Greta Garbo (1905-1990)
- Camilla Horn, Faust - Eine deutsche Volkssage, Germany, 1926. Before Hollywood called after her triumph in the German film, Die freudlose Gasse (UK/US: Joyless Street), 1924, Garbo was supposed to play Gretchen. Leni Riefenstahl tried to win the role, but it became the screen debut of Horn, an on-set stand-in for other actresses. For example, director FW Murnau first met her when she was Lil Dagover’s double during his Tartuffe, 1925. And so, Horn’s star was born, including a Hollywood moment. Or two.
- Pauline Starke, Women Love Diamonds, 1927. Pauline whosis...?? A dancing extra in Intolerance, she is not known for much more than inheriting Garbo’s (flimsy) fourth MGMovie when Greta went on strike for an increase from $600 to $5,000 a week. “I think I go home!” Into movies at age 13 in 1914, the Missouri girl made 68 films - twice as many as Garbo.
- Joan Crawford, The Unknown, 1927. Director Todd Browning was always more into freaks... And Garbo was escaping Jophn Gilbert. “I don't think she was ever in love with him,” said her 2013 biographer Eve Golden. “She was just swept away by him. When she got back on her feet again, she distanced herself from him… The big romance of the century lasted only a few months.”
- Joan Crawford, Dream of Love, 1928. Garbo was MGM's first choice for the old French play about a gypsy girl becoming an actress in love with prince Nils Asther. A Robert Montgomery comment: “Doing a picture with Garbo does not constitute an introduction.”
- Norma Shearer, The Divorcee, 1930. Refused as The Ex-Wife in 1929. Norma had already nabbed Irving Thalberg, the MGM production boss, now she nabbed the Oscar, as well.
- Lili Damita, The Match King, 1932. The role of Marta Molnar was based on Garbo. So Warner Bros wanted to borrow her. Go away, said MGM. Reviewing Grand Hotel, 1931, New York Herald drama critic George Nathan said that Garbo was “one of the drollest acting frauds ever press-agented into Hollywood histrionic eminence.”
- Jean Harlow, Red-Headed Woman, 1932. Before F Scott Fitzgerald’s script was re-tailored for Harlow by Anita Loos. In Buckingham Palace, King George V had his own copy when the film was -banned throughout his kingdom.
- Marlene Dietrich, The Garden of Allah, 1936. Producer David O Selznick paid $12,000 more for the Robert Hichens novel than he did for Gone With The Wind! Marlene still called it twash! “Garbo wouldn’t play this part. She didn’t believe the girl would send the boy back to the monastery. She is a vewy clever woman, Garbo!”
- Claudette Colbert, Tovarich, 1937. Garbo begged Metro to buy it for her - after what producer David Selznick said to her in l934 about audiences wanting to see her smart and modern.
- Bette Davis, Dark Victory, 1938. Garbo wanted to play Anna Karenina (a second time) while producer David O Selznick nagged at her to make Dark Victory - the one and only time that she and her lover, Katharine Hepburn, were up for the same role... Garbo did not like what she had heard about it and stuck to her guns (and latest rise of $250,000 per film) and re-made her 1927 Karenina and won the New York Critics best actress award. Davis pestered her studio to buy the “great vehicle for me.” Jack Warner was not keen. “No one wanted to see someone go blind.” And so it became Bette’s favourite film – and not only because it took only four weeks to make. A smash hit, and winning Davis her third Oscar nomination in five years.
- Norma Shearer, Idiot's Delight, 1939. MGM bought it for Garbo-Gable. Garbo passed, Joan Crawford craved, but MGM’s First Lady insisted on being Irene Fellara And played her as a wicked parody of Garbo. While Gable sang. And survived. Just about!
- Greer Garson, Madame Curie, 1943. It was the biopic season… and as usual, MGM was thinking big. Greta Garbo and Spencer Tracy discovering radium and polonium as the Marie and Pierre Curie. Until the family read Aldous Huxley’s scenario. That disappeared without a trace, Huxley told the New York Times in 1940, when daughter Eve Curie found his version of her book too glamorous - casting Garbo as Mum was taking the shine off Dad, whoever played him. She always felt Marie Curie was too intellectual for her. She did Two-Faced Woman, instead. It flopped. She quit. MGM preferred Garson and Walter Pidgeon and made it a massive hit with crass such advertising as… “Mr & Mrs Miniver Together Again in Another Screen Hit!" Owch.
- Susan Peters, Song of Russia, 1943. The Hollywood Reporter stated that Garbo was a “cinch” for Nadya. The fact that Peters, Kathryn Grayson, Signe Hasso, Hedy Lamarr, Barbara Pearson and Donna Reed were also seen, underlined the relative unimportance of the role in the over-egged (WW11) Soviet propaganda. “Distastefully Communistic,” said headliner Robert Taylor (Garbo’s Camille lover, of course).
- Ingrid Bergman, Spellbound, 1944. Producer David Selznick always hoped to tempt her back. So did Sam Goldwyn. Among others. None succeeded.
- Hurd Hatfield, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1945. Now there was an idea! But... “I wasn’t a great actress. I was totally lacking in self-confidence.”
