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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Let's Talk | Ingrid Bergman vs. Greta Garbo

Hi everyone, 

A few weeks ago I initiated a poll asking my readers which actress they preferred: Ingrid Bergman or Greta Garbo. Both Swedes & totally legendary. 

In this post I'm going to present the results (which I'm sure many of you have already seen as it was stuck up in my sidebar for quite a long time, lol), but I'm also going to try to introduce a new series, or, well, a new type of post, called "let's talk." One of my most faithful commenters suggested to me a few weeks ago that I do more posts that were interactive with the readers & asked you guys some questions, kinda like this one I did last year.  I really enjoyed during that post and getting opinions; I love reading varying views on things. So I'm going to give another post like that a try, by discussing the poll results with you. I think this is a good post to start this "let's talk" series with as it's obvious that my opinion on it will be kinda biased (anyone who has followed my blog for a little bit will know I worship Ingrid Bergman). I'm hoping for a good response on this one, and if so, I'll do more in the future. So - 

I really encourage everyone to drop me a comment with your opinion on this, especially if you voted in the poll! 

Now, on with it!
Ingrid Bergman (1915 - 1982)


Ingrid Bergman, 1940s


Greta Garbo (1905 - 1900)

Greta Garbo photographed by Ruth Harriet Louise 

Results -

23 votes, total




So Ingrid is the winner. The reason I created this particular poll was just out of pure curiosity. Despite the fact that both women are Swedes, I honestly don't feel that they're alike in any other way. Not in their styles of acting or even in their beauty.

As for acting - while Ingrid could definitely ham up her performances, as seen in, for example, Gaslight (1944), compared to Garbo she is easily the more refined performer of the two. Because of her silent film background Garbo had a tendency to bring an extra level of flamboyancy to her acting. And while both women are easily gorgeous, Ingrid was built up as the "natural" star, refusing to let her teeth be capped or eyebrows be plucked. She often wore very little makeup on the screen whereas Garbo's facial features were more exaggerated and dramatic, earning her the nickname 'The Face.' Her thinly arched eyebrows and heavy lipstick reflected the popular trends among the glamorous, sophisticated crowd in the 1920s & 30s.

The image studios built up for these two women are also entirely different. Ingrid was luminous, virginal, a natural star who always had a smile on her face. Garbo was in stark comparison found by movie audiences to be mysterious, moody, and forever "vanting to be alone." Though, as I said, the studios helped build up these images, these were most often true to their personalities in real life. Ingrid was warm, friendly, even to a certain extent playful, a people person. Though this isn't to say Garbo didn't like a good time, she was more of a recluse who retired from her successful career at its peak. "I vant to be alone," was not just a line in Grand Hotel (1932), but the catchphrase of her life. This, also, isn't to imply that Garbo was rude or introverted, only that she simply enjoyed keeping to herself.

Which woman had more success is a comparison that seems more cruel or unfair to make, and certainly not as clear cut. In my opinion, I will say Ingrid - which, I know, sounds biased, but this is mostly on the grounds of the success of Casablanca (1942). It is one of the most famous, critically acclaimed movies in history, right up there with Gone With the Wind (1939) and Citizen Kane (1941), and because of this movie, as well as her three Oscars, Ingrid is emblazoned into film history. This is not to say that Greta isn't; but because of Casablanca (1942), Ingrid will always be more recognizable with the general public in a way that Garbo will not.

As one can infer from all of the above, Ingrid and Greta's similarities pretty much stop at the fact that they are both Swedes. But this one, common trait between the two seems as if it will forever link them, and film buffs will always seem to make comparisons of the two because of it, despite the fact that they are so different in every other way. In fact, I can assure you that if they were not both Nordic, there wouldn't be anyone who would even bother to compare the two.

As you can see from the results, Ingrid won this one, but only by a smidge - one vote, to be precise. With results thisclose I'm especially hoping voters will comment about what swung them one way rather than the other.

I've only seen a few of Garbo's movies, whereas I've seen nearly all of Ingrid's filmography. Still, I can assure you that I will never like Garbo as much as I love Ingrid. I'm adding here, though, I'm not trying to hate on Garbo at all. But I have loved Ingrid Bergman for a long time, she is one of my top favorite actresses, and I have claimed her most often as my second favorite actress (if I had to pick one). So many of her movies are favorites of mine. My love for Ingrid is unchanging, and so it's needless to say that my pick out of the two, despite the un-proportional ratio of Garbo and Bergman films I've seen, will be Ingrid.

