“G” is for “Miss Gustafsson”
Scene: Stockholm, Sweden, a few decades ago.
I was making a tourism-promotion film for the Swedish government. Included in the list of things to show in the movie was Stockholm’s magnificent department store “NK” -- pronounced “Enkaw.” A huge mall-like place, some 12 million visitors annually, and with a staff of 1200. The client very much wanted it in the film.
So I’m standing across the street taking its picture. As I was working an employee of the store came over to me with a strange question: “You’re American? Would you like to meet an old man who was a good friend of Miss Gustafsson way back when they were both teenagers?”
Of course I would. Any friend of Miss Gustafsson would be a friend of mine.
He took me upstairs and I met the old gentleman in question. He told me how they had both been department-store employees, right around the end of World War I, a couple of kids in the same department.
Of course, he didn’t call her Miss Gustafsson; he called her by her first name, Greta.
One day an ad agency person – yes, they had ad agencies in Sweden even then, around 1920 – an ad agency guy came through their workplace. He was looking for a comely female employee they might be able to use in their newspaper advertising.
Here’s a test photo they made of her at that time.
Soon she was in their department store ads. Each of the grand ladies above, under the hats, was teenager Greta.
It could only happen in Hollywood – or in Stockholm. A movie director liked her pictures in the paper and she suddenly found herself embarked on an amazing international film career.
In her first movie, Miss Gustafsson was a bit more on the plump side than she was later, but she was a success nevertheless. It was clear that the name “Gustafsson” had to go; she became Greta Garbo.
“Anna Christie,” “Grand Hotel,” “Anna Karenina,” “Camille” and “Ninotchka,” among other film classics, turned Miss Gustafsson into one of the great legends of screen history.
“Camille” was an example of one of the huge hits of the thirties, and Greta found herself working with the biggest stars of that era: Robert Taylor and Lionel Barrymore. The movie made millions – not all that easy in the middle of the Great Depression. Here’s a still taken during the film’s production.
She later stated that she had never said “I want to be alone,” though that had become sort of her trademark. What she had said, she carefully explained, was that she wanted to be left alone, which was quite different.
1 year ago