How did Greta Gustafson become Greta Garbo the Divine, the greatest film actress, star and icon of all times? To answer this is like trying to solve the riddle of the sphinx Garbo's impact is to be experienced through her films.
The first images miraculously preserved for posterity showing Miss Gustafson in a series of advertising films she made while she worked at the PUB department store in Sweden certainly do not predict her illustrious career in Hollywood when in the 1920s and 1930s she became the most famous woman in the world.
Was it pure luck or ambition, a unique combination of genius, beauty and personality that led to her transformation to the ultimate icon and actress world cinema has ever seen? Was it her encounter with the hypnotic personality of Mauritz Stiller who moulded her into his whims and wishes in her first important part in Gösta Berling Saga (The Saga of Gösta Berling) to create the ideal woman the film world was eagerly waiting for?
Garbo in Gösta Berling Saga (Sweden 1924)
Either with the help of great directors and cinematographers or producers the young actress constantly constructed and reconstructed herself in order to attain the impossible, become the Divine. And she did achieve the impossible thus becoming Garbo the Divine.
From the graceful Elizabeth Dohna in Gösta Berling saga, to the tender Grete in Pabst's Die freudlose Gasse (The Street of Sorrow), to her first American roles in The Torrent and The Temptress audiences can still witness the extraordinary transformation of a hesitant butterfly to the ultimate goddess of world cinema.
Garbo in Die freudlose Gasse (Germany 1925)
She redefined the image of womanhood with her passionate partnership with John Gilbert in Flesh and the Devil. Here was a passionate, strong and vulnerable woman who could appeal both to men as well as women. She pleaded for sympathy and understanding creating a more sympathetic and complex persona as Anna Karenina in the silent film Love. She exuded a breathtaking sensuality and intelligence as a spy in love in The Mysterious Lady. She recreated the modern heroine tragic, strong and ultimately romantic in A Woman of Affairs.
Garbo in Flesh and the Devil (USA 1926)
Her rich contralto voice first heard by the entire world in Anna Christie sent shivers to spectators all around the world. Whether as the androgynous Queen Christina, or the tragic Anna Karenina, the innocent and sensual Susan Lennox opposite the young Clark Gable, or the ultimate Lady of the Camellias of all times Garbo created an unforgettable palette of characters which firmly established her as the greatest actress of the screen. In her last and unjustly panned film Two-Faced Woman she even danced the chica-choca with enchanting energy and innocence with not a single ounce of vulgarity.
Garbo in Camille (USA 1936)
She gave as an ultimate gift as an actress with the screen tests she made in 1949 for a doomed project which became a great illusion for Balzac's novel La Duchesse de Langeais where she apperaed more beautiful, carefree and mature than ever.
Garbo's Screen-test (USA 1949)
In those last precious moments as well as every time we see her magical figure on the screen we realize her full potential and what made her so special for her admirers. She was all things to men, women and children. Enigmatic Mona Lisa, humble and queenly, motherly figure, courtesan, woman in love, modern, romantic, tragic, utterly human and yet distant, vulnerable and strong. Divine for all eternity.