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The Religious Affiliation of Actress
Greta Garbo


Garbo was a Lutheran (a member of her country's Protestant state church, the Church of Sweden), as were most Swedes of her time. She attended church regularly when she was young. From an early age, Garbo was obsessed with becoming an actress. From the time of her mid-teens, Garbo was not active in any denomination, although she expressed strong belief in God. At times during her career in Hollywood she was deeply into the occult.

From: Antoni Gronowicz, Garbo, Simon and Schuster: New York, NY (1990), pages 43-46:

Above her bed... were pictures of many actors and actresses. Among them were Norma Talmadge, William S. Hart, Clara Kimball Young, Thomas Meighan, and others... Greta... wanted to share greater intimacy with the actors she admired. Now and then she could achieve momentary and vicarious closeness to her favorite actors by enjoying herself sexually as she hid under covers with her photos. If she could not perform with them on stage, at least she could act out a private and fantasized role with them. When her mother discovered what she was doing, she tried to reason with her. She suggested that she see a doctor or the pastor, but Greta refused...

At last her mother decided to take more drastic measures. One day [she again caught Greta in the act]. There sat Greta, one hand holding a photograph and the other hand... Her mother grabbed her by the hair and pulled her down the corridor to the apartment, yelling, "You have to go to church! You have to go to church!"

When they were inside, her mother started beating her with both fists. Greta made no response; she did not try to defend herself or run away... Her mother's anger subsided into exhaustion... she was afraid that her mother would tell Mrs. Wideback about her sexual "problems." Mr. Wideback would tell his customers, and eventually the whole neighborhood would know. So Greta found herself a new neighborhood barbershop job, and then one in a vegetable store on Gotgatan.

One morning, on her way to work, she met Pastor Hjalmar Ahlfeldt on the street. He had confirmed her, and he always had a kind greeting for her. "Good morning. I see you are no longer working at Mr. Wideback's establishment."

"Good morning," she replied, averting her eyes. "I prefer the smell of vegetables and fruits to that of men."

"But I also see that you are not coming to church."

"No. God left me because I am poor, and if I am poor I am not needed in your church."

"Keta, Keta," said the gray-haired pastor, taking her by the arm, "I see your mother was right when she said that you are impatient and arrogant."

"Please tell me what is wrong with me," she said.

"Probably very little," he replied. "I know you want to be an actress. Just remember that the road to the theater or to the films will not be paved with fights with your mother."

Greta listened to his wisdom in silence. When she had to leave, he gave her a little squeeze and said, "I'll try to help you. I know many people in various walks of life."

She suddenly looked up and murmured, "If so, help me get a job at Bergstrom's department store."

"You mean you don't want to be an actress, but a salesgirl at PUB?"

Unafraid to confirm everyone's belief in her arrogance, she replied, "First, I have to have bread, and money enough to get my mother off my back. Then I can think about acting."

"That's a sensible approach. The one thing I have against you is your sharp tongue--although you do not speak much--and your rude behavior."

"Everyone tells me that," she said gaining confidence. "But for some reason everyone takes pity on me, promising everything and after that there is nothing."

"You are right. You have to judge people by their actions."

Pastor Ahlfeldt understood her, not only because she was simple and direct but also because her mother had talked with him about her many times. He had realized from these conversations, however, that Mrs. Gustafsson was primarily interested in sympathy and only secondarily in getting help for Greta.

"Paul Bergstrom and his family come to my church regularly. I also see Captain Lrs Ring, who makes all kinds of films. Next Sunday I will speak to both of thema bout you. Maybe something will come of it."

Greta turned skeptical. "Please don't bother yourself, Pastor. As I said, many people have promised to help me. But here I am. I can only rely upon and trust myself; even my father taught me to depend upon myself."

"You know," said the pastor, "it's good to have strong faith in God and less faith in people."

"A beautiful philosophy, Pastor, but where does it get me?"

He let her arm go. "I think I have lost this argument with you. In a few days I shall let you know what I've been able to do. In the meantime, God be with you."

Greta and the pastor politely nodded to each other and walked in different directions... the pastor decided to help Greta.

