Greta Garbo: Divine Star
by David Bret
Robson Press 404 pages, $29.95
THIS IS the most fascinating and sexually informed biography of Greta Garbo to date, written by David Bret, who’s the author of Hollywood biographies about Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, and Tallulah Bankhead. Greta Garbo: Divine Star offers a look into the sexually liberated star’s life amid the excitement of 1920s Hollywood as the silent era was coming to a close. Bret points out early on that some of Garbo’s private correspondence was made public in 2005, including letters to lovers of both sexes, one of which suggests that she had sex as a minor in Sweden.
Garbo’s Hollywood career began with Torrent in 1926. While her face was captivating, others criticized her physical attributes: her weight, “kinky hair,” and bad teeth. More than one critic complained that she was “flat-chested.” Still, audiences loved her alluring face and uniquely European screen presence. Also in 1926, MGM paired Garbo with John Gilbert in Flesh and the Devil. The couple proved wildly popular with audiences, and the Garbo-Gilbert era had begun, featuring one of the great screen romances of the era. After filming, Garbo, called “the personification of passion” for her role in the film, disappeared for 27 weeks citing “anemia,” and rumors swirled of marriage, pregnancy, and abortion. The disappearance remains a mystery even now.