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Presented by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program

Greta Garbo, born Greta Gustafsson, came from rough-hewn, Swedish working class roots but by the mid-1920s had become the quintessential star of the classical Hollywood cinema. As an artist, her influence on her times and ours remains incalculable. One early attempt was made by Vogue in a 1931 photo spread headlined “Then came Garbo…” in which the magazine argued that comparing early and then recent photos of Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford and Katharine Hepburn revealed these stars’ “pre-Nordic innocence” and their “ensuing metamorphoses” in Garbo’s wake. Garbo biographer John Bainbridge described the difference as the abandonment of an inviting style of beauty in favor of more “languorous and instructable” expressions, “as if they were brooding over some abiding sorrow.” Garbo, in other words, forced a shift from an outward directed look to one that suggested a complex but ultimately unknowable inner life. The most modern of mediums, in short, didn’t become modern until she arrived. It’s no wonder, then, she made the transition from silent to sound film without missing a beat, her incomparable contralto — “a low-key Swedish foghorn,” Anita Loos quipped — only adding to her mystery and allure. So, too, did her beguiling androgyny, on screen and off, along with rumors and revelations of her romantic relationships with men and women throughout her life. Though she guarded her private life with legendary zeal, her image is indelibly stamped in our dreams. The Archive is pleased to celebrate this essential icon and artist with this survey of works spanning her entire career.

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