13 Elusive Facts about Greta Garbo

Arnold Genthe, Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication
Arnold Genthe, Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

In the 1920s and '30s, Greta Garbo achieved fame and won accolades for her roles in hit MGM films such as The Torrent (1926), Anna Christie (1930), Mata Hari (1931), Grand Hotel (1932), Anna Karenina (1935), and Camille (1936). Garbo's expressive eyes, subtle acting, and sensual beauty won over audiences and critics, and her secretive, reclusive nature off screen only added to her mystique. In honor of her birthday on September 18, here are 13 things you might not know about the Swedish Sphinx.

1. Greta Garbo's birth name was Greta Lovisa Gustafsson.

Born in Sweden on September 18, 1905, Greta Lovisa Gustafsson lived in poverty with her parents and two older siblings. When she was 14, her father, an unskilled worker, died, and she started working in a barbershop and a department store. In 1924, after getting a scholarship to study acting at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, she starred in a silent film called The Saga of Gosta Berling. Following the advice of the director, Mauritz Stiller, she changed her last name to Garbo.

2. MGM didn't want audiences to hear Greta Garbo's Swedish accent.

When she came to America in 1925, Garbo didn’t know any English. Although she eventually learned the language, her heavy accent and deep voice made MGM executives hesitant to transition her from a silent film actress to one who spoke. In 1930, though, she appeared in Anna Christie, her first sound film. MGM publicized the film with the tagline "Garbo Talks!," and Anna Christie was a huge success—Garbo was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award.

3. Greta Garbo often sent directors out for milkshakes when she filmed love scenes.

According to Rouben Mamoulian, who directed Garbo in 1933's Queen Christina, the actress told him that she had strict privacy rules for filming intimate scenes. "During these scenes I allow only the cameraman and lighting man on the set. The director goes out for a coffee or a milkshake," she said. Mamoulian told her that as the director, he wouldn’t be leaving the set for a milkshake. Garbo acquiesced.

4. Greta Garbo was dubbed "the Swedish Sphinx" due to her enigmatic personality.

Although Garbo was an international movie star, she shied away from the press, her fans, and Hollywood events. The Swedish Sphinx avoided making public appearances and granted only a handful of interviews to journalists. In 1927, she told Photoplay about her extreme introversion: "When I was just a little child, as early as I can remember, I have wanted to be alone. I detest crowds … don't like many people." Later in life, Garbo used aliases and bought multiple airplane and theater seats to preserve her privacy.

5. Greta Garbo might have worked as a spy during World War II.

In films, she played a Russian spy and Mata Hari (a Dutch dancer who was executed for being a spy during World War I), and in real life, Garbo reportedly collected information about Nazi sympathizers in Sweden for the British Secret Intelligence Service. She also allegedly conveyed messages between British agents and the king of Sweden. Garbo told her friends that she wanted to meet Adolf Hitler, who had sent her a fan letter, so she could kill him with a gun hidden in her purse.

6. Greta Garbo retired from acting in her mid-30s.

With three Academy Award nominations and multiple successful movies under her belt, Garbo retired in 1941 after her role in the romantic comedy film (and box office failure) Two-Faced Woman. Although she was only 36 years old, Garbo took a hiatus from acting and never appeared on screen again. Once, when she was older, she reportedly warned a new friend: "Don’t ever ask me about the movies … especially why I left them."

7. Greta Garbo ate a lot of wheat germ and celery loaf.

A writer for The Cut described Garbo’s diet as "strange" and "horrifying." Garbo followed celebrity nutritionist Gayelord Hauser’s dietary advice, which meant that she consumed foods such as vegetables, wheat germ, yogurt, yeast, molasses, and buttermilk. One of Hauser’s recipes is celery loaf, a vegetarian meatloaf made with pureed celery, chopped nuts, and milk. According to Garbo’s friends, her diet was more flexible than Hauser’s, and she sometimes ate foods such as tuna sandwiches, Triscuits, and cheese.

8. Greta Garbo owned one of Rin Tin Tin's puppies.

Rin Tin Tin, the famous German Shepherd, was a huge film star in the 1920s. He sired at least 48 puppies during his lifetime, and Garbo (like other celebrities such as Jean Harlow) was given a pup.