Gronowicz, page 52:
Despite the arrogance and distrust Greta had displayed toward him, Pastor Ahlfeldt helped her get her first bit part in films. He knew that her sister, Alva, was also interested in acting, and so he recommended both girls as extras in En Lyckoriddare (A Soldier of Fortune), directed by John Brunius. Each sister received twenty kronor, something like five dollars, for her work. More important to Greta than her salary was the discovery that she was extremely photogenic. Brunius assured Greta of this when he gave her a few dozen of the best prints, saying, "These could prove useful to you in securing future jobs in film."...

In July 1920, Pastor Ahlfeldt found work for Greta as a salesgirl at PUB, Bergstrom's department store. He had spoken highly of her to Lars Ring, the retired army officer who was very active in the Swedish film industry and at the moment was directing promotional shorts for this huge Stockholm store. Captain Ring told the pastor that he would speak with his producer, Hasse W. Tullberg, about finding work for Greta in one of his films. [More.]

Gronowicz, pages 57-58:
"It is not my fault that he was looking for me at PUB. I was not looking for him."

"I know that. Pastor Ahlfeldt was responsible for that. He wants you, your sister, and your brother to be independent; and he himself would like to take your mother to his home as his housekeeper and mistress."

Greta was astounded by this revelation. She had neither the words nor the strength to respond. She stood like a dead, dried-out tree... Tears welled up in her eyes. Trying to hold them back, she barely prevented herself from collapsing to the floor. Aga continued to yell, "I know! I've checked and rechecked the whole story. I know!"...

None of these things were her doing, she thought. She hadn't asked Lars Ring to help her, and she hadn't asked Pastor Ahlfeldt to help her. Both men had had their own motives for being interested in her... all kinds of thoughts came to her head about her mother and the pastor. She had very little feeling left for anyone. Now she understood the situation in which she found herself: her mother quarreled with her because she wanted to get rid of her. But why did she quarrelmore with her than with Alva and Sven [her sister and brother]? That was a mystery. Then there was Pastor Ahlfeldt, who, while pretending to be a man of God, was like any other man. Did everyone run after money and sex? It appeared so.

Garbo's words (Gronowicz, pages 61-63):
...after I discovered that Mother was having an affair with Pastor Ahlfeldt, my attitude toward religion changed. I quickly lost the little appetite for holiness I had had. This trinity of father, mother, and pastor weighed heavily upon my mind. I started to develop feelings of disgust about sexual intercourse... I can use only one word to describe my sexual attitudes: confusion.
Gronowicz, pages 210-244, 288-290, 335-336: Extensive details about Garbo dating and co-starring with Mormon actor John Gilbert (who Garbo frequently called "Yackie"). Garbo and Gilbert made many films together; she called their relationship a "great romance." Garbo's words (Gronowicz, page 301):
My so-called jinx was widely discussed in the press and on the radio. All this publicity exhausted me mentally and physically and led me to astrology, occultism, and magic. I read books and magazines on these elusive subjects. Later, when reading alone could not satisfy my interest, I began searching out mediums, fortune-tellers, card readers, and anyone else with extrasensory perception. I struggled to solve the secret of my character and the reasons for my constant anxiety over my emotional and physical well-being. Very often I had nightmares about my father, about Moje [her boyfriend], and about a tragic, early death.

I didn't have any one to whom I could talk freely, so I went to occultists, devil worshipers, mind readers, and those who occupied themselves with the summoning of spirits. Because I belieed in life after death, I kept trying to talk to my father and Moje. During my dreams I heard their voices--terrible, angry voices, warning me not to involve myself with any other men...

The first person to notice my inner turmoil was Bill Daniels, probably because he was spiritually sensitive and believed in mysticism. He told me that reading Pirandello, the Italian mystical dramatist and novelist, would do me a lot of good. At that time this writer was popular in Hollywood among so-called intellectuals. Though I had gone through some of his plays before, now I read him with more care. I greatly admired his opinions on the arts; som of them I copied, while a few I even memorized. Pirandello's philosophy, with its deep supernatural overtones, expressed my thoughts better than I could express them myself. I had an absorbing interest in the reasons for the existence of man and in the peculiarities of character and behavior. I thought that by reading Pirandello I might find the key to my own existence. Systematically studying this Italian author was for me like taking a hot mental bath, followed by a cold shower. I felt confused, but somehow better.

