Greta Garbo remains one of the most famous names in cinema history. In April 1930, when Hurrell took these photos of her, she was the highest paid female star in the world, the most powerful star in the world, and, unfortunately was not in the best mood that day. She was making the film ROMANCE and was playing the role of prima donna, Rita Cavallini. The part required that she wear very heavy opera costumes. At the appointed hour, Garbo shows up at Hurrell’s MGM portrait gallery still wearing a very heavy wool dress and cap from the film. The dress alone probably weighed 50 pounds.
At the time of this shoot, California was experiencing an unseasonably warm spring, and so, understandably, after having already completed a full day’s filming, and probably quite exhausted, she announces in her Swedish accent, “Mr. Hurrell, I am NOT in the mood!”
However, this was Hurrell’s first assignment with Garbo, and it was his task to get a publicity photo of a smiling Garbo to advertise the soon to be released film. The studio needed to have, in hand, the shot by that evening so that it could be processed and on its way to New York by morning. What to do? Hurrell put some upbeat jazz records on the Victrola, and adjusted some lights hoping to relax things. Garbo sat….stone faced. “Let’s get into something a little more comfortable”, Hurrell suggested. She leaves and returns wearing a fur trimmed dress. She holds the collar up, and Hurrell snaps a shot.
Garbo is still stone faced. “OK, how about changing into something lighter? “, Hurrell sheepishly suggests. She leaves, and returns wearing a satin dress, with pearls. She is beautiful.
Hurrell, used a 40 foot shutter release cable so that he could freely move around his studio, and the photographic subject would never know for sure when their photo had been taken. This time, Hurrell starts to jump up and down in time to the music, singing along …. attempting anything to get Garbo to smile. Still stone faced. He goes up and down the ladder, adjusting lights.. thinks he sees something….. and sneaks off another shot of Garbo. Nope. She is not smiling. Then as he is heading toward the edge of his small studio, he accidentally trips over his light stand…. And just as he and the lights are about to hit the ground, Garbo starts to smile, and Hurrell gets his shot.
However, Hurrell and Garbo were never to work together again. “I will not work with that crazy man again!”, she announced.