Posts Tagged ‘Greta Garbo’


This week I noticed how many musical biographies I have on that little iDevice of mine, each one more educational than the last (history books teach us nothing, you hear me, nothing!). To help create snappy headlines for a catalog that I’m working on for my book publishers, I’ve relied heavily on lines from these musicals and amused myself in the process. To help promote a collection of books that have been translated into English, I stole from Yentl the line “Tell me where, where is it written?” to use as its headline. The wine titles and their purple covers will be promoted with the handle borrowed from Fiddler on the Roof, “To life, to life, l’chaim.” The list of books on climate change could very well end up under the header, “Don’t rain on my parade,” but I should go for subtlety here if I want to keep it up.

Biopics have also entered my watch history in the last few months, as I just wrapped up the brilliant miniseries, John Adams (2008), starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, two people who should be married in real life. It was such a gratifying and addictive series, that naturally I scoured my shelves in search of others from the same genre. Ranking one’s favorite biopics turned into wonderfully frustrating task, as feelings of neglect and betrayal surfaced with each resort. But we gave it a go . . .


15) Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, The Queen (2006)

Helen mirren_2

The movie itself, not my favorite, but with every hand gesture and tilt of her head, Helen Mirren unveils the broaches and emotions of Her Majesty The Queen, eventually taking home the Oscar.



14) Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, Mrs. Brown (1997)


“No one should think themselves wiser than me!” Dame Judi Dench is the aunt we all wish we had, am I right? I think her earrings move only in the direction that she commands – wind and gravity are nothing to this woman.



13) Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan, The Miracle Worker (1962)


As Helen Keller’s tutor, Anne Bancroft’s miraculous scenes with Patty Duke include only grunts of frustration instead of dialogue. Astounding, but once was enough.



12) Meryl Streep as Julia Child, Julie and Julia (2009)

Meryl Streep as "Julia Child" in Columbia Pictures' JULIE & JULIA.

Julia Child now looks like Meryl Streep to me, and Stanley Tucci is delicious, as always. Sandra Bullock seems like a lovely person, but in 2010 the Academy really should have given more thought to its choice in the Best Actress category.



11) William Powell as Florenz Ziegfeld, The Great Ziegfeld (1936)


It clocks in at just under three hours, but who could have too many helpings of William Powell? During the elaborate numbers of the Ziegfeld Follies, I could be found adding three different biographies on Flo to my wish list.



10) Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan, Boys Town (1938)


In a pinch he can be tougher than you are, and I guess maybe this is the pinch.



9) Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne as Ike and Tina Turner, What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)


Have you ever wanted to knock the television off its stand just to stop what’s happening in the movie? Taking logical action and switching it off won’t help a thing; the only way for me to save Tina from Ike is to throw that television to the floor with all my might. There were no instructions in the box telling me not to do this.



8) Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, Bonnie and Clyde (1967)


Love for Mr. Beatty and all, but every shot (ha!) of Faye Dunaway in this film is exquisite and should be framed on my wall.



7) Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, Capote (2005)


At Harper Lee’s party celebrating To Kill a Mockingbird, he sits at the bar and mutters, “I frankly don’t see what all the fuss is about.” Ten seconds in a film can be more heartbreaking than all of its seconds combined.



6) Jessica Lange as Frances Farmer, Frances (1982)


Reaching for the moon? No, just one little star . . . on a dressing room door. Once again, the supreme Jessica Lange gives voice to every rejection, deception, and ambition through which her audience itself has suffered. It must have been by one vote when Meryl took Oscar home that year for Sophie’s Choice.



5) Greta Garbo as Christina, Queen of Sweden, Queen Christina (1933)


This list overflows with royalty, but Garbo was the Queen before them all, including Capote. Unconvinced that a queen requires a king for a successful rule, Christina promises that she will die a bachelor.



4) James Cagney as George M. Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)


Sometimes a gangster; sometimes a vaudevillian who can tap-dance down a staircase at the White House. As entertainer George Cohan, James Cagney was living proof that magic exists . . . no one can dance like that without assistance.



3) Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I, Elizabeth (1998)


I was torn between listing this or Blanchett’s Oscar-winning performance as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator (2004). Her transformation into the Virgin Queen at the end of the film helped tip the scale.



2) Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, Milk (2008)


When I first saw Milk, I don’t think I said as much as two words after I left the theatre. When I saw it again, the second time at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, I had the same reaction. Luckily there were bars in every direction, and we sat for hours at Twin Peaks, drinking our drinks and smelling the fresh cookies next door until the words and tears came.



1) Madonna as Eva Perón, Evita (1996)

Madonna in Evita

Never been a lady loved as much as a desperate, misunderstood, driven woman who was hurt and disappointed by life at a young age. After the erotic, bedtime story days of the early 1990s, Madonna revealed more of herself in Evita than she ever showed us during those equally magnificent naked years. You must love her.


On Oscar night, our happiness and delight for the winners vanish in comparison to the rage that we feel for those who went home with only a magnificent career and millions of dollars in the bank, but no award. We are only a few years away from what I predict will be called Participation Oscars being awarded to all who show up, so let us relish these last few years of cutthroat competition, boycotts, and fashion victims (shout-out to Miss Rivers).

Before they eliminate the barroom brawls of Oscar rivalries, perhaps we’ll see a few more categories added to the list, and therefore I propose an Academy Award for Best Movie Line. Below we remember a few of our favorites from movies that took home nothing more than a program on Oscar night . . . but don’t let’s ask for the moon; we have the stars.


AnnaChr“You was going on as if one of you had to own me. But, nobody owns me, see; excepting myself. I’ll do what I please and no man, I don’t give a darn who he is, can tell me what to do. I haven’t asked either of you for a living. I’ll make it myself, one way or another. I am my own boss. So put that in your pipe and smoke it!” – Anna, Anna Christie (1930)



PublicEn“There you go with that wishin’ stuff again. I wish you was a wishing well. So that I could tie a bucket to ya and sink ya.” – Tom Powers, The Public Enemy (1931)



KlondikeAnn“When I’m caught between two evils, I generally like to take the one I never tried.” – Rose Carlton, Klondike Annie (1936)



DarkPass“You know, it’s wonderful when guys like you lose out. Makes guys like me think maybe we got a chance in this world.” – Vincent Parry, Dark Passage (1947)



TheRose“So what do you do when he comes home with the smell of another woman on him? Do you say, ‘Oh honey, let me open up my lovin’ arms and my lovin’ legs. Dive right in, baby, the water is fine?’ Is that what you say, girls? Or do you say, ‘Fuck this shit! I’ve had enough of you, you asshole! Pack your bags. I’m putting on my little waitress cap and my fancy high-heeled shoes, I’m gonna go find me a real man, a good man, a true man. A man to love me for sure.’ ” Mary Rose Foster, The Rose (1979)



NinetoFive“If you ever say another word about me or make another indecent proposal, I’m gonna get that gun of mine, and I’m gonna change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot!” – Doralee Rhodes, Nine to Five (1980)



Clue“Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong, and disposable.” – Mrs. White, Clue (1985)



Heathers“Come on, it’ll be very. The note’ll give her shower-nozzle masturbation material for weeks.” – Heather Chandler, Heathers (1988)



LarryF“Now I have a message for all you good, moral, Christian people who are complaining that breasts and vaginas are obscene. Hey, don’t complain to me. Complain to the manufacturer.” – Larry Flynt, The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)



“He never spoke up to you, because you would never listen. I never spoke up to you, because I could never get a word in!” – LV, Little Voice (1998)



MSDTWHU EC005“You could stand there naked with a mattress strapped to your back and still look like a vestal virgin.” – Monica, 200 Cigarettes (1999)



Devil1“Is there some reason that my coffee isn’t here? Has she died or something?” – Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada (2006)


