Happy Birthday Maxwell Perkins

Today is the 130th birthday of Maxwell Perkins.  My first exposure to him was from reading a book of correspondence between him and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  He was Fitzgerald’s editor at the time and they would write back and forth keeping each other informed on how new works were progressing and finished works were being published.  I have gone on the read the Scott Berg biography on him and that rounded out the picture for me.  You should always read a Scott Berg biography.  I think I have read them all.

maxwell perkinsNAME: Maxwell Perkins
OCCUPATION: Editor
BIRTH DATE: September 20, 1884
DEATH DATE: June 17, 1947
EDUCATION: St. Paul’s School, Harvard University
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Stamford, Connecticut

BEST KNOWN FOR: Maxwell Perkins was an influential editor who worked with such authors as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe.

Maxwell Perkins was born on September 20, 1884, in New York City, at his family’s home on the corner of Second Avenue and 14th Street. After high school, Perkins attended Harvard University, as had many members of his family before him. After graduation (1907), Perkins was a reporter for a short period at The New York Times, but in 1910 he landed a job as an advertising manager with Charles Scribner’s Sons, the publishing house where he would truly make his mark. (This was the same year Perkins married Louise Saunders, with whom he went on to have five daughters.)

Scribner’s was a traditional publishing house, with a serious if staid stable of writers (e.g., Henry James and Edith Wharton). When Perkins joined the editorial staff in 1914, little did he know he would end up revolutionizing the company and American literature.

Four years after moving into editorial, Perkins began his upward push when a manuscript called The Romantic Egoist hit his desk. It was the first novel by a 22-year-old Princeton graduate, and it came with a host of negative comments from others who had already perused its pages. But something about it caught Perkins’ eye, and he contacted the writer to make some edits. The writer was F. Scott Fitzgerald, and while arguing the merits of Fitzgerald’s book, Perkins said, “If we aren’t going to publish a talent like this, it is a very serious thing . . . . we might as well go out of business.”

Fitzgerald rewrote the work twice before Scribner’s agreed to publish it, under the name This Side of Paradise (1920). The book was a huge success, and it launched Fitzgerald to international literary stardom. Perkins was also instrumental in shaping Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, called by some the greatest American novel ever written.

Four years later, Fitzgerald pointed Perkins in the direction of another up-and-coming American writer living in Paris: Ernest Hemingway. Perkins made contact, and two years later Scribner’s, under Perkin’s guidance, published the 27-year-old Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises. As had This Side of Paradise, Hemingway’s first book caused literary waves around the world, and a new movement was under way, with Perkins at its heart. Perkins would work on subsequent books by both Fitzgerald and Hemingway, as well as books by writers such as Ring Lardner, Sherwood Anderson and Martha Gellhorn (who would become Hemingway’s third wife).

In what would mark the beginning of a tumultuous and important literary and personal relationship, in 1928 Thomas Wolfe submitted to Scribner’s his first novel, titled O Lost, a sprawling 1,114-page coming-of-age novel that had already been rejected by a handful of publishers. Perkins and Wolfe spent months editing and restructuring the work, hammering it into what would become known as Look Homeward, Angel (1929), a book that would go on to become a classic. Perkins and Wolfe worked together again, but they eventually had a dramatic falling-out over Perkins’ methods, and Wolfe left Scribner’s.

Perkins, however, has come to represent how important an editor can be for an author. A collection of his correspondence to his authors and others, Editor to Author, was published in 1950, three years after his death at age 62.

Happy Birthday Sophia Loren

Today is the 80th birthday of Sophia Loren.

NAME: Sophia Loren
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Television Actress, Pin-up
BIRTH DATE: September 20, 1934 (age 80)
PLACE OF BIRTH: Rome, Italy
AKA: Sofia Lazzaro, Sofia Scicolone
ORIGINALLY: Sophia Villiani Scicolone
BEST KNOWN FOR: Sophia Loren is an Academy Award-winning Italian actress. A striking beauty, Loren is often listed among the world’s all time most attractive women.

