1905 - 1990

"There are many things in your heart you can never tell to another person. They are you, your private joys and sorrows, and you can never tell them. You cheapen yourself, the inside of yourself, when you tell them."

- Greta Garbo

The image of the mysterious and uncommunicative Greta Garbo has drifted around the edges of human sexuality for nearly a century. She converted her enigmatic sexual status into power at the Box Office and profited from the curiosity and titillation it aroused. Because – though Hollywood did not address lesbian audiences directly – it routinely pandered to male voyeuristic interests, which made Garbo a star of the highest magnitude. That she did not fulfill the social-sexual script the world had prepared for her was the world’s problem, not hers. More significant than with whom Garbo slept was how sex and gender were integrated into her life and films because what the general public thought it knew, and what the gay subculture actually knew, about Garbo’s real life cannot be separated from her star image. She was romantically linked with Tallulah Bankhead, Lilyan Tashman, Billie Holiday, Louise Brooks, Mercedes de Acosta, and Marlene Dietrich. Though she made relatively few major films in her career, the roles – Anna Christie, Mata Hari, Queen Christina, Anna Karenina, Ninotchka and Camille (for which she is most revered) – were iconic and unforgettable. Garbo’s enigmatic and ambivalent performances were an appealing departure from formulaic heterosexual images and made it possible for her to stand out from her contemporaries while identifying both as gay (to those who were aware) and with other gay people across the invisibility, disgrace and fear that characterized much of gay life during the era. Garbo effectively retired from Hollywood after World War II and lived out the remainder of her life in self-imposed seclusion. She died in 1990 at the age of 84 from natural causes.


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Lesbian

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated Sweden United States

Era/Epoch Interwar Period (1918-1939) Roaring Twenties (1920-1929)

Field(s) of Contribution


Commemorations & Honors

Academy Award Nominee (1930, 1937, 1939)

New York Film Critics Circle Award For Best Actress For Anna Karenina (1935)

New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress For Camille (1936)

National Board of Review Best Acting Award for Camille (1936)

Swedish Royal Medal, Litteris et Artibus (1937)

National Board of Review Best Acting Award for Ninotchka (1939)

National Board of Review Best Acting Award for Two-Faced Woman (1941)

Special Academy Honorary Award (1954)

George Eastman Award (1957)

Hollywood Walk of Fame Star For Motion Pictures (1960)

Commander of the Swedish Order of the Polar Star by King Carl XVI Gustaf (1983)

U.S. and Swedish Postal Services Jointly Issued Two Commemorative Stamps (2005)

Garbo's Portrait Featured on the 100 Krona Swedish Banknote (2014)


Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell