Karen Swenson Greta Garbo: A Life Apart

ISBN 13: 9780684807256

Greta Garbo: A Life Apart

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9780684807256: Greta Garbo: A Life Apart
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Making use of unprecedented access to materials and close associates of the late star, and complemented by rare photographs, a biography conveys new insights into the star's struggles with movie executives at MGM and her bisexuality. 25,000 first printing.

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Review:

A Life Apart is the apt subtitle of this scrupulously researched biography of the star as legendary for her fiercely guarded privacy as for her haunting beauty and luminous acting in such films as Camille and Ninotchka. Entertainment writer Karen Swenson delineates a unique personality considerably earthier than Greta Garbo's screen image: shy yet blunt, devoted to her craft but indifferent to fame, sexually magnetic to both men and women, a loyal friend who mercilessly punished disloyalty. The author meticulously fact-checked the often unreliable memories of companions and lovers such as Cecil Beaton and Mercedes de Acosta to comprehensively document Garbo's long life (1905-90).

From Kirkus Reviews:

Yet another biography of perhaps the most iconic of film actresses--this one an awkward accumulation of largely irrelevant detail that leaves Garbo a cipher. Garbo scholars must contend not only with the basic problem of their subject's nearly lifelong public silence, but also with her apparent refusal, even among friends, to talk about her career, her love life, or much of anything else. Most information about her tends to come from the conjectures of acquaintances whose accounts--especially those of her putative lovers Mercedes de Acosta and Cecil Beaton--are notoriously untrustworthy. Biographer Swenson (Barbra: The Second Decade, not reviewed) presents a rewarding view of Garbo's early European film career, including the blustery shenanigans of her Svengali, the director Mauritz Stiller, and the negotiations that led to her signing with MGM. But Swenson's exhaustiveness is often maddeningly pointless. For instance, she devotes a page to a variety of contradictory explanations for an episode of illness; for one diagnosis, pernicious anemia, she offers a detailed medical explanation, then adds a footnote to say that Garbo probably didn't have pernicious anemia at all, leaving us still ignorant as to what ailed her. Swenson goes into commendable depth about Garbo's affair with costar John Gilbert; about later affairs, though, with both men and women, there is so little reliable information that Swenson's disorganized efforts to discuss them seem futile. While she presents the impressions of many of Garbo's friends in Sweden and America, neither the fondest recollections nor the most sympathetic biographer can counter a lot of evidence that Garbo was a childish, intellectually feeble bore whose personality apparently encompassed little beyond wary passivity and spoiled petulance. So it's not entirely Swenson's fault that she fails to find any understandable motivation behind Garbo's half-hearted attempts to return to films after her 1941 swan song, Two- Faced Woman, and the empty globe-trotting decades that followed. Well-intentioned, but regrettably garbled. (photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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