Leaving the limelight and their careers behind would be impossible for many stars, but for one of the most renowned actors of the 1920s and '30s, the decision was an easy one. In 1941, Greta Garbo quit acting after making 28 films. While her career did have some highs and lows over the years, the issue was less about getting good parts and more about Garbo simply not wanting to be an actor anymore. Plus, she definitely didn't want to be a celebrity.
By the time she retired at the young age of 36, Garbo was already known for being extremely private compared to other celebrities, and she didn't often give interviews. According to Time, she once said, "I feel able to express myself only through my roles, not in words, and that is why I try to avoid talking to the press."
In the years after she retired, she opened up more about her shocking decision. And, a few years ago, letters were made public that uncovered even more of her thoughts about Hollywood stardom. Read on to find out more about her decision to walk away from her illustrious career.
Garbo was a massive star when she retired.
Garbo got her start in silent films, then moved on to "talkies" in the '30s and found even more success. The Swedish star was nominated for three Academy Awards during her career: in 1930, for both Anna Christie and Romance, in 1938 for Camille, and in 1940 for Ninotchka. Her final film was the romantic comedy Two-Faced Woman, which premiered in 1941. According to The New Yorker, the movie was a flop, but Garbo would have been able to survive it if she had wanted to continue her career.
The retirement was initially temporary.
Garbo didn't officially retire following Two-Faced Woman; it just happened to be her last film. According to Time, the announcement made initially was that Garbo was temporarily stepping back. The New Yorker reports that she was offered roles in films that ended up falling through and that there were other parts she turned down. Eventually, her retirement from acting became permanent, and she became even further removed from Hollywood. She was given an honorary Academy Award in 1955 but didn't attend the ceremony to accept it.
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She quit the business because she was "tired" of it.
Later in her life, Garbo opened up about why she stopped acting. She told Conversations with Greta Garbo biographer Sven Broman (via bi.org), "I was tired of Hollywood. I did not like my work. There were many days when I had to force myself to go to the studio … I really wanted to live another life."
According to The New Yorker, she told actor David Niven that she retired because she had "made enough faces."
Her letters provide more insight.
In 2017, a collection of Garbo's letters were auctioned off, some of which further illuminated her feelings about being an actor and celebrity. "I have been considering a film I might try making but I don't know. Time leaves its traces on our small faces and bodies," she wrote in a letter from 1945, as reported by The Guardian.
She also wrote about feeling lonely in Los Angeles and missing Sweden: "I am almost always alone and talk to myself. I drive to the beach and take walks and that's always marvelous. But that's it."
Garbo never married or had children and spent much of her post-retirement life in New York City where she lived alone. As reported by The New Yorker, she had very close friendships and spent a lot of time with her friends in Europe. She died in 1990 at age 84.