Greta Garbo: A mini-profile

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Greta Garbo is best known for her acting career, in both silent and talking films before World War II.

“I was born. I had a mother and father. I went to school. What does it matter?”

She was born on September 18, 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden. A reclusive star, Garbo began her career in Europe before coming to the United States to work for MGM when she was 19. Her sensual, mysterious look made her a hit with American audiences, both in silent and sound films before World War II, and she was nominated for four Oscars, later winning an honorary award. She died in New York City on April 15, 1990.

One of Hollywood’s most enigmatic stars, Greta Garbo was born Greta Lovisa Gustafson on September 8, 1905, in Stockholm, Sweden. To her parents, Karl and Anna, who already had two children, Greta came as a surprise arrival, further straining the family’s already tight finances.

Greta’s father was an unskilled laborer who was often out of work and in poor health, which forced his family to live with the constant threat of poverty.

At the age of 13, Greta dropped out of school to care for her father, who had fallen deeply ill. He died two years later of kidney failure. The strain her father’s health and subsequent death left on the family deeply affected young Greta, who promised to make a life for herself that was void of financial hardship.

Following her father’s death, Greta landed job as a salesperson at a Swedish department store. To help promote the men’s clothing line, Greta starred in a pair of advertising shorts, modeling the attire. Her natural instincts in front of the camera soon led her to a role in her first film, a comedy called Peter the Tramp (1922).

A bigger opportunity followed when Greta earned a scholarship at the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theater, Sweden’s premier school for aspiring actors. But Greta cut her education short after just a year after meeting director Mauritz Stiller, Sweden’s leading silent film director, who wanted the young actress to star in his new film, The Legend of Gosta Berling (1924).

The film’s success in both Sweden and Germany made Garbo famous. It also solidified a partnership with Stiller that would change her career and life. Stiller coached her as an actress and convinced her to change her last name to Garbo.

Garbo’s next film, Streets of Sorrow (1925), in which she played a prospective prostitute, furthered Garbo’s standing as a star in Europe. The film also caught the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) production chief Louis B. Mayer. Mayer wanted Stiller, who worked on the film, to work in America. The flamboyant director agreed to a contract with one condition: Garbo was to come with him. Reluctantly, Mayer inked her to a deal, too.

For the complete coverage of Garbo’s life and career, please click here.

To learn all about each of her films, please click here.

 

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