She’d performed the big-screen intercourse siren and did not relish doing so once more. ‘I can not see any sense in dressing up and doing nothing however tempting males in footage.’
So mentioned Greta Garbo concerning the prospect of constructing the steamy 1926 potboiler Flesh And The Satan. And as a brand new biography reveals, when it got here to ‘dressing up’, Garbo most well-liked to decorate up as man.
However for all of the Swedish famous person’s reservations concerning the movie — regarding a love triangle involving two finest pals competing for a similar girl — they melted away after she met her co-star John Gilbert.
As a toddler, she borrowed her brother Sven’s garments and later as a intercourse goddess actress, she did not put on make-up off-screen and continued to want a male wardrobe of dishevelled jumpers and trousers. She would costume as Hamlet to fancy costume events
Smitten, the pair made essentially the most sexually specific scenes but provided to filmgoers.
‘They made love horizontally! She was mendacity on high of him! Nothing this erotic had ever been seen on the display,’ gasps biographer Robert Gottlieb, writer of Garbo.
Clarence Brown, the movie’s director, mentioned Garbo had developed an enormous crush on Gilbert earlier than their first assembly and he turned equally besotted. ‘By the point their old flame scene was filmed, they had been madly, exuberantly in love,’ he recalled.
‘These two had been alone in a world of their very own. It appeared like an intrusion to yell ‘minimize!’ I used to simply movement the crew over to a different a part of the set and allow them to end what they had been doing. It was embarrassing.’
Brown knew what he had: ‘I’m working with uncooked materials. They’re in that blissful state of affection that’s so like a rosy cloud that they think about themselves hidden behind it, in addition to misplaced in it.’
Greater than 30 years after her demise and 80 years since she successfully walked away from her Hollywood profession aged 36 and have become a recluse, Garbo’s movies — together with Mata Hari, Grand Lodge and Anna Karenina — are actually nearly forgotten. And but the life, and notably the love life, of essentially the most celebrated and enigmatic of all display stars continues to fascinate.
She hated crowds and photographers, protecting that extraordinary face — together with these huge eyes and deep-set lids — when she noticed a lot as a glimpse of a digicam.
Garbo got here to be outlined by one of many traces she uttered on display — ‘I simply wish to be alone’ — and lots of have suspected that the explanation for her obsessive privateness was her unconventional intercourse life.
Her lovers included not solely Hollywood’s main males comparable to John Gilbert and Orson Welles, but additionally its main girls reportedly together with Tallulah Bankhead and Louise Brooks. Even the homosexual British society photographer Cecil Beaton turned an obsessed paramour.
Garbo got here to be outlined by one of many traces she uttered on display — ‘I simply wish to be alone’ — and lots of have suspected that the explanation for her obsessive privateness was her unconventional intercourse life
In the meantime, Hollywood’s most infamous seductress, playwright and socialite Mercedes de Acosta — dubbed ‘Countess Dracula’ for her extraordinary declare that she might get any girl from any man — turned Garbo’s pathetic ‘intercourse slave’.
If the visitors by the Garbo bed room was something like as busy as has been claimed — ‘I do not perceive how she will get all of them,’ remarked her nice rival Marlene Dietrich — she did not have a lot time to be alone.
In his new biography, Gottlieb makes an attempt as soon as extra to prise open the oyster shell of Garbo’s non-public life. He concludes she had a ‘pure inclination towards solitude’ that was exacerbated by the extreme consideration that got here with super-stardom.
Extra startling are his theories on why she hated a lot being a pin-up. Lengthy earlier than concepts turned modern about sexual fluidity and the ‘gender spectrum’, Garbo ‘had at all times loved cross-dressing’, says Gottlieb.
As a toddler, she borrowed her brother Sven’s garments and later as a intercourse goddess actress, she did not put on make-up off-screen and continued to want a male wardrobe of dishevelled jumpers and trousers. She would costume as Hamlet to fancy costume events.
She additionally by no means misplaced her childhood behavior of referring to herself as male, usually calling herself a ‘fellow’ and signing her letters ‘Harry’ or ‘Harry Boy’.