Garbo's words (Gronowicz, page 308):
I have always believed that ever-present God wants us to be free people; but I also believe that he has decreed that great loves will turn us into slaves. So if I culd not choose between love for a man and love for a woman, I thought, I would remain free and spend my time pleading with God to help me achieve an important position in life. If I achieved that position, I would spend the rest of my life thanking Him. But instead, it happened that I became a slave to both sexes--not because I was afraid to make a final selection, though that task was painful, but because I could never be decisive...
Garbo's words (Gronowicz, page 310):
Sometimes I think that if I had stuck with Moje every one of our days, I would have saved him from ruin and an early death. But that is just idle speculation. I believe that whatever has happened, God directed that it should happen. Everyone has his road indicated by God, and he must follow it. We exist to go forward. God's hand directed me to Stiler, who molded me into a good actress and eventually a famous and wealthy one. If Stiller had not discovered me, I would probably have remained a simple Swedish girl.
Gronowicz, pages 311-319: Garbo describes her relationship with Mercedes de Acosta, a convert to Buddhism. Pages 315-316:
She started talking about her family; about her poetry and plays; about her marriage; and about her road from atheism to belief, from the first Christians to Saint Francis of Assisi, and finally to her vegetarianism, meditation, and Buddhism. I listened, spellbound... I thought that in spite of her eloquence, she was still looking for love and happiness, althought perhaps she gve them different names. But maybe I could learn something from her, if not about Buddha and sex, at least about elegance and vegetarianism... As I recall, Mercedes whispered to MGM officials that I should play Queen Christina, a role that she said would be my greatest achievement. Looking back, I can see that my relationship with her gave me not only new sexual experience and spiritual peace for a time, but above all the foundation on which to base my interpretation of this great queen.
Garbo's words (Gronowicz, page 319):
From time to time [Garbo's lover Mercedes] direced her invocations to the Virgin Mary, Saint Francis, Saint Theresa, or Buddha... I was confronted by a ticklish situation when Mercedes decided to accompany me to Europe. As delicately as possible, I explained that it would be very bad for my career if she went with me. Yet at the same time, with every passing day I felt myself to be under a satanic spell that she would use to mold me. Her response to my predicament was direct: "Your career is making a slave of you, and because of it you are unhappy and ready to sacrifice the happiness of others, especially those who love you. For you the only important things have become fame and money. Everything else is worthless."

I was stunned by her judgment, but had enough strength to reply, "God accepts me as I am; so should you."

"I'm sure you're afraid of being accused of having Sapphic inclinations."

"You're riht. That would really hurt my career, because I always play women who are entangled in love with great men."

She saw my logic, and she compromised by stating she would follow me on the next ship. I was rather pleased; I had not expected it would be that easy to escape from her clutches.

Garbo's words (Gronowicz, pages 372-373):
The reasons for my success, as I have said, were hard work and Moje Stiller. After his death I was in daily contact with his spirit, and before making any important decision I would talk to him as I would talk to God. Whenever I went to Stockholm, I would go immediately to the North Cemetary. I would place flowers in front of Moje's monument which Hugo Lindberg had erected. My inner consciousness demanded it... I would kneel and speak to him. When I would ask him for the hundredth time to forgive me for anything wrong that I had done him, he would reply, "You don't have to explain yourself. I understand you." He would give me advice, especially about taking care of my health and living long, because death is boring.

When I visited Moje's grave in the fall of 1938, he was occupied with something more important than me. He said, "A whirlwind is approaching. They are calling me. I must go . . . I don't know if I will return. You will be by yourself . . ." He didn't finish. A wild wind shook the trees so violently that I was afraid they would fall on me. During the next few days I brought flowers and prayed, but no word came from Moje. I was left to myself in this world, perhaps because I didn't trust anybody, sometimes not even myself.

