Remembering Greta Garbo

When Garbo finally arrived in the United States at the age of 20, she made her first MGM studio film, The Torrent (1926). The film was an instant hit, and was followed in the same year by The Temptress, then Flesh in the Devil, her first pairing with actor John Gilbert.

Garbo with John Gilbert and director Clarence Brown
on the set of
Flesh in the Devil in 1926

Garbo supposedly fell in love with Gilbert only briefly, but Gilbert never got over her. In The Girls, McLellan writes, “He begged his ‘Svenska flicka’ (‘little Swedish girl’) to marry him. She was so lonely that she occasionally consented. But, always, she panicked at the last minute and bolted.”

Garbo literally left Gilbert at the altar in 1926, and it was through Gilbert that she soon met actress Lilyan Tashman. Tashman was an openly bisexual glamour girl who taught the notoriously frumpy Garbo how to look like a movie star.

Lilyan Tashman in 1931

She was also the first of her many female lovers in Hollywood. Other conquests included actresses Eva von Berne and Salka Viertel, comedienne Bea Lillie, writer Mercedes de Acosta, Swedish Countess Wachtmeister, and even Louise Brooks.

Many of these women were protected from public scrutiny by their “lavender marriages” to men, but not Garbo. As a result, John Gilbert became her “show beau,” and for years she strung along a host of other men who shared his unrequited devotion.

Garbo managed to cut her swath through the women of Hollywood and retain her status as one of the biggest movie stars of the era. She made her first film with sound in 1931, Anna Christie, and was one of the few silent era stars to transition successfully into talking pictures.

She followed with well-known films like Grand Hotel (1932), Queen Christina (1933), Anna Karenina (1935), Camille (1936), and Ninotchka (1939).

She retired from film permanently in 1941 with the George Cukor-directed comedy Two-Faced Woman (tagline: “Go gay with Garbo!”).

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