September 05, 2005

Garbo gets stamp of approval from U.S., Sweden

NEW YORK - Greta Garbo died 15 years ago, almost half a century after she made her last film, and still people won't leave her alone. Which is good news for her many fans.

On September 23, five days after the 100th anniversary of her birth, the U.S. Postal Service will unveil a Garbo stamp at the Scandinavia House here in New York; it'll be a joint issue with the Swedish Post, which will hold its own event that day in Stockholm. (The stamp, for the record, is based on a photograph of Garbo at age 27, taken in 1932 by MGM's Clarence Bull during the filming of "As You Desire Me"; engraver Piotr Naszarkowski adapted that image for the stamp.)

Meanwhile, new books on G.G. are finding their way to bookshelves, one of the most striking being Mark Vieira's "Greta Garbo: A Cinematic Legacy," a sumptuous coffee-table tome, extensively illustrated with Garbo stills (and few faces have been more photogenic) along with extensive discussions of each of the Garbo films.

And further, Turner Classic Movies this week begins a monthlong showing of 21 of Garbo's films begins, starting with a new, 90-minute Kevin Brownlow documentary titled, simply, "Garbo." Narrated by Julie Christie, it recaps the unique Garbo saga and includes many eye-poppers, including a rare look inside Garbo's East Side apartment in Manhattan (full of vivid colors, vibrant paintings and exquisite antiques), and boasts 122 seconds of screen tests done in 1949 for a film she came close to doing for producer Walter Wanger based on Balzac's "The Duchess of Langeais."

This was eight years after Garbo had made her final film (1941's "Two-Faced Woman," a colossal bomb), and it was done not only to help Wanger secure backing for his film but also to see whether Garbo, at 43, was still as arresting as she had been in her heyday.

Wanger never got his money, but Garbo never looked more beautifully alive and radiant. Like a slap to the cheek, it's a jolting confirmation of what we all lost when, at age 36, she chose to step away from the cameras and never again work as an actress.

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