The relationship between Greta Garbo and photographer Clarence Sinclair Bull is perhaps the most storied pairing in the star system of Golden Age Hollywood. Only Bull could coax the immortally sensual and iconic images that defined Garbo from the notoriously shy and reserved star. Defying the conventions of the studio, Garbo refused to work with leading photographer George Hurrell, and instead entered into a partnership of sorts with Bull, who developed the glamorous and exotic look for which Garbo became known as much as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer did. In this portrait from the 1934 film “The Painted Veil,” Garbo is seen in profile, with the luscious light and shadow for which the photographer was known.
Greta Lovisa Gustafsson was born in Stockholm, Sweden on September 18, 1905. She was 14 when her father died, leaving the family destitute. Greta was forced to leave school and go to work in a department store. The store used her for her modeling abilities for newspaper ads. She had no film aspirations until she appeared in an advertising short at that same department store while she was still a teenager. This led to another short film when Erik A. Petschler, a comedy director, saw the film. He gave her a small part in the film, _Luffarpetter (1922)_. Encouraged by her own performance she applied for and won a scholarship in a Swedish drama school. While there she appeared in two films, En lyckoriddare (1921) and _Luffarpetter (1922)_ the following year. Both were small parts, but it was a start. Finally famed Swedish director, Mauritz Stiller, pulled her from drama school for the leading role in Gösta Berlings saga (1924). At 18, Greta was on a roll. Following Die freudlose Gasse (1925) both Greta and Stiller were offered contracts with MGM. Her first US film was Torrent (1926). It was a silent film where she didn’t have to speak a word of English. After a few more films, such as The Temptress (1926), Love (1927/I), and A Woman of Affairs (1928), Greta starred in Anna Christie (1930) (her first “talkie”), which not only gave her a powerful screen presence, but also gave her an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress. Unfortunately she didn’t win. Later that year she filmed Romance (1930) which was somewhat of a letdown, but bounced back as lead role in Susan Lenox (1931) with Clark Gable. The film was a hit and led to another exciting title role in Mata Hari (1931). Greta continued to give intensified performances in whatever was handed her. The next year Greta was cast in another hit Grand Hotel (1932). But it was MGM’s Anna Karenina (1935) where she, perhaps, gave the performance of her life. She was absolutely breathtaking in the title role as a woman torn between two lovers and her son. Greta starred in Ninotchka (1939) which showcased her comedic side. It wasn’t until two years later she made what was to be her last film that being Two-Faced Woman (1941), another comedy. After World War II, Greta, by her own admission, felt that the world had changed perhaps forever and she retired, never again to face the camera. She would work for the rest of her life to perpetuate the Garbo mystique. Her films, she felt, had their proper place in history and would gain in value. She abandoned Hollywood and moved to New York City. She would jet-set with some of the world’s best known personalities such as Aristotle Onassis and others. She spent time gardening flowers and vegetables. In 1954, Greta was given a special Oscar for past unforgettable performances. She even penned her biography in 1990. On April 15, 1990, Greta died of natural causes in New York and with it the “Garbo Mystique”. She was 84.
IMDb Mini Biography By: Denny Jackson
Clarence Sinclair Bull (1896-1979) was born in Michigan but spent most of his life in Hollywood where he died in 1979. He was hired by movie mogul Sam Goldwyn in 1920 to photograph publicity stills of the studio’s stars. Four years later, when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was founded, Bull was appointed as the head of their stills department where he remained throughout his career. During that time he took portraits of the most celebrated Hollywood film stars, however, he is particularly known for his photographs for Garbo who was almost exclusively photographed by Bull from 1926 to 1941.
From The Kiss until Two-Faced Woman in 1941, Bull was to take all Garbo’s portraits with the exception of one film in 1930, Romance. George Hurrell, who came to MGM in that year, took these portraits. Bull was the ideal collaborator for this sensitive soul, Garbo. Their first set of proofs showed it, aportfolio of accomplished images that would be printed, published, reprinted, and seen all over the world.
Bull’s first significant session with Garbo was when he came to shoot the portraits for her last silent film The Kiss in 1929. “I recall that first morning the great Garbo walked into my portrait gallery looking like a frightened schoolgirl”. Garbo, a creature of extreme habit, suddenly found herself confronted with a new photographer having been photographed for the past three years by Ruth Harriet Louise. Most film stars considered their gallery sessions the most uncomfortable and exposing part of their work.
Garbo was no different, and was unique in Hollywood in that she only ever posed in character for her role in whatever film she was making, and this may account for her reaction to their first session as Bull recalled it. Though, as he points out, “What she didn’t know was that I was just as scared. For three hours I photographed her in every pose and emotion that beautiful face could mirror. At the end of the sitting, which had been without a single break, she said “I’ll do better next time Mr Bull. I was quite nervous.” I patted her hand and replied, “So will I”.