09 April 2018

Silent Garbo

Her triumph with Anna Christie (1930) turned Greta Garbo into one of the brightest MGM stars of the early sound period. Throughout the 1930s, she remained one of Hollywood's idols with her performances as Mata Hari, Queen Christina, Anna Karenina, Camille and Ninotschka. But the silent films Garbo made in Sweden, Berlin and Hollywood are at least as interesting.

Greta Garbo
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition (CE), Paris, no. 356.

Greta Garbo
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition (CE), Paris, no. 599.

Mona Martenson
German postcard by Trianon-Film, 1924. Photo: Svenska-Film. Publicity still for Gösta Berlings saga/The Atonement of Gosta Berling (Mauritz Stiller, 1924).

In 1924 Greta Garbo had her big breakthrough when famed director Mauritz Stiller gave her a part in his film Gösta Berlings Saga/The Atonement of Gosta Berling (1924). We have no postcard of Garbo in this film, but we do have this one from her co-star Mona Mårtenson, who played her sister Ebba Dolma in the film.

Greta Garbo
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 2077/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin.

After Gösta Berlings Saga and before going to Hollywood, Garbo starred in the German film Die freudlose Gasse/The Joyless Street (1925) by Georg Wilhelm Pabst. Berlin-based photographer Alex Binder of Atelier Binder made the picture above during the shooting of Die freudlose Gasse in 1924.

Greta Garbo in Torrent (1926)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 2010/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Parufamet. Publicity still for Torrent (Monta Bell, 1926).

Following Die freudlose Gasse (1925) both Greta Garbo and her friend and mentor Mauritz Stiller were offered contracts with MGM. Her first film for the studio was the silent production Torrent (1926).

Greta Garbo in Flesh and the Devil
Italian postcard, no. 76. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Greta Garbo in Flesh and the Devil (Clarence Brown, 1926).

Reportedly, the first scene in Flesh and the Devil between John Gilbert and Greta Garbo in the train station was also the first time Gilbert ever saw Garbo. He falls in love on camera, so completely in love that he never went back home to his wife.

Greta Garbo and Conrad Nagel in The Mystrerious Lady (1928)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Foreign, no. 3787/4, 1928-1929. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for The Mysterious Lady (Fred Niblo, 1928) with Conrad Nagel. Collection: Joanna.

We love the taglines for this film: "No man knew what she really was. And no man could resist her exotic beauty. A famous Russian spy, moving through the lives of men, in a maze of intrigue, passion and love."

Greta Garbo
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3929/3, 1928-1929. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in A Woman of Affairs (1928)
French postcard by Europe, no. 388, distributed in Italy by Casa Editrice Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze. Photo: James Manatt / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for A Woman of Affairs (Clarence Brown, 1928).

"Garbo had something behind the eyes that you couldn't see until you photographed her in close-up. You could see thought. If she had to look at one person with jealousy, and another with love, she didn't have to change the expression. You could see it in her eyes as she looked from one to the other. And nobody else could do that on the screen." (director Clarence Brown in a 1968 interview).

Greta Garbo in Wild Orchids (1929)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4256/2, 1929-1930. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for Wild Orchids (Sidney Franklin, 1929).

During the production of Wild Orchids, Mauritz Stiller died in Sweden. Devastated by his death, Garbo travelled to Stockholm incognito to mourn his death. Her secretive travel plans were quickly foiled when she was recognised on the voyage.

Greta Garbo and Nils Asther
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4258/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for Wild Orchids (Sidney Franklin, 1929) with Nils Asther.

Greta Garbo and Nils Asther in Wild Orchids (1929)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4258/2, 1929-1930. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Greta Garbo and Nils Asther in the late silent film Wild Orchids (Sidney Franklin, 1929).

Greta Garbo
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4527/2, 1929-1930. Photo: Clarence Bull / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Greta Garbo
French postcard by Europe, no. 553. Photo: Ruth Harriet Louise / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for The Single Standard (John S. Robertson, 1929). Gown by Adrian.

Greta Garbo and Lew Ayres
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5516/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

Lew Ayres co-starred with Garbo in her last silent film The Kiss (1929), directed by Belgium born director Jacques Feyder and scripted by German screenwriter Hanns Kräly. After this successful film, Feyder directed Garbo again in the German language version of Anna Christie (1930) and then returned to France. There he produced his greatest achievements: Le Grand Jeu (1934), Pension Mimosas (1935) and La Kermesse Héroique/Carnival in Flanders (1935).

Sources: Garbo Forever and IMDb.

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