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Greta Garbo (born Gretna Green) (18 Sep 1905 - 15 Apr 1990, Screen Icon 1927) was a Swedish born actress with a voice deeper than Paul Robeson and with eyes that could burn through a Volvo at 20 paces. She became a star in the 1920s when no one could hear her voice but just liked her look. Her regular co-star was the rarely sober John Gilbert. Their on screen romance produced plenty of happy bums on seats as women imagined to be in Garbo's shoes as she took on a full embrace of the dashing looking Gilbert. So when the Talkies came and the two appeared in the film Queen Christina, audiences were shocked to hear the gravel heavy accented voice came from Garbo and not her American co-star whose voice in comparison sounded high camp.
Her film career was relatively short and she really belonged to a different film era. Her 'Garboesque' figure in tailored in dresses that appeared to be made out of paper and her 'don't look, don't touch, don't spit' attitude soon saw her career dwindle away. By 1941 after appearing as a Russian flirt (with her voice a few more octaves down than before) in Ninotchka and then playing a pair of supposed twins in The Two-Faced Woman, Garbo officially retired and took up a life incognito for the rest of her years.
Garbo was in Sweden in 1905. She disowned her parents at a very early age when they named her after a Scottish railway station. She was then known as 'Gretna Volvo' before changing it to Greta Garbo after falling in love with the movies. She fell madly in lust with Rudolf Valentino and moved to Hollywood to find out more about him. Garbo was overweight and spoke with a strong Swedish accent. In her first film Siren from Sweden she was cast as a carpet. This would have killed any other career but then film fans wanted to know more about 'the face' Garbo started picking up important film roles but carried on her dream of starring with Valentino.
Covers in magazines followed and she got her first big film role...or roll. She was seen just wearing a rug in a scene from the film Swedish Meatballs.
edit Golden Silence
Following the failure of Swedish Meatballs, Garbo hit her stride when paired with American actor John Gilbert. Their films like Flesh, Up and Down puzzled audiences but made film box offices happy. Her next film (a silent musical) Mama Mia was judged a flop and so Garbo returned to being the mysterious, moody Swede.
edit First Talkie
Garbo was slow to make the transition to sound. Her strong Swedish accent was regarded as 'an auditorium emptier' when first tried out. So she was cast as a French spy with suicidal tendencies in Mata Hari v Hari Kari.
Her next film was closer to home. She played Queen Ikea of Sweden in which she self assembled a fleet to attack the Holy Roman Empire. First choice John Barrymore missed the audition after losing his battle with the bottle. His replacement was John Gilbert, Garbo's previous 'silent' film partner in earlier movies. Audiences thought there was some 'dubbing issue' as Garbo's voice was deeper and a lot richer than Gilbert's contralto waver. Gilbert was also a drunk and on his career was on the long slide to an early death. He got cast as French ambassador Comte La Flannelette who convinced Ikea to abandon Protestantism and move to Rome to become a full member of the incense and bells Catholic church.
edit Who wants to hear me talk?
As the 1930s progressed, Garbo's vocal limitations restricted her film roles to freaky foreigners. Moreover, she looked bored and disinterested and her audience now drifted away. By her last film in 1941, Garbo was playing to empty cinemas. It was time to retire. Garbo had banked her millions and didn't need to work anyway. It was time for her long retirement.
edit Greta Gaybo
Garbo lived in seclusion for the rest of her life. No marriage or children to worry about. She liked it that way. Her only film friend was Marlene Dietrich which also stretched to shared interest in Sappho (apparently). There were rumours that Garbo had secretly married a fellow recluse Howard Hughes but that is now hard to prove either way. When Garbo's death was eventually announced, it didn't matter. No photos of the old lady were published, only her from her heyday got out.