THE ONLY TRUE STORY OF GRETA GARBO’S PRIVATE LIFE by Sven-Hugo Borg
OUR LAST MEETING
SOON after her return to the movie colony from her last trip abroad, I desired to see her and gather a few impressions on the Garbo of to-day as compared to the Garbo of 1925. But, so far, I had failed to make “contact.”
Like Garbo, I, too, enjoy taking long walks among the gorges of the beautiful Santa Monica Canyon. Striding along, one day, my thoughts touched on a thousand things: my years in the Chinese Customs Service, my childhood in Sweden, my travels among the Seven Seas. Also I thought of Garbo and a little incident which had occurred between us one morning on the beach years ago. I smiled to myself as I remembered it and, naturally, my thoughts continued to dwell on this strange and exotic woman with whom Fate had thrown me in contact.
Then I was taken out of my reverie as I glanced ahead—for there, in a lazy manner, came the Great Garbo. On her head she wore a tight-fitting beret, and her long graceful body was garbed in a blue blouse and a white skirt. She wore, I noted, white gloves and low-heeled . white shoes, and her head was bent as she breasted the slight slope which led to the rim of the canyon. She was as astonished as I, or so it appeared at least.
”Borg, how are you—not seen you for long time.”
.“ Fine, thank you,” said I. “So you have turned to write about people,” she continued, rather slyly while looking me all over. “Yes, same Borg, not at all changed.”
Swiftly, my words tumbling over each other, I explained to her my purpose in writing this story of her life: "I do not think I have been unjust to you in any of my statements either about your personality or your early days in Hollywood,” I said—adding, “I have more than once in the past read—shall I call them’ compositions of great imagination ‘—about you, as there are but few persons who actually have had an interview as a background. How do you like being back and once more reigning as the Queen of Mystery in Hollywood ?“
”Oh, Borg, it’s nice to be back,” was her short answer. “Well,” continued I, “ fate was with me to-day. I wanted to see you, but, of course, I would not try to intrude upon you, even if I did know your much secluded abode.”
She looked at me sharply, thinking no doubt of the fact that I was writing about her, and said:
”I’m not open for any interview.” And I saw that she was the same old suspicious Garbo, glad to see me, and yet afraid that as a member of the Press, I had designs upon her cherished privacy. And with that, Garbo strode on up the hill, leaving me there alone with my thoughts of her.
Garbo had changed. In the place of the uncouth Swedish girl of my first recollection, was a lady, a polished, sophisticated woman of the world, with poise, presence and charm. Since we had conversed in both Swedish and English, I was able to note the difference in her handling of both languages. In the old days she had little English, and that little was guttural and incorrect. To-day her English was far better, and she spoke it with a freedom she had not known before. Remembering the sloppy, ill-fitting garments of days gone by, the badly-applied make-up in private life, my mind’s eye went back to the perfectly groomed, immaculate woman I had just left on the trail. Her hair was soft, lustrous and well-cared for, her make-up was skillfully applied. Her carriage, too, had been different. There was a poise, a presence, a surety about her which had been lacking in her first Hollywood days.
I could not help thinking about this girl of destiny who was born in poverty in a single-room flat . on “ Soder “ (the oldest parish in Stockholm, meaning “ South “)— who, at the age of ten played theatre before her parents, applying water-colors as make-up and draping herself in old shawls belonging to her mother—who also, at the age of ten, by her own initiative added to the income and hard earnings of her father by working as a soap-girl in barber Crutz’s Salon at 18 Sodermannagatan, Stockholm; who sold cigarettes in a first-class cigar shop —who later, by self-education and eager observance throughout the years, acquired a most fascinating personality.
Since her return from Sweden, Garbo has astonished Hollywood. The first great shock was when she paused to talk to reporters and to pose for pictures as she landed at San Diego. At the studio, they tell me that she has been far more tractable; in fact, more human.
Apart from her insistence that the right leading man he picked for her next picture, Queen Christina, Garbo has had but one outburst since her return. Pending her arrival, the dressing-room she had formerly occupied was redecorated for her. Imagine her surprise when she started to hang her coat in the closet, to find that the clothes hooks were set a bare three feet from the floor. Garbo exploded. Frantic officials hurried to ascertain the cause. It developed that a group of midgets, working at the studio, had been assigned the dressing-room during Garbo’s absence, and the hooks had been set for them.
The fact that Garbo spoke pleasantly to reporters upon her arrival from Sweden and posed for pictures has been made much of. Knowing her as I do, I am convinced that she would never have made this small concession had there been any way for her to avoid it. She was simply making the best of a bad situation.
Also the fact that she had been appearing more frequently in public since her return, has been taken by the more optimistic scribes as an indication that her veil of silence is soon to he drawn aside, and that she will be available to the Press. This is a fallacy, I ant sure, and it is my prediction, made from an intimate knowledge of the real Garbo, that to the day of her death she will remain a recluse, so far as the public and the Press are concerned.
Garbo will never be solved—Garbo will always remain a riddle, no matter who it may be that writes about her. I left Garbo’s service with regret. As time went on and she acquired a knowledge of the English language and a better understanding of Hollywood and its customs, she did not require me, and so we parted. Following that, I went into stock at the M.G.M. studio and appeared in many pictures during my stay with them.
How long Garbo will remain in America this time we do not know, for when the undying desire overwhelms her, she will return to her beloved Sweden. The talk around the studio is (probably this is only publicity) that her fame has brought her the enormous contract of $600,000 for three pictures. To many this may sound almost impossible, but considering the fact that from her productions alone America realizes on export of these films a revenue that exceeds that salary many times over, why should she not receive these figures ? Besides, as long as Garbo remains ”an alien,” she must pay to the United States Treasury the huge amount of twenty- five per cent on all her earnings, a sum which is no doubt very welcome to Uncle Sam these days.
I cannot end this story without speaking of my great admiration for Garbo, both as a woman and as an actress. It is my sincere wish that these revelations have helped her millions of fans to understand her to a greater degree, and to know her as a human being with all the rest of humanity’s faults and virtues. There is in this Swedish girl, daughter of the common people, that divine spark which has lifted her to a place among the immortals. We lesser mortals shall die and be forgotten, but the name of Garbo will live on.