One of the silver screen’s greatest beauties, Greta Garbo was also one of its most profound enigmas. A star in both silent pictures and talkies, Garbo kept viewers riveted with understated performances that suggested deep melancholy and strong desires roiling just under the surface. And offscreen, the intensely private Garbo was perhaps even more mysterious and alluring, as her retirement from Hollywood at age thirty-six only fueled the public’s fascination.
Ideal Beauty reveals the woman behind the mystique, a woman who overcame an impoverished childhood to become a student at the Swedish Royal Dramatic Academy, an actress in European films, and ultimately a Hollywood star. Chronicling her tough negotiations with Louis B. Mayer at MGM, it shows how Garbo carved out enough power in Hollywood to craft a distinctly new feminist screen presence in films like Queen Christina. Banner draws on over ten years of in-depth archival research in Sweden, Germany, France, and the United States to demonstrate how, away from the camera’s glare, Garbo’s life was even more intriguing. Ideal Beauty takes a fresh look at an icon who helped to define female beauty in the twentieth century and provides answers to much-debated questions about Garbo’s childhood, sexuality, career, illnesses and breakdowns, and spiritual awakening.