What is it that I love about Ingrid? I just really love her, inside and out. As an actress and as a human. As a actress I hold "Ingrid Bergman" in such a high regard, as the epitome of an actress that every actress should aspire to be. When she plays a role, it's so easy to believe every motion and every line, and you feel like all the fibers in her body are immersed so deeply into her role. I always think of Ingrid as the star who truly loved acting and considered it to be an art. After all, she was quoted as saying, "If you took acting away from me, I'd stop breathing!" Good evidence of her dedication to the art is this particular story:

Ingrid's last role, the one that would win her a posthumous Emmy, was as the Israeli prime minister Golda Meir. When Meir was elected, she covered her face with her two arms, an image that was often then relied on television and to the public many times. As always, Ingrid researched her roles to the core and when she saw this she felt like she would absolutely need to repeat this same gesture. The issue was that this simple motion was not going to be easy for her because of her breast cancer. 

Because of the cancer, it was physically impossible for her raise her right arm. After the mastectomy several lymph nodes were removed, which resulted in an arm swollen to the point where it was huge (Ingrid dubbed it "the big, ugly, overgrown, sick dog"). 

Still, despite this, Ingrid insisted that the role would only be accurate upon preforming this gesture. She discovered the only way to make this possible was to suspend her arm above her head for a long period of time so the liquid would go away. So the nights before she had to film, she would do this, for the entire night, and she wouldn't sleep at all, just to make the gesture correct. If that isn't devotion to something, what is?

As a person, there are so many things I love about her. One is she was never afraid to be herself. She said, "Be yourself, the world worships the original." She stuck by this during her 1950 scandal with Robert Rossellini (if anyone needs clarification of what this was, read this). She didn't try to hide what was going on. She outright boldly admitted to everything that she had done, and didn't regret any of it. She truly faced the music because she knew what occurred was a part of her. People didn't like her for it. They hated her, in fact, took to the Senate floor to condemn her; sent her letters addressing her as "whore" and "slut". Loretta Young, too, had an affair with Clark Gable and became pregnant with his love child. But she covered up the scandal by putting the child into an orphanage and making a big deal out of adopting her in the press. I'm not trying to hate on Loretta, but Ingrid's situation was pretty much similar, and I simply find the way she handled it more commendable. 

When I read about Ingrid, I laugh and smile and think, this is someone who you'd want to be around. Want to be friends with. She liked to play jokes, she loved American ice cream and butter cookies, she greatly admired her Bohemian father (who died when she was thirteen), and was proud of herself for being able to pull the tablecloth out from underneath a set table without breaking a single dish.

Greta Garbo is a woman beloved by many, and rightfully so. She was certainly a beautiful woman and a good actress. But for me, I don't think she is someone I will adore anytime soon. Just because she's not the type of star I enjoy doesn't mean that others shouldn't. I can think of many in the Classic Hollywood community who love Greta. I'm going to continue to try giving more of her movies a chance, especially as I haven't seen yet what is considered by many to be her greatest film, Ninotchka (1939). I don't exactly think her tendency to overact is my cup of tea, and I'm 99% sure she won't be rivaling Ingrid, my joie de verve, for my affections - but all the while, I will continue my exploration in the films of Garbo.

So here I shall add a disclaimer, so I won't get hate comments from Garbo fans: I definitely do not "hate" Garbo in anyway, and just because I won't be adding her to my list of favorites anytime soon doesn't mean that I don't have respect for her as a performer, because I totally do.

As for Ingrid and Garbo actually meeting face to face, she talks a little about here, but I feel that a passage from "Ingrid: A Personal Biography", by Charlotte Chandler, better sums up the meeting of these two stars. Their meeting took place years after Garbo had ended her film career; it was at a  party in Barbados, in which Ingrid's third husband, Lars Schmidt, already knew Garbo and was chatting with her while Ingrid fretted over how to handle the situation. She felt nervous about approaching the fellow Swedish star because they had passed each other several times in the Metro lot and Garbo hadn't chosen to recognize her, not even a "simple, polite hello." But it was in fact Garbo who approached her first, which led to this odd conversation as described by Ingrid:

"Even though we'd never really met, only briefly passing each other, Miss Garbo did not introduce herself. I suppose she felt no need to say her name. She assumed everybody knew who she was, and she was right."
Garbo had heard from Schmidt that he and Ingrid loved Barbados and were looking at land on which they could build a small beach house.
"Lars and I were thinking of buying some land in Barbados, and buying a simple, very simple, house." Garbo spoke in English, and Ingrid continued in what was not the first language for either one. 
"Miss Garbo said, 'You are making a very big mistake. Terrible. You will regret it.' 
"I didn't understand at all. I suppose my face showed that I was puzzled. Miss Garbo said, 'Do you know why? They will steal everything.' 
"I told her we were not going to build a luxorious mansion, so we wouldn't be troubled. We won't have anything worth stealing because the reason we are coming here is to enjoy a very simple life and to uncomplicate our lives, to take walks and swim, without the burden of possessions. I did not believe anyone would want my shorts and cotton shirts, and Lars would have even less, some trunks and sandals. 
"She repeated, 'They steal everything.' 
"'My bathing suit?'" 
Garbo rose abruptly and departed. She didn't say goodbye to Ingrid, she just left. "I suppose that was her way of saying goodbye." 
Of this incident and their near-meetings that took place in Hollywood, Garbo said, "I do not think I ever saw Miss Bergman in a film. If so I, do not remember it. We passed on the way to the parking lot when she came to Hollywood. She did not say hello or speak to me, so I think she felt the same way I did there. There is no need to be falsely polite. I spoke to her many years later at a party - I do not remember what we said."

I think the bizarre party incident and the slightly snarky comments by both Ingrid and Greta are a result of years of comparison between the two, likely resenting always being linked with one another. I can imagine that Greta became annoyed upon having to constantly hear how Ingrid was going to be the "talking Garbo" upon her arrival in Hollywood in the 40s, and that Ingrid was tired of constantly being asked about Garbo and referred to as the "new Garbo." In the end, I think it's clear that this comparison is one that is needless to be made. Besides their Swedish roots, the two don't have much in common.

As I said before, I would love for you to leave your comments below on what you think of the constant comparison of these two actresses, which actress you chose and why, which one you feel had more success, etc.!

That's it for today, but I really hope to get a nice response to this let's talk series! :)


Kristen said...

I definitely need to create more interactive posts like this one, thanks for the nudge. I love Bergman but I have to say I haven't seen any Garbo movies yet (the yet is important). I love how Bergman did any genre and instantly elevated them.

KimWilson said...

Garbo was the more beautiful of the two. She was a product of the Hollywood studio system, but the problem was that she could care less. When she had enough money stocked away and knew that she could live comfortably for the rest of her life she walked away and never regretted it. She was not one would classify as a true actress--she was someone who photographed well and had screen presence.

Bergman was an actress--she acted up until her death. When she was blacklisted by decency leagues in the USA she went to Italy, France, and Sweden and made films.

Dani said...

Even though I voted for Ingrid, I'm not really familiar with her work. But, as I'd seen 2 of her films and none of Greta's, I had to give her my vote.
I don't know much about any of these actresses' personal lives (except from what I've just read here), but even before I became a fan of classic Hollywood, I had heard Garbo's name and knew she was some sort of screen legend. Kind of like I knew Marilyn Monroe and Elvis were legends (or icons), but didn't really know their work. As for Ingrid, I had never heard of her before I entered the old movies universe - although I knew of Casablanca, I wasn't familiar with the stars' names or anything like that. But after watching her, I thought she was quite natural in her acting and I loved her smile.
About the comparison between the 2, I think when a country that's not known for its cinematic productions gives two exceptional actresses/stars to the world, it's hard to escape this kind of comparison (even though it can be really annoying).
And that conversation between them must have been really awkward, starting with the language choice. I think it's so weird to speak in English with people from my own country, I get too self-conscious about my accent :)
Well, thanks for doing this. I hope next time I have more interesting things to say.

Jorge said...

