Greta Garbo-Early Years




Greta Lovisa Gustafsson was born in Stockholm, Sweden. She was the third and youngest child of Anna Lovisa  Karlsson, (1872–1944.) and Karl Alfred Gustafsson (1871–1920).  Garbo had an older brother, Sven Alfred (1898–1967), and an older sister, Alva Maria (1903–1926).


Her parents met in Stockholm. Her father made occasional trips from his home in Frinnaryd. He moved to Stockholm to become independent, and worked in various odd jobs. He married Anna, who had recently relocated from Högsby. The Gustafssons were impoverished and lived in a three-bedroom cold-water flat. They raised their three children in a working-class district regarded as the city’s slum. Garbo would later recall:

“It was eternally gray—those long winter’s nights. My father would be sitting in a corner, scribbling figures on a newspaper. On the other side of the room my mother is repairing ragged old clothes, sighing. We children would be talking in very low voices, or just sitting silently. We were filled with anxiety, as if there were danger in the air. Such evenings are unforgettable for a sensitive girl. Where we lived, all the houses and apartments looked alike, their ugliness matched by everything surrounding us.”

As a child, Garbo was a shy daydreamer. She hated school and preferred to play alone. Yet she was an a imaginative child, and a natural leader, who became interested in theatre at an early age. She directed her friends in make-believe games and performances. Garbo dreamed about becoming an actress. 


Later, she would participate in amateur theatre with her friends and frequent the Mosebacke Theater.  At the age of 13, Garbo graduated from school which was typical of a Swedish working-class girl at that time.  She did not attend high school. She would  confess later, she had an inferiority complex about this.


In the winter  of 1919, the Spanish flu spread throughout Stockholm.  Garbo’s father, to whom she was very close, became ill.  He began missing work and eventually lost his job.  Garbo stayed at home looking after him and taking him to the hospital for weekly treatments.  In 1920, when she was 14 years old, he died.

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