Just before I began Two-Faced Woman, my mother was still alive but was in a state of physical and mental collapse. Her condition had a negative influence on me. I didn't have anyone whom I could trust, so I tried to get in touch with Moje. I locked myself in my bedroom with the same kind of flowers that I had brought to his grave, lit some candles, put Moje's picture between them, and knelt and prayed. Nothing came of this attempt. He didn't want to talk to me, although he knew I could not go to his grave because of the war. I could not understand his silence. So I started visiting mediums in Hollywood and Los Angeles. Nothing came of it. I had lost Moje and was losing money on mind readers and fortune-tellers. I was depressed. I also heard people whispering to one another around the MGM log, "She is crazy."

Garbo's words (Gronowicz, page 412):
[After her retirement from making films] Everyone was saying something different. There was talk of my "inauxistible spiritual assets" and, of course, of my physical beauty. I was compared to practically everyone in history, including Saint Francis of Assisi and Salome.
Garbo's words (Gronowicz, pages 423-425):
Throughout my life I have tried to base my moves on realistic calculations. Perhaps that was the reason that when I did follow my intuition I was sometimes confused and even made dreadful mistakes. I recognized the more beautiful and idealistic affairs of my life when they occurred, but I always continued in the same pattern of ultimate failure. I did not feel guilty about that, for I always placed the guilt on God, who created me, letting Him take full responsibility. Very often now I talk to God. I have to admit that I talk not only to Him, but to people who have gone to other worlds. Once when I talked to God, he told me in a cryptic manner like a general of the army, "Where it is difficult to find the guilty one, we should at least have one whom we can punish. Later we will look among the punished for the truly guilty parties and punish them doubly, while we will reward the innocent for their sufferings."

...God? Who is He? What roads does He travel? Why do we talk all the time about Someone whom no one has ever seen? True, I have heard Him many times, but I have never seen Him. Now, as I advance in age, His voice is becoming clearer. Yet I cannot allow myself to follow His voice, for if I do, I will not be myself. I would like to meet Him face to face, because I would have many questions to ask Him. Questions only He can answer, burning questions for me. He is supposed to be wise and just in everything. But why has He given to people the idea that the artist is inspired by God and that artists are cousins of God who try to make interpretations of His beauty? Why is the artist, more than other people, tortured by life? Is this the doing of a just god?

Why did God create in me the desire to act? And why in film? Why did a wise God push me into the hands of Mauritz Stiller, who, as I look back, was most likely an instrument of Satan? I can remember what Stiller said to me: "For us film is a miracle created by Satan--the greatest miracle, which can capture human emotions and happiness faithfully, more faithfully than any other medium. And I am sure film is more suited for the art of depravity than for the art of godly justice."

I am so confused now, because, though he was anti-God, it was through Moje [Stiller] that I became famous. Then he left me without reaping any reward for his work on my talent and on my spiritual and physical appearance. I was abandoned in this world like a corps of leaderless soldiers, like a tiger without a head. Yet other thoughts tell me that I don't need a leader anymore, that I don't even need a head.

I have lost a belief in people, in a God who put me in this situation without replying clearly to my questions. I am floating on the waters of life without direction, without a goal, without the knowledge of why and how long.

From: Lynn Haney, Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life, Carroll & Graf Publishers: New York, NY (2003), pages 7-8:
Even by the wartime standards of the early 1940s, the nuptials were extremely impromptu. Greg [Peck] and Greta [Garbo] invited a ragtag group of friends to a Yankees game, the 1942 World Series, New York Yankees vs the St Louis Cardinals... Following the game, the gan repaired to the Palm restaurant on Third Avenue and feasted on $5 steaks. Wildly expensive. 'Ah, but that steak,' Greg recalled with relish. Then they paid a visit to Christ Church United Methodist on 71st Street and Park Avenue. There, a casually dressed minister named J Gordon Chamberlain, agreed to perform the service at short notice. (Now 89 and still writing articles and occasionally teaching, Reverend Chamberlain says, 'I was just four years out of the seminary and much was new to me.') The vows were exchanged at 9.20 p.m. in the men's lounge that was located in the path to the WC. Greg recalled: 'it was in the lounge where the men's club meets. We wanted it informal, not in the church. The minister was one of those regular guys -- didn't wear his collar backwards or anything.' (Greg was raised as a Catholic but since Greta was divorced, getting married in the Catholic Church was out of the question.) Although the only relative who attended was Greta's brother Paul, her mother sent them a lace tablecloth she made herself.

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