Letters written by Greta Garbo that provide a rare glimpse into the loneliness that haunted one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic Hollywood stars will be auctioned in London next week.
The collection of 36 letters, alongside more than 100 photographs of the reclusive actress, who died in 1990 aged 84, will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s on 12 December.
The Swedish-American icon, who disappeared from acting and public view in 1941, remained a mythical figure right up until her death, living alone in Manhattan and shunning interviews and invitations.
Spanning several decades but penned primarily in the 1930s and early ’40s from Beverly Hills, California, Garbo wrote all the letters to her friend the countess Marta Wachtmeister, who lived in Tistad Castle in Sweden which Garbo visited frequently.
The correspondence laid bare the inescapable unease that pervaded her life, including her “loneliness, depression, and ill-health, her constant homesickness and love of the Swedish countryside,” according to Sotheby’s.
The mood of the letters contrasts sharply with the album of 111 amateur photographs that capture Garbo enjoying life at the castle with the Wachtmeisters, skiing, socialising and playing with animals.
– ‘I want to be alone’ –
Born in Stockholm in 1905 — as Greta Lovisa Gustafsson — Garbo grew up poor.
But modelling hats led to theatre and film roles in Europe that caught the attention of Hollywood studio MGM, and she moved to America in the 1920s.
Starring in the 1932 drama Grand Hotel, she delivered her most famous line: “I want to be alone” — voted the 30th most memorable movie quote of all time by the American Film Institute.
It seemed this was Garbo’s own desire but the letters — most unsigned, save for one autographed The Clown and two others that ended in sketches of female figures — suggest that once she got her wish, solitary life failed to bring happiness.
“I am almost always alone and talk to myself. I drive to the beach and take walks and that’s always marvellous. But that’s it,” she wrote in 1939, recounting living in Beverly Hills, a place she grew to loathe.
In another letter, dated 20 August 1941, she expressed disappointment at changes made to the plot of The Two-Faced Woman which gave Garbo the worst reviews of her career.
“But since I would rather go walking in the country than fight for stories, it will have turned out like it has,” she wrote of the film, her last before self-imposed retirement.
Renowned for her beauty, Garbo nonetheless remained an object of fascination.
Her face was considered by photographic experts to be unique and “quite perfect”, according to Sven Broman, author of the biography Conversations with Greta.
“The distance between her eyes, the height of her forehead, her mouth, her whole creation, was divine,” he wrote.
The collection of letters and photos are expected to fetch up to £20,000 (23,000 euros, $27,000).