Greta Garbo's Colorful Secret Life Revealed in Estate Auction
The private icon had a penchant for pink, a love of electric juicers and, yes, many of those signature trousers.
This story first appeared in the Dec. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Think of Greta Garbo and "I want to be left alone" -- the line she uttered as an aging ballerina in 1932's Grand Hotel -- springs to mind. But an extraordinary auction Dec. 14 and 15 in Beverly Hills at Juliens Auction House (juliensauctions.com) of 853 possessions amassed by the legendary Swedish beauty reveals that the mysterious, solitary MGM icon had a more whimsical side. Specifically, a pink side, given that the perky shade permeated her extensive wardrobe and lavish Upper East Side apartment in New York.
Derek Reisfield, sale organizer and Garbo's great-nephew (she never married and had no children), recalls a "fantastically witty person" who, even in pink, embodied a tailored, classic look. Suits, dresses, coats and 67 pairs of trousers -- which she helped innovate as an acceptable form of women's dress -- populate the auction's offerings, underlining her devotion to clean lines and stark silhouettes, pieces that wouldn't look out of place on a Jil Sander runway.
Garbo's sleek style evolved as a reaction to being gowned in finery by MGM's chief costumer Gilbert Adrian in such period classics as Queen Christina and Anna Karenina. Her friend Valentina Schlee, the stern Russian couturier, wisely counseled her close friend to "dress for the century, not the moment."
Garbo famously retired from Hollywood in 1942 at age 36. This collection also provides a rare view into her personal life in New York, where paparazzo Ron Galella pursued her. After Garbo died in 1990 at age 84, Reisfield -- who fondly remembers doing cartwheels with Garbo when she was in her 60s -- preserved his great aunt's estate, seeking to place it in a museum. When that goal was not realized, the family decided to auction its contents, which also include home furnishings, original photos from her MGM days, a pair of vintage skis and her 1984 passport.
Garbo's lifelong commitment to her fitness and nutrition is illuminated by the sale's intriguing midcentury paraphernalia, from her floral all-in-one yoga costume to the food scale and juicer she used in her kitchen. "Garbo was ahead of her time," says Reisfield. "She was always sending me wheat germ when I was a kid."