the legendary greta garbo -- 2/15/19

Today's selection -- from The Kindness of Strangers by Salka Viertel. Austrian actress, screenwriter and author Salka Viertel recounts her first meeting with Greta Garbo:

"One day [a Hollywood] 'black­tie party' [was given] in honor of a visiting German film star. Forty 'promi­nent' people were invited. ...

"As was common in Hollywood, beautiful women were clustered in one corner of the room, while the men talked shop in the other. [Screenwriter and director] Jacques Feyder remained of course with the ladies. ... He greeted me and led me to a couch, on which, next to the German star, whose billowing skirt was taking practically all the space, sat Greta Garbo. She was the only woman who wore an austere black suit and not evening dress. As the German star refused to subdue her flounces, there was no room for me on the couch, and we went out to the veranda, leaving her enthroned in her splendor. The night was chilly. Only a few hardy characters were sitting outside. Feyder secured a bottle of champagne and the three of us spent the rest of the evening in a highly animated mood.

"Books have been written about Garbo's beauty, 'mystery' and talent; her films, constantly reissued, confirm her magic. There is something unexpected in the loveliness of this face; it is always as if one were seeing it for the first time. She was then at the peak of her success, the critics comparing her to Duse and Sarah Bern­hardt. Fans and reporters pursued her with such persistence that protecting her privacy became an obsession. This of course was exploited by publicity as the saga of her 'mystery.' Oddly, when I met her I had not seen any of her films, with the exception of Gösta Berling. We talked about its premiére in Berlin; then she asked about my work in the theater. She was intelligent, simple, completely without pose, with a great sense of humor, joking about her inadequate German and English, although she expressed herself very well. Berthold joined us and we talked until late, while Feyder kept refilling our glasses.

"The next day we had just finished lunch, when the doorbell rang and in the open window of the entrance appeared the unforgetta­ble face. In the bright daylight she was even more beautiful. She wore no make-up, not even powder, only the famous long eyelashes were thoroughly blackened with mascara. Her fine skin had a childlike smoothness; the slender hands were sunburned, and contrary to her reputation I found her well dressed: the slacks and shirtwaist were beautifully cut and well-fitting. Gaily she an­nounced that she had come to continue the conversation of last night, and stayed all afternoon. We went for a short walk on the beach and then sat in my room. She told me she was pleased that I had only seen her in Gösta Berling, as she did not care much for her other films. She was very funny, caricaturing the repetitious­ness of the seduction techniques.

"She lived not far from us, and in the evening [my husband] Berthold and I walked her home. After we had said good-night to her, we ex­changed our impressions. What had charmed us was her great politeness and attentiveness. She seemed hypersensitive, although of a steely resilience. The observations she made about people were very just, sharp and objective. 'Probably all that fame pre­vents her from living her real life,' I said."


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author:

Salka Viertel

title:

The Kindness of Strangers

publisher:

New York Review of Books

date:

Copyright 1969 by Salka Viertel

pages:

141-143
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