cover image Garbo


Robert Gottlieb. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $40 (448p) ISBN 978-0-374-29835-7

"More than any other star," Greta Garbo "invaded the subconscious of the audience," writes veteran editor Gottlieb (A Certain Style) in this searching and sensitive portrait of the actor. Though "only the camera knew" what went on behind her "amazing eyes," Gottlieb follows Garbo from her impoverished Swedish childhood (during which she frequented soup kitchens) through to her beginnings in film and her remarkable career as an MGM star. He covers her life out of the spotlight, too, including her reclusive nature ("When she died, there was plentiful evidence of how ordinary and how dull the real woman had been," wrote critic David Thomson), cross-dressing (which she'd "always enjoyed"), and art collecting (within a month of getting into it, she bought three Renoirs). Garbo's life was full of contradictions, Gottlieb writes: she "insisted on being independent" yet lived mostly under the thumb of MGM, and called America home yet had "no connection to it." A lengthy "Garbo reader" full of excerpts and articles about her rounds out Gottlieb's perfectly paced account%E2%80%94it includes Harriet Parsons's 1931 piece "24 Hours with Greta Garbo," Kenneth Tynan's 1954 Sight and Sound profile, and quotes from her colleagues including Billy Wilder, Edmund Goulding, and Clarence Brown%E2%80%94and the wealth of photos is a plus. The result is a masterful look at an elusive Hollywood giant. (Dec.)