New York vignettes

Featured image
Splish Splashing. Photo: JH.

Thursday, July 29, 2022. Another summer day in New York with temps in the upper 70s and reaching into the 80s. The air was thick until the humidity broke around 9 PM.

Wednesday’s Diary about Garbo brought a number of comments about the Hollywood star who remained very famous long after she left Hollywood and moved to New York.

Garbo had a mystery about her that you could see on screen but also in her private life which included going for long walks around the city and frequently. In fact she was also very mindful of her health and exercise.

She was also a Virgo and very particular about the matters that meant most to her. Her private life and her money. She made a lot and saw to it that more was gained from it. She may have had a marriage when she was very very young but it was over before Louis B. Mayer traveled to Europe to “see” the young actress and persuaded her to come to America. Where she remained for the rest of her life.

On-screen counterparts Greta Garbo and John Gilbert.

She never married. There was romance back in early Hollywood with John Gilbert, the male counterpart — on screen anyway — to Garbo.  Although she was mainly a woman’s woman, and between all of those who chased after her (and they did, and often with elan) she had what she wanted, and liked having friends. A lot of her behavior was sincere but it also became the stuff of “legends.” She wore it like a star.

In yesterday’s emails, I received one from Peter Gregory. Peter needs no introduction to many many New Yorkers and in business. From the writer’s point of view, he also comes from an interesting family that had great prominence in the world of business and international society. His mother and father both, I believe came from Russia — long long ago — and came to New York. The following is Peter’s message to me yesterday morning:

Dear David,

Since you had some material about Greta Garbo, I thought you might enjoy this vignette.

Greta Garbo with her friend of 20 years, George Schlee.

I was fourteen years old and was staying in the South of France with my parents in August. They gave a dinner at a restaurant in the mountains above Beaulieu called Le Chèvre d’Or. I was included because the group would have been thirteen without me and my mother was very superstitious.

The group included Elsa Maxwell, Greta Garbo and her lover and confidant George Schlee. First, Maxwell was so large that she didn’t have the stamina could not climb the restaurant’s winding stairs. So Schlee and I put our hands together and carried her up the stairs. No easy task …

Elsa’s reaction as we are reimagining it.

Once we got upstairs, we were seated at a long table and I was seated opposite Garbo. At some point the conversation turned to breasts. Garbo announced that she had always had firm breasts and unbuttoned her blouse and showed the entire table her breasts.

I was, to say the least, speechless and believe that I am the last living person who had a full frontal view of the Divine Garbo.

A memory of times past for your birthday!

Coincidentally the Garbo story involved another character in the great New York world of culture and celebrity, Sam Green. Sam also knew Garbo and had a personal intimate relationship with her. She liked the company of men and always had men friends in her life. Sam befriended her and became a walks companion. They even exchanged phone numbers.

Greta and Sam on the streets of New York.

More than once when she called him, his answering machine took the call and she’d leave her message. This went on for a long time. Then one day she learned that Sam would sometimes play these messages for a friend or a curious acquaintance — “Wanna hear what Garbo said to me over the phone …” or something like that. Somehow Garbo got wind of it. Uh-uh. It was finito with Sam, then and there. She was never present in any room in which he was standing, ever again. And Garbo got out and around.

Knowing celebrities of our world is not the same as knowing your neighbor or your in-laws or anyone else in your life. Celebrities are separated by the sense of self. In other words they are just like the rest of us unknowns but they carry an additional element — some degree of fame which includes a lot of categories from royalty to movies and all the burgeoning off-shoots. It’s an attachment, like ear plugs. The clever ones know how to deal with it. Garbo was one of the clever ones. It wasn’t just her stardom; she knew just what she wanted in life. She must have been born with it.

In the world of fame and fortune aside from her famous privacy issue, Garbo liked people and had a wide range of relationships in her famous life. She continued to maintain the don’t-ask-don’t-tell presence with those who knew her. But she lived an international social life and kept her very private privacy from the press.

Sam Green, on the other hand, was a congenial, friendly man who came to New York to make his way and meet his dreams.

Welcome to New York.

Recent Posts