Her favorite movie half was enjoying the cross-dressing Swedish monarch Queen Christina and her dream roles had been males: St Francis of Assisi, and Dorian Grey, the gorgeous younger man who by no means grows outdated in Oscar Wilde’s novel.
‘Easy cross-dressing, or gender confusion?’ asks Gottlieb. ‘How ironic if ‘the Most Stunning Lady within the World’ actually would relatively have been a person.’ Dietrich, who engaged in a long-running feud with Garbo so intense they denied ever having met one another, additionally fuelled the concept of her bete noire having a really mannish aspect to her character. She claimed Garbo ‘raped males . . . she unzipped her fly and jumped on them’.
Gottlieb, a 90-year-old lifelong Garbo devotee, says Garbo was prickly, cussed and relatively dour. She was additionally imperious, anticipating even shut pals to name her ‘Miss Garbo’.
However her air of superiority was a entrance. Garbo was a painfully shy, unsophisticated and uneducated Swedish peasant woman who had little fascinating to say and knew it, says Gottlieb. She barely spoke English when she arrived within the U.S., and for years solely combined with a handful of pals who might converse German.
In such circumstances, after all, she won’t wish to reveal an excessive amount of about herself. If the world selected to interpret that reticence as an enigmatic aloofness and lofty disdain for Tinseltown, that false impression labored brilliantly for her. Whereas different actresses labored (or slept) their method up the Hollywood ladder, Garbo was a star from the second she arrived.
Born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in Stockholm in 1905, she was 14 when her father, an unskilled labourer, died, so she dropped out of faculty to assist the household. A job modelling hats in ads for an area division retailer offered the entree into performing, her childhood ambition.
Headhunted by MGM studio boss Louis Mayer after he noticed a 1925 German movie, Joyless Road, (through which Dietrich had an uncredited position) in Berlin, she was whisked off to Hollywood aged 22, with an preliminary two-film deal that greater than paid off Mayer’s threat on her.
She might have hated enjoying vamps, however her large reputation was largely right down to her astonishing sexual attract. ‘I’ve by no means performed with a girl with such a capability to arouse the erotic impulse,’ mentioned actor — however not lover — Melvyn Douglas, who made three movies together with her.
She liked youngsters however by no means wished to have any of her personal and by no means even married. That final element wasn’t for lack of making an attempt on the a part of the lads she met.
Like so many women and men who fell for Garbo, John Gilbert — once they met, the very best paid actor in footage and dubbed ‘The Nice Lover’ — got here to worship her. He had a lavish rest room put in at his Hollywood dwelling with black marble partitions, and a sunken black marble bathtub and gold fixtures. When Garbo complained that the marble glistened an excessive amount of, he had the partitions elaborately re-finished to take away the shine. In all it price $15,000 — or $235,000 (£172,000) in as we speak’s cash.
It was the Hollywood romance of its day. The couple apparently headed off to a easy wedding ceremony outdoors city, just for Garbo to get chilly ft and, once they stopped for petrol, escape by the window of the women’ bathroom and flee again to Los Angeles. On one other event, it is alleged, she merely did not flip as much as a double wedding ceremony with director King Vidor and actress Eleanor Boardman.
Ultimately, Garbo grew bored with Gilbert, as she at all times did together with her lovers. By the point he died from alcoholism a decade after they’d met, she claimed she could not even keep in mind why she’d fallen for him within the first place.
‘Nicely, I suppose he was fairly,’ she concluded witheringly.
Garbo was no exception to the hoary cliche of actresses having affairs with their administrators and co-stars.
Whereas making Queen Christina in 1933, she had a quick affair with its director, Rouben Mamoulian.
In keeping with Marlene Dietrich, the director gave Garbo gonorrhoea. ‘I used to be within the hospital with strep throat, and he or she was in a room above me… with the clap,’ sniped the German actress. ‘She received it from Mamoulian.’
Dietrich was the supply of essentially the most twisted pronouncements on Garbo, as soon as describing how she met a former male lover of her rival and was not impressed. ‘He was drunk the entire night, but when it’s a must to go to mattress with Garbo, it’s a must to drink,’ she mentioned.
A earlier biographer has claimed Dietrich and Garbo had an affair whereas making Joyless Road collectively, though Gottlieb does not repeat the allegation.