Sophia Loren was born in a hospital charity ward, and raised in poverty by her single mother. Her father was married to another woman, and refused to adopt his illegitimate daughter, but did allow her to take his surname. As a girl, she was so thin she was taunted and nicknamed ‘Stuzzicadenti’ — ‘Toothpick’.

By 14, though, she won “Princess of the Sea” honors in a beauty pageant. By 15 she was working as a model, and met producer Carlo Ponti, who was one of the judges in a pageant she won. He hired an acting coach to tutor her, and at 16 she was in her first film, Le Sei Mogli di Barbablù. At 17 Ponti cast her in her breakthrough role as the commoner who caught the prince’s eye in the filmed opera La Favorita. The next year she played the lead in a film of Aida, but in both opera films her songs were dubbed by better singers.

Loren quickly became a major star and pin-up girl in Italy, and her first film to find success beyond her native land was La Donna del Fiume, released in America as The River Girl. Her first English-language film was Boy on a Dolphin with Alan Ladd in 1957, where she was memorable mostly for emerging from the water in a wet, skin-tight, transparent dress. She starred in numerous American films through the rest of that decade, but most were received lukewarmly at best. In 1960 she returned to Italy to star in the brutal wartime drama La Ciociara (Two Women) with Jean-Paul Belmondo. She won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance — the first Academy Award ever given for a performance not in English — but Loren had been unable to attend and no-one from the Academy called to tell her she had won. She found out the following morning, when Cary Grant, an ex-lover and Loren’s co-star in Houseboat, called to offer his congratulations.

Through the 1960s and ’70s, Loren worked in both European and American projects. Her best Italian films include Una Giornata Particolare (One Particular Day) with Loren as a bored housewife andMarcello Mastroianni as her gay acquaintance as Hitler comes to town, Matrimonio all’Italiana(Marriage Italian Style) with Loren as the hooker who lures Mastroianni into marriage, and L’ Oro di Napoli (The Gold of Napoli), with Loren as a pizza-maker who loses her wedding ring.

Despite her va-va-va-voom image, her American work rarely attracted more than minimal box office. She sought vengeance against her lover Charlton Heston after he killed her father in El Cid, and she played the luscious double agent rescued by Gregory Peck in Arabesque, the jinxed girl who welcomed tugboat captain William Holden in The Key, and the whore idolized by Peter O’Toole inMan of La Mancha.

It was controversial in her native Italy when Loren married her mentor Ponti in 1957. Not only was he 45 to her 23, but he had been married previously, and neither the Catholic Church nor Italian government recognized his Mexican divorce. Ponti was charged with bigamy, but the charges were dropped when she had their marriage annulled. They continued living together — scandalous at the time — and remarried after his legal problems had been cleared. Still happily married, Ponti and Loren made three dozen films together, and they may have consciously struck back with their Ieri, Oggi, Domani, a 1963 comedy that poked fun at a Catholic priest and gently mocked Italian law on birth control.

Still beautiful at 72, she posed for the 2007 Pirelli calendar — not as a stunt or as part of a senior citizens collection, but alongside models and movie stars half her age, including Penelope Cruz,Hilary Swank, and Naomi Watts.

Loren’s sister, Anna Maria Scicolone, was married to Romano Mussolini, whose father was Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Their daughter, Loren’s niece, Alessandra Mussolini, was elected to the Italian Parliament as a neo-Fascist in 1992.

