Picks and Pans Review: Garbo

updated 08/13/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/13/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Antoni Gronowicz

By the eighth page of the prologue, the author has told us that he bedded Greta Garbo in 1938 when she was, at 32, the world's most glamorous movie star and he was a 24-year-old Polish émigré poet. According to Gronowicz's account, right after they had sex Garbo jumped out of bed and began doing strenuous dance movements. What gives, he asked. "I don't want to have a child," Garbo told him.

Great scene, you gotta admit, but is it fact or fiction? That is an obvious question for both that anecdote and the rest of this odd volume, a pseudo-autobiography whose facts supposedly came from the actress, though it was penned by Gronowicz after what he claims was a 20-year friendship. After his prologue and several chapters about Garbo's early life, Gronowicz writes the rest of the book in the first person, as if Garbo herself were telling her story.

Gronowicz sold the book to Simon and Schuster in 1976, but Garbo sued to block its publication, swearing in an affidavit that she had never met Gronowicz (though she was credited with writing the foreword to his 1972 novel, An Orange Full of Dreams). The upshot of the legal maneuvering was that the publisher locked the book in a vault for 14 years, publishing it now only after Garbo's death at age 84 in April (and, ironically, after Gronowicz's own in 1985).

If Gronowicz was indeed pals with Garbo, he has done her no favors by serving up this volume of hooey. The Garbo he presents is a pill of a human being, a vain, self-absorbed and relatively stupid woman. She is also bisexual (no big surprise there), but goes desultorily