Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Garbo Walks!

If you love old movies, then you must see the films of Greta Garbo. 

The Swedish beauty was the biggest movie star of the 1920s and 1930s, and the first true international star. She went from being a silent star to the first big star of the talkies ("Garbo Talks!" was the tag line for 1930's Anna Christie, her first speaking part). During the Great Depression, Garbo took Americans out of their doldrums with such classics as Mata Hari, Grand Hotel, Queen Christina, Camille, and Ninotchka. I've seen them all and they are as entertaining as anything being made today. Not only that, but Garbo's sex appeal has transcended into the 21st century.  

Garbo was gorgeous but also a first rate actress. She had an amazing, magical talent. Often she played in dramas and was the ultimate doomed femme fatal. But in 1939's Ninotchka, she gave what has to be one of the greatest female comic performances of all time. 

She was beautiful, soulful, and funny. Also, she is immortalized in Cole Porter's song "You're the Top":

You're the National Gallery!
You're Garbo's salary!
You're cellophane!

Many have said she was probably the greatest female movie actress of all time.

And then, in 1941, she walked away from it all.  

Garbo quit the movies and chose to live a private life. Occasionally she was tempted to return to the screen but it always came to nothing. Not only did she not act again but she almost never gave interviews, never went on TV, never made public appearances, and never wrote a memoir. Along with JD Salinger, she became one of the most famous of recluses.

In the early 1950s, Garbo moved to NYC where she lived until her death in 1990. Though she fiercely guarded her privacy, Garbo loved to take long walks around Manhattan and spotting her almost became a sport for New Yorkers. 

Garbo's most famous line is from 1932's Grand Hotel where she exclaims, "I want to be alone!" And alone she lived in NYC for almost forty years. 

Garbo spent her final decades in an apartment building on East 52nd street, just off 1st Avenue. It is at the end of a dead-end street overlooking the east river. For a recluse who wants to live in Manhattan, it's the perfect place because it's not easy to get to and is very private.

Recently, I was in the area and remembered that this is where she used to live so I -- having the time and interest -- trotted down the street and snapped a photo of her building. As you can see, it looks just like any upscale Upper East Side building. Elegant, but not as spectacular as its most famous deceased tenant.

And I noted something: considering that Garbo was one of the most famous movie stars in history and lived in this building for almost half her life, you might think there'd be a plaque or something outside the building commemorating her. After all, many other buildings where other famous people lived in NYC have such things. Some even name the street where they lived after them! 

But not here. Not at all. You'd never know this was where she lived. Even in death, the great Garbo just wants to be alone.

1 comment:

  1. My family was in n.y.c. from the 1880s and would bring me on visits in the 1950s and 60s. I onnce met Bob Hppe and i was told of others as greta garbo whio ciuld be seen walking in n.y. It seems like fun to walk in n.y. but there are dangers when alone it would be a real experiance to see greta while walking or a pleasant hello. To wish someone well with her aura


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