Real name: Greta Lovisa Gustafson
Birthdate: September 18, 1905
Greta Garbo (September 18, 1905 – April 15, 1990) was a Swedish-born actress during Hollywood's silent film period and part of its Golden Age.
From 1922 to 1924, she studied at the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. While she was there, she met director Mauritz Stiller. He trained her in cinema acting technique, gave her the stage name "Greta Garbo", and cast her in a major role in the silent film Gösta Berlings Saga (English: The Story of Gösta Berling) in 1924, a dramatization of the famous novel by Nobel laureate Selma Lagerlöf. She starred opposite Swedish film actor Lars Hanson and then starred in two more movies in Sweden and one in Germany (Die Freudlose Gasse - The Joyless Street).
She then had a contract dispute with MGM and did not appear on the screen for almost two years. They finally settled and she signed a new contract, which granted her almost total control over her movies. She exercised that control by getting her leading man in Queen Christina (1933), Laurence Olivier, replaced with Gilbert. In 1935, David O. Selznick wanted her cast as the dying heiress in Dark Victory -- filmed with Bette Davis in 1939 at Warner Brothers -- but she insisted on being cast instead in another screen version of Tolstoy's classic, Anna Karenina. (She had made a silent version of Anna Karenina entitled Love with John Gilbert in 1927.)
Ninotchka was a successful attempt at lightening Garbo's image and making her less exotic, by the insertion of a scene in a restaurant in which her character breaks into joyful laughter which subsequently provided the film with its famous tagline, "Garbo laughs!". A follow-up film, Two-Faced Woman (1941), attempted to capitalize by casting Garbo in a romantic comedy, where she would play a double role that also featured her dancing, and tried to make her into "an ordinary girl." The film, directed by George Cukor, was a critical (though not commercial) failure. It was Garbo's last screen appearance.
Her last interview appears to have been with the celebrated entertainment writer Paul Callan of the London Daily Mail during the Cannes Film Festival. Meeting at the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, Callan began "I wonder . . ", before Garbo cut in with "Why wonder?", and stalked off, making it one of the shortest interviews ever published. The newspaper gave it a double page spread.
Garbo kept her private affairs out of the limelight. According to private letters released in Sweden in 2005 to mark the centenary of her birth, she was reclusive in part because she was "self-obsessed, depressive, and ashamed of her latrine-cleaner father."
Garbo lived the last years of her life in absolute seclusion. She had invested very wisely, was known for extreme frugality, and was a very wealthy woman. It is rumored that she wrote an autobiography just before her death, but this book has yet to be published if it even exists.
She died in New York on April 15, 1990, at the age of 84, as a result of end stage renal disease (ESRD) and pneumonia, and was cremated. She had previously been operated on and treated for breast cancer, which she overcame.
She left her entire estate to her niece, Gray Reisfeld, and nothing to the elderly female companion with whom she lived for many years, Claire.