Sunday, May 9, 2010


Critic Finds Strong Press Agent Odor Clings to Filmdom’s Varied Reports

Successors Ready

Dietrich, Landi and Bankhead Ready to Contend for Her Throne

By Chester B. Bahn
April 24, 1932

Greta Garbo will –

Sail for a visit to her native Sweden upon the expiration of her contract, returning later to Hollywood.

Not renew her Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer pact unless the studio pays her $15,000 a week salary.

Retire permanently from the screen, and marry Wilhelm Sorenson, Stockholm society man, in Berlin this summer.

Finance her own Swedish producing company, investing in the enterprise a sizable slice of her reported private fortune of $4,000,000.

Return to Sweden in an attempt to salvage thousands of good, American dollars paid over the for so-called Kreuger securities.

Quit M-G-M to ally with M. C. “Mike” Levee’s newly formed Screen Guild.

Take advantage of the six months’ extension of her immigration permit, and remain in the United States until Jan. 1 next.

Forswear her allegiance to the King of Sweden and become a naturalized American citizen.

Be disclosed eventually as having withdrawn from the screen prior to the production of “Mata Hari,” her place being taken by one Jeraldine Dvorak.

Be found interred under her real name, Greta Gustafsson, in an obscure cemetery; this fantastic story, by the way, is a favorite with Continental editors, who insist a double has been substituted for the star.

All of which, humming over the telegraph wires that connect Hollywood with Syracuse, convinces me that –

First, La Garbo has in Br’r Harry Eddington one of the shrewdest managerial exploiters in the Fourth Industry, and

Secondly, that M-G-M contemplates a financial clean-up via “Grand Hotel” and “As You Desire Me.”

I may be wrong – it has happened, that’s admitted – but I have a well-defined hunch that Mr. Eddington’s favorite actress has no intention of permanently withdrawing from either Hollywood or the dear old U. S. A.

Whether inspired directly by her business manager or the suave Howard Dietz, or the fast-thinking Pete Smith, the latter two gentlemen in charge of M-G-M’s publicity, the fact remains that there is a noticeable press agent odor to the reams of “Garbo’s quitting – no, she isn’t” copy flooding cinema editor’s desks these late April days.

Of course, to obtain the desired results, it was scarcely necessary for Br’r Eddington to whisper confidentially to Dan Thomas, Luella O. Parsons, Robbin Coons and others with news service wires at their disposal. He merely had to follow his time-tested policy of saying nothing, and let the guesses fall where they may.

Indeed, I suspect that actually is what has happened; Br’r Eddington remained silent, and La Garbo continued (and continues) inscrutable.

Did it ever occur to you that there is a parallel of sorts between the sensational success of Garbo and the dismal failure of prohibition?

In Greta’s instance, Eddington’s refusal to “humanize” his star whetted fandom’s box office appetite; the “you can’t” of the 18th Amendment was equally potent , as your favorite bootleg cheerfully will testify, if asked.

I digress, however, we were considering the “I-tank-I-go-home” star’s future course, not prohibition. There are four major reasons why I am suspicious of the report that she is through with Hollywood.

1. Greta is at what one writer has termed “the very zenith of her career;” pride in that career and in her art cannot be other than a powerful factor in influencing her to carry on. I do not think Miss Garbo is a quitter.

2. A prolonged absence from the sound-screen would be dangerous, if not fatal; it has beeen repeated – and painfully – demonstrated, that fandom is short of memory.

3. The exercises to which the writers of “Garbo’s leaving” stories have gone. Ignoring the fact that “Grand Hotel” is set for showings in principal cities, one story, published recently, read:

“The company has prepared two versions of “Grand Hotel,” it’s all star copy of the stage play by Vicki Baum. In one Joan Crawford is said to have romped away with all the honors. In the other more footage was centered on the great Garbo.

“If Garbo signs that new contract, all well and good. But if she doesn’t – not so well and not so good, for Greta. Metro may decide to let loose the first version and permit Joan to steal the whole show.”

4. Failure of the studio to deny the flat statement, printed in the Detroit Free Press a week ago today, that “Greta Garbo has applied for citizenship papers.”