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Nine (3-Dec-2009)
Between Strangers (30-Aug-2002) · Olivia
Francesca and Nunziata (16-Aug-2001)
Grumpier Old Men (22-Dec-1995) · Maria
Prêt-à-Porter (25-Dec-1994) · Isabella de la Fontaine
Courage (24-Sep-1986)
Aurora (1984)
Sophia Loren: Her Own Story (26-Oct-1980)
Firepower (27-Apr-1979)
Brass Target (9-Mar-1979)
Blood Feud (21-Dec-1978)
Angela (19-Apr-1978)
A Special Day (17-May-1977)
The Cassandra Crossing (18-Dec-1976)
Brief Encounter (12-Nov-1974)
Jury of One (11-Sep-1974)
The Voyage (11-Mar-1974)
Get Rita (1974)
Man of La Mancha (11-Dec-1972) · Dulcinea, Aldonza
White Sister (31-Mar-1972)
The Priest’s Wife (1971)
Lady Liberty (1971)
Sunflower (14-Mar-1970)
Ghosts, Italian Style (23-Dec-1967) · Maria
More Than a Miracle (1-Nov-1967) · Isabella Candeloro
A Countess from Hong Kong (5-Jan-1967)
Arabesque (5-May-1966) · Yasmin Azir
Conflict (20-Jan-1966) · Judith
Lady L (17-Dec-1965) · Lady L
Operation Crossbow (1-Apr-1965) · Nora
Marriage Italian-Style (18-Dec-1964)
The Fall of the Roman Empire (26-Mar-1964)
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (19-Dec-1963) · Adelina
Five Miles to Midnight (12-Dec-1962)
The Condemned of Altona (30-Oct-1962)
Boccaccio ’70 (22-Feb-1962)
Madame (22-Dec-1961)
El Cid (14-Dec-1961)
Two Women (22-Dec-1960) · Cesira
A Breath of Scandal (16-Dec-1960)
The Millionairess (18-Oct-1960) · Epifania
It Started in Naples (7-Aug-1960)
Two Nights with Cleopatra (18-Jul-1960)
Heller in Pink Tights (29-Feb-1960)
That Kind of Woman (Jun-1959) · Kay
Houseboat (19-Nov-1958)
The Black Orchid (Sep-1958)
The Key (28-May-1958) · Stella
Desire Under the Elms (12-Mar-1958) · Anna Cabot
Legend of the Lost (17-Dec-1957) · Dita
The Pride and the Passion (10-Jul-1957)
Boy on a Dolphin (19-Apr-1957) · Phaedra
Lucky to Be a Woman (30-Dec-1955)
The Miller’s Beautiful Wife (27-Oct-1955)
The River Girl (29-Dec-1954)
Too Bad She’s Bad (28-Dec-1954)
Attila (27-Dec-1954)
The Gold of Naples (23-Dec-1954)
Poverty and Nobility (8-Apr-1954)

 

Happy Birthday Frances Farmer

Today is the 101st birthday of Frances Farmer.  There is something about her, the biopic with Jessica Lange helped push her into cult icon status for a lot of people, including me.  Seattle girl, free thinker, rule breaker and getting a raw deal from Hollywood all inspire other artists.  They understand the misunderstood.  She is the glamorous Hollywood misfit queen of all misfits.  I think of her several times a week when I walk by the employee side entrance to to the Olympic Hotel in Seattle, a door I know that she went through hundreds of times in the early 1950’s when she took a job sorting laundry after her release from a mental hospital.  How she must have felt going in that side door when only 14 years earlier, that very same hotel had held the world premier of her film “Come and Get It.”  I think of that aching feeling of betrayal and abandonment and the complexities of mental instability, it must have been crippling.  (It is a similar feeling that I have when I am driving home and pass Kurt Cobain’s old house and see the bench in “Kurt’s Park” covered with flowers and burning candles.)

NAME: Frances Farmer
OCCUPATION: Film Actress
BIRTH DATE: September 19, 1913
DEATH DATE: August 01, 1970
EDUCATION: University of Washington
PLACE OF BIRTH: Seattle, Washington
PLACE OF DEATH: Indianapolis, Indiana

BEST KNOWN FOR: Actress Frances Farmer starred in films in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, but was best known for her rebellious reputation and the time she spent in a mental institution.

