Monday, March 30, 2009

When Greta Gustafsson changed her name

While trawling the internet I recently stumbled on a brilliant Garbo site. The site is hosted by two German guys and is called Garbo Forever. At the site the visitor finds just about everything concerning Greta Garbo, her life and times. All together a splendid site. The site also contains scans of some very interesting official documents. I found this document particularly interesting since its an old Swedish document and there is no full interpretation of it on the Garbo Forever site.

The document concerns Greta Gustafsson's change of last name to Garbo.

In 1923, when Greta Gustafsson was a budding Swedish film star, ready to meet the masses in her first major film The Saga Of Gösta Berling. the director of the film Mauritz Stiller who also was her mentor (and lover) at this time thought that a name change would be appropriate for the release of the film.

Greta Gustafsson wasn't exactly a glamorous name as it sounded very common and was a name held by thousands of girls only in Stockholm. Early in 1923 she had allready made a small change in her last name omitting an "s" in Gustafsson. It looked slightly more international but was still not uncommon. This minor change wasn't enough for Stiller who thought of something far more exotic. He was a fan of names with alitteration like "Charlie Chaplin" so he came up with the Hungarian sounding "Gabór". Rumor has it that it was Greta's friend Mimi Pollack who then switched the letters making up "Garbo".

Greta liked Garbo better than Gabór and presented Mimmi's idea to Stiller who approved. Thus, a name petition was made and sent to the Swedish authoroties in mid November '23. This is the document shown above. Let's take a closer look at it.
The text reads like this:

To the Governor General.

I, undersigned humbly ask permission to let my unmarried daughter, miss Greta Gustafsson change her family name to Garbo.
Birth certificate enclosed.

Stockholm, November 9th, 1923.
Anna Gustafsson
Witnessed by: Monica Mårtensson - Ragnar Ek

My mother's petition is approved by me,
Stockholm, November 9th, 1923.
Greta Gustafson
Witnessed by: Monica Mårtensson - Ragnar Ek

If we look further in the details we can see that neither Greta or her mother Anna have written the petition themselves. Probably they let a family solicitor or a lawyer write it for them. It's written in a quite sloppy fashion so it's clearly done by someone who is very used to write such things. The signatures of both Greta and her mother tells us that neither of them was particularly used to write in ink. One can see that they have written their names quite slowly. Another interesting detail is that Greta's mother spellt Gustafsson with two s for both herself and her daughter. The document was clearly written in advance and the two women probably had an appointement with the solicitor just to sign the document. The two witnesses are probably people working for the solicitor. The solicitor then sent the document to the Govenor General.

It is stamped by the Governor General's office the 13th November 1923. It's filed as the 223rd dossier that year. It tells us that The Governor General's office made a research on the name and came to the conclusion that the name was free to use. There was no one with the name of Garbo in Sweden. A scribbling tells that there is one family called "Garbom" though.

The Govenor General then sent the document to the Department of Justice for final approval. A stamp tells us that it arrived there December 4th 1923.
The Department of Justice found nothing strange with it and finally approved the "birth" of Greta Garbo December 21, 1923.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Forgotten Star - Lawrence Gray

This is an expanded version of the post made on my Swedish blog in 2008 to celebrate Lawrence Gray’s 110th birthday.

Lawrence Gray was one of the more prominent figures in the early talkies. It’s actually hard to miss him if you like me really like the 1929-30 films in particular. During the 1929-30 season he appeared in no fewer than eleven pictures, most of them from MGM.

He was born July 28th 1898 in San Francisco. In his early twenties he went to Hollywood, drawn to the budding movie industry as so many youngsters at that time. He quickly got a job as an attributor at Paramount. Larry was a very handsome young man with an easy going attitude which soon led to a place in front of the camera instead of among the props.

He made his debut in The Dressmaker From Paris 1925, starring Olive Borden. Almost by accident young Larry became a rising movie star. He got bigger and bigger parts in what was to become important high budget pictures. His third film was The Coast Of Folly (1925) starring Gloria Swanson. In Stage Struck (1925) Larry became Gloria's leading man, her love interest Orme, a “flap-jack-flipper”. Later that same year he did The American Venus with Esther Ralston and Louise Brooks. Both of these films had lavish color sequences.

In 1926 Lawrence Gray was cast alongside Eddie Cantor and Clara Bow in the comedy classic Kid Boots. For some reason he had a hard time getting the really big parts. Larry was bought over to Fox, where he made seven films during 1927-28. Also in 1927 he made his debut at MGM in After Midnight in which he shared top billing with Norma Shearer, the Queen of MGM. 1928 was a good year for Larry but a real mess studio-wise, working for several studios including Fox and Tiffany Stahl. He made Oh Kay with Colleen Moore for First National, The Patsy with Marion Davies for Cosmopolitan Pictures, then back to Fox for two films and finally ending up at MGM. In the spring of 1929 Larry made his last silent movie, Trent’s Last Case, starring Raymond Griffith and Marceline Day.

