THE ONLY TRUE STORY OF GRETA GARBO’S PRIVATE LIFE by Sven-Hugo Borg
GARBO AND “THE MATCH KING”
I HAVE been asked frequently about the supposed friendship between Garbo and
the late Ivar Kreuger. If he ever visited Garbo in Hollywood, none but she ever knew it, but they enjoyed much time together when Garbo stole away to New York. For Garbo, this association was an education—for the Match King a relaxation; with her he forgot hectic business conferences and his “ Broadway playthings.”
Kreuger had loved many women in many lands, therefore to find someone like Garbo, who had, like himself, elevated herself from a mere nobody to a world-known personage, fascinated him. Her great popularity and her desire of always appearing incognito also appealed to him. But for Garbo, it was undoubtedly a big thrill to be seen with this financial wizard.
Their platonic friendship was a communion between two great personalities, a friendship difficult for the world to understand, but true all the same, and for Kreuger such friendship was indeed a very rare thing.
I hope that I have not given the impression in this life-story that Garbo is always moody, sulky, and totally incapable of having a good time.
Away from the crowd, surrounded by her own few intimates, she was a jolly companion with a quick wit, even if it was of the dry variety.
While still in Stockholm, she, in company with friends, attended the Folk Teatern (the People’s Theatre), where the one successful revue of the season was presented. The house was filled to capacity, even the royal box being occupied by its distinguished members of the Household.
The special number of the show, presenting Karl Gerhard, the Swedish Maurice Chevalier, was a satire on Garbo. It was an immediate hit, and the entire audience received it with thundering applause; even Garbo smiled her approval, despite the fact she ducked low in to her seat. Finally the noise subsided, and the Swedish matinée idol stepped forward and announced to everyone’s astonishment that the great Garbo was in the audience.
Instantly they demanded her appearance on the stage, a request which Garbo blankly refused. But the demand grew; all one heard was “ Garbo—Garbo—Garbo We want to see you “ So, assisted by Monsieur Gerhard, she finally stepped on to the stage. Bashfully she took her bow, but self- consciousness overwhelmed her, and the words she tried to speak became a mere whisper.
Withdrawn from the world at large, there were, however, occasions iii Garbo’s career when she was much fascinated by “ personalities “ about the -lot. For instance, she had a great admiration for the late “ actor of all faces “—Lon Chaney.
“Keep on, Garbo,” he once said to her; “let them write and guess about you. but never let anyone influence you.” It was not on account of this Chaney advice, given at a moment when the actor was in a philosophical mood, nor was it because of his acting, that Garbo felt such great admiration for him—it was because of his complete withdrawals from social functions, combined with his earnestness, not only to his family and employer, but also to himself.
Their first meeting took place immediately after Garbo’s famous studio strike. When Garbo was not present, Lon used to say to me:
“How is the lil’ girl to-day ? Tell her to not worry “ (thereby referring to her difficulties at the studio), and always there followed many warm-hearted sentences, expressed with utmost sincerity. On the other hand, if he happened to meet with both of us while going to and from a set, then Lon would hurry by without the usual studio greeting of “ How do,” “ You’re looking fine,” “Nice day,” etc. At times like that, Garbo would snuggle close to me and whisper:
”Borg, isn’t he nice ? Not a sign of that conceit that one sees so much of.”
”Must you not have ego to be a great actor or artist? “ was once my comment.
“Yes, one must, that’s true,” answered she, “ but not on the surface, as they you become false and will not last, remember.”
It was I, who a few days later-persuaded them both to have luncheon together, and we selected a table in a far-off corner of that babble-filled studio commissary where Garbo very rarely put her foot.
Garbo was idly listening while Chaney leaned forward trying to converse with her directly, applying himself to a sort of pigeon English. Garmented as he was, in a Chinese long coat, and made up as “Mr. Fu,” the conversation seemed to have much of an Oriental realism.
I know for sure that Garbo did not fully understand all the things he spoke of, but she pretended to, nevertheless, and it was at this luncheon that Chaney said the before(luoted line, while adding: “Neither let anyone mislead you, Garbo girl—as the boss (meaning Louis B. Mayer) is a mighty level man.”
After this meeting, Garbo and Chaney had many off-set chats and often they sought the company of one another. Never shall I forget the time when Chaney applied a greyish fluid beneath his eyelids to bring forth the realism of a blind person. Garbo stood horror-stricken while watching, and said: “But L-o-n, is it necessary for you to take such a chance—just think if it would
affect your eyes.”
“Not exactly” answered he—adding as a joke,” got to do something for the‘ dough’?” With her always alert mind she caught every word and turned, to me in her native
”Quick, Borg, tell me, what is’ dough’?”
I explained, and she sighed:
“Oh yes, money—kronen.”
On the .way back to our set. she said, again with a sigh: “That’s an artist for you, Borg, a real artist.”
THERE have been a few daring writers who have written detrimental lines against Garbo’s private life, but never did. they manage to drag her down, and never will they either, is my steadfast prophecy. We must give Garbo due credit for her self- preservation.
The veil of mystery which so surrounded Garbo from the very first time I saw her was not an acquired attitude at all. Combined with this was a calmness, as everlasting as the one existing in equatorial doldrums, and this attitude was and still is the greater part of her.
I can therefore sincerely state, had she merely remained Miss Greta Gustafsson, with a livelihood of a far inferior standard like countless other immigrant girls, she would still have bewildered and magnetized those coming in direct contact with her.