On the September morning that heavy rains and flooding hit Colorado, I was scheduled to fly home from a two-day meeting in Boulder. Fortunately we made it out with few problems, aside from the obligatory one-hour delay that all frequent fliers seem to tolerate these days. Once I’m up in the air and cruising to my “Stay Calm” playlist of Billie and Ella, my flight anxiety decreases slightly, but the Colorado winds are especially cruel to my irrational fear of flying. Looking back, it was perhaps my overenthusiastic Lamaze breathing during the bumpy ascension that got me such strange looks from the Ohio State football fans sitting next to me. I began to distract myself with thoughts of the past two days that I spent cooped up in a windowless conference room, all of us unaware of the biblical rain clouds gathering above.

In this data-friendly and unfriendly world, where we’re bombarded by the baby pictures posted by old friends we haven’t seen in 15 years, it’s no surprise that I was summoned to Boulder to discuss the future of metadata in the book publishing industry. Once an upbeat copy editor armed with my faithful box of red pens, I have evolved swiftly into some version of a data manager for my publisher clients. Instead of making sure letters combine to form words and words combine to form sentences, these days I spend my workweek validating data to ensure any company that begins with the letter “A” doesn’t reject it. Although I can’t exactly recall when that shift in my job description was discussed and then implemented, there I was at a conference table in Boulder, cracking jokes about things I didn’t understand to a group of people who couldn’t admit they didn’t understand either.

What I did learn and thought about a great deal as I soared above the storms of Colorado was one of the company’s many number-one goals. In this unstable economy, having a single number-one goal only reveals a lack in motivation and poses immense threat to one’s job security, but there is one e-task that reigns supreme: to get our publishers’ websites and books to appear as the first result in any Google keyword search. The blood, sweat, and programming involved in pulling off such a feat is over my editorial head, which is probably why I have had such trouble finding a new job (although I point the finger at Bush and Cheney for my perpetual feeling of “stuck” more than I blame my own lack of computer savvy, but there you have it!).


If such manipulation of data is possible, and these days it should surprise no one that it is, I’m left with a few questions – why was Greta Garbo’s Camille (1936) not the first result in certain databases when I plugged in its title? Who can I talk to about moving that result above someone from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills? Where’s the metadata team in charge of Greta Garbo, and are they hiring? I know, I know, my inner cranky old man reveals himself more and more as I actually, you know, become one . . .  but seriously with this, Internet people? Reality shows over Garbo? Now that’s a data management upgrade project that piques my interest. C’mon, IMDb, let me at that metadata and then get out – we want to be alone!

From screen to stage, The Lady of the Camellias by Alexander Dumas, fils, has been adapted into every version of performance a writer could possibly drag poor Marguerite Gautier. A self-made, rags-to-riches woman who becomes a member of Parisian high society through the generosity of men, eventually Marguerite experiences the misfortune of falling in love with Armand Duval, played by the dapper Robert Taylor. Tossing an extra bundle of problems at our heroine is her ongoing battle with tuberculosis, but it never slows her down from delivering quips as sassy as, “Cows and chickens make better friends than I’ve ever met in Paris.” Find me a Real Housewife who can top that! My generation may believe Camille to be a 1982 metamovie created specifically for Annie to attend with Daddy Warbucks and Miss Farrell. Actually it’s pretty riveting scene for me; to imagine children being exposed to Greta Garbo at such a young age and enjoying it so much . . . let’s all go to the movies! As I got older and realized the black-and-white movie within the funky 80s color movie was superior (well okay, except for the electrifying Carol Burnett, another Oscar snub), eventually I tracked down Camille on old VHS tapes of my uncle’s or cable networks, but I couldn’t understand a word of it. While visiting the family in Southern California, I let an old VHS tape copy overnight on to a DVD so I could take it back home for my overflowing personal collection. Like creating a mix tape, one has to be precise about the timing of pressing “Play” or “Record” or both at the same time, thereby eliminating any risk of disrespectful imperfection.

