Greta Garbo was a Swedish-American actress who had a net worth of $32 million at the time of her death in 1990. That’s the same as around $70 million in today’s dollars. Greta Garbo was known for her portrayal of tragic characters and understated performances. She is considered one of the greatest female stars of classic Hollywood cinema. She retired from acting in the 1940s then spent the next several decades collecting art and investing in stocks. Combined, her art collection and stock portfolio were worth tens of millions of dollars at her death in 1990.
She was born Greta Gustafsson in Stockholm, Sweden in 1905. Greta Garbo took work wherever she could find it as a teenager. She washed hair in a barbershop and worked as an errand girl before landing a job modeling hats for a local department store. Soon, that led to a job as a fashion model and, eventually, TV commercials in the early 1920s. After appearing in the 1922 short movie “Peter the Tramp,” her acting career was born. She studied at Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre and appeared alongside Lars Hanson in “The Saga of Gosta Berling” and later scored a part in “Die freudlose Gasse”.
In the mid 1920s, Garbo moved to New York City without being able to speak a word of English. She appeared in 1926’s “Torrent” and “The Temptress”, which launched her as a Hollywood star. Garbo soon became the era’s go-to silent film actress, starring in three of such films with John Gilbert. She became one of the biggest attractions at the box office through the 1930s. Garbo appeared in “Anna Christine” in 1930 in her first speaking part in Hollywood and earned her first Oscar nomination for the role. She earned her second nod for 1930’s “Romance”. In 1931, she landed a part in “Mata Hari” and, in 1932, she appeared in “Grand Hotel”, which won the Oscar for Best Picture. She earned her third Academy Award nod for 1939’s “Ninotchka”.
After appearing in a dozen more films, including “Anna Karenina”, “Camille”, “Conquest”, and “Two-Faced Woman”, Garbo retired from film in 1941. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen a decade after retirement and lived in Manhattan. Garbo never married and had no children, though she did have a brief romantic interlude with co-star John Gilbert. After successfully battling breast cancer during the ’80s, Garbo died on April 15, 1990, after going into renal failure and suffering from pneumonia.
Garbo was born on September 18, 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden to parents Anna Lovisa and Karl Gustafsson. Her father worked as a laborer while her mother worked at a jam factory. She was raised with her two older siblings – Sven and Alva – in a small flat in the city’s working class district, often regarded as the city’s slum.
As a child, Garbo was not very interested in school but did enjoy make believe games and got involved in theater from a young age, often participating in plays at the local Mosebacke Theatre. She finished school at the age of 13, which was typical for working class girls at the time, just before the Spanish flu spread through Stockholm. Her father became ill, lost his job, and ultimately passed away when Garbo was 14. Garbo began working as a soap-lather girl in a barber shop and then in a department store where she ran errands.
At the department store, Garbo began modeling hats for the store’s catalogues. This led to her landing more lucrative jobs in fashion modeling. In 1920, she was cast by the department store’s director of film commercials in roles advertising women’s clothing. She first appeared in a commercial in December of that year.
By 1922, she had caught the attention of director Erik Petschler, who cast her in his short comedy, “Peter the Tramp.” She then began studying at the Royal Dramatic Training Academy in Stockholm from 1922 until 1924. In 1924, she was recruited to play the principal part in Mauritz Stiller’s play, “The Saga of Gosta Berling,” a dramatization of the famous novel by Nobel Prize winneer Selma Lagerlof. From that point on, Stiller became Garbo’s mentor, helping her train as a an actress and managing various aspects of her career. She soon after booked the starring role in the German film, “Die freudlose Gasse.”
Shortly thereafter, Garbo was connected with Louis B. Mayer, the vice president and general manager of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He then requested that Garbo come to Hollywood to work in silent films, considering she was unable to speak English at that time. Garbo and Stiller made the crossing over the Atlantic Ocean on a boat and remained in New York for six months without hearing from Mayer. They then traveled to Los Angeles on their own and eventually Garbo was able to land a screen test with MGM Studios production boss, Irving Thalberg. He was impressed with her raw talent and began prepping her for stardom by enrolling her in English lessons, having her teeth fixed, and putting her on a diet.
Garbo was cast in the MGM film”Torrent,” her first film in 1926. The film was a hit and Garbo’s performance was well-received. Her success led her to be cast in “The Tempest,” which was meant to be directed by Stiller. However, the filming experience was tough on both of them and Stiller was eventually fired from the film. Despite the troubles in filming, Garbo received rave reviews for her performance and the film propelled her to stardom.
She then appeared in eight more silent films, all of which were hits. In three of them, she starred opposite actor John Gilbert. Their on-screen chemistry was noticed by many and it soon translated to a real off-screen relationship. Her success in the silent films, particularly in 1928’s “A Woman of Affairs,” resulted in her usurping the long-reigning silent film queen, Lillian Gish.
By the 1930s, Garbo had begun transitioning to sound film. Her first film, “Anna Christie,” was the highest-grossing film of the year and led to Garbo receiving her first nomination at the Academy Awards for Best Actress. In 1931 and 1932, she starred in “Mata Hari” and “Grand Hotel,” some of her best-remembered roles. The films were MGM’s highest-earning films of each year. After her contract with MGM expired in 1932, she returned to Sweden and did not come back to the US until she renegotiated her contract for more money.
Returning to the US solidified her career as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after and talented leading ladies throughout the 1930s. In 1936, she would star in “Camille,” which many consider one of her best roles, and then in “Ninotchka” in 1939. She received Academy Award nominations for both these performances. Her career then slowed down considerably and she ultimately decided to retire from acting at the age of 35, having been in 28 films.
After her retirement, she led a private life and focused on art collecting and investing.
Personal Life and Death
Garbo never married and had no children, living alone for most of her adult life. Her most famous romance was with co-star John Gilbert. He allegedly proposed to her on numerous occasions and Garbo would agree before backing out at the last minute. She had a highly publicized relationship with orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowski, though it was unclear whether the relationship was romantic or not. Other popular stars at the time, like Erich Maria Remarque and Cecil Beaton, have described have romantic relationships with Garbo as well.
Garbo’s biographers have also stated they believe she was bisexual and maintained relationships with women as well, such as Mercedes de Acosta and Mimi Pollak.
In April of 1990, Garbo died in the hospital at the age of 84 as a result of pneumonia and renal failure. She is interred at a cemetery nearby her native Stockholm.
|Date of Birth:
|Sep 18, 1905 – Apr 15, 1990 (84 years old)
|5 ft 7 in (1.702 m)
|Actor, Musician, Model
|United States of America