Born September 19, 1913, in Seattle, Washington. The daughter of a lawyer, Farmer enjoyed a comfortable childhood, during which she developed a penchant for stage acting. In 1931, she enrolled at the University of Washington, where she majored in journalism and drama. After a failed attempt to join the Group Theatre in New York, Farmer concentrated on a film career, signing with Paramount Studios in 1936. Later that year, she was cast in a bit part in the drama Too Many Parents, followed by Border Flight and the musical Rhythm on the Range, starring Bing Crosby. Playing the dual role of a saloon singer and her daughter, Farmer’s work in the 1936 film Come and Get It, was heralded as the best screen performance of her career.

Despite Farmer’s initial success, she quickly earned a reputation as a demanding and rebellious actress on the set. Displeased with her attitude, Paramount cast her in bland parts in a handful of films, including Exclusive and Ebb Tide (both 1937). By the early 1940s, Farmer was forced to appear in a succession of inferior productions, including South of Pago Pago (1940), World Premiere, and Among the Living (both 1941).

In 1942, Farmer’s career enjoyed a brief resurgence when she was cast opposite Tyrone Power and Roddy McDowall in the swashbuckler Son of Fury. However, Farmer’s efforts to improve her image backfired when she was arrested and convicted of drunk driving at the time of the film’s release. Inundated with negative publicity, Farmer traveled to Mexico. However, by leaving the United States, she was found in violation of her probation. She was put on trial and deemed mentally ill. Farmer was committed to a mental institution where she underwent shock treatments, hydrotherapy baths, and reportedly received a trans-orbital lobotomy. Over the next few years, her physical and mental health deteriorated; she developed a debilitating dependency on alcohol and suffered from a series of nervous breakdowns.

Upon her release from the institution, in 1949, Farmer worked as a hotel receptionist before making a comeback appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957. The following year, she starred in her last feature film, The Party Crashers, and began a six-year run on the Indianapolis-based TV show Frances Farmer Presents.

On August 1, 1970, Farmer died after a long battle with cancer; she was 56 years old. Her intimate autobiography, Will There Really Be a Morning?, was published posthumously in 1972. In the early 1980s, her story was captured on film in the biopic Frances (1982), starring Jessica Lange, and in the black and white documentary Committed (1983).

More than two decades after Farmer’s death, the alternative rock group Nirvana recorded the single “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle.” Written by lead singer Kurt Cobain, the tribute appeared on the band’s In Utero (1993) album. Cobain also named his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, after Farmer.

Farmer was married three times: to actor Leif Erickson (from 1936-42); to Alfred Lobley (from 1953-58); and to Leland Mikesell (from 1958 until her death).

In Popular Culture:

  • Jessica Lange played Farmer in the 1982 film Frances, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Kim Stanley was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for portraying Farmer’s mother. The film contained a fictional scene which depicted Farmer undergoing a transorbital lobotomy. In Hollywood style, the film also omitted numerous facts and added a fictional life-long, love-interest character named “Harry”.
  • Susan Blakely portrayed Farmer in a 1983 television production Will There Really Be a Morning?, which was named after Farmer’s autobiography. Academy Award winner Lee Grant portrayed her mother in the same production.
  • In 1984, Culture Club had a #32 hit in the UK Single Charts “The Medal Song”, which was about the actress.
  • Tracey Thorn’s song “Ugly Little Dreams” on Everything But The Girl’s 1985 LP “Love Not Money” was also inspired by Frances Farmer.
  • The Nirvana song “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle”, which was written by fellow Washington native Kurt Cobain, was named after Farmer. It appears on their 1993 “In Utero” LP.
  • Patterson Hood, singer, guitarist and songwriter with the rock band Drive-By Truckers, included a song about Farmer (titled “Frances Farmer”) on his 2004 solo album, Killers and Stars. The album’s cover features a drawing of Farmer by Toby Cole.
  • Carol Decker of the band T’Pau wrote a song “Monkey House” about Frances Farmer’s mental illness which was featured on the 1987 album “Bridge Of Spies”.
  • French singer Mylène Jeanne Gautier, changed her name into Mylène Farmer as a tribute to Frances.