- Tallulah Bankhead, A Royal Scandal, 1945. Otto Preminger was directing for an ill Ernest Lubitsch, and into his first week’s rehearsal, when Garbo dined with Lubitsch and wanted to comeback in his film. Incredible as it may sound, Preminger refused her and so, unbelievably, did Fox boss Darryl Zanuck. Even Garbo was only as good as her last picture. And that had flopped...
- Merle Oberon, This Love of Ours, 1945. She certainly knew her turkeys - passing on this Pirandello tearjerker. Like the 1956 re-make, Never Say Goodbye, it was more jerks than tears.
- Alida Valli, The Paradine Case, 1946. Another of David Selznick’s 1935 hopes. “Unfortunately,” he reported, “Miss Garbo has always had an aversion to the story.” Or, the role. Bergman also refused to be seen as an elegant slut charged with murdering her blind husband and exploiting her lawyer’s libido... Spurned by the Swedes, Selznick and Hitchcock went Italian style with Valli - the next Bergman, according to Selznick. Said Garbo: “No murderesses...”
- Katina Paxinou, Mourning Becomes Electra, l947. Garbo did not take kindly to Katharine Hepburn’s suggestion of them playing mother and daughter in 1944. Not when Garbo was 39 to Hepburn's 37. Garbo was no happier at 42, when offered Rosalind Russell, 40, as her daughter. Finally, the Greek Paxinou mothered Roz, at 47.
- Irene Dunne, I Remember Mama, 1947. And “no mamas...." Producer Harriet Parsons thought director George Cukor could persuade Garbo out of her retirement. He could not. (Liv Ullmann played the role in a Broadway musical version in 1979.
- Ingrid Bergman, Joan of Ark, 1947. Garbo wanted to be Joan for almost as many years as Ingrid Bergman but director Irving Rapper’s version never interested the Metro money men.
- Patricia Neal, The Fountainhead, 1948. First, Mervyn LeRoy was to direct Barbara Stanwyck opposite Humphrey Bogart. By ’48, director King Vidor switched Bogie to join - of course - Bacall. Next, Gary Cooper and Bacall. Except Betty quit. After rejecting Davis, Greta Garbo, Ida Lupino and Alexis Smith, head brother Jack Warner took a chance on the young Neal. Cooper objected. Warner insisted. And Cooper and Neal had an affair.
- Paulette Goddard, Anna Lucasta, 1949. Nobody could quite strut her stuff - as a Brooklyn docks’ hooker - like Goddard. Well, Eartha Kitt was not bad in the 1959 all-black re-make.
- Gloria Swanson, Sunset Blvd, 1949. Retired means... retired! Searching for an old-time screen queen to play Norma Desmond, director Billy Wilder went through Mae Murray, Pola Negri, Mae West, before trying to persuade Garbo into a comeback. No way! Fellow helmer George Cukor suggested Swanson. And told her: “If they want you to do ten screen tests, do ten screen tests. If you don’t, I will personally shoot you.”
- Anita Bjork, Froken Julie/Miss Julie, Sweden, 1950. Announced as her Swedish comeback in 1945. “I can’t go through with it. I haven’t the courage to make another picture.” Elia Kazan on Garbo: “She doesn’t yield, she doesn’t make friends; she’s not after your approval, not ever.”
- Maria Casares, Orphée, France, 1950. No one knows in which order but the actor, designer (of sets and credit titles), director, narrator, novelist, painter, playwright, poet, and scenarist, Jean Cocteau asked both Garbo and Dietrich to be his mysterious princess. That is to say, Death, itself. They both refused.
- Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951.
Brando and Garbo..!!! That was playwright Tennessee Williams’s dream team. “I must turn Tennessee down,” she told Marlon, when calling - among the hundreds - at his dressingroom during his 1947/8 rampant run on Broadway as Stanley Kowaski. “Blanche DuBois is a bad woman… Never again will I play a bad woman... I’m an honest and clear-cut woman. I could never play such a complicated woman... Besides, who would believe me as an aging Southern belle on the verge of madness.” What would bring her back, asked Marlon. The Portrait of Dorian Gray said she - and three years later she suggested Marilyn Monroe as the girl... “phoptographed nude at one point.”
- Jane Wyman, The Blue Veil, 1951. Producer Jerry Wald convinced RKO and everyone else - including himself - that he could arrange Garbo’s comeback in a re-make of 1933’s La Maternelle. In common with so many other big talkers, he wuz wrong! And lost Ingrid Bergman and Bette Davis because of it.
- Ava Gardner, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, 1951. Albert Lewin, the producer who never contacted her for his Portrait of Dorian Gray, desired Garbo for his first original script. But, to paraphrase Billie Holiday on the end of Shane: She ain’t never comin’ back! He fell upon Ava and she fell for the heroine. “It’s almost me,” she said, reading how Pandora Reynolds was “complex, moody, restless with the discontent of a romantic soul which has not found the true object of her desires.”
