Loving Garbo: The Story of Greta Garbo, Cecil Beaton, and Mercedes de Acosta

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"I was completely surprised at what was happening.... It is only on such occasions that one realizes how fantastic life can be," the British photographer Cecil Beaton wrote in his diary one day late in 1947. He was setting down an account of his first sexual encounter with Greta Garbo. They had become friends nearly two years earlier, when she confided to him, "My bed is very small and chaste. I hate it." He impetuously proposed marriage to her, and she declined, but then months later she came to his room at the Plaza Hotel in New York, drew the
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Overview

"I was completely surprised at what was happening.... It is only on such occasions that one realizes how fantastic life can be," the British photographer Cecil Beaton wrote in his diary one day late in 1947. He was setting down an account of his first sexual encounter with Greta Garbo. They had become friends nearly two years earlier, when she confided to him, "My bed is very small and chaste. I hate it." He impetuously proposed marriage to her, and she declined, but then months later she came to his room at the Plaza Hotel in New York, drew the curtains, and they became lovers. Beaton had reason to be surprised at this turn of events. For one thing, his romantic attachments were almost exclusively with men and would continue to be. Garbo's sexuality, like everything about her, remains mysterious, but certainly included women, as Beaton well knew. One of her lovers in Hollywood in the thirties was the screenwriter Mercedes de Acosta, a friend of Beaton's who has the rare distinction of having had affairs with Garbo and Marlene Dietrich at the same time. As Alice B. Toklas wrote, "You can't dispose of Mercedes lightly." The story of Garbo and Beaton and Mercedes de Acosta is a complicated web of passionate relationships in a cosmopolitan social world encompassing Hollywood, New York, London, and Paris. The three of them loved and fought, came together and parted, for forty years. Loving Garbo is based on much previously unpublished material, including the letters of Beaton, Garbo, Mercedes, Dietrich, Anita Loos, Eva Le Gallienne, and many others. It provides an intimate view of Garbo that is both touching and surprising. At once exhilarating and exasperating, she inspired as much obsessive longing in real life as she did on screen.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Vickers fails in his attempt to demystify Greta Garbo. Clearly he found more material than he could use while researching Cecil Beaton , his biography of the famed photographer of British royals and other glitterati, but still not enough for a successful Garbo analysis. Over a 30-year period, Beaton sent hundreds of letters to Garbo, preserving carbon copies. ``My Darling Sugar Plum,'' as he once called her, was an elusive and frustrating lover, although they seem to have enjoyed some energetic sexual encounters. ``Sunday morning had been put to its ultimate use,'' Beaton wrote after one amorous encounter. Garbo's off-again, off-again relationship with him is paralleled in this plodding account by a long-lasting lesbian affair. Garbo met playwright Mercedes de Acosta--who dressed only in black and white--in 1931, and their frequently troubled relationship continued until the early '60s. The supporting cast here is full of famous names, all dutifully footnoted, but somehow Greta Garbo succeeds after her death in doing what she did so often in her lifetime: she slips away unobserved. Photos not seen by PW. (June)
Library Journal
Vickers has capitalized on his position as Cecil Beaton's literary executor to write this account of the relations between Greta Garbo, sometime writer de Acosta, and designer-photographer Beaton. Most of the book consists of previously unpublished entries from Beaton's diaries and letters from Beaton to Garbo, but Vickers does utilize other sources, including interviews (though there are none with his three principals). Interest in this book will likely be limited, as it is more concerned with Beaton than Garbo. In addition, Garbo's (and Beaton's) bisexuality is old news by now. Finally, the book is primarily concerned with the years following Garbo's last film, a period during which, by all accounts (including Vickers's), Garbo's life was mostly unhappy and boring. For comprehensive collections.-John Smothers, Monmouth Cty. Lib., Manalapan, N.J.
Ilene Cooper
Greta Garbo had it right. She wanted to be alone, and the public was probably better off for it. Otherwise, her fans would have found out even sooner how selfish, obnoxious, and cruel she could be. But this isn't just the story of Garbo. Written by the biographer of celebrity photographer Cecil Beaton, the book draws on Beaton's diaries and other private papers to chronicle a chichi, bisexual society whose members were drawn from theater, film, art, and royal circles and whose frolicking hit its height between the wars but extended even into the 1960s. The most surprising aspect of this account is how tedious that elite world seems. Maybe it was glittering and gay (in both senses of the word) if you were there, but to the reader it seems an endless string of pointless parties and incredible pettiness. Perhaps the most interesting member of the cast is Mercedes de Acosta. As Alice B. Toklas said to Anita Loos, "You can't dispose of Mercedes lightly. She has had the two most important women in the U.S.--Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich." A sometime screenwriter, de Acosta, like Beaton, was caught in Garbo's web, and they often turned to each other for mutual consolation after yet another slight or bit of gratuitous cruelty was administered by the divine Greta. Perhaps because she is virtually unknown today, de Acosta seems the most real of the triumvirate and gives readers one participant with whom they can (almost) identify. Books with Garbo's name on the cover still seem to attract an audience, so expect some demand for this one. But it's doubtful many readers will come away "loving Garbo." Despising her is more like it.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679413011
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/5/1994
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 333

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