’30s star Greta Garbo ‘had social anxiety and a fear of crowds’ but was not ‘a reclusive figure,’ says Donna Rifkind. The author has recently penned a book about the star’s best friend, actress-turned-screenwriter Salka Viertel, titled ‘The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood.’
Greta Garbo famously said “I want to be let alone” on the silver screen – but her great-nephew insisted that in real life, the Hollywood recluse wasn’t so isolated.
“I wouldn’t call her a recluse,” Derek Reisfield recently told Closer Weekly for its latest issue currently on newsstands.
“If you look at her date books, she’s out and about, meeting people, going to parties, going to people’s homes for the weekend,” he shared. “She was private… but for a recluse, she had a very active social life. I forget who said it, but somebody called her the ‘hermit about town.’”
Reisfield’s mother, Gray Gustafson Reisfield, was the only daughter of the star’s brother Sven. She was the sole heiress to her famous aunt’s estate and a woman who was a long-time companion to the late Swedish-born actress.
“When I moved to New York after school, I lived about five blocks away from her, so I would see her a lot,” Reisfield recalled to the outlet. “[Family and friends] would all assemble at five for cocktails at her apartment, and then [we’d go] out to dinners or a play or whatever we were doing. That was a weekly event, and it was a lot of fun. She was a remarkable person. She was very intuitive, very intelligent and extremely funny.”
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In 1941, at age 36, Greta Garbo left Hollywood, spending the rest of her life in fenced residences in France, Switzerland and Manhattan, where she lived in an East Side high-rise.
(Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Garbo, one of Hollywood’s most sought-after stars of the ‘30s, went into what was to be a temporary retirement at age 36 after her last movie, 1941’s “Two-Faced Woman.” She previously starred in 26 films in 17 years. However, the New York Times reported the actress never returned to the screen.
Garbo was known for her performances in such classics as “Anna Christie,” ″Grand Hotel,” ″Queen Christina,” ″Anna Karenina,” ″Camille” and “Ninotchka.” She had a major influence on women’s fashions, hair styles and makeup.
But even at the height of her career, Garbo was known for her deep fear of reporters and strangers. Ironically, Garbo became one of the most publicized women in the world while trying to guard her privacy.
Her biographer John Bainbridge wrote in “Garbo,” that except at the start of her career, she “granted no interviews, signed no autographs, attended no premieres, answered no fan mail.”
Reisfield said when it came to her closest confidantes, Garbo had stories to tell.
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Greta Garbo, known as "The Swedish Sphinx," starred in 26 films in 17 years.
(Photo by Donaldson Collection/Getty Images )
“She would occasionally start talking about Hollywood in the old days and the people she met and hung out with,” he said. “… She had a lot of significant relationships over the years.”
Reisfield also insisted that Garbo “was pretty content” stepping away from Hollywood. His mother, specifically, developed a close bond with Garbo.
“She viewed [Garbo] as truly a remarkable woman,” Reisfield told The Associated Press at the time of the matriarch’s death in 2017 at age 85. “I think my mother really respected her because she had accomplished so much, and she had done it her way. She was very independent when women were not, and I think that was a real lesson for my mother.”
At the time, Reisfield said he was about 12 when he realized his great aunt was famous after seeing a magazine that showed his mother and Garbo vacationing together. Every spring, the women would travel to the Caribbean.
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(L-R) Gray Reisfield and Derek Reisfield.
(Photo by Jimi Celeste/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
“My mother was very close to [Garbo] and would go into New York once a week to see her,” said Reisfield. “They were both very strong, very independent women, and I think they bonded over that.”
After leaving Hollywood, Garbo spent the rest of her life in fenced residences in France, Switzerland and New York City. The actress never married and had no children, but rather chose her niece as a frequent companion.
Garbo passed away in 1990 at age 84.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.