Friday, August 14, 2009

Goddess in the Afternoon

There is always something illicit about any photograph of Garbo taken after '41. So few were taken, as apparently this one was (Beaton? I'm not sure, but it seems likely), willingly, and they all show a woman who spent so much of her energy not being seen.

They are, even more than other such pictures, innately voyeuristic; you find yourself searching the face for signs of age, for indications that she made the right choice by retiring, or for vindication of your belief that she should have gone on forever, secure in the knowledge that, for better or worse, she was given the most architecturally perfect face in recorded history.

I'm reading, these days, the journals (more of which, I hope, anon) of Leo Lerman, a bon vivant of the last century who knew everyone and everything. He writes about an incident related to him by his friend Marlene Dietrich. Sometime in the late fifties (I'm lazy; the book is not at hand), she became convinced that she and Garbo should star in an adaptation of Isak Dinesen's wartime novel The Angelic Avengers, a tale of two sisters, one beautiful and one brilliant.

She took the book to Garbo, who was not uninterested. But, came the question, who would play which role? Ah, says Marlene, you should be the brilliant one, it's a far more interesting part. Mmm, says Garbo - I don't think I make this film...


  1. How astonishingly beautiful she is. Plus it looks like it could have been shot yesterday, amazing.

  2. Beautiful candid shot. Taken by
    George Hoyningen-Huene in 1951, Garbo was approx. 47 years old at the time.
    She was smart not to star with Dietrich, Garbo was an innocent and Dietrich was very cunning, it would not have worked out well for Garbo.

  3. Thanks for the update - I didn't think it looked Beaton-y, really, but he's the best known post-MGM GG snapper.

    As for being an innocent...hmmm. She certainly always got her way, and I think, especially during their very last years, had a much better time of it thatn Dietrich.

  4. By an "Innocent" I meant Garbo seemed to get her way in the manner a child does, by simply being stubborn. Dietrich seemed to have more sophisticated methods at her disposal.
    Garbo's notorious frugality served her well later in life. These statements of course are only my humble opinion.

  5. In that sense, actually, I think you're quite correct. And her methods lasted out her life; when Dietrich's no longer worked, she was left, more or less high and dry. There's a lesson for us there, somewhere...