[Review] Garbo by Robert Gottlieb

Publisher and Publication Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2021.
Genre: Narrative nonfiction. Biography.
Pages: 438.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Library.
Audience: Readers of biographies, especially those interested in classic Hollywood era.
Rating: Very good.

Link for the book @ Amazon.

I discovered the photograph and bio on the Goodreads author page is incorrect. I am unable to correct it. I have contacted the publisher.

Robert Gottlieb is a writer and an editor. He is a big name in the editor world of book companies. He was the editor-in-chief of Simon and Schuster. He was the editor of The New Yorker. And previously in charge of Alfred A. Knopf.

A review of Garbo from the New York Times.


Greta Lovisa Gustafsson was born September 18, 1905, in Stockholm, Sweden. She attended the Royal Dramatic Theater Academy and performed on stage and in film while in Sweden, and later Germany. She arrived in Hollywood at the age of 19 (1925) accompanied by her Swedish director and friend, Mauritz Stiller. She went to work at MGM without the ability to speak English.

After Greta arrived in Hollywood, she appeared in several silent films. Most of her portrayals are as a vixen and vamp. Garbo’s first talking film is Anna Christie in 1930. She retired from acting in films in 1941. She moved to New York City. She died in 1990.

Greta Garbo’s reputation was a cool, sometimes tepid, Hollywood built image. The camera and lightening enhanced her beautiful evocative face.

She has been linked romantically to both men and women.

Robert Gottlieb has written Garbo’s story to share who she really was or is this possible considering how private a life she led.

My Thoughts:

I first want to express how lovely this book is. It is a visually appealing type of book reminding me of a coffee table style book.

The book also reminds me of a magazine in the way it is a lay out of both images and writing distributed artistically on white pages.

Greta Garbo is not an easy person to write a bio. She liked it that way. She was shy, private, and probably an introvert. She did not like people talking about her and she did not like people talking about others. She preferred casual type conversations. For example, what the person did that day, their routine. And even though she did not have children of her own, she adored children, especially in conversations with them about simple things.

Garbo’s childhood is brief, the focus of the book is her film career, and life afterwards. Gottlieb tries to capture who she really was as a person, but this is difficult, and he knows this. I am thankful he is honest. I am thankful he documents the stories from those people who knew her.

This is a biography that after I read the last page I have to mentally shuffle and assimilate nicely everything I read in order to get a perspective about the person.

Additional reasons why I enjoyed reading Garbo:

  1. A brief summary and review of films, and the costars and directors of those films.
  2. The author’s writing style is casual, with small bites (tiny) of sarcasm.
  3. It is explained Garbo needed privacy. She on purpose hid. And by hiding this projected an image of an obscure mystery person, a person who surely must be doing something tantalizing.
  4. A tell-all book was written in the 1930s by two people who had taken care of the running of Garbo’s household. It shares Garbo as an everyday living, unpretentious, miser, and the opposite of what was expected of a celebrity. I love it that Gottlieb included several pieces of information from those who had observed her away from film making. One of the last sections of the book includes several brief sketches of Garbo from those who knew her.
  5. Also at the end of the book is an interesting synopsis of Marlene Dietrich’s problem with Garbo. One of Dietrich’s hobbies was criticizing Garbo, and often in a coarse public way. I believe this is called “giving a false testimony.”
  6. Gottlieb does not include hearsay. He documents facts about Garbo. She did have a romantic relationship with the actor John Gilbert. It has not been found to be fact that she had a romantic relationship with a friend of 30 years, Mercedes de Acosta. In Acosta’s paperwork found after her death nothing is mentioned in regard to their relationship being anything other than friendship. However, it is acknowledged throughout the book of Garbo’s need for privacy.
Doesn’t Robert Montgomery look uncomfortable and nervous?

I’ve added an additional item to my bucket list. I want to watch Greta Garbo films-maybe all of them.