In august 1929 it was time for Larry to make his talkie debut in Marianne together with Marion Davies. In my opinion Marianne was an odd choice for a first talkie. Marion Davies really goes out on a limb and speaks every line with a very thick homegrown French accent. Keep in mind that almost every movie star at the time was absolutely frightened to be deemed not ”having a voice”. Larry, who had shown much skill as a comic actor during the silent days is perfectly cast as the American doughboy who falls for the French local girl, Marion/Marianne. he also got plenty of opportunities to show his finely tuned singing voice. The funny business was handled by two of MGM's newest acquisitions, Yiddish dialect comedian Benny Rubin and ukulele-playing Cliff Edwards.

Let’s take a look at some scenes from Larry's talkies. We start with Marianne, where Larry gets to sing for the first time on the screen. First out is Blondy, written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed:

We move on to one of the best scenes in the film and a song that later became a classic tune. Here it is, for the first time, Just You, Just Me, written by Jesse Greer and Raymond Klages, performed by Lawrence Gray and Marion Davies. Note the accent!

Larry’s next film was It’s A Great Life, the consolation price The Duncan sisters got for missing the leads in Broadway Melody, remember. In this film Larry plays Jimmy Dean, an upcoming songwriter for a sister act played by The Duncans. There’s several color sequences in the film, this clip is the last of them and the big finale of the picture. I’m Sailing On A Sunbeam Music and Lyrics by Dave Dreyer and Ballard MacDonald.

We continue to 1930 and the First National musical Spring Is Here where Larry plays a minor role as the mysterious stranger. Spring is Here is a forgettable bagatelle but contains some good songs, among them one true evergreen written by Rogers & Hart. With A Song In My Heart, performed on the screen by Lawrence Gray and Bernice Claire.

Larry made six pictures during 1930 most of them musicals like Children Of Pleasure. He was teamed up with Marilyn Miller for Sunny and once again with Marion Davies for the Floradora Girl. As 1930 ended, the spotlights faded for Larry. Musicals were falling out of fashion and his character type was no longer wanted. Among his last pictures for a major company was Man Of The World (1931) which he made on loan to Paramount in 1931. It was a total failure.

Larry soon ended up as a bit player at poverty row studios like Victory Pictures, Liberty Pictures and Conn Pictures often playing singing Cowboys in B-westerns until he finally left the acting business in 1936 and his last film role in In Paris A.W.O.L. for William Rowland Productions.

Lawrence Gray left Hollywood to settle down in his wife’s home country Mexico. He set up a distribution business working as a liaison between American and Mexican film companies. He stayed in Mexico for the rest of his life. Lawrence Gray left us in 1970, far away from Hollywood.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My Talkie Lair

Raquelle of Out Of The Past urged her fellow bloggers to take pictures of their entertainment centers. Naturally I have to answer to such an urge. Here goes!

Here's the center itself. My TV-set is an old Philips Widescreen I bought in France 10 years ago. I thought of changing it for a flat screen when it brakes down but it's still as good as new so I guess that will have to wait. All my friends have had flat panel TV's in road sign sizes for years but I don't care, since the talkies I watch often are quite flaky in quality and only have glorious mono sound. The toy stove is not mine. It belongs to my son who was watching a French "dessin animeé" about insects when this picture was taken earlier today. 
Let's pass through the kitchen and look what we find on the other side.

This is where I make up my stuff and where I am right now. When the picture was taken I was not. Most of my silents and talkie collection is kept in unsexy albums like the red one that rests on a pile of junk to the left. As most films from the 1925-35 period awaits DVD releases you have to collect copies on home made DVD's from all over the world. Let's turn around instead and watch where I keep some of my officially released stash...

I have DVD's hidden in every space imaginable in my appartment, but this is the core of my collection. Mostly classic movies and European art films like Bergman and Fellini. 
I have one thing in common with Raquelle here... We are both labeling our beloved VHS casettes with plain white labels on the short end of the box. I don't know if this is common practice. I don't know anyone else who does it except for me and Raquelle. It saves space so I thought it was a good idea back in the 80's when I started to do it. I bet Raquelle came up with the same idea.

On the other side there's more VHS and some records I'm probably ashamed of having in my collection...

When I am seated at my desk this is what I see...Records and occasionally some sunshine. Ooops! a pair of shorts! OK I'll leave those for documenatry values. Swell!

My next post will be up in a few days. It will be a recycled but slightly expanded version of my erlier Swedish post about Lawrence Gray, a forgotten talkie personality and singer of unforgettable songs.

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