Very interesanting post. Google is fantastic in a rainy saturday day.
Well, i have not been able to see any of Ingrid´s movies, as an adult. I mean I´m sure i have seen Casablanca many times, but in the past, in a time i was not really into classic movies. But I have seen some interviews, and Ingrid is such a lovely person. I would like to read her biography. I know better her daughter, I have seen her pictures, but that´s another story. My boydriend knows very well Rosellini´s films, so I feel very curios about those films, and of course about Ingrid´s career and life.
I have seen 3 Garbo movies. And I would love to see more. I have read more about her than about Ingrid. I think Greta Garbo was more a star, but not the way the people think about a star. It´s not Joan Crawford´s life. Garbo (I think) didn´t really wanted to be the star the people wanted her to be. And that´s is so damn interesting. While most of hollywood icons during the 30´s and 40´s talked about Garbo with mistery, with Ingrid it happened the opposite. I think everyone respected Ingrid a lot more than Garbo, i mean as actresses. But you get very confused when Katherine Hepburn or Bette Davis talk about Garbo like someone who has some unreachable charm when acting. Ingrid won more awards than Garbo, but when you compare them as icons or personalities, it seems like Garbo was something more. I don´t want to say that Ingrid wasn´t, but the whole world was facinating with her acting first, and with her personality second. With Garbo it was all about her face, her personality; it was first Garbo as the myth, and second as the actress.
Your post is one of the best (maybe the best) i have read about the two actresses. I´m fully agree with you when you say that if they were not fellow swedish, nobody would ever make any comparision. But it happens in music as well (Roxette, Abba trivias are everywhere) I will back to this website once i get to see more Bergman and Garbo´s films.
Cheers from Argentina,

Rianna said...

I too need to give Garbo more of a chance, having only seen a few of her films. But from what I've seen, I still like Ingrid much better. I love her so much, she was such a wonderful wonderful actress; I'd probably have to admit to her being my 2nd favorite actress.

Rianna said...

I agree with pretty much everything you say, except that Garbo was the more beautiful of the two. In my opinion, Ingrid was, because her beauty was natural and she could look gorgeous with little to no makeup. Plus, she was unbelievably youthful and beautiful looking until she was diagnosed with her cancer, which aged her very quickly. To me, Garbo is very beautiful with a stunning face, but I see her beauty as more artificial. However, everyone has a different opinion on this.

But you are right about everything else. Bergman was truly an "Actress", who acted until her dying day and made films in a variety of languages, which is what I admire about her.

Rianna said...
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Rianna said...

Well, first, what you had to say was very interesting & I enjoyed reading it! Thank you for giving me the idea for this interactive series.

I hadn't heard of Garbo before becoming a classic film fan, but upon becoming one, I definitely heard of her. To me, she had always seemed like a mysterious, vague movie star with 'The Face', one held in great esteem & regard. I agree that Casablanca is one of most well known films of all time, but this doesn't make Ingrid as well known as the movie.

I agree with what you say about the comparison, and yes, the conversation does sound quite awkward, doesn't it?! I understand what you mean about the language. I mean, English is the only language I know fluently, and I live in America so obviously I speak only it here, but when I travel somewhere I feel embarrassed speaking whatever little I know of that country's native language because of my American accent! :)

Though to note, I think English became the language Ingrid was most comfortable with because I read in her bio a conversation she had with George Cukor in which he noted the fact that she spoke five languages, and asked her which one she thought in, to which she replied, "English."

Rianna said...

Hi, I'm happy you enjoyed the post!

I really encourage you to see more of her movies. If I may suggest: Gaslight (1944), The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), Notorious (1946), and Anastasia (1956), are great movies to get started with. I've seen so much of her filmography, including a few of the films she made in Italy & Sweden. She truly was a lovely person and I would also encourage you to read a biography ("Ingrid: A Personal Biography" by Charlotte Chandler is rather good). I love Isabella a lot too, and the only work of Rossellini's I've seen is Stromboli (1950), but I'm rather interested in seeing Rome: Open City, as it's the movie that attracted Ingrid to his work.

From the responses I've gotten to this post, I think the general idea seems to be that people think of Ingrid as a legitimate actress whereas Garbo is thought of as the 'star' and the 'icon', which I more or less agree with. Though I agree that Ingrid was the 'actress', she was also quite a big star, listed as the top box office draw through much of the 1940s. The studios created a 'natural' image for her that made her the woman all parents wanted their daughters to grow up to be. Of course, her 1950 scandal destroyed this reputation but it was later restored.

Still, because of her mysterious lore Garbo was built for being the true definition of a movie STAR: she had that quality about her, that nearly made her goddess like, whereas Ingrid seemed more accessible and friendly. Very much what you say about Garbo the 'myth.'

