“AND there I met for the first time, except to nod to him, John Gilbert. And he was
so terribly good to work with! He has such vitality, spirit, eagerness. Every morning at nine o’clock he would slip to work opposite me. He was so nice, that I felt better; felt a little closer to this strange America.
“When I finished ‘The Flesh and the Devil,’ they wanted me to do ‘Women love Diamonds.’ I could not do that story. Four or five bad pictures and there would be no more of me for the American people.
“I did not know what to do. No one would tell me. I still could not speak good English. So I went to the hotel and sat down and waited. I did not know what else I could do. I wanted to he home in Sweden.
“And the next morning they telephoned me to look at some sketches for the story. It was the first time I had not done what they wanted, except to sign a new contract when I already had a new one.
“And I had a letter saying by not coming down to see the sketches I had refused to work and they could not pay me. What could I do?
“Then a very kind friend told me about a man who would understand both me and the people of this country. I had a lawyer to manage me up to this time. But this new man, they said, knew all about the studio and all about the making of pictures. He had been in Europe a long time and would sympathize and understand that all I wanted was no trouble and just a chance to make good stories. So I went to see Mr. Harry Edington, and after talking to me every day, almost, for more than a week, and coming to believe that I was not all the papers had said about me, he said he would handle all of my things for me. My contracts, my money, my work, – everything. You do not know what that means to a girl who knows nothing about this big country and this big American studio business.
SINCE then, I have not had trouble. Because he understands both their business
and understands me and my business.
“But before I employed him I was home seven months without pay. I did not say anything or do anything. And the papers always said I want money.
“I was terribly restless. I figured out that maybe the next moment I would he packing my trunks. I was so low, as you say, that I thought I would break. but it’s like when you are in love. Suppose the man you love does something to hurt you. You think you will break it off; but you don’t do it.
“Finally, they call me and say they have a story. I read it and went out and asked what part I was to play and they said the little part. Aileen Pringle and Lew Cody were to play the big parts. Mr. Edington tell me to do it, so I did not say a word, but tried on the dresses and was all ready to play the little part in the picture, when Miss Pringle said she would not do
“Then they called me and said I was impossible and could not be handled. For the first time I answered Mr. Mayer back. I said I had all my clothes fitted and was ready to play the little part. What more did they want? I am very sorry I answered back. I guess I did not understand them. It was all because I speak one language and they speak another. And the newspaper men who print all the bad stories, they could not understand either.
“They said it was a new contract they wanted. So Mr. Edington fixed up a new contract, for five years. Because it was not money I had wanted in the first place, money was not so important. But Mr. Edington’s contract did give me more money than when I came to this country. They had a cartoon of me in my country, holding out my hand with many American dollars. They thought I get five thousand dollars a week. That is funny.
“Now Mr. Edington makes us understand one another and we are all very happy.
“And that is all there is to my story. I am twenty-two years old and I have played in two pictures in Europe and five in this country. I was nineteen when I came to New York City.
“I WILL go back to Sweden this year. I do not know whether I will bring my mother
to this country. When I am working I like to be alone.
“And if I were working hard – I love my mother. We will see.
“I want to stay in this country. Hollywood is the place to make pictures. It is where there is a future for me or any other actress.
“I cannot help it if I do not like to be with many people. I have some good friends. Mr. and Mrs. Jannings. Mrs. Jannings is a real woman.
“She says what she means. Mr. Jannings is a real man.
“I do not mean feminine and masculine, as you say it. I mean the inside, deep – real people. I have to keep learning German so I can talk with my good friends, the Jannings.
“They wanted me to go to a Mayfair party. It was a nice party. But, why do I have to go. I do not like parties.
“I never know what I am going to do next, when I am not working. I walk on the heath for many miles. But I never know what time I will do it. I stand on the beach and watch the sea for an hour, perhaps two. What is that to people?
“I like it. That is all there is to it.
“I do not think one person should judge another. You can never tell why one person does not like another.
I do not think one person can talk about another. It is not of their own business they are talking.
“I love my work. I want to be a big actress. That is natural. Do you not want to be big’in what you are doing? And the other American people?
“When I was starting ‘Anna Karenina,’ the wardrobe department sent me flowers. I was so pleased. I know in a big factory-studio they cannot send you flowers and do things for others.
“But – it made me feel a little closer.
“Love?” She laughed softly. “Of course, I have been in love. Love is the last and the first of a woman’s education. How could you express love, if you have never felt it? You can imagine, but it is not like the feeling – who hasn’t been in love? I am no different from the others.
“Marriage? I have told many times, I do not know. I like to be alone; not always with some other person.
“There are many things in your heart you can never tell to another person. They are you!
“Your joys and sorrows – and you can never, never tell them. It is not right that you should tell them.
“You cheapen yourself, the inside of yourself, when you tell them.
“There is really nothing to my story, as I told in the beginning. I was born in a house, I grew up like other people. I have found my life work, and all I want is to do it and then travel.
“I have had troubles the same as other persons. The company went broke in Constantinople, but I found another. Mr. Stiller had to go back to Europe. How I miss him. He talked in my own language. I owe everything to Mr. Stiller. I have not understood everything over here, but now everything is settled and we are all working together. I cannot stand trouble.
“The future? I have no plans. After I go back to Sweden, then who knows? My contract is for five years, remember.
“I have told the truth. That is everything there is to it. Honest! No,” she smiled a wee smile, “American cities are not covered with flowers, but I have found many flowers in America.
“And that’s all. My little story of my life in pictures, – of my whole life as far as that matters – is finished.”
GRETA GARBO drew her grey woolly cloak “such as we wear in Sweden” around her.
Her eyes sought the windows, as though to penetrate the dark secrets beyond them. And as she looked past me, beyond, into a world which my eyes could not vision, there was born in me a great ambition, an ambition to acquire this woman as a friend.
There dashed across my mind a story I had forgotten.
Greta Garbo was on one of her rare partygatherings.
A woman told a story about Susan. A story which left the inflection that Susan was not honest.
“But I thought you and Susan were friends?” Greta had inquired.
“Why, we are!” the woman had laughingly answered,
“But if you are friends you could not say that of one another.”
You have heard her reference to children. She understands them because she is herself a child. In her simplicity, her beliefs, her devotions. And as I listened to her life story, I knew I could not help but believe each word she was saying. She told it in perfect English, exactly as it is written, – the English of a child who is learning.
And I wondered, as she concluded, has America become so complicated, so civilized, that it has become difficult for them to love and to believe in their children?
© Photoplay · June 1928 · The Story of Greta Garbo · As told by her to Ruth Biery