LoGuidice, an actor, writer and producer, had recently completed performing one solo show titled Queens Girl and wasn’t sure if she wanted to do another until she walked into the living room of her acting teacher, Lynn Singer. Singer told LoGuidice to watch the actress on her TV screen, which was Greta Garbo, starring in the film “Anna Christie.”
“I was hooked,” LoGuidice said of seeing Garbo for the first time. “I rented the movie, grabbed her biography and started reading and watching nonstop. It took me about a year to decide how to express this newfound obsession. I thought it could be a screen play or a book before I settled on a solo play.”
LoGuidice was immediately intrigued and fascinated by Garbo, the Swedish-born actor, who began working in clothing commercials and studied at The Royal Dramatic Theatre’s Acting School in Stockholm, before being recruited by Louis B. Mayer. After starring in “Torrent” in 1926, Garbo was noted for her beauty as well as her acting and gaining acclaim in silent films before transitioning into talking pictures.
Throughout her career, Garbo gained received three Academy Award nominations and an honorary award in 1954 for her “luminous and unforgettable screen performances.” Pierre de Rohan, of the New York Telegraph, wrote of Garbo, “She has a glamour and fascination for both sexes which have never been equaled on the screen”.
LoGuidice’s solo play, Garbo Dreams, explores the enigma that is Greta Garbo, with LoGuidice playing the title role of the lady herself on what her last night alive. She ponders the meaning of life, love, fame and loyalty. LoGuidice performs the show in site-specific locations, honoring Garbo’s abhorrence of public speaking.
The next entrance to Garbo’s living room is offered September 8 at Lexington Bar and Books. The performance takes place in “living room style,” representing Garbo’s reclusive nature. The setting inspires an intimate atmosphere, as notoriously private Garbo lets people in, and, LoGuidice said, inspires a strong reaction from the audience.
“If she knew you were a stranger you would never get a peep out of her, must less at the interesting bits of her life,” LoGuidice said. “I decided that the only way to get her to speak would be for the audience to invade her living room without her knowledge.”
To write Garbo Dreams, LoGuidice researched the actor’s life extensively, citing biographies and movies but also meeting with expert researchers. The development process of the play was advised by Amy Villarejo, from Cornell University, who had worked on Grabo biographies. LoGuidice also met with Emmy Award-winning documentarians Andrea Weiss and Greta Schiller, who offered resources about the period and the social groups that existed around Garbo. She collaborated with Parisian designer Britta Uschkamp who is an expert in fashion in Garbo’s time period and traveled to the Rosenbach in Philadelphia to read original letters from Garbo to Mercedes de Acotsa.
Garbo, a notoriously private person, prohibited visitors onset when she was performing. When asked about these restrictions, she said, “If I am by myself, my face will do things I cannot do with it otherwise”. She retired from acting at age 36 and did not work again, despite living until she was 84 years old. This privacy was an exciting challenge to LoGuidice, who wondered what Garbo would do, alone in her apartment for hours at a time. One thing, LoGuidice knows for certain: Garbo would never sign into Facebook or Tweet.
“I read that Sam Green, her friend, spied treasure trolls under her coach. Also, a plastic snowman – recently auctioned by her estate – was the only occupant allowed to sit on her very expensive ottoma,” LoGuidice said. “I also knew that she was an adoring fan of Michael Jackson, Paul Lynde, and of course, Hollywood Squares. These all come together to create the eccentric life you see in the play. Every element in her life as embodied in the play has documented proof. Everything. Except the words.”
Even at the height of her fame, Garbo avoided industry social functions. She never signed autographs, never answered fan mail and gave only 14 interviews throughout her life. She did not attend the Oscar ceremonies, even when she was nominated. Her reclusive nature earned her the nickname “The Swedish Sphinx” from the media.
Garbo’s ability to remain so private, despite her worldwide fame, as well as her refusal to define herself in the public eye, has intrigued LoGuidice.
“Garbo was a post-gay feminist without ever using those labels,” LoGuidice said. “She was an independent woman who stuck to her ideals, and that includes never using a label to identify yourself. It seemed silly to her, and she knew that people would use her name to promote their cause. Garbo had lovers of various genders and sexualities, when and how she felt like it. Who are we to smack a label on that?”
While working in Hollywood, Garbo was able to dictate the terms of her contracts and be selective about her roles at a time when women weren’t able to call many of the shots. Her bargaining skills and shrewdness made her one of the highest paid movie stars of the day.
“Garbo held her archival Louis B. Mayer by the proverbial balls because he knew one thing: Garbo could and might just walk away,” LoGuidice said. “He could bully the other stars around because he knew they needed the attention to survive. Not Garbo. Mayer was underpaying her and she knew it. She stood her ground until Mayer compromised. Did she win the same pay as male stars? No, but she came damned close and paved the way for female stars after her.”
Commenting on Garbo’s independence and bravery regarding the studio system and payment for female actors, LoGuidice said, “Being a feminist wasn’t a choice in the studio system. The only real choice you had was to either fight for your fair share or get stepped on. Garbo knew that. I dramatized the choices that she made to succeed in Hollywood within this environment through a series of flashbacks. Garbo deeply regrets what she had to give up in order to succeed in Hollywood. In Garbo Dreams Greta gave up herself to get and keep Garbo.”
Garbo retired in 1941, she retired at the age of 36 after appearing in twenty-eight films, saying, “Time leaves traces on our small faces and bodies. It’s not the same anymore, being able to pull it off.”
“Garbo retired for a variety of reasons. Some were economic and timing: it was the middle of World World II and her European market was cut off, meanwhile American markets started to turn towards the ‘All-American’ type of actress. I think that Garbo also wanted to end on a high note,” LoGuidice said. “She saw the demise of aging actresses before her and she did not want to put herself through that.”
When asked if she think the system has improved, LoGuidice said, “Do I think it is better today? That is hard to say. In many ways it is worse. What artists today have on their side is a greater ability to create and distribute their own work. I plan on never stopping creating solo plays and videos. No one can stop me – 60 years look for me on YouTube pushing a walker.”
Garbo Dreams will be performed Sept. 8 at Lexington Bar and Books. For more information, visit GarboDreams.com.