- Olivia de Havilland, My Cousin Rachel, l952. Yes, she told director pal, George Cukor. No, she said, the next day. “She couldn’t have been more charming or adamant,” said scenarist Nunnally Johnson. “She repeated her several emotional reasons for not wishing to come back... and did this so winningly that I was presently enthusiastically on her side, in fact provided her with several additional reasons which up to that moment she hadn’t thought of.”
- Grace Kelly, The Country Girl, 1954. Asked to replace producer David Selznick'’s pregnant wife, Jennifer Jones, Garbo made the obvious response. Grace fought hard to persuade MGM to change its no loan-out policy and, finally, the studio charged $50,000, plus money for each day's delay of her next assignment, Green Fire. Result: Grace beat Judy Garland's re-born star to the Oscar.
- Vivien Leigh, The Deep Blue Sea, 1955. Tempted. Not for very long.
- Danielle Darrieux, L’amant de Lady Chatterley/Lady Chatterley’s Lover, France/Italy, 1955. On Garbo’s say-so, Salka Viertel tempted producer David Selznick into a Swedish co-prod of DH Lawrence. He copped out rather than battling the censors again after his experiences with Duel in the Sun, 1946. Mi’lady Darrieux had been hyped by Universal as the French Garbo since1938.
- Silvano Mangano, Ulysses, 1955. As plans for a 1948 comeback (on the lives of Eleonora Duse and George Sand) for producer Walter Wanger came to naught, Garbo also rejected The Odyssey as a a reunion, 23 years after Joyless Street,with GW Pabst. He had wanted Gregory Peck as Ulysses with Garbo playing Penelope, Circe and Calypso. Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis chose an easier route. He cast his wife.
- Lana Turner, Diane, 1956. John Erskine’s Diane de Poitiers was initially bought by MGM for Queen Christina, herself,
- Ingrid Bergman, Anastasia, 1956. Not tempted at all. And the Oscar goes to...
- Jean Seberg, Saint Joan, 1957. Unable to find the perfect Maid, George Bernard Shaw dropped plans to film his play with producer Gabriel Pascal at Rank in 1945. GBS was so incredibly fussy, he spurned Garbo for being "a sex appealer."
- Sophia Loren, A Breath of Scandal, 1960. Scripted from Merence Molnar's Olympia play for Garbo by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett in the late 30s it was eventually played by the Italian diva whose mother won an MGM Garbo lookalike contest in Rome in 1932.
- Ingrid Thulin, Tystnaden/The Silence, Sweden, 1963. Touted as yet another Swedish comeback. Whether Garbo would have agreed with Ingmar Bergman about Ester’s masturbation scene will never be known.
- Flora Robson, 55 Days At Peking, 1963. Alway thinking big, producer Samuel Bronston was convinced Garbo would return - as his Chinese Empress Tseu Hi. Always thinking sensibly, she did not.
- Kim Novak, The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders, 1965
A year after a brief flurry with an ardent Tennessee Williams about The Pink Bedroom, Garbo agreed on a 1948 comeback under producer Walter Wanger’s aegis. “A good picture,” she said, “or none at all.” There were thoughts of scripts by Camus, Colette, Somerset Maugham, biopix on Eleonora Duse, Mary Magdalene - and Daniel Dafoe’s Moll.
- Rosalind Russell, The Trouble With Angels, 1966. Producer William Frye offered his friend a cool, Liz Taylor-like $1m to return to the screen as the nun in charge of the St. Francis Academy for Girls. The original title did not bolster much confidence: Life With Mother Superior.
- Gloria Swanson, Airport 1975, 1974. “It’s a big book. It’s in an airport and it’s a stormy night. Snow, snow, snow. It’s petrifying.” No lady of letters, she took two months to get through the first 35 pages of The Great Gatsby and asked “Did I miss much?” about Alice In Wonderland.
- Glenda Jackson, The Incredible Sarah, 1976. Producer David Selznick long planned a Sarah Bernhardt biopic for Garbo - and only Garbo.
- Monica Vitti, Mimì Bluette... fiore del mio giardino, Italy, 1976. Vitti bought the Metro rights - first bought in 1922 for Garbo and Anatole Litvak. "And they wanted Valentino to play the unknown lover."
- Meryl Streep, Out of Africa, 1985. Garbo, it was always for Garbo. Except she did not think so… David Lean, Nicolas Roeg, Orson Welles all tried to adapt the Karen Blixen book. This was the 43rd film that Greta Lovisa Gustafsson did not make - in all; she made 30 films, only half were talkies. Director Fred Niblo called her “a blonde witb a brunette voice.”
- Charlotte Rampling, The Cherry Orchard, 1999. Iconic UK producer Alexander Korda tried to film the Chekov play in 1947 but Garbo would not come out of retirement to be Madame Ranevskaya. She would have been good, said the play’s #1 fan, UK stage and screen director Lindsay Anderson, but Bette Davis would have been better - and Mary Astor, best of all. Despite all of Anderson’s efforts, the only major cinema version of the play was made by Greek director, Michael Cacoyannis, with Charlotte as Madame Ranevskaya, Alan Bates as Gayev. (There were six TVersions during 1959-1981 with Peggy Ashcroft as Ranevskaya in two of them).