Greta Garbo: Divine Star
Greta Garbo was one of the greatest of movie stars. Hers is a name that has passed into legend. Of course, the glossy, glamorous image that Hollywood likes to project of its stars is rarely true to life, and Garbo was no exception. David Bret's Greta Garbo: Divine Star is the first biography of Garbo to fully investigate the two so-called missing periods in the life of this most mysterious and enigmatic of all the Hollywood stars. The first, during the late 1920s, when Garbo disappeared completely for several months, forcing the studio to employ a lookalike, was almost certainly to conceal a pregnancy. The second occurred during World War Two, when Garbo was employed by British Intelligence to track down Nazi sympathisers. Extracts from the book appeared in the Sunday Express. Read our pick of the best bits here:
Greta Garbo was an enigma. She appeared as if from nowhere, taking Hollywood and the world by storm. the general public could not get enough of this creature of great mystery and of great beauty. As well as her ice-queen beauty, sharp wit and abrasive tongue, Greta Garbo wielded a power no other actress has ever possessed.
When Garbo failed to report to MGM’s costumes department for the filming of Anna Karenina, Borg’s response was: “Miss Garbo is tired and doesn’t want to do it.” More speculation over whether Garbo was pregnant can be drawn from the compromise that was reached.
The studios had a no-nonsense approach to unmarried stars who ended up in the family way: they could have an abortion, be sent away until the child was born and put up for adoption, they could marry the father and the birth would subsequently be reported as premature or they could be fired.
Garbo was no ordinary star who could be pushed around and did not care whether she stayed in the movies or not. Therefore, as if aware that she would be absent for some time, Thalberg hired a bit-part actress, Geraldine Dvorak, who was not just the exact height, weight and shape as Garbo but who acted, walked, talked (in a fake accent) and so looked like her that anyone meeting her for the first time could not tell them apart.
Quietly and without boasting, Greta Garbo went on to become one of the unsung heroes of the Second World War. Unable to travel to Sweden, she announced that she would be spending her usual between-movies vacation in New York.
In fact, earlier in the month, Garbo had been approached by producer Alexander Korda who was working as an agent for MI6 and she agreed to take on the role of a real-life Mata Hari. If Garbo had been caught, the missions would almost certainly have cost her life. Her mission was to gather information on one of the world’s richest men, Swedish millionaire industrialist Axel Wenner-Gren, rumoured to be a friend of high-ranking Nazi Hermann Goering.
Garbo also liaised on a secret intelligence operation with future United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, providing him with names of suspected Nazi sympathisers.
Then in August Garbo put a call through to Stockholm from Alexander Korda’s office where she spoke at some length to Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist. Bohr had been smuggling Danish physicists out of Germany and sending them to safe houses in Copenhagen.
In September Garbo went to the very top, calling King Gustav of Sweden himself and begging him to grant Bohr an audience, wherein the King was persuaded to offer asylum to Danish Jews.
When she decided that she was done with the whirlwind of life as Hollywood’s darling she withdrew completely, leaving her public begging for an encore that never came.