Donald Keene: Recalls Meeting Greta Garbo!

Historians in the News

The most memorable celebrity I met was undoubtedly Greta Garbo. She was a close friend of Jane Gunther, the wife of the famous journalist John Gunther….

Garbo had been in retirement for many years, but she was still remembered as the greatest of the film actresses. One day I had a telephone call from Jane asking if I would take Garbo to the theatre. Of course I eagerly accepted. The play was “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Before the play Garbo hardly spoke and during the intermission she covered her face with the program. We left just before the play ended to avoid being noticed. After emerging from the theatre, we waited briefly for a taxi. The drivers of passing cars halted their vehicles for a better look at the famous face.

I saw Garbo once again, at Jane’s house. Another guest was R. K. Narayan, the great Indian writer. Garbo sat at the end of a sofa not saying anything. Looking at her I could not help but be aware that she was no longer beautiful. I remember particularly that her lipstick was smeared. (Jane told me that Garbo could not bear looking at her face in the mirror.)

But when Narayan began to speak of his conversations with his late wife in the world of the dead, Garbo’s interest was awakened, and for a while we saw again the face that had captivated the world.
Read entire article at Donald Keene in Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan, his memoir published by Oxford University Press (2008)

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