The reported salary controversy between M-G-M and its ruling queen is an intriguing subject in itself. You read that the studio, pleading poverty and inaugurating salary cuts, insists that it cannot pay Greta more than $10,000 a week, which figure would supposedly represent a $3000 or $4000 advance. Greta, however, presumably thinks $14,000 or $15,000 weekly would be about right.

If the star is as potent a box office factor as M-G-M has led the Fourth Industry to believe in the past, paying her $15,000 would be a fair gamble if not a gilt-edged investment. I suggest the former alternative because popularity is still a perishable quantity.

Witness, if you please, the sensational toboggan slide of another one of M-G-M’s prize packages, Jack Gilbert, who if I recall correctly, was under Br’r Eddington’s management at the time his $10,000 a week contract was negotiated. That was prior to the birth of the talkies.

Other studios flirted with Jack, United Artists particularly, and M-G-M raised the ante to something like $500,000 a year. Then came “His Glorious Night,” his talkie debut, which was anything but glorious for Jack, and still worse for his employers.

Since October, 1929, when the picture was released, M-G-M has paid Gilbert approximately $1,250,000, and if you think that investment has netted anything but grief for the studio you had best consult an alienist pronto.

Garbo, of course, successfully passed the exciting “mike” test, and seemingly there is no stumbling block in her cinematic path. But who thought, back in 1929, that Gilbert, a veteran of dramatic stock, would not qualify for the sound-screen because of his voice?

The supremacy that Greta enjoys in her studio is as absolute as her screen, or box office reign. Norma Shearer to a lesser degree has matters much her own way at M-G-M; being the wife of Irving Thalberg, this is not surprising. Marie Dressler might make it a threesome if she so desired, which she does not.

Garbo counterparts on other “lots” number: Marlene Dietrich, Sylvia Sidney and Tallulah Bankhead at Paramount, Ruth Chatterton and Barbara Stanwyck at Warners, Ann Harding and Constance Bennett at Radio, and Janet Gaynor and Elissa Landi at Fox.

They are studio queens who, by their employers’ tacit admission, can do no wrong; their whims beomce laws. Sometimes their regal path is paved with the heartaches of other players. An example: Sally Eilers was scheduled to play in “The First Year.” Janet Gaynor considered the Frank Craven comedy a suitable vehicle for herself. So Sally lost it, and now is trying to forget in the wilds of Manhattan. That’s that.

Hollywood being Hollywood, it, of course, is speculating upon Garbo’s successor, should she pull up stakes and seek a clime where there is more rain. The leading nominees to date are three: Marlene Dietrich, German star; Elissa Landi, English actress, and Tallulah Bankhead, from down Alabam’ way.

Introduced as a Garbo replica by Paramount, Miss Dietrich physically is far more alluring; she noticeably has shapely legs which the Swedish star has not. Neither, of course, urgently needs them as artistic props; on the other hand, Marlene has not found hers exactly a handicap in the talkies.

Her studio has insisted that Miss Dietrich adhere closely to formula in her American pictures, and not until she is given a different type of story and perhaps a director other than Joseph Von Sternberg will it be possible to really pass upon her claim to the Garbo throne.

Miss Bankhead has been treated even worse than Marlene in the matter of screen vehicles; one trashy plot has followed another. Given the same scope that she enjoyed on the London stage, and Tallulah would be very much in the running.

As for Miss Landi, she too obviously has been handicapped by vehicles allotted her by Fox. Nevertheless there have been scenes which have revealed her dramatic talent.


Tennis Girl said...

Very interesting blog you have. I have been a fan and follower of all thing Garbo for year. Thanks for posting.

GAH1965 said...

Glad you enjoy - there's certainly been a lot of Garbo news for fans of late, with her contract ready to expire and Grand Hotel about to release.

billy said...

Jack Gilbert’s performance in His Glorious Night wouldn’t have been a failure if said studio didn’t sabotage his voice , thanks

GAH1965 said...

I don't know much about the story behind Gilbert's failure in talkies, but why would MGM pay him $10k a week and then intentionally sabotage his success? That doesn't seem like good business.