THE ONLY TRUE STORY OF GRETA GARBO’S PRIVATE LIFE by Sven-Hugo Borg
FROM “the little cogs and wheels in that big transmission of the vast network of the studio“ we were both learning of studio politics and the petty jealousies which exist in every major studio. They worried me, but Garbo was unruffled, and she would say with a mere shrug:
“Who are they, anyhow? Wait, Borg, wait—and you will see.”
Many clever illustrations of Garbo’s reaction to camera fatigue have been written, but one, uttered by Robert E. Sherwood, deserves special mention:
“She never tears her hair or bawls out assistant directors, nor does she ascend her high horses.”
Most assuredly those few words must have been spoken after personal observation, and it is indeed a pleasure to reprint them.
Although Cortez ignored Garbo, she gave no sign of being conscious of it, except with those long, sideway glances I caught when he was not looking. Never, except in a few close-ups, did he speak to her, and while he was naturally lord of the set, Garbo moved silently in the background. Only when she felt that it was necessary to her part in the picture, did she obtrude herself. Personal slights she could endure calmly, but she resented anything that threatened her work.
The people in the studio did not realize that I was spending hours teaching Garbo English, and they continued, as before, to talk in English, thinking she did not understand.
“Hey, Borg, what the blazes is wrong ? Get the square-head on the set.” ”Hey, Borg, what’s the matter with the big fiat- foot?” Garbo understood many of these slights but never said anything about them. Perhaps, even then, she knew that the day would come when, as queen of that very lot, people would speak in a whisper as she passed. She was profiting by Stiller’s influence and her independence grew daily.
Late one evening Monta Bell was trying to catch a fast fading sunset before it died. The scene called for a bomb to be exploded and the first “take “ was a failure, but a piece of
the flying bomb had stuck on Garbo’s lip. Noticing that she had left the set, Mr. Bell called to me: “Get that woman back here, Borg. If we don’t shoot in five minutes we’ll have to wait for another sunset.”
I found Garbo off stage picking the burned fragment from her lip, and delivered Mr. Bell’s message.
”Tell him not to get excited, Borg,” she said, “there are plenty of other sunsets coming.”
As I have said, there were times when she could be slyly humorous. One day Mr. Bell told me, during the shooting of a scene, to ask her to change her way of doing a certain bit of business. Films were silent in those days, so I called to her, right in the middle of the scene, and told her. Without changing her action, which was supposed to be sad and dramatic, she said in Swedish to me, out of the side of her mouth, but with a twinkle in her eye:
”Tell him to go to blazes for me, Borg.” I hope no Swedish lip readers saw that picture.
“AY TANK AV GO HOME NOW”
”AY tank ay go home now” has long been attributed to Garbo as her favorite saying. How often she said it I do not know, but I am sure that I was the first person to hear her use that expression. It was during the first week of shooting on The Torrent. Tired, terrified, lost without Stiller, she was ready to drop it all. As she returned to my side after a trying scene, she sank down beside me and said, so low that it, was almost a whisper:
“Borg, I think I shall go home now. It isn’t worth it, is it?”
A number of humorous things happened on The Torrent, due to the fact that Garbo spoke no, and understood little, English. Doing, a very sad and dramatic scene, she was supposed to sit down at a piano, go through the motions of playing, and sing a line or two from the then popular song,
”I want to be happy but I can’t be happy till I make you happy, too.”
Since it was a close-up and lip movement must be correct, she learned the words, parrot-like, in English, without understanding their meaning. Of course, as she sang the song, she was supposed to turn suddenly from sad to gay. She sat down at the piano, with the camera close up, shooting over the top, face on.
”Ay vant to be happy but ay can’t be happy—”
Suddenly everybody laughed, for Garbo— not understanding the words—had continued to look sad and dramatic. She sang so slowly, so sadly, that it was funny to hear those words sung that way. The laughing made her angry until I explained it to her, and then she laughed, too.
In spite of Garbo’s forebodings and the lack of Stiller, The Torrent was a knock-out. The fans hailed a new Star, for Garbo’s strange appeal held them. Looking back, this was, in my opinion, Garbo’s best picture on American soil, including even recent films, Anyhow, it gave the typehungry fans a new face and Garbo was “made.”
Before I drift away from The Torrent at, I must bring forth another rather amusing episode. In connection with this picture, a scene taken was from the opera Carmen. One day the Garbo, myself, and the actor for this particular scene, Arthur Edmund Carewe, had gathered for a little chat just before the camera began to click, and our conversation drifted to operas, and particularly Carmen.
The actor seemed puzzled that Garbo took no part in the discussion. When he had gone, she said, to my great surprise:
”Who was ‘Carmen,’ Borg? I never heard of her“; adding shyly: “Don’t tell anybody, will you?”
Eager to cash in on this new and exotic personality, Metro rushed her second picture, The Temptress, into production, or attempted to. Garbo was overjoyed when it was announced that Stiller would direct She saw visions of another Gosta Berling, a picture that would make her the greatest Star of them all.
“With Mauritz I will show them, Borg,” she would say to me. “The Torrent, bah, wait!”