Ideal Beauty: The Life and Times of Greta Garbo

Rutgers Univ. Sept. 2023. 286p. ISBN 9781978806504. $29.95. BIOG
Banner (emerita, history, Univ. of Southern California; Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox) offers a scholarly, rather than strictly fan-oriented reconsideration of Greta Garbo (1905–1990) as a template for analyzing tropes about 20th-century women. This Fulbright-financed work, based on archival research in Sweden, Germany, France, and the U.S., provides background on a hitherto inscrutable icon’s childhood, sexuality, illnesses, and personal beliefs and how they influenced her persona. As points of clarification, Garbo was bisexual; endured the infirmities of insomnia, bipolarity, bronchitis, and anorexia during her Hollywood career, compounded later by arthritis, diabetes, and kidney failure; and was inclined toward Catholicism. Wanting only to be left alone by reporters, Garbo, who was perceived to be mysterious, enjoyed selective gatherings and maintained deep friendships. Banner furnishes frankly worded details about Garbo’s professional and personal activities, along with plot summaries and cinema chatter.
VERDICT Preceded by innumerable contributions to the study of Garbo, including Robert Gottlieb’s Garbo and Robert Dance’s The Savvy Sphinx, this book presents a truly different approach for both lay and academic readers. It expertly offers an understanding of an elusive figure within the context of the film industry.
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