Few actors or actresses made the transition from silent films to talkies while maintaining their popularity. Greta Garbo was a clear exception. Born in Sweden as Greta Gustafsson, she made several hugely popular silent movies, including Flesh and the Devil (1926) and A Woman of Affairs (1928). She feared her Swedish accent would be her undoing with sound, but she needn’t have worried. The publicity campaign was “Garbo talks!”, and she became the queen of MGM throughout the 1930s.
Did she ever say, “I want to be alone”? Yes, in the 1932 film Grand Hotel. The American Film Institute voted it the 30th most popular movie quote of all time. Though she was certainly a private woman, she disputed the characterization of her by the press as an eccentric . “I never said, ‘I want to be alone,'” she explained. “I only said, ‘I want to be let alone.’ There is all the difference.”
Garbo was nominated for four Academy Awards (Romance, 1930; Anna Christie, 1930; Camille, 1938; and Ninotchka, 1940) but never won. She did receive an honorary Oscar in 1955 for her lifetime of performances. (She didn’t show up to receive the award.) Daily Variety voted her Best Actress of the Half Century in 1950. And the AFI named her number 5 in its list of Greatest Screen Legends. Garbo, who worked in the USA most of her life and lived in New York after retiring from films, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1951.