Arnold Genthe’s Timeless Portraits of Greta Garbo, 1925: An Intimate Look at a Legend

In the summer of 1925, Greta Garbo, a name synonymous with the golden era of Hollywood, found herself in front of the lens of the renowned German photographer Arnold Genthe. Awaiting instructions from MGM in New York, the young Garbo was a long way from the superstar she would soon become. Little did she know the resulting series of photos taken by Genthe would become one of the earliest in-depth photographic studies of her as an artist.

An Unexpected Encounter

The story of how these photographs came to be is as fascinating as the pictures themselves. One evening, Garbo and director Victor Sjöström had a chance meeting with Genthe, who was immediately captivated by Garbo’s distinctive presence. Despite her initial reluctance due to her informal attire and unprepared hair, Genthe persuaded Garbo to pose for him. He assured her that he wasn’t interested in capturing her clothes or hair, but rather wanted to create a portrait of her soul.

Revealing the Soul Behind the Star

In the sweltering summer heat, Genthe began his work, crafting portraits that captured the essence of Greta Garbo, the woman before she became the legend. Each pose revealed a new facet of Garbo’s persona: sensual, dramatic, vulnerable, intensely female, and always distinctive.

Genthe’s photography lacked the glossy polish typically associated with Hollywood. Instead, his images displayed raw emotion, whether Garbo was gazing intensely into the camera or Genthe was focusing on the elegant silhouette of her neck. It was a revelation for Garbo, who learnt from Genthe that acting wasn’t limited to the stage or set. An inspired photographer’s work, she discovered, could be as significant as any role she played.

Recognition and Impact

The Genthe portraits arrived at the desk of Mayer, a director and friend of Stiller, by August 1925. Legend has it that Mayer initially failed to recognize the woman in the pictures as the actress he had signed in Berlin. A portrait from this sitting would later be published in Vanity Fair in November 1925, presenting Garbo’s distinct persona to the public.

An interesting anecdote revolves around an evening in July 1925 when Garbo tricked Stiller into believing she wouldn’t attend a dinner with Genthe due to a headache. But when Genthe called her room, Garbo admitted her ruse with child-like delight, affirming her intention to come.

These intimate portraits offer us a glimpse of Garbo before she was thrust into the international spotlight, revealing the woman behind the Hollywood icon. They encapsulate Garbo’s persona in a way that few other photographs have managed, serving as a tangible link between the everyday woman and the legendary figure she became.

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Written by Kimberly Adams

Kimberly Adams is passionate about classic movies, actors, and actresses. She offers a fresh perspective on timeless films and the stars who made them unforgettable. Her work is an ode to the glamour and artistry of a bygone era, and a tribute to the enduring appeal of classic cinema.

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