. Gripsholm in the Port of New York:

“In those days, when a celebrity came in from Europe, half a dozen or sometimes a dozen newspapermen go down and meet these celebrities coming in from Europe. This means getting up early in the morning and going down to lower bay of Manhattan and meeting these ships coming up the narrows to interview celebrities. Garbo was on one of these ships. This was in 1937 and she’d become famous in the movies and had left Hollywood to go back to Sweden for vacation. She was purported to be in love with Leopold Stokowski, the conductor. We were (sent) down to the ship to find out.

Garbo came out and fifteen of us reporters and photographers held a mass interview. She was distinctly uncomfortable. Garbo was a very quiet, shy human being. She had made a fortune out of being shy and quiet and alone and she posed for pictures and they pursued her on the romance. I didn’t mention it. I don’t like mass interviews. I don’t think you stand a chance.

After everybody else had left, I stayed on the ship. I went to find her hoping I could get an interview. I went to her state room. I went to the Captain of the ship. I went everywhere for two-hours, and I couldn’t find Garbo. Finally, I had to go to the men’s room and that’s where I found her. She was in the men’s room hiding. I didn’t show any alarm, I just said that I’d love to see her for a couple minutes and could we take a walk on the deck. She said certainly.

We went out on the ship’s deck and talked. Then she told me something I thought was pretty important:

“You know,” I said. “you’ve said that you always wanted to be alone.”

“I’m glad you asked me that,” she said.“Because it’s not true. What I said was, I want to be left alone.”

I knew I had a good story. We talked, she was charming. She simply didn’t want to be overcome by a lot of people. Well, I jumped off the ship and got back to the newspaper and wrote the story about how Garbo had never said this remark about being alone, that she was not a recluse – she wanted to be left alone. Every newspaper in the United States picked it up.”

Seth had a special twinkle in his eye every time he told me the story of his and Garbo’s chance meeting, all because he wouldn’t give up on getting an exclusive. He said he even received a thank you note from the charming movie star, hoping that they would meet again someday. But they never did.

Greta Garbo, movie goddess and Seth Moseley’s favorite interview, passed away on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1990 in New York City. She was 85. Seth H. Moseley died Saturday, August 11, 2000 in Torrington, Connecticut. He was 92. Their fateful meeting in the men’s room aboard an ocean liner would forever set the record straight. Garbo never wanted to be alone, only to be left alone. Never to be forgotten.

Greta Garbo in the Men’s Room

14 Apr

In 1995, I met Seth H. Moseley while working on a cable documentary about the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping. I interviewed the legendary newspaperman about 1932, when he was a twenty-three year old cub reporter driving out to Hopewell, New Jersey right after the Lindbergh baby had been kidnapped. Because Seth had gone to Amherst College with Dwight Morrow, Anne Morrow-Lindbergh’s brother, his editor at The New York Journal thought Seth had an inside advantage over the 150 reporters on the scene. The editor was right and Seth obtained an exclusive interview with Charles A. Lindbergh hours after the world-famous aviator’s infant son was abducted. Seth Moseley had scooped the story of the twentieth century. But as I got to know and became friends with the intrepid former Associated Press reporter, I discovered Lindbergh was by no means Seth’s last exclusive.

In 1934, Seth covered the S.S. Morro Castle ocean liner fire. The disaster that resulted in dead bodies washing up on the New Jersey shore would make headlines around the world. Then there was the Hindenburg disaster, this time in Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1937. Once again, Seth was on the scene and described the horrific carnage created by the hydrogen dirigible exploding and being totally consumed in just 33 seconds. The image of people jumping to their deaths and being burned alive, 36 victims in all, left its mark on the 28-year old reporter. But it was an entirely different and much more light-hearted exclusive that same year which would stick in Seth’s memory for the rest of his life.

In his own words, Seth described to me his rather unique run-in with a thirty-one year old Greta Garbo, reigning queen of Hollywood, aboard the S.S. Gripsholm in the Port of New York:

“In those days, when a celebrity came in from Europe, half a dozen or sometimes a dozen newspapermen go down and meet these celebrities coming in from Europe. This means getting up early in the morning and going down to lower bay of Manhattan and meeting these ships coming up the narrows to interview celebrities. Garbo was on one of these ships. This was in 1937 and she’d become famous in the movies and had left Hollywood to go back to Sweden for vacation. She was purported to be in love with Leopold Stokowski, the conductor. We were (sent) down to the ship to find out.

Garbo came out and fifteen of us reporters and photographers held a mass interview. She was distinctly uncomfortable. Garbo was a very quiet, shy human being. She had made a fortune out of being shy and quiet and alone and she posed for pictures and they pursued her on the romance. I didn’t mention it. I don’t like mass interviews. I don’t think you stand a chance.

After everybody else had left, I stayed on the ship. I went to find her hoping I could get an interview. I went to her state room. I went to the Captain of the ship. I went everywhere for two-hours, and I couldn’t find Garbo. Finally, I had to go to the men’s room and that’s where I found her. She was in the men’s room hiding. I didn’t show any alarm, I just said that I’d love to see her for a couple minutes and could we take a walk on the deck. She said certainly.

We went out on the ship’s deck and talked. Then she told me something I thought was pretty important:

“You know,” I said. “you’ve said that you always wanted to be alone.”

“I’m glad you asked me that,” she said.“Because it’s not true. What I said was, I want to be left alone.”

I knew I had a good story. We talked, she was charming. She simply didn’t want to be overcome by a lot of people. Well, I jumped off the ship and got back to the newspaper and wrote the story about how Garbo had never said this remark about being alone, that she was not a recluse – she wanted to be left alone. Every newspaper in the United States picked it up.”

Seth had a special twinkle in his eye every time he told me the story of his and Garbo’s chance meeting, all because he wouldn’t give up on getting an exclusive. He said he even received a thank you note from the charming movie star, hoping that they would meet again someday. But they never did.

Greta Garbo, movie goddess and Seth Moseley’s favorite interview, passed away on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1990 in New York City. She was 85. Seth H. Moseley died Saturday, August 11, 2000 in Torrington, Connecticut. He was 92. Their fateful meeting in the men’s room aboard an ocean liner would forever set the record straight. Garbo never wanted to be alone, only to be left alone. Never to be forgotten.