9. Greta Garbo's sexuality is still debated.

Greta Garbo reclines in a publicity still for 1926's Flesh and the Devil with frequent co-star John Gilbert.Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

For decades, film scholars and biographers have speculated about Garbo’s sexuality. Although she never married, Garbo purportedly had relationships with both men and women, including her frequent co-star John Gilbert, whom she allegedly left at the altar. A number of women said that they had romantic relationships with Garbo, who was known to describe herself as a '"bachelor."

10. Greta Garbo was a major art collector.

After retiring from acting, Garbo collected paintings and 18th-century French furniture. In the 1950s and '60s, she visited art galleries and exhibitions looking for pieces to buy. According to David Nash of Sotheby's, the living room of Garbo's Manhattan apartment featured three Renoir paintings and a Savonnerie rug. She also owned a Louis XV chair and banquette. After her death, her paintings and furniture (which were worth millions of dollars) were auctioned at Sotheby's.

11. Greta Garbo loved watching Hollywood Squares.

Speaking about her taste in television, Garbo reportedly said, "I watch the dreck." According to her friends, Garbo loved watching cartoons such as The Flintstones, but her favorite show might have been Hollywood Squares, the trivia game show featuring celebrities. Her friends said that she regularly watched the show and loved Paul Lynde, who was frequently featured in the center square position.

12. New Yorkers had fun when they spotted Greta Garbo in public.

Greta Garbo fills out her U.S. citizenship paperwork circa 1950.Los Angeles Times, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

For almost four decades, Garbo regularly walked around Manhattan, people-watching and window-shopping. Her walks were not brief—she would usually walk south from her apartment on East 52nd Street to Washington Square Park and back. Although Garbo disguised herself in men’s pants, sunglasses, and big hats (she also used pseudonyms), some New Yorkers enjoyed recognizing the actress when they saw her out and about. She was also a Rangers fan, and had a seat behind the penalty box.

13. Greta Garbo's face is on Sweden's 100-krona bill.

Starting in 2015, the Swedish national bank began introducing a series of redesigned currency featuring important figures in Sweden’s history, including Pippi Longstocking author Astrid Lindgren. The 100 krona note now features Greta Garbo.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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10 Facts About Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt's Home

Theodore Roosevelt's Long Island home has 23 rooms and more books than you can count.
Theodore Roosevelt's Long Island home has 23 rooms and more books than you can count.
J. Stephen Conn, Flickr // CC by NC 2.0

Fleeing Manhattan for the country is a tradition that wealthy New Yorkers have partaken in for centuries—and our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, was no exception. Starting when he was a teen, TR and his family would retreat to Long Island for the summer, and as an adult, he built his own home there: Sagamore Hill, which became his permanent home after his presidency. In honor of what would be TR’s 162nd birthday, here are 10 facts about Sagamore Hill, of which Roosevelt once wrote, “there isn't any place in the world like home—like Sagamore Hill.”

1. Sagamore Hill was built near where Theodore Roosevelt spent his childhood summers.

Oyster Bay on Long Island, New York, first served as a refuge for a sickly TR in his youth. He’d hike, ride horses, row, and swim—generally engaging in the “strenuous life” and beginning his lifelong love affair with nature. The family home was known as Tranquility, and was situated two miles southwest from the future Sagamore Hill mansion.

2. Theodore Roosevelt bought the land for Sagamore Hill in 1880.

The same year he married his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, Roosevelt purchased 155 acres on the north shore of Long Island for $30,000 to build a home. Situated on Long Island Sound, the site is home to a wide variety of habitats, from woodlands to salt marshes, as well as plenty of ecological diversity, thus giving Roosevelt much to observe and document.

3. Sagamore Hill wasn't supposed to go by that name.

The home that would become Sagamore Hill was originally going to be named Leeholm, after Roosevelt's wife Alice. However, following her tragic death shortly after giving birth to their daughter, the property was renamed Sagamore—according to Roosevelt, after Sagamore Mohannis (today more commonly known as Sachem Mohannes), who was chief of a tribe in the area over 200 years earlier. Sagamore is an Algonquian word for "chieftain."