Garbo met novelist Erich Maria Remarque, writer of All Quiet On The Western Entrance, at a 1941 New 12 months’s Eve social gathering. Though married, Remarque was a philanderer and later wrote floridly of his first evening with Garbo: ‘She entered the bed room, the sunshine of the dressing room behind her, softly flowering over her shoulders, enchanting her define.’ The magic quickly wore off and he would later inform his spouse, actress Paulette Goddard, that Garbo was ‘awful in mattress’.
Orson Welles had a quick affair with Garbo, however ended it after seeing her refuse to provide an autograph to a uniformed World Warfare II veteran on crutches.
One other veteran — actor Gilbert Roland — was luckier, revealing how Garbo slept with him to have a good time his enlistment, afterwards giving him a pair of her knickers as a memento. When he returned dwelling from depart just a few months later, she refused to take his calls.
She had a ‘peculiar’ on-and-off affair with Cecil Beaton within the post-war years, throughout which marrying her turned his ‘biggest ambition’. Gottlieb believes he turned so fixated he should have been critically mentally unbalanced. Beaton himself acknowledged how the truth that Garbo ‘does not give a rattling’ for any of her suitors, together with him, solely elevated the ‘frenzy’ of their fixation on her.
She got here to stick with him in 1951 at his Wiltshire pile, Reddish Home, and — in response to one other visitor, biographer James Pope-Hennessy — Beaton ‘guarded her like an eagle and no person was ever allowed alone together with her’.
She had, the author added, ‘essentially the most inexplicable powers of fascination’, however was additionally ‘completely uneducated’ and had ‘dialog so boring you would scream’.
As for different girls, Garbo described her amorous affairs with them as ‘thrilling secrets and techniques’, however the truth she surrounded herself with so many bisexual and lesbian girls meant her Sapphic inclinations had been hardly troublesome to identify.
Her celeb lovers reportedly additionally included singer Billie Vacation and the extraordinary dancer and spy Josephine Baker.
Each Garbo and Dietrich had been members of the so-called Stitching Circle, a sisterhood of closet Hollywood lesbians and bisexuals who met at one another’s for lunch, dialog — and extra.
The 2 closest girls in Garbo’s life had been rivals for her affections. The primary was Salka Viertel, a sexually liberated Austrian actress and author who was 15 years older.
The opposite was Mercedes de Acosta, a ‘ubiquitous lesbian rake’ who claimed to have had some 50 lovers, together with Dietrich, Bankhead, Isadora Duncan and even the Gilded Age novelist Edith Wharton. It was de Acosta who launched Garbo to sporting trousers, a girls’s vogue assertion that on the time was considered surprising even in Hollywood. Below the headline ‘Garbo in pants!’, a newspaper reported bystanders ‘gasped in amazement’ as the 2 girls strode alongside Hollywood Boulevard in ‘males’s’ clothes.
The pair would retreat to an island on a lake within the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the place Garbo would swim bare and posed topless for de Acosta’s digicam. ‘She was by no means embarrassed by being bare,’ says Gottlieb.
The ladies’s relationship lasted three a long time, though Gottlieb says that, after an preliminary infatuation, Garbo cooled in direction of de Acosta and have become more and more fed up together with her ‘stifling and dramatic jealousies and sufferings’. De Acosta turned Garbo’s ‘love slave’ till the actress abruptly dropped her.
Between 1926 and 1941, Garbo starred in nearly 30 movies, however World Warfare II noticed her and the movie trade falling out of affection with one another. She by no means formally retired however moved to New York in 1953 the place she was described as a ‘hermit-about-town’. She died aged 84 in 1990.
Sam Inexperienced, a detailed buddy in later life, recalled as soon as strolling by Paris with Garbo, then in her late 60s, and wandering right into a intercourse store. ‘She mentioned she’d by no means been in a single earlier than and was curious. It was crowded with sexy males, however she went in and took an extended go searching,’ mentioned Inexperienced. ‘Then, outdoors, she mentioned, ‘Ah, the intercourse factor. I am glad that a part of my life is over.’
The intercourse siren, who had at all times wished to be alone, had lastly received her want.