Quality may not have been the film industry’s top priority back when this cranky old man was a cranky young man, and that bootleg DVD held out for as long as it could, but eventually I knew I had to find the great Greta Garbo’s Marguerite Gautier appearing flawlessly on DVD. I’m hardly a stickler for perfection when it comes to my old movies, but I’ll admit that once I had a version of enhanced quality . . . well, why shouldn’t one have fancies? The technology changes on us every week, either improving or complicating our lives, but as long as we continue to reach for metadata stars, we’ll find a way to make Garbo appear at the top of every list.


Add Camille to your queue.

In the darkness two white lights travel slowly up the three black screens on stage. The sound of a single click-and-flash of the paparazzi is joined by a second, then a third, as together male and female models trickle on to the stage. Each is in a black-and-white outfit that suits his or her body to perfection, regardless of the gender for which the outfit may have been intended. As the two white lights brighten and merge into one before splitting again, a platform emerges above the models, delivering unto us once again a woman with a redesigned but very familiar pointed bust. Once again she demanded to know, “What are you lookin’ at?”

“Funny business, a woman’s career – the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted.”
— Margo Channing, All About Eve (1950)

In November of 2008, I saw Madonna perform “Vogue” live for the first time, and for a brief moment, Bette Davis stole her thunder. At that time I had just begun my journey into classic films and was working my way through each of Bette’s 11 Academy Award-nominated roles. As Madonna strutted down her catwalk and away from the audience, reciting all those names that I was beginning to know quite well, I could feel my voice was already beginning to go. Her back was to us all the way through this wonderful roll call, but suddenly she turned around and pointed (right at me, I know it!), as she said “Bette Davis, we love you.” And still, somehow, the night continued to improve.

I even made poor Louis take me on Crusade. How’s that for blasphemy? I dressed my maids as Amazons and rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus. Louis had a seizure, and I damn near died of windburn . . . but the troops were dazzled.”
— Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Lion in Winter (1968)

An early week in October of 2012 brought Madonna back to me, as it did the loss of control I have over the majority of my body when I see her. The Masculine/Feminine portion of the show began with a performance of “Vogue,” and this time for me, it was all about Hepburn. When she got to the name-dropping that starts with Greta Garbo and Monroe (two other loves of mine, not to be sniffed at!), I felt a “hurry up and get to Katharine!” rise up in that old soul of mine. Dash it all, I couldn’t wait to say Katharine Hepburn’s name along with . . . yes WITH . . . Madonna. Right there between Lauren and Lana too was my beloved Katharine, whose name came out of me in one respectful syllable. Up went my hands, with or without the go-ahead from my brain; I watched my arms do their thing as both Hepburn and Madonna took complete control, as they tend to do.

Am I too much sometimes?

Nope, I’m just lucky that something as simple as hearing a first name can fill me with an unbelievable, lose-control-of-myself sense of joy; a joy that most of us don’t feel often enough. May you all have equal luck and know a place where you can get away . . .

Before revisiting the most extravagant party girl in 19th-century Paris, I met for the first time the drag king of Sweden. Even before Garbo appeared on the screen, I was hooked on the character and the film Queen Christina (1933) by way of the young actress who plays the queen as a child. I found myself thinking “Garbo was so amazing” when I watched a six-year-old take the throne and address her subjects with the confidence of an adult. Similar to the night my family and I came to the “Chuck” conclusion, the foolishness and uncontrollable giggles arrived together, hand in hand. On the television show Soap (the textbook of my childhood), Chuck was a minor character whose lines were delivered mostly by way of his dummy, Bob. Unlike poor Chuck, Bob had all the best lines, the best timing, and for a sassy wooden doll, the best facial expressions. I’ve been watching Soap with the fam for almost 30 years now, and only recently did we come to the odd conclusion, “You know, Chuck’s the only one who isn’t very good . . . kind of boring, actually.”

