The Savvy Sphinx: How Garbo Conquered Hollywood

Univ. Pr. of Mississippi. Nov. 2021. 344p. ISBN 9781496833280. $35. FILM
It’s been 80 years since Greta Garbo retired from film acting, yet her appeal has never waned. Dance (Garbo: Portraits from Her Private Collection) explores Garbo as Hollywood icon, and while the book does provide a biography of sorts, its clear focus is her 21 years in the studio system and the effect of her stardom on her personal and professional life. Dance charts Garbo’s rise from a young Swedish actress breaking into American silent films in the 1920s to her dominant popularity in the 1930s with films such as Anna Christie, Queen Christina, and Ninotchka, to her subsequent retirement. The studios continually placed her in repetitively themed projects that nonetheless helped cement her legacy, as her on-screen presence was enchanting to both audiences and her fellow actors. Dance clearly knows his subject, and he offers enough behind-the-scenes personal and production details to please Garbo’s many fans. Unfortunately for Dance, his writing style and overall approach are nowhere near as engaging or memorable as another book published this season, Robert Gottlieb’s Garbo.
VERDICT An informative and enjoyable book, but simply not as good as Gottlieb’s.
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