Oh, wow, thank you so much for the compliment! I hope you do return and feel free to leave more insightful comments such as this, I enjoyed reading your views!

Dani said...

I have some american friends and, when they came here, they would try to speak some words in Portuguese (I'm from Brazil) and I thought it was a little bit funny. Especially when they tried to say "bread" (which in Portuguese in "pão") and ended up saying "pau" (which means, among other things, "dick" - can I write that here?), because they couldn't make the nasal sound. But it goes both ways: a brazilian friend tried to say "peanuts" and I think you can guess what word came out of his mouth.
Anyway, I think Ingrid spent too much time in the US, if she was that comfortable with the language.

Lauren LoGiudice said...

I hate to have to vote on one or the other -- two beautiful women who would hate to be pitted against one another.

Garbo hated competition and back-biting. Which is one of the reasons that she eventually left Hollywood

Rianna said...

Haha, I just saw this comment right now! I know, we Americans with our accents tend to botch up all sorts of words. I found your two stories extremely funny, and haha yes, in your context it was fine. :) Yeah, because having live in the US all my life (and only speaking bits and pieces of other languages), I could never imagine becoming so comfortable in a 'foreign' language that i would think in it!

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Anonymous said...

It has got to be Bergman. I just think she was more accessible than Garbo because Garbo always seems stand-offish. Bergman always seemed normal and you can always associate yourself with her. Hence you gotta love her!

Anonymous said...

There seems to be an eagerness in Ingrid's eyes while there seems to be sadness in Greta's.

Ed G said...
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Ed G said...

OK - it seems fairly obvious to me that Ingrid "won" (by one vote) this because the participants (those who commented, anyway) are unfamiliar with Garbo's work.
Greta Garbo was the highest paid film star of her era.
At the same time she was considered the most beautiful woman on the planet, by many.
Joan Crawford was in awe of her.
Bette Davis was in awe of her presence ("witchcraft") in front of the camera.
Both John & Lionel Barrymore had nothing but praise for GG.
Please watch Anna Christie, Grand Hotel, Ninotchka and ESPECIALLY Camille, before you dismiss Garbo.
I am sure she would think this "contest" ridiculous, btw.
And oh, Garbo is regarded as a National Treasure in Sweden, to this day.

Bottle said...

I love them both, even Garbo's behaviors, but have no need to "rank" them. The comparison that most interests me is Garbo in silent films vs. speaky films. Just having seen A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS for the first time, I'm wondering if Garbo's power in silent films isn't underestimated at least by a modern audience. I thought she was better in this one than in NINOTCHKA and her other speakies.

Bottle said...

And now I've seen THE KISS, which makes me quite certain that silent films were a superior art form. The silence obviously is a main reason. So when watching them today one needs to switch off the inevitably goopy musical accompaniment.

In THE KISS Garbo doesn't need a voice. Her voice is in her constantly changing face, a silent screen within the silent screen. And as in the case of all most beautiful women, she is not at her most breathtaking every second. With her face pinched from anguish, e.g., she looks almost ordinary. Such a low point creates high points if you know what I mean.

In addition, the dresses and headpieces she wears also provide flickering alteration of her presence, e.g., while on the defendant's stand in court she looks like a nun.

There are purely personal reasons for my admiration as well. In A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS there is a great crew race. In THE KISS there is wonderful tennis. Those are my two most favorite sports.

The three Weird Sisters who come to clean the courtroom at the end of THE KISS are just one comic highlight of this extremely hip tale of a lovers' triangle. They are out of MACBETH by William Shakespeare.

Anonymous said...

For heaven's sake! Why are people always raving about the "beauty" of Garbo? She's an average looking woman with a lot of makeup. If she wasn't a famous star, would anyone think her looks were remarkable? I've always thought she was butt-ugly!

Anonymous said...

I agree I've never though of greta Garbo as a great beauty I have a lot films of greta Garbo like Camille and even though her films are actually quite good her beauty is not great, not very femanine at all, very thin lips ,icy looking eyes a manly voice not like Vivien Leigh or Elizabeth Taylor whom I consider great beauties. To me Ingrid Bergman was more beautiful than greta Garbo more femanine soft lines in her face, she is amazing looking in Casablanca

Anonymous said...

Remember, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder".

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