THE ONLY TRUE STORY OF GRETA GARBO’S PRIVATE LIFE by Sven-Hugo Borg
Soon after her arrival in Hollywood, Garbo installed herself in the Miramar Hotel, on the Palisades, above the ocean at Santa Monica. She selected this hotel because of its location, desiring even then the solitude she later went to so much effort to preserve. It being necessary for me to be constantly near her, I moved into the California Hotel, directly across the street.
In order to get back and forth between the hotel to the studio, Garbo purchased a small car. It was one of my duties to teach her to drive, and she proved two apt a pupil. As soon as she learned she became a regular speed demon. We would get in the car at the studio and it would be sixty miles an hour until we reached the hotel.
Once she was arrested for driving sixty miles an hour in a ten-mile zone. It was necessary for me to go the judge in Santa Monica for her. Before doing so, however, I ‘phoned Mr. Mayer at the studio and told him about it. He was furious and called up the chief of police. When I went to the station it had been so arranged that if I paid a ten-dollar fine, Garbo would not have to go to gaol. I paid it, hut when I returned to the hotel and told Garbo, she frowned.
”Oh, Borg! Ten dollars—that’s forty kronen! Why didn’t you let me go to gaol? I only have six dollars and a half in my purse. Take that, and I will pay the rest later.”
Several times she was arrested for speeding, and always I got her out, once assisted by Louis B. Mayer, by paying a fine. But had she not been a motion-picture actress, no doubt she would have lost her license, for, quoting Chief of Police Webb, of Santa Monica: ”Of course, we always cater to the picture people, as we want them to be happy with us.”
UNABLE to speak English and wishing to have her own way, Garbo was quite a trial to her first directors, although they, were kind and considerate to her. Not so with Stiller, her master. His profanity, when he became disgusted with Garbo’s “dumbness,” would have shocked American ears, could they have understood it. Mr. Bell was assigned to direct her in The Torrent, her first picture. Stiller was asked to make some tests of her. One request, from the front office, was for a shot of Garbo’s legs. As the camera swept the none too beautiful legs of Garbo, Stiller stopped them with a snarl.
“Good lord, Greta!“ he roared. “ Cannot we have some sex ? Your legs, they are like pipe stems!Look at the legs of this American girl (referring to the script girl). Do like that.”
He turned to Rolf and myself with a grimace of disgust and, with an awful Swedish oath, he said: “The girl is hopeless! She moves about like a cart-horse no grace of a woman. Make a star of that! Bah!
And Garbo, as always when Stiller went into one of his rages, began to sob, which suddenly changed his attitude. He began comforting his “ find “ with:
”Aw, but, G-r-e-t-a, don’t you know that it is all for your own good?”
One incident, since prophetic in a way, I will tell. It occurred on the garden set built for . Garbo’s first test. Garbo and I walked over to a piano which was on the set. Garbo sat down and, in that deep, musical voice of hers, sang a single note. Quite in fun, as you will see, she struck with her finger one bass note which so beautifully blended with her own voice that those around stopped and gazed.
“Oh, Borg,” she cried, like a child who had done something wrong, “it is a real piano, not just a prop!”
And Monta Bell, who was standing near, looked at her and said to me, in English: “What a voice! If we could only use it!”
Years later, when bill-boards throughout the world blazoned the legend, Garbo Speaks, that voice was used with telling effect. Her first words from the talking screen, if you recall, were:
“Giff me a glass of whisky!”
And so, with myself as her interpreter, Garbo began the production of her first American picture, The Torrent, Monta Bell was assigned to direct her, and Ricardo Cortez, then at the height of his glory, was to be her leading man. She approached the making of this picture as one approaches an electric chair. Without the guiding hand of Stiller, she was lost.
Not yet had Stiller’s influence given her sufficient self-confidence to stand alone, and as the day of “shooting” approached, I was afraid she would collapse. Of course, she was constantly with Stiller, spending every possible moment with him; but the thought that when the camera’s eye was turned upon her, and the picture that would decide her fate began, he would not he there terrified her.
“Borg, Borg, do something! “ she would plead, wringing her hands. “ Make them let me have Mauritz! Why won’t they let me have Mauritz?”
Perhaps my efforts at reproducing Garbo’s quotations or actual words seem feeble ? I assure you that no person talked less than did Garbo. She had absolutely no small talk and no repartee. If she cracked a joke, it was always sly and subtle, and when you questioned her or tried to draw her out, it was without result. I have actually spent as long as two hours with her without her saying a single word.
At last the day of shooting arrived. I called for her at her apartment quite early, and we drove together to the studio. For once, she wanted me to drive, and as she sat beside me in the little car, she would wring her hands and repeat over and over:
”Oh, Borg I Oh, Borg!”
Cortez had been chosen as the logical successor to Valentino and felt, not unnaturally, rather surprised that he should be called upon to work with this “dumb” Swede who was nobody. It is therefore hardly surprising that, on the set or off, he paid little attention to Garbo. Cortez is a Spanish name, and Cortez was then supposed to be a full-blooded Spaniard with a romantic background. Someone told Garbo to speak to him in Spanish, as a joke.
”But I do not speak Spanish,” she protested. “Neither does he,” grinned the jokester. “So?“ Garbo lifted those long eyebrows of hers and chuckled. “ Perhaps, then, he is really a Swede?”