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Greta Garbo on the Swedish America Line in the 1920s and 1930s

Greta Garbo on the Swedish America Line in the 1920s and 1930s

Greta Garbo was a Swedish actress during Hollywood’s silent film period and part of its Golden Age. Regarded as one of the greatest and most inscrutable movie stars ever produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the Hollywood studio system. She traveled many times onboard the Swedish America Line from New York to Sweden throughout her career.

Rare newsreel footage of Greta Garbo arriving in Sweden from New York onboard the MS Kungsholm in 1935 .

New York: Garbo Sails For Visit To Homeland in 1946. Greta Garbo, Swedish film star, is pictured aboard the liner MS Gripsholm before she left for a visit to her homeland. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBISActress

Actress Greta Garbo had a greater impact on her craft than did any other actress in the 20th century. She introduced what is now called method acting to the screen, and in twenty-eight films, twenty-five of them filmed in the United States, redefined the image of women on the screen. Her stunning beauty and style captured the hearts of millions.

Greta Garbo sailed on the Swedish American Line’s M.S. Drottningholm for her first trip from Sweden to America. 

  • She was born in 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden, the youngest of three children of a working class family. In 1920, she took a job as a salesperson at the leading Swedish department store, PUB, a job which led to her appearance in two advertising shorts for the store.
  • This led to her first film role in the comedy Peter the Tramp (1922). Later that year she won a full scholarship to the Academy of the Royal Dramatic Theatre, the training ground for nearly every Swedish actor.

Greta Garbo sailing on the Swedish America Line in the 1920s and 1930s.

In 1923 Garbo left the Academy to star in Mauritz Stiller’s classic Gosta Berling’s Saga, which premiered in 1924. The film was a critical and commercial success. Garbo’s appearance in this film, and in the even more renown Joseph Pabst film Street of Sorrow in 1925, solidified her position as one of the premier actresses in Europe.

Louis B. Mayer, the president of MGM, signed Garbo to a contract after viewing Gosta Berling’s Saga, and she moved to California in late 1925. Her first American film was The Torrent, which premiered in March of 1926. The Torrent, The Temptress and Flesh and the Devil accounted for 13% of the revenue generated by all MGM films produced during the 1925/26 production year. Garbo was now an international star.

Greta Garbo & the famous director Maurice Stiller on board the M.S. Drottningholm in 1925 enroute to the United States

  • Given this success, MGM tried to renegotiate its original three year contract with Greta Garbo. A protracted six month contract dispute was resolved in June, 1927. In the next two years Garbo made seven more silent films, and accounted for 14% of MGM’s profit from those two production years. In her film roles and personal life, Garbo demonstrated the new potential for women in the modern world. Many of her films were controversial at the time of their release.


The MS GRIPSHOLM – Greta Garbo sailed aboard this great ship in 1929.

  • Greta Garbo’s first talkies were English and German versions of an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie. Released in 1930, Anna Christie marked Garbo’s successful transition from the silent screen to the new world of sound pictures, a transition few of the silent stars were able to make. She went on to make thirteen more films for MGM. In the movies, Camille (1937) and Ninotchka (1939), Garbo delivers two of her most magnificent performances. She received a special Oscar for her work in 1954.
  • During the Second World War Greta Garbo took a break from the movie business. Although she signed a contract for the production of a film in 1947, and considered projects well into the fifties, Garbo never made another film.
  • Garbo received a 1954 Honorary Academy Award “for her unforgettable screen performances.”

In 1999 was ranked as the fifth greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute.

  • In addition to her film legacy, Garbo sat for a number of stunning portrait photographs by a wide range of photographers, including; Edward Steichen, Ruth Harriet Louise, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Nikolas Muray, Arnold Genthe and Cecil Beaton.
  • After the war, Garbo moved to New York, where she lived until her death in 1990. Beyond her impact on the world of film, her status as a clearly modern woman captivated the world. She set styles in fashion and beauty for decades. She was the first woman to be viewed as both assertive and feminine.

Greta Garbo becoming very emotional as she sails from Sweden to America in the late 1920s.

  • MS Gripsholm was an ocean liner, built in 1925 by Armstrong, Whitworth & Company in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England for the Swedish American Line for use in transatlantic traffic from Gothenburg to New York.

  • From 1927 onwards she was used as a cruise ship alongside transatlantic crossings.  Swedish American Line was one of the finest steamship companies operating.

  • From 1942 to 1946, the United States Department of State chartered Gripsholm as an exchange and repatriation ship, carrying Japanese and German nationals to exchange points where she then picked up Americans and Canadians (and British married to Americans or Canadians) to bring home to America and Canada.
  • In this service, she sailed under the auspices of the International Red Cross, with a Swedish captain and crew.

The ship made 12 round trips, carrying a total of 27,712 repatriates.

Exchanges took place at neutral ports; at Lourenco Marques in Mozambique or Mormugoa in Portuguese India with the Japanese, and Stockholm or Lisbon with the Germans.

After the war, Gripsholm was used to deport inmates of US prisons to Italy and Greece. The Swedish American Line sold Gripsholm to Norddeutscher Lloyd in 1954, who renamed her to MS Berlin. The ship was sold for scrap in 1966.

The MS Drottningholm – Greta Garbo sailed aboard this SAL ship on her first visit to America in 1925.

Swedish America Line, Greta Garbo, MS Kungsholm

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