4. Theodore Roosevelt had very specific ideas for the layout of Sagamore Hill.

Among his "perfectly definite views" for the home, he would later recall, were "a library with a shallow bay window opening south, the parlor or drawing-room occupying all the western end of the lower floor; as broad a hall as our space would permit; big fireplaces for logs; on the top floor a gun room occupying the western end so that north and west it [looks] over the Sound and Bay." Long Island builder John A. Wood began work on the Queen Anne-style mansion (designed by New York architecture firm Lamb and Rich), on March 1, 1884. It was completed in 1885, with Roosevelt's sister, Anna, taking care of the house (and new baby Alice) while Roosevelt was out west in the Dakota Badlands, nursing his grieving heart.

5. Theodore Roosevelt delivered campaign speeches from the porches of Sagamore Hill.

Theodore Roosevelt addresses a crowd of 500 suffragettes from the porch of his Sagamore Hill home around 1905. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It was one of Roosevelt’s greatest wishes for the Sagamore Hill home to possess "a very big piazza ... where we could sit in rocking chairs and look at the sunset," and so wide porches were built on the south and west sides of the house. Roosevelt would use the piazza to deliver speeches to the public, and it was here that he was notified of his nominations as governor of New York (1898), vice president (1900) and president (1904).

6. Sagamore Hill was Theodore Roosevelt's "Summer White House."

Roosevelt became the first president to bring his work home with him, spending each of his summers as president at Sagamore Hill. He even had a phone installed so he could conduct business from the house. But by 1905, Edith had had enough of TR usurping the drawing room—which was supposed to be her office—to hold his visitors [PDF], and of his gaming trophies and other treasures taking up space. So the Roosevelts constructed what would become the North Room. "The North Room cost as much as the entire house had," Susan Sarna, curator at Sagamore Hill, told Cowboys & Indians magazine in 2016. "It is grandiose." Measuring 40 feet by 20 feet, with ceilings 20 feet high, it was constructed of mahogany brought in from the Philippines. The addition brought the total number of rooms at Sagamore Hill from 22 to 23.

7. Theodore Roosevelt met with foreign leaders at Sagamore Hill.

Roosevelt stands between Russian and Japanese dignitaries in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1905. On September 5, they signed the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War and earning Roosevelt the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize; he was the first American to win a Nobel Prize of any kind.Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

In September 1905, Roosevelt brokered peace talks between Russian and Japanese dignitaries, which led to end of the Russo-Japanese War. But before the peace talks (which took place on a yacht in the Navy yard at Portsmouth, New Hampshire), Roosevelt met the negotiators—from Japan, Takahira Kogorō, ambassador to the U.S., and diplomat Jutaro Komura; and from Russia, diplomat Baron Roman Romanovich von Rosen and Sergei Iluievich Witte—at Sagamore Hill. TR earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

8. Sagamore Hill has a pet cemetery.

Roosevelt’s love of animals was passed down to his six children, who adopted a veritable menagerie, including cats, dogs, horses, guinea pigs, a bear, and a badger. A number of those beloved companions ended up in Sagamore Hill's pet cemetery; among them is Little Texas, the horse TR rode on his charge up Kettle Hill during the Spanish-American War.

9. Life at Sagamore Hill was lively.

The atmosphere at Sagamore Hill was a boisterous one. According to the National Park Service, Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge complained about how late they stayed up, how loud they talked, and how early they woke up. Eleanor Roosevelt, Roosevelt’s favorite niece, too, recalled a constant barrage of activity during her visits. The children partook in all manner of outdoor activities, and Roosevelt was known for abruptly ending his appointments in order to join them.

10. Theodore Roosevelt died at Sagamore Hill.

Roosevelt passed away on January 6, 1919 at Sagamore Hill. Edith died there on September 30, 1948, and five years later, Sagamore Hill was opened to the public. In 2015, a $10 million renovation of the house was completed; 99 percent of what can be seen at the home today is original—including thousands of books, extensive artwork, and yes, 36 pieces of taxidermy.

Shortly before Roosevelt died, he asked Edith, “I wonder if you will ever know how I love Sagamore Hill?” and thanks to the extensive work done to restore his home, we all can.