Greatest Swedish artists of all time: Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo

In the 1970’s Australian television used to broadcast lots of films made in the 1930’s and 40’s. Sometimes even from the 1910’s, (which is hard to believe now it's so long ago), like the Keystone Cops. I would sit there glued to the tv lost in a black and white world of mystery and drama. And sometimes slapstick. It was an escape from the ugly suburban world I was stuck in. One time I managed to see ‘Anna Karenina’. The 1935 movie based on Tolstoy's novel which centers around Anna Karenina's adulterous love for Count Vronsky. It's classic black and white Hollywood. Who was in it? Greta Garbo of course.

Greta was born in Södermalm, Stockholm in 1905 (there is a square named after her in Södermalm) and at 17 went to the Royal Dramatic Theatre's acting school which I always think about when I pass it. She made one film in Sweden (The Saga of Gosta Berling-this You Tube video
has a really beautiful excerpt from it) which got her noticed in Hollywood and then quick as a flash she said goodbye to Stockholm in 1925 and barely returned again.

Most of the movies she was in are rather cheesy melodramas but still very enjoyable to watch. She's often so much better than the films she's in though. Emotions seem to move over her face like ripples on a pond. She has a combination of  masculine force and feminine grace that is like nobody else in the movies. A couple of films- Ninotchka (1939) Camille (1936) Queen Christina (1933) are good films in general. For old Hollywood movies that is. They inhabit a different emotional sphere than today's films. Her film presence was totally unique (as was her life).

Last week the Swedish Riksbank honoured her by placing her on the 100 kronor note. A famous Swede from each area of Sweden was chosen to grace each denomination and she was Stockholm's.  Though I was surprised a bit. I didn't realise she still has an influence here in Sweden. (Though there is a huge picture of her on the wall coming out of the international flight exit at Arlanda airport.) They've also put my one of my other Swedish favourites, director Ingmar Bergman on the 200 kronor note. They love their artists here in Sweden it seems. 

This is a clip from 'Ninotchka' (1939) directed by Ernst Lubitsch, a witty spoof on communism and capitalism. But communism mainly. The US suppressed the film from being shown during WW2 as the Russians became allies. The power of comedy! She as well as everyone else in the film is wonderful.

Stockholm Info:
To get to Greta Garbo Torg (square) in Södermalm first get the tunnelbana train to Skanstull Station. Then turn left at Ringvägen, walk to Katarina Bangata St and turn left, keep walking for a few minutes and you'll walk straight into it. Probably you'll walk straight past it!

Links: The Film that made Garbo a star: The Saga of Gosta Berling
Garbo and Gilbert: The beauty of Silence

Take a look at these other greatest Swedish artists of all time:
Ingmar Bergman


  1. I saw Grand Hotel with Greta Garbo at riverside studios in hammersmith when I was 16. I think I was the only person there who wasn't elderly. It was a great film, loved Greta!

  2. Absolutely Sy. I think a lot of people under 30 wouldn't know who she is at all so you'd stand out. Yes I loved Grand Hotel too. I think from memory it was the first film of Joan Crawford too. When I grew up she was more famous for being an enigma and supposedly saying I want to be alone than anything else. But her films stand the test of time.

  3. She was beautiful and a great actress. That's something about the euro, we don't have our heros on the notes any more like Claude Debussy and The Little Prince...

  4. I'm glad you think she's a great actress. Plenty of people don't. I agree the euro needs some creatives on them. Was The Little Prince on french money?

  5. Yes, The Little Prince was the last 'person' on the 5 franc note, before the euro, if I remember rightly.

  6. I actually don't know the Little Prince. I thought it was an Oscar Wilde story for some reason. Maybe having a few artists on the notes might make the euro a bit more stable!


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