THE ONLY TRUE STORY OF GRETA GARBO’S PRIVATE LIFE by Sven-Hugo Borg
ONE evening, on his walk, he stopped at a tobacco shop to purchase a package of his favourite cigarettes. For years Stiller had been searching for the woman—the woman whom he would mould into the world’s greatest Star. In his dazed mental condition as he bought his cigarettes, something clicked in his brain as he looked at the girl who waited on him. Without a word he walked out.
Returning to his hotel, Stiller suddenly remembered. That face in the tobacco store ! It was the face he had sought so long but, wrack his brain as he would, he could not remember where he had walked or where he had bought his cigarettes.
He was in mental agony. For years he had sought the girl, and now that he had found her, he could not remember where! For weeks he walked the streets, looking into tobacco shops—without avail.
After serving some time in the shop, Garbo entered the Royal Dramatic School as a pupil.
The greatest success of the Royal Dramatic season in 1923 was The Green Dress Suit, and one evening, in a front row seat, sat. Mauritz Stiller.
Suddenly a girl appeared—only in a minor role—but Stiller could hardly remain in his seat for excitement—for she had the face that had haunted him for months.
The world knows the rest of the story. The girl was Greta Garbo, and through Stiller she was given the part of the Countess in his picture The Atonement of Gosta Berling. It was in this picture that Louis B. Mayer first saw her, and gave her the contract which gave Garbo to the world.
Perhaps this is the place to correct another wrong impression. The story has got about that Metro wanted Stiller, the genius, to direct for them, and that Stiller had refused to sign unless they also gave his protégée, Garbo, a contract. Rather than lose Stiller, so the story goes, Metro signed her for $200 a week, merely as excess baggage, so to speak, not expecting ever to put her on the screen.
That story is false. It was Garbo, not Stiller, whom they wanted. To the credit of Mr. Mayer, let it be known that when he saw Garbo on the screen in Gosta Berling, he immediately recognized in her that spark which was later to make her the great Star of the films. He doubted whether Stiller could direct pictures which would appeal to American audiences, but Garbo insisted and, in order to get Garbo, Mayer signed Stiller. If this were not true, why should the Studio have built a huge garden set, just to give Garbo a test, and why should they not have given Stiller her first picture to direct ?
And so Garbo came to America, in company with Stiller and Einar Hanson, later killed in a motor accident near Hollywood. Her salary was $200 a week.
New York awed Garbo. A man named Rolf Laven had been employed as Stiller’s secretary, and it was only his influence that induced her to leave her hotel at all. It was Rolf who - took her on her first American shopping expedition.
Garbo needed shoes. Having been poor all her life, she naturally wanted to go to a cheap store, but Rolf, who had more experience of the value of first impressions— in America especially—took her to t famous Fifth Avenue shop. Garbo wears a size seven shoe and had some difficulty in finding a pair. But when she did, she was delighted with them, until she asked the price.
“But, Rolf,” she wailed, “ twenty-five dollars! (About £5.) That is a hundred kronen! Oh, it is terrible!”
To this day, Garbo never makes a purchase without first mentally translating dollars into kronen, the money of Sweden, which under normal exchange are four to a dollar.
Her next visit was to a famous millinery store. A hat took her eye, but she nearly fainted when she learned that it cost $45.oo (about £9) —one hundred and eighty kronen.
”Take me home, Rolf,” she cried. “ I. will not buy from these people who rob me. In Sweden my shoes cost never more than ten kronen and my hats, maybe, fifteen.”
En route from New York to Hollywood, Garbo’s train stopped for water at a lonely tank on the plains and she decided to get off and stretch her long legs. As the train pulled out, Rolf, by the merest chance, happened to look out of the window. There was Garbo, calmly striding up and down, paying no attention to the departing train.
Frantically, Rolf pulled the “ emergency chain,” and the train had to back for nearly a mile to the tank, where Garbo sat on a box, smoking. Stiller was angry.
“You must be crazy!” he stormed.
“Not at all,” said Garbo laconically. “It was great fun.”