 

Happy Birthday Harris Glenn Milstead

Today is the 69th birthday of Harris Glenn Milstead, known the world over as the drag queen/performance artist/actor/personality called “Divine.”  I was first introduced to Divine through the subscription of Interview Magazine I had while I was in high school.  This lead to renting the early John Waters movies and so forth.  I adore anyone who is fearless, who is in on the joke, and who plows forward.  Divine had all of those qualities and many more.

divine5

Born: Harris Glenn Milstead 19 October 1945 Towson, Baltimore County, Maryland
Died: 7 March 1988 (aged 42) Los Angeles, California, United States

Divine (October 19, 1945 – March 7, 1988), born Harris Glenn Milstead, was an American actor, singer and drag queen. Described by People magazine as the “Drag Queen of the Century”, Divine often performed female roles in both cinema and theater and also appeared in women’s clothing in musical performances. Even so, he considered himself to be a character actor and performed male roles in a number of his later films. He was often associated with independent filmmaker John Waters and starred in ten of Waters’s films, usually in a leading role. Concurrent with his acting career, he also had a successful career as a disco singer during the 1980s, at one point being described as “the most successful and in-demand disco performer in the world.”

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, into a conservative, upper middle class family, he became involved with John Waters and his acting troupe, the Dreamlanders, in the mid-1960s and starred in a number of Waters’s early films such as Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974). These films became hits on the midnight movie and underground cinema circuit in the U.S., and have since become cult classics, with Divine becoming particularly renowned for playing the role of Babs Johnson in Pink Flamingos, during which he had to perform a series of extreme acts including eating dog excrement. In the 1970s, Milstead made the transition to theater and appeared in a number of productions, including Women Behind Bars and The Neon Woman, while continuing to star in such films as Polyester (1981), Lust in the Dust (1985) and Hairspray (1988). Meanwhile, in 1981 Divine had embarked on a disco career, producing Hi-NRG tracks, most of which had been written by Bobby Orlando, and went on to achieve chart success with hits like “You Think You’re A Man”, “I’m So Beautiful” and “Walk Like a Man.” Having struggled with obesity throughout his life, Divine died from cardiomegaly in 1988.

The New York Times said of Milstead’s ’80s films: “Those who could get past the unremitting weirdness of Divine’s performance discovered that the actor/actress had genuine talent, including a natural sense of comic timing and an uncanny gift for slapstick.” He was also described as “one of the few truly radical and essential artists of the century… [who] was an audacious symbol of man’s quest for liberty and freedom.” Since his death, Divine has remained a cult figure, particularly with those in the LGBT community, of which he was a part, being openly gay.

Due to Divine’s portrayal of Edna Turnblad in the original comedy-film version of Hairspray, later musical adaptations of Hairspray have commonly placed male actors in the role of Edna, including Harvey Fierstein and others in the 2002 Broadway musical and John Travolta in the 2007 musical film.

A 12 foot tall statue in the likeness of Divine by Andrew Logan can be seen on permanent display at The American Visionary Art Museum in Divine’s home town of Baltimore, Maryland.

Happy Birthday Twiggy

Today is the 65th birthday of Twiggy.

NAME: Twiggy
OCCUPATION: Pin-up, Animal Rights Activist
BIRTH DATE: September 19, 1949
PLACE OF BIRTH: London, England, United Kingdom
FULL NAME: Lesley Lawson
MAIDEN NAME: Lesley Hornby

BEST KNOWN FOR: In the mid-1960s, Twiggy became one of the world’s first supermodels as well as the face of London’s “mod” scene.

Born Lesley Hornby on September 19, 1949 in London, England, Twiggy first rose to fame as a model in the 1960s. She has since established herself as an actress, singer and television personality. Twiggy is the youngest of three sisters. One of her earlier nicknames during her school years was “Sticks.” But the name she is famous for was given to her as a teenager. She dropped out of school around the age of 15.

