Film History Podcasts Pop Culture

Garbo Walks: A Tale of Old Hollywood in New York City

Garbo in New York! A story of independence, glamour and melancholy, set at the intersection of classic Hollywood and mid-century New York City.

This is the biography of a legendary star who became the city’s most famous ‘celebrity sighting’ for many decades while out on her regular, meandering walks.

Garbo had once been Hollywood’s biggest star, a screen goddess who survived the transition from silent pictures to sound in such movies as Grand Hotel, Queen Christina and Camille.

But her career was over by the 1940s, her exotic and distant screen presence no longer appealing in the years of World War II.

And so the actress — famous for her line “I WANT TO BE ALONE” — moved to New York City and stayed here for the rest of her life, living in a fabulous apartment near Beekman Place on the east side of Manhattan.

Her favorite activity was walking, two long trips a day in her dark glasses and trench coat, committed to freedom of urban exploration and enjoying a livelihood in the city that we all take for granted.


In attempting to live her life freely, however, she opened herself to the intrusive behavior of others — some obsessed with her as an iconic movie star, others simply gravitating to her elusive reputation. By the 1970s and surging by the 80s, Garbo sightings became a popular urban scavenger hunt. You had Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and Greta Garbo! 

Her New York story reveals some bigger themes about living in a big city — finding privacy and even solitude in a place with eight million people.


Garbo in 1925, Arnold Genthe
Capitol Theatre 1930

Greta Garbo getting hounded by the press, 1938 / BETTMANN//GETTY IMAGES
Garbo in 1955, photo by Lisa Larsen for Life Magazine
Courtey IHeartIngrid
Garbo 1974 (courtesy Womanhouse)
Garbo outside Rizzoli Bookstore, 1978, photo by Ron Galella
Garbo in the 1980s, taken by Ted Leyson, courtesy Greta Garbo Facebook page

Anna Christie — Garbo Talks!

Queen Christina — Garbo in Charge!

Camille — Garbo Dying!

Ninotchka — Garbo Laughs!


After listening to this show, drop into these past Bowery Boys episode regarding New York City, pop culture, celebrity and fame:


Garbo / Barry Paris
Garbo / Norman Zierold
Garbo: Her Life, Her Films / Robert Gottlieb
Garbo: Her Story / Antoni Gronowicz
In Pursuit of a Vanishing Star / Gustaf Sobin
Loving Garbo / Hugo Vickers
Walking With Garbo: Conservations and Recollections / Raymond Daum

Images linked to their original articles

3 replies on “Garbo Walks: A Tale of Old Hollywood in New York City”

I went to Find A Grave to see where Greta Garbo was buried. Regarding her family, she was the youngest of 3 children. The oldest was her brother, Sven (1898-1967) and older sister Alva (1903-1926). Alva died from cancer at the age of 23, after appearing in one feature film in Sweden, adding to the melancholy Greta Garbo felt at being in Hollywood. MGM refused to allow Greta Garbo to attend her sister’s funeral in Sweden. She was only able to return there for a visit in 1928.

My family owned a business in Beverly Hills California. Mme. Allie French Hand Laundry was the “go to” laundry for every major movie star, Director, producer, and luminary through the golden age of Hollywood and beyond. I honestly believe that a main reason my father‘s business was so successful with the Hollywood crowd was because we never spoke to the press or to any kind of gossip mongers about our clientele, and there was lots to talk about. In your podcast about Greta Garbo, my ears perked up because one of my favorite clients was mentioned, William Fry. Bill and his partner lived in a cul-de-sac off of Mulholland Drive that was shared with a gentleman named Gaylord Hauser who owned a health food company that was very popular through the 40’s and into the 70’s. Mr. Fry said to me one day when I delivered his laundry that “her majesty“ was in Residence over at Mr. Hauser‘s home. When I asked him who he was talking about he said “Miss Garbo”. I left Mr. Fry’s, walked to my truck where I picked up fresh bundles of sheets and shirts and walked in the side entrance to Mr. Hauser’s back garden. Right in front of me, standing not 10 feet away stood Miss Garbo, wet hair slicked back and in a white terrycloth robe she looked surprised as I said in a soft voice, “laundry” to which she said, “oh hello“.
I mumbled, “excuse me“ and went about my way bumbling and fumbling with the bundles that had suddenly gotten much bigger than they had been just moments before. I went into Mr. Hauser’’s back door and did my best to carry on as if nothing had happened. I don’t remember much after that, I was dumbfounded and I knew I had seen someone and something extraordinary. I’m 72 now and that event must have happened 50 years ago, but I can still see it as clearly as if it was yesterday. Thank you for a wonderful podcast and thank you too for stirring some great memories from my extraordinary youth.

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