It was a rare feat for an actor to successfully transition from the silent cinema to sound because either audiences would be upset that the actors voices did not match their physical appearance or they were actually not as talented in the performing department as once thought. However, there were the lucky few who succeeded, Charlie Chaplin being one and the enigmatic Greta Garbo being another.
From humble beginnings in Sweden, Greta Garbo made a huge impact on the silver screen. From her first silent film Torrent (1926) to her final sound film Two-Faced Woman (1941), Garbo was a force to be reckoned with, possessing a distinguished mix of beauty, class, intelligence, strength, and above all, talent. Nominated for four Academy Awards (winning an honorary one in 1954) and only starring in 27 films, she made the conscious decision to retire in 1941 and withdraw from the public eye in order to live out a relatively private life. With her first film she garnered instant international success and soon became MGM’s highest paid actress and she earned this highest salary for most of her career.
Unlike most Hollywood starlets and wannabe’s, Garbo seldom signed autographs, gave interviews, answered fan-mail, or attended highly anticipated social functions run by the industries elite players. She preferred to stay at home with those close to her rather than parading up and down the streets of Hollywood gushing and boasting her celebrity. An artist dedicates themselves to their craft and if it is met with success, well that is a fortunate perk, and Garbo fits this template perfectly. Her antics were coined as “Pulling a Garbo” if someone refused to meet the expectations of a celebrity. If you were snubbed by your favourite film star today, you would most likely be livid and the press always has a field day when this sort of thing occurs, however Garbo was successful without drowning herself in the stress of meeting the social expectations that are expected of the famous. She was quoted saying that, “If only those who dream about Hollywood knew how difficult it all is.” I think we can all agree that maybe the fish bowl life is not meant for everyone, but we are fortunate to have the work she did and to this day remain in awe of her incredible delicate, yet compelling face and her intoxicating sultry voice that permitted her seamless transition from silent films to talkies.