Before long, Twiggy became one of the world’s top models. She had her career breakthrough when she was named the face of 1966 by the Daily Express newspaper. With her thin build, dramatic eyes and boyish hair style, Twiggy captured the spirit of the “swinging sixties” in London’s Carnaby Street mod scene. She soon appeared on the cover of many leading fashion magazines, including Elle and British Vogue.

Twiggy was one of the first models to parlay her success as a model into other business ventures. In 1967, she came to the United States to promote her own clothing line as well as model. The trip also afforded her a chance to work with famed photographer Richard Avedon. Twiggy became so popular in America that she even inspired her own Barbie doll. More Twiggy merchandise soon followed, including a board game and a lunch box. Fans would even copy her distinctive eye look with their own set of Twiggy fake eyelashes.

Twiggy started acting in the 1970s, making her film debut in Ken Russell’s musical The Boy Friend (1971) with Tommy Tune. More movie roles followed, including appearances in The Blues Brothers (1980) with John Belushi and Madame Sousatzka (1988) with Shirley MacLaine. Twiggy also enjoyed some success on the stage. In 1983, she made her Broadway debut in My One and Only with Tommy Tune.

Over the years, Twiggy has also made numerous television appearances as well. She was briefly co-presenter of ITV’s popular This Morning program in 2001. On American television, Twiggy also served as a judge on Tyra Banks‘s popular modeling-competition show America’s Next Top Model.

Twiggy became the face of Marks & Spencer in 2005. In addition to modeling for the company, she sells a line of clothing through its website. Twiggy has also been a model for Olay beauty products in recent years. She also remained a subject of great interest and fascination with several books and documentaries made about her life and career. In 2009, Twiggy: A Life in Photographs was published.

In 1977, Twiggy married actor Michael Witney. The couple had one daughter, Carly, before Witney’s death in 1983. She married her second husband, actor Leigh Lawson, in 1988. Twiggy is an advocate of animal welfare and is recognized for her support of breast cancer research groups.

Happy Birthday Mama Cass

Today is the 73rd birthday of Mama Cass.

mama cass

NAME: Mama Cass
OCCUPATION: Singer
BIRTH DATE: September 19, 1941
DEATH DATE: July 29, 1974
PLACE OF BIRTH: Baltimore, Maryland
PLACE OF DEATH: London, England
AKA: Cass Elliot
ORIGINALLY: Ellen Naomi Cohen

BEST KNOWN FOR: Cass “Mama Cass” Elliot was known for her heavyset figure, and was one of four members of the late 1960s pop sensation The Mamas and the Papas.

Cass Elliot, better known as “Mama Cass,” was born as Ellen Naomi Cohen on September 19, 1941 in Baltimore, Maryland. After initially pursuing a career in acting, Elliot became a folk singer. In 1963, she gained notice as part of an innovative folk trio called The Big Three. After recording two albums with bandmates Tim Rose and James Hendricks, the band began to fall apart, so she formed a new group, Cass Elliot and the Big Three—which also featured Hendricks, Denny Doherty and Zal Yanovsky. That group, renamed The Mugwumps, played mainly out of a Washington, D.C. nightclub, The Shadows. The Mugwumps broke up in early 1965, after releasing only one single, and Elliot began working as a solo singer.

In mid-1965, Elliot began singing with former Mugwump Doherty and the two other members of his new band, The New Journeymen: John and Michelle Phillips. The foursome, known as The Mamas and the Papas, were an overnight success, releasing a hit debut single, “California Dreamin’,” and album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, by the end of 1965.

The Mamas and the Papas stayed together until 1968, releasing five albums and a series of Top 10 singles, including “Monday, Monday,” “I Saw Her Again” and “Dedicated to the One I Love.” Various problems within the group, including romantic jealousy (Elliot was reportedly in love with Doherty; Doherty became involved with Michelle Phillips), drug abuse, alcoholism and Elliot??’s constant struggle with her weight, led to the group’s eventual break-up in 1971.

On July 29, 1974, after a concert series at the London Palladium, Elliot was found dead in her hotel room. She had succumbed to heart failure, at the age of 32.