Loop-throwing was the day I first wandered into Peyton Place (1957); it was then I realized how easily I could be shocked and scandalized by sin in classic films. When it’s only the reference to merry sin that an old movie presents, our own dirty minds must pick up the slack. Fortunately I’m one of those who reacts to sinful allusion with a smile, not with a stamp of censorship. With its portrayal of not just a strong woman but one who (perhaps) enjoyed the private company of other women, evidently Queen Christina just missed the censoring powers of the Hays Code. I had the good fortune to have a college professor of folklore who left quite the lasting impression. Of his many lessons, the one I think of often is summed up with a simple phrase: if you don’t like the image, don’t blame the mirror. Christina runs into her first scene with two colossal dogs, sporting a riding outfit (with trousers . . . did you ever?!), and immediately is informed of how the people clamor for a Swedish marriage and Swedish heir for their queen. You can imagine how high marriage and children are on this queen’s to-do list . . . blasphemy, perhaps, but Queen Christina intends fully to die a bachelor. Tempted yet?

If the Queen makes you wonder what Garbo would be like as a mother, have yourself a sit-down with Anna Karenina (1935). Remaining true to sin, Tolstoy’s Anna falls into a love affair outside of marriage, leading her husband to forbid to her from seeing their son. In one of her greatest performances, Garbo hit me like a train full speed, pulling me into every one of Anna’s emotions and leaving me little say in the matter. Neither Anna nor the handsome Queen received an Oscar nomination . . . I guess the Hays folks started blaming that mirror before their “Censored” stamps were unwrapped. Thankfully Greta Garbo has outlived them all.

Add Greta Garbo to your queue.

It was only a matter of time before I walked across the Netflix ballroom and introduced myself to the great Greta Garbo. It turns out we’ve already met; it was decades ago when Daddy Warbucks took Annie and me to see Camille (1936). At the time, I was able to put aside my crushing fears of Miss Hannigan and enjoy the Rockettes’ introduction to the performance Garbo herself acknowledged as her best. Although Annie (1982) provided only a snippet of Garbo’s film, those few minutes invaded my young, impressionable mind, and she remains a cherished part of my childhood. Later on I would fast-forward the Camille moments of Annie simply because I couldn’t handle watching the final curtain of poor Marguerite.

Although she received an honorary Oscar in 1955, none of Greta Garbo’s performances earned her an Academy Award. She was nominated four times (two of them in the same year), but we do have to file her under the “Too Good for an Oscar” column, along with Judy Garland, Cary Grant, and Lauren Bacall. Long overdue is my coming to know Garbo, so I figured I would start with the Oscar nominations. In Anna Christie (1931), the silver screen played Garbo’s voice for the first time — she schleps herself into a bar, falls into a chair, and strongly mutters “Give me a vhiskey!” Along with the crackling sound of the film reel that provides Anna Christie with its soundtrack, that deeply recognizable voice of Garbo’s immediately set a new standard in the world of film.

Moving on to her penultimate role in Ninotchka (1939), truthfully I felt awkward laughing at Greta Garbo as much as I did. Of all the words I could use to describe this woman’s striking talent, “funny” was never one of the first that sprung to mind (Marguerite’s death must have been too much for me!). But when Garbo laughs in Ninotchka, she’s not alone. Along with the constant cigarettes that light up a black-and-white screen, the drinks flow as easily as the smoke, and the hard-headed Ninotchka gets properly smashed on champagne. When she confesses to her drinking buddy the guilt she feels for enjoying herself, she tells him he should “stand her up against the wall.” Merrily he blindfolds her and does as she asks before he turns to open another bottle.  The moment he pops the cork, she slides down the wall with a dancer’s grace, riddled with audible bullets . . . the next day my thumb hurt from all the rewinding.

Our courting has just begun, mine and Garbo’s, but I couldn’t resist sharing an Annie-sized snippet of our introduction. Certainly there is more to come, but for now I’m afraid you must leave us — we want to be alone.

Add Greta Garbo to your queue.