Greta Lovisa Gustafsson was born on 18 September 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden. Her parents' marriage was dominated by her mother, which strongly shaped Greta's early life. Her father died when Greta was just 14 years old, forcing her to drop out of school to enable her to go out to work - initially as a hairdresser and later in a department store - to earn money for the family.
She was given the opportunity to take to the catwalk as a model in the department store and, like so many other girls of her age, began to dream of a career in the nascent movie industry. After appearing in a number of advertisements, she enrolled at the Stockholm School of Dramatic Arts. While a student there, Greta was discovered by Swedish film director Mauritz Stiller, who supported her career and dreamt up the more distinctive screen persona of Greta Garbo. The relationship between the 17-year-old and the 40-year-old director was an unhappy one, however, and he eventually decided she was much too fat to make a successful career on screen.
After making a number of successful films in Sweden and Germany, her discoverer took her with him on the hard road to Hollywood.
Although initially the source of some amusement due to her height, Garbo played on her image of the beautiful Nordic ice maiden able to transmit deep emotions with the bare minimum of facial gestures on screen, becoming one of the greatest stars in silent cinema in the process. Even the transition from silent to sound film could not detract from her monotone success, and Garbo's restrained Nordic voice even became her trademark, being perfectly suited to the tragic female characters she was to embody on so many of her films.
In 1954 Garbo, who was never awarded an Academy Award for her acting performances, received an Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement.
Greta Garbo eventually withdrew from public life into her New York apartment, turning down countless opportunities to appear in public and leading a reclusive life until her death on 15 April 1990. For this season as well as her magnificent acting abilites, she was elevated to the stature of a living Hollywood legend during her final years, a reputation that has only grown since her death.