This week we salute the Giornate del Cinema Muto (Silent Film Festival) in Pordenone, Italy, and we only post post about silent stars whose films are shown on this year's festival. Swedish Greta Garbo (1905 - 1990) was one of the greatest and most glamorous film stars ever produced by the Hollywood studio system. She was part of the Golden Age of the silent cinema of the 1920’s and was one of the few actors who made a glorious transition to the talkies. She started her career in the European cinema and would always stay more popular in Europe than in the US. In Pordenone a rediscovered and restaurated fragment of her lost film The Divine Woman (1928, Victor Sjöström) will be presented.
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 283e.
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 2836.
Dutch postcard by M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam, no. B 422. Photo: MGM. Publicity still for The Painted Veil (1934, Richard Boleslawski) with Herbert Marshall.
British postcard by Real Photograph in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 637b. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Austrian postcard by Iris-Verlag, no. 5930. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Department Store Clerk
Greta Garbo was born as Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in Stockholm in 1905. Her father died when she was 14, leaving the family destitute. Greta was forced to leave school and to work as a clerk in the department store PUB, where she also would model for newspaper ads. She photographed beautifully. Her first film aspirations came when she appeared in two short film advertisements, Herr och fru Stockholm/Mr. and Mrs. Stockholm (1920, Ragnar Ring) and Konsum Stockholm Promo/How Not to Dress (1921, Ragnar Ring). They were seen by director Erik Arthur Petschler who gave her a small part as a bathing beauty in his comedy Luffar-Petter/Peter the Tramp (1922, Erik A. Petschler).
French postcard by Europe, nr. 938. Photo: MGM. Publicity still for Anna Christie (1930).
French postcard by Ed. Chantal, no.66. Photo: MGM.
British postcard by Real Photograph in the Valentine's Postcard series, no. 5904 F. Photo: MGM. Publicity still for Queen Christina (1933).
British postcard in the Colourgraph Series, London, no. C81.
German postcard by Ross Verlag no. 3756/2, 1928-1929. Photo: MGM.
From 1922 to 1924, Greta Garbo studied at the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. She met Mauritz Stiller, who was Sweden's foremost filmmaker in the early 1920’s. He trained the 18 year old in cinema acting technique and gave her the stage name Greta Garbo. Stiller cast her in a major role opposite Lars Hanson in Gösta Berlings Saga/The Legend of Gosta Berling (1924, Mauritz Stiller). This dramatization of a novel by Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf was internationally successful and made Greta a minor star. On the strength of Gösta Berling she was cast in the German prostitution and depression melodrama Die Freudlose Gasse/The Joyless Street (1925, G.W. Pabst), in which she co-starred with the Danish screen legend Asta Nielsen. And then Hollywood called. Louis B. Mayer invited Stiller to work for MGM when Gösta Berlings Saga caught his attention. On viewing the film, Mayer admired Stiller's direction, but was unimpressed with Garbo's acting and screen presence. Stiller insisted on bringing his protégé to Hollywood, thus, Mayer contracted her as well. Later, Garbo’s relationship with Mauritz Stiller came to an end as her fame in Hollywood grew and he struggled in the studio system. In 1928 Stiller was fired by MGM and returned to Sweden, where he died soon after.
Dutch postcard by JosPe, Arnhem, no. 34. Photo: MGM.
Dutch Postcard, no. 41. Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Dutch postcard by JosPe, no. 295. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).
Dutch postcard. Sent by mail in 1931. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
German postcard by Ross-Verlag in the Luxusklasse series, no. 580. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
French postcard by Edition Ross, no. 5597/1, 1930 - 1931. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Anna Christie (1930, Clarence Brown) was based on a play by Eugene O'Neill. It was filmed at a time of transition in Hollywood from the silent era to sound. Anna Christie was also a transitional film for Greta Garbo. In her first sound feature, Garbo at times reverts to the mannerisms of the silent era. However, her voice meshed perfectly with her established image, and her performance was effective, if not among her best. When 'Garbo talks' the audience still listens, despite the clumsy technical production. There is also a German version of Anna Christie again with Greta Garbo, but all of the other characters have different actors from the English version. Both were filmed back to back because Garbo had such a huge following in Germany. Garbo herself supposedly favored her Anna Christie in this version over the English version. The German version was directed by Jacques Feyder and had its first screening in Germany in 1931.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8435/2, 1933-1934. Photo: MGM. Publicity still for Queen Christina (1933, Rouben Mamoulian).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4696/2, 1929-1930. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Collection: Egbert Barten.
Greta Garbo and Lewis Stone in Romance (1931). German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6219/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5514/5, 1930-1931. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6213/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn Mayer (MGM).
Garbo made Romance (1930, Clarence Brown) in the same year as Anna Christie. Romance is a film with nearly no plot twists, yet it is the basic romance from which we derive all our contemporary romances with. And Greta Garbo is stunning in it. The male leads - Lewis Stone and Gavin Gordon - are not as strong as Garbo. She originally wanted Gary Cooper as her leading man, but MGM could not borrow Cooper from Paramount, so Garbo had to settle for the unknown Gavin Gordon.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 649. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Sent by mail in the Netherlands in 1934.
With John Gilbert. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4133/1, 1929-1930. Photo: MGM. Publicity still for A Woman of Affairs (1928, Clarence Brown).
With Lew Ayres. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5516/1, 1930-1931. Photo: MGM. Publicity still for The Kiss (1929, Jacques Feyder).
With Roland Varno. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 186/4, 1931- 1933. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for As You Desire me (1932, George Fitzmaurice).
With Ramon Novarro. Film still of Mata Hari (1931, George Fitzmaurice) on postcard, nationality unknown.
With Ferdinand Gottschalk and Rafaela Ottiano. German postcard with Dutch censorship stamp. Photo: publicity still for Grand Hotel (1932, Edmund Goulding).
With Lewis Stone. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6219/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Publicity still for Romance (1930, Clarence Brown).
Fifth Greatest Female Star
Bosley Crowther, the famous New York Times film critic from 1940 to 1967, made a short list of Garbo's major artistic achievements. His list: Anna Christie (1930) where Garbo "made the role of the cynical dockside ex-prostitute a thing of poetic beauty"; Camille (1936) where she played the Paris courtesan who had inspired novels, concertos and an opera with 'alabaster loveliness'; Ninotchka (1939) where Garbo "demonstrated that she had the wit and flexibility to be a fine comedienne"; Grand Hotel (1932) where Garbo, then only 26, played a fading ballerina; and Queen Christina (1933) where Crowther was impressed by how she "deftly romped in masculine costumes". All of Garbo's films were in black and white which enhanced her mystery and romantic allure. Garbo retired in 1949 after making some screentests for a never realised film project. She abandoned Hollywood and moved to New York City. She would jet-set with such personalities as Aristotle Onassis and Cecil Beaton, and spend the rest of her time gardening flowers and vegetables. In 1990, Greta Garbo died of natural causes in New York. She was 84. In 1954, she was given a special Oscar 'for her unforgettable performances', and in 1999 the American Film Institute ranked her as the fifth greatest female star of all time.
French postcard by Edition Ross, no. 500, late 1920's.
German postcard by Ross-Verlag, no. 597. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Italian postcard by B.F.F. Edit., no. 3616. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Greta Garbo in Gösta Berlings Saga (1924). Source: KinoInternational (YouTube).
Greta Garbo in Die Freudlose Gasse (1925). Source: Edgefire 125 (YouTube).
Sources: Hal Erickson (Rovi), Denny Jackson (IMDb), Wikipedia, and IMDb.