Garbo’s first U.S. film opens

The glamorous, husky-voiced Swedish actress Greta Garbo, known for her almost unearthly beauty and intense desire for privacy, makes her U.S. screen debut in The Torrent on this day in 1926.

Born Greta Louisa Gustaffson in 1905, Garbo grew up in a poor family in Stockholm. At age 13, she started working as a lather girl at a barbershop and later moved to a department store, where she was asked to appear in a publicity film for the store. Later, she appeared in a publicity film for a bakery. Pleased with her success, she applied for and won a scholarship to the Royal Dramatic Theater’s acting school, where she was discovered by director Mauritz Stiller, one of the most powerful directors in Swedish cinema. He cast her as the Countess Elizabeth Dohna in his critically acclaimed 1924 film The Legend of Gosta Berling, which ran some four hours; he also gave her the now-famous stage name of Garbo.

In 1924, Louis B. Mayer of Hollywood’s powerful Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio hired Stiller on contract and brought him to the United States. Stiller only accepted the job on the condition that MGM contract Garbo as well. Mayer agreed, although he reportedly considered Garbo too full-figured to succeed as an actress in America at the time. In The Torrent, a silent film co-starring the Latin heartthrob Ricardo Cortez, Garbo played a Spanish peasant girl who becomes an opera star. Her charisma, beauty and acting talent made an immediate impact on the filmmakers, so much so that they raised her salary even before the movie was released. When it hit theaters, Garbo was an immediate sensation. For his part, Stiller had been prevented by Mayer from directing The Torrent, and clashed with the studio repeatedly during the filming of a follow-up picture, The Temptress. Fired mid-production, he had an unhappy stint at Paramount before being forced to return to Sweden, where he died in 1945; the loss reportedly left Garbo devastated.

Unlike many of her contemporaries, the Swedish beauty successfully made the transition to sound after becoming a star during the silent film era. Her first talking picture was Anna Christie in 1930, which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Romantically linked with numerous fellow celebrities, including her frequent co-star John Gilbert, Garbo never married. Reserved and withdrawn, she recoiled from publicity, cloaking herself in dark glasses and large hats when she traveled. “I want to be alone,” a line from her 1939 film Grand Hotel, has often been used to sum up her aversion to fame. Garbo’s reclusiveness only heightened her mystique, however. Although she retired from moviemaking in 1941, she was chosen by the entertainment trade newspaper Variety in 1950 as the best actress of the first half of the 20th century. She became an American citizen in 1951, and was honored with a special Academy Award for her “unforgettable” work in 1954. Garbo died on April 15, 1990.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Washington Monument dedicated

The Washington Monument, built in honor of America’s revolutionary hero and first president, is dedicated in Washington, D.C. The 555-foot-high marble obelisk was first proposed in 1783, and Pierre L’Enfant left room for it in his designs for the new U.S. capital. After George more

Rockefeller imposter and convicted felon born

On this day in 1961, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a con man who went by the alias Clark Rockefeller and passed himself off as an American blueblood, is born in Germany. Gerhartsreiter gained the public spotlight in 2008, when he kidnapped his young daughter and became the more

Nixon in China

President Richard M. Nixon arrives in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China, on the first presidential visit to the world’s most populous nation. Given that the U.S. federal government had formally opposed China’s communist government since it took power in 1949, more

Marx publishes Manifesto

On February 21, 1848, The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx with the assistance of Friedrich Engels, is published in London by a group of German-born revolutionary socialists known as the Communist League. The political pamphlet–arguably the most influential in more

Malcolm X assassinated

In New York City, Malcolm X, an African American nationalist and religious leader, is assassinated by rival Black Muslims while addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights. Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, more

Nixon visits China

President Richard Nixon visits the People’s Republic of China. After arriving in Beijing, the president announced that his breakthrough visit to China is “The week that changed the world.” In meeting with Nixon, Prime Minister Zhou Enlai urged early peace in Vietnam, but did more

John Quincy Adams suffers a stroke

On this day in 1848, just as he stands up from his desk in the House of Representatives to defend his no vote on a bill, former President John Quincy Adams suddenly collapses from a cerebral hemorrhage. House members carried him to a bed in the Speaker of the House’s private more

Erma Bombeck is born

On this day in 1927, humorist Erma Bombeck is born in Dayton, Ohio. Bombeck studied English at Ohio University and the University of Dayton and worked part time as a reporter at the Dayton Journal Herald, writing obituaries and features. At age 20, she was diagnosed with a kidney more

Tornadoes move across Mississippi River Delta

On this day in 1971, the Mississippi River Delta is pounded by powerful tornadoes that kill more than 100 people. The storm that caused the twisters moved up from the bayous of Louisiana through Mississippi to Tennessee. Hundreds of people were injured across the three states. more

Double agent Aldrich Ames is arrested

CIA operative Aldrich Ames is arrested for selling secrets to the Soviet Union. Ames had access to the names and identities of all U.S. spies in Russia, and by becoming a double agent he was directly responsible for jeopardizing the lives of CIA agents working in the Eastern more

Battle of Val Verde

On this day in 1862, at the Battle of Valverde, Confederate troops under General Henry Hopkins Sibley attack Union troops commanded by Colonel Edward R. S. Canby near Fort Craig in New Mexico Territory. The first major engagement of the Civil War in the far West, the battle more

Nixon arrives in China for talks

In an amazing turn of events, President Richard Nixon takes a dramatic first step toward normalizing relations with the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) by traveling to Beijing for a week of talks. Nixon’s historic visit began the slow process of the re-establishing more

NASCAR founded

On this day in 1948, the National Association for Stock Car Racing–or NASCAR, as it will come to be widely known–is officially incorporated. NASCAR racing will go on to become one of America’s most popular spectator sports, as well as a multi-billion-dollar industry. The driving more