Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Remembering 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 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, right around the time of the end of World War I, worked together at NK, 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, nearly a century ago – 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.

Truth is, Miss Gustafsson was then a bit more on the plump side than she was later, but she was selected to pose for the ads.

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 film career. 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.

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.

This week, because of the huge snowstorms in various parts of our country, I recommend Willow's winter poetry over at Willow Manor. (As the child said in "The Winter's Tale": "A sad tale's best for winter.")


Rosaria Williams said...

I didn't know this tidbit about Greta Garbo. How wonderful that you shared it with us.

Berowne said...

Always a pleasure hearing from you, lakeviewer. Thanks.

French Fancy... said...

As a lifelong devotee of La Garbo, the minute I saw your post title I knew it would be about GG. Camille was my favourite b&w film for a long long time

Berowne said...

>> ...the minute I saw your post title I knew it would be about GG. <<

That's interesting. Not everyone would immediately connect Miss Gustafsson with La Garbo.

willow said...

Oh my gosh, I was thinking of something clever to say about Garbo, when I came to the end of your post and was bowled over by your glowing referral to my poem! Thank you!

Berowne said...

Always something interesting going on at Willow Manor. :-)

Madame DeFarge said...

Must have been great to hear about her. Always intrigued by her.

Berowne said...

I wondered if she got paid for the photo session or did NK claim that it was just part of her job?
At any rate, after her pictures appeared in the paper Miss Gustafsson never had to worry about money again.

Jeanne Estridge said...

Just one more reason why I love coming here....

Berowne said...

Not as much as we love having you. :-)

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