Elliot had been married twice, to Hendricks of The Big Three and The Mugwumps (1963-1968), and to Baron Donald von Wiedenman (1971). She had one daughter, Owen Elliot Kugell, in 1967. Owen accepted her mother’s award in 1998, when The Mamas and the Papas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Happy Birthday Greta Garbo

Today is the 109th birthday of Greta Garbo.

NAME: Greta Garbo
OCCUPATION: Actress, Pin-up
BIRTH DATE: September 18, 1905
DEATH DATE: April 15, 1990
EDUCATION: Royal Dramatic Theater
PLACE OF BIRTH: Stockholm, Sweden
PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
AKA: Greta Gustafsson
FULL NAME: Greta Lovisa Garbo
NICKNAME: The Mona Lisa of the 20th Century

BEST KNOWN FOR: Greta Garbo is best known for her acting career, in both silent and talking films before World War II.

One of Hollywood‘s most enigmatic stars, Greta Garbo was born Greta Lovisa Gustafson on September 8, 1905, in Stockholm, Sweden. To her parents, Karl and Anna, who already had two children, Greta came as a surprise arrival, further straining the family’s already tight finances.

Greta’s father was an unskilled laborer who was often out of work and in poor health, which forced his family to live with the constant threat of poverty.

At the age of 13, Greta dropped out of school to care for her father, who had fallen deeply ill. He died two years later of kidney failure. The strain her father’s health and subsequent death left on the family deeply affected young Greta, who promised to make a life for herself that was void of financial hardship.

Following her father’s death, Greta landed job as a salesperson at Swedish department store. To help promote the men’s clothing line Greta starred in a pair of advertising shorts, modeling the attire. Her natural instincts in front of the camera soon led her to a role in her first film, a comedy called Peter the Tramp (1922).

A bigger opportunity followed when Greta earned a scholarship at the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theater, Sweden’s premier school for aspiring actors. But Greta cut her education short after just a year after meeting director Mauritz Stiller, Sweden’s leading silent film director, who wanted the young actress to star in his new film, The Legend of Gosta Berling (1924).

The film’s success in both Sweden and Germany made Garbo famous. It also solidified a partnership with Stiller that would change her career and life. Stiller coached her as an actress and convinced her to change her last name to Garbo.

Garbo’s next film, Streets of Sorrow (1925), in which she played a prospective prostitute, furthered Garbo’s standing as a star in Europe. The film also caught the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) production chief Louis B. Mayer. Mayer wanted Stiller, who worked on the film, to work in America. The flamboyant director agreed to a contract with one condition: Garbo was to come with him. Reluctantly, Mayer inked her to a deal, too.

The 19-year-old Garbo arrived in America in 1925. Her arrival had come quietly and from the start, she showed a reluctance to deal with the press or reveal anything about her private her life. During her first interview, she curtly told reporters, “I was born. I had a mother and father. I went to school. What does it matter?”

Garbo’s first American film, The Torrent (1926), cast her as a Spanish peasant who is desperate to become an opera star. But the planned Garbo-Stiller partnership in Hollywood never materialized. Stiller wasn’t hired to direct The Torrent, and after a subsequent blow-up with MGM executives he bolted for Paramount where he again encountered problems with his bosses. He returned to Sweden in 1928 and died a year later.

Garbo, however, proved to be an immediate star. Her next two films, The Temptress (1926) and Flesh and the Devil (1926), were both hits and made the actress an international star.

For MGM, Garbo was their biggest asset. Her first three films amounted to 13 percent of the company’s profits from 1925-26. Garbo, ever mindful of the financial difficulties she’d grown up with, knew she had leverage. After a contract dispute with MGM, Garbo, who’d threatened to return to Sweden, landed a new contract that paid her a record $270,000 per movie and gave her unprecedented control over her roles and the films she starred in.

