Greta Garbo – Enigmatic Diva

Day 134 of Colourisation Project – September 18

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Let’s get it right. In real life the actress who popularized trench-coats and berets in the 1930s, Greta Garbo, never said, “I want to be alone.” She did however utter those words on screen. In fact it became a motif which kept popping up in her films.

Greta Garbo Bef & Aft

Publicity Still for Inspiration – Greta Garbo 1931 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

The famous line ‘I want to be alone’ was spoken by Garbo in Grand Hotel (1932) and before that, a title card in the silent film, Love (1927) reads, “I like to be alone”; in The Single Standard (1929) her character says, “I am walking alone because I want to be alone”; in the same film, we see her sailing with her lover on a boat called All Alone; in Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise) (1931) she says to a paramour, “This time I rise… and fall… alone”; in Inspiration (1931) she tells a fickle lover, “I just want to be alone for a little while”; in Mata Hari (1931) she says to her new beau, “I never look ahead. By next spring I shall probably be… quite alone.”  But in 1939 the motif seems to have been lampooned in Ninotchka when Russian emissaries ask her, “Do you want to be alone, comrade?” She replies with an unreserved “No.”

By the mid 1930s the motif had become indelibly ingrained into Garbo’s public and private personae.   She once remarked, “I never said, ‘I want to be alone’; I only said, ‘I want to be let alone.’ There is a world of difference.” She had a point.

Garbo clearly preferred her own company.  She refused invitations to parties and receptions, she refused to attend her own premieres or hold press conferences. Garbo went to great lengths to maintain her privacy.

As much as possible after her last movie in 1941, Garbo did live a life ‘alone’ or so she made it seem to the world at large, which had by this time given rise to the sport of ‘Garbo-watching,’ especially amongst photographers, the media and inquisitive New Yorkers.

She became a US citizen in 1951 and bought herself a seven-room-apartment in New York City (450 East 52nd Street) where she lived until her death in 1990, all the time maintaining a reclusive lifestyle and an obsession for privacy.

Though she granted no interviews, signed no autographs, attended no premieres, and answered no fan mail, she was known for taking long, daily walks in Central Park and the streets of New York City dressed casually and hiding behind large sunglasses.


Greta Garbo was born on September 18, 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden. Garbo began her film career in Europe before going to the United States to work for MGM at the age of 19. Between 1922 and 1941 she made 28 movies, including Mata Hari (1931), Grand Hotel (1932), Queen Christina (1933), The Painted Veil (1934),  Anna Karenina (1935) and Camille (1936),and her last film Two-Faced Woman (1941).

At the height of her career, she was one of the highest paid women in America. Nominated four times for the Academy Award for Best Actress;  Anna Christie and Romance (1930) Camille, (1937)  Ninotchka (1939) she never came away with the award. Fellow actress, Bette Davis thought “her instinct, her mastery over the machine, was pure witchcraft. I cannot analyze this woman’s acting. I only know that no one else so effectively worked in front of a camera.”

In 1954 she was awarded an Academy Honorary Award ‘for her luminous and unforgettable screen performances.’  Not surprisingly, she was a no-show at the ceremony. The statuette had to be mailed to her home address.

Garbo was successfully treated for breast cancer in 1984 but died six years later from pneumonia and renal failure. She was 84 years old and we weren’t much the wiser.

Garbo was cremated in Manhattan in 1990, and her ashes were interred in 1999 at Skogskyrkogården Cemetery just south of her native Stockholm.


“During these scenes I allow only the cameraman and lighting man on the set. The director goes out for a coffee or a milkshake. When people are watching, I’m just a woman making faces for the camera. It destroys the illusion. If I am by myself, my face will do things I cannot do with it otherwise.”    –  Greta Garbo (when asked why sets were closed to all visitors and sometimes even the director)

This entry was posted in Black & White, Colorization, Colourisation, Photography, Women, Women in Film & TV and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Greta Garbo – Enigmatic Diva

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