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Garbo Paperback – August 1, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


''Barry Paris has crafted a magnificent, moving biography--a feast of rare, delicious facts, exploded myths, and compassionate observations. Surely it will be the final word on this most-fantasized-about movie idol.'' -- New York Daily News

''A witty, clearheaded correction to all the misinformation that has become part of the Garbo legend.'' --Vogue

''Magnificent, literate, detailed, and scrupulous. This is a book that at last solves the riddle of the Sphinx.'' -- Sunday Independent (London)

''A substantial work exploring the enigmatic life of one of the twentieth century's most famous icons, a book notable above all for its humanity and compassion.'' --Newsday

''This strong, rich biography has sweeping detail, a huge cache of photos, and a satisfying grip on Garbo's character. . . . Paris offers what is likely to be the standard life of Garbo--handsomely made, a gripping must-read.'' -- Hollywood Reporter

''(Reader: Anna) Fields's sardonic and wry style fits well the public persona of Garbo.'' --AudioFile --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

About the Author

Barry Paris is an author and journalist based in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. His best-known works include acclaimed biographies of film stars Louise Brooks, Greta Garbo, and Audrey Hepburn. He is a movie reviewer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and cohost of a weekly radio show on WQED-FM. Paris has won multiple awards for cultural and investigative reporting.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press; 1 edition (August 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081664182X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816641826
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,149,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kathleen Chamberlain on August 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
One of the problems with celebrity biography is that biographers often claim too much, offering as fact things that are actually speculation or hearsay. Barry Paris avoids this trap very well, indicating clearly which of his conclusions are speculative and which can be documented. We see the value of this approach in his chapter on Garbo's sexuality: unlike some other Garbo biographers, Paris wisely refuses to rely on circumstantial evidence. Yes, I'm disappointed that the information is not more definitive, but then again, who would expect the record of Garbo's life to be any less ambiguous than the woman herself? (And, as Garbo would no doubt point out, her sex life is none of our business anyway.)

If Paris is careful to separate fact from gossip in biographical details, he is less cautious when indulging in psychological conjecture. For instance, his explanation of Garbo's attraction to women (or her "sexual pathology," as he terms it) is superficial, amateurish, and at times downright offensive (p. 249). (She turned to women only because she had been so hurt and betrayed by men? Please. Why must same-sex attraction be explained in terms of psychological damage and trauma? Why must it be "explained" at all?)

In general, the biography is weakest in its psychological and cultural analyses. Despite some interesting insights, Paris is obviously no psychologist, nor is he much of a cultural theorist. But I found it easy to skim these sections and instead concentrate on the specifics of Garbo's life and words, material that Paris presents thoroughly, meticulously, and (as far as I can tell) honestly. He's respectful of his subject without being obsequious or gushy; he treats Garbo's flaws in a balanced fashion.

Structurally, Paris can be repetitive.
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Format: Paperback
It is probably the case that more often than not the people who produce biographies of film stars hold themselves to a lower standard than other authors. After all, most of these are trite recitations of scandals both real and imagined in which they are paired in any number of combinations.

Happily this is not the case with this book by Barry Paris. Mr. Paris brings a unique and scholarly approach to this work on the enigmatic silent and talky film star.

Frequently what compels people to write these kinds of books is the assurance that a film star's fan base will be sufficient to provide a ready made audience. In the case of Garbo's career, as Mr. Paris cites time and time, it was her skill as an actress that enabled her to raise the quality of a work to greater levels time and time again.

Garbo's personal life was something else. It is clear that while probably a pleasant person to intimates, she did not suffer fools or intrusions gladly. In the final analysis as Mr. Paris points out, Garbo had two things going for her, her remarkable talent as an actress and the lengths she would go to to avoid unwanted contact. Otherwise she led a perfectly ordinary life with ordinary needs, sometimes carried almost to the level of excess in the case of Garbo's numerous quest for shoes. Still this mixture of the banal and rarified is the stuff of real life.

I would suggest that anyone reading this book might also enjoy the TCM collection of Garbo movies that came out last year in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of her birth. This wonderful set also includes a copy of "Flesh and the Devil" with commentary by Mr. Paris.
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Format: Paperback
This biography is just as well-written and meticulously-researched as Mr. Paris's biography on Louise Brooks, which I had read prior to reading this one. He's a great celebrity biographer; he really does his homework, doesn't really get into the sleazy, sensational, and speculative trap that a lot of other celebrity biographers too often fall into, has a clear respect for his subject without fawning all over her, sugarcoating less than perfect aspects of her life, or holding her up as some sort of demigoddess, and clearly distinguishes between fact, outright fantasy and falsehood, and rumor and speculation that could go either way. This professional approach is keenly felt when he's writing about Garbo's relationships with men and women; there were some affairs of hers that were well-substatiated by outside evidence (most particularly her affair with Jack Gilbert), but other than that one can't really say how many relationships she may have had, or even that she were actively bisexual, though she clearly felt more comfortable emotionally with women. She wasn't entirely asexual either; though she did seem more comfortable alone, with no one invading her privacy and personal territory, she didn't go through life completely celibate either. And of course, Mr. Paris makes this topic one of only many covered in the book, since what she did or didn't do with anyone she may or may not have had a relationship with isn't really any of our business.

What makes this book, and its subject, so fascinating is the fact that the majority of Garbo's life was not lived on-camera.
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