In so many ways Garbo represented a new kind of Hollywood actress, one whose vulnerabilities, sexuality, passion and mystery swirled together to entice both male and female audiences. In addition, her style changed the course of American fashion, while her reclusiveness (she gave her last American interview in 1927) only fueled the public’s fascination with her.

The advent of sound presented a predicament for MGM. The future of films was clear, but there was real hesitancy to let audiences hear Garbo speak. Executives worried her star power would be diminished by her accent and low, throaty voice.

Finally, MGM relented and in 1930 Garbo made her debut in sound in a film adaption of Eugene O’Neill’s, Anna Christie. Despite MGM’s concerns, Garbo’s star did not fade. In 1931, she teamed up with Clark Gable in Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise, then co-starred with Melvyn Douglas in 1932’s As You Desire Me. That same year she was part of an all-star cast that included John and Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford and Wallace Beery in Grand Hotel. The film won a 1932 Academy Award for Best Picture.

In 1933, Garbo took on her perhaps most ambitious role as a fictional Swedish monarch in Queen Christina. Other films followed, such as Anna Karenina (1935), Camille (1936) and Conquest (1937).

In the late 1930s, however, Garbo’s box office appeal began to diminish. With America in the midst of The Depression, the actress’ cosmopolitan style didn’t resonate with audiences like it once had. Europe, meanwhile, where she had enjoyed incredible success, the continent was heading to war.

In an effort to remake herself, Garbo was cast in a pair of comedies, Ninotchka (1939) and Two Faced Woman (1941), neither of which matched her previous successes. After another contract dispute with MGM, Garbo retired from acting.

Away from the glare of Hollywood, Garbo retreated to a world she let few enter into. While she had several romantic partners, including, it seems, at least one woman, she never married.

During World War II, while much of Hollywood rallied the country around the war effort, Garbo remained largely silent, which earned her criticism. Over the last half century of her life, in fact, Garbo proved to be an ever-increasing mystery. On the advice of a friend, she invested heavily in real estate and art. At the time of her death she was estimated to be worth more than $55 million.

Eventually Garbo left California and settled into a new life in New York City, where she loved to window shop and periodic Greta Garbo spottings were reported like UFO sightings. Her friends during this last period of her life included the English photographer Cecil Beaton and ventriloquist and fellow Swede, Edgar Bergen.

In the late 1980s her kidneys began to fail, forcing her to stop her walks, which only further cut her off from the outside world. She died on April 15, 1990, at a New York City hospital.

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Two-Faced Woman (Nov-1941) · Karin
Ninotchka (6-Oct-1939) · Ninotchka
Conquest (22-Oct-1937) · Countess Marie Walewska
Camille (12-Dec-1936) · Marguerite
Anna Karenina (30-Aug-1935) · Anna Karenina
The Painted Veil (23-Nov-1934) · Katrin
Queen Christina (26-Dec-1933) · Christina
As You Desire Me (28-May-1932) · Zara
Grand Hotel (12-Apr-1932) · Grusinskaya, the Dancer
Mata Hari (26-Dec-1931) · Mata Hari
Susan Lenox (Her Rise and Fall) (10-Oct-1931) · Susan Lenox
Anna Christie (27-Mar-1931) · Anna
Inspiration (31-Jan-1931) · Yvonne
Romance (22-Aug-1930) · Rita Cavallini
Anna Christie (21-Feb-1930) · Anna
The Kiss (15-Nov-1929) · Irene
The Single Standard (27-Jul-1929) · Arden Stuart
Wild Orchids (23-Feb-1929) · Lillie Sterling
A Woman of Affairs (15-Dec-1928) · Diana
The Mysterious Lady (4-Aug-1928) · Tania
The Divine Woman (14-Jan-1928)
Love (29-Nov-1927) · Anna Karenina
Flesh and the Devil (25-Dec-1926) · Felicitas
The Temptress (3-Oct-1926) · Elena
Torrent (8-Feb-1926) · Leonora
The Joyless Street (18-May-1925)
The Saga of Gosta Berling (9-Mar-1924)