Neither in Garbo’s papers nor in those of her friend Mercedes De Acosta are any explicit love letters to be found. Nevertheless, “The Divine One” still survives as an icon for lesbians. Fuel for speculation is constantly provided in the biographies of other Hollywood stars and above all in Garbo’s own film creations. As with Marlene Dietrich, a film kiss – bestowed by Garbo’s Queen Christina on her lady-in-waiting – would win her an immortal place in the hearts of lesbians the world over.
In honor of her 100th. Birthday the Schwules Museum pays homage to the “Face of the Twentieth Century”. There can hardly be another actress who has so successfully defended her place at the zenith of Hollywood royalty as this shy Swede did for more than fifteen years. She presented a screen image that was flawless; she was the most financially successful actress of her day; most significantly, Garbo was the first to demand and win the right to speak on equal terms with the chauvinist studio bosses of that era.
The exhibition details her beginnings in Stockholm and Berlin, follows her rise in Hollywood’s Silent Era, her triumphs in sound films and her screen demise.
Also introduced are the people behind the camera who contributed to the Garbo myth: Maurice Stiller who discovered her, Garbo’s longtime cameraman William Daniels, Gilbert Adrian who designed almost all of her costumes.
Although Garbo would certainly have disapproved, the exhibition also devotes space to her lovers: John Gilbert, Mercedes De Acosta und Cecil Beaton will represent the many who claim to have known the Divine One intimately. The myth of Garbo sprang from the star’s refusal to reveal her private life. Her flight from the outrageous demands of the press and the rude intrusion of her admirers ended inevitably in life as a recluse. In spite of the sunglasses and the floppy hat Garbo would not escape this unwanted attention until the day she died.
On show are original documents, drawings, film posters and programs. And yes – above all – photographs: photographs, photographs, photographs! The exhibits are on loan from the Berlin Film Museum, the Marlene Dietrich Collection of Berlin, the Foundation of the Berlin Municipal Museum and from private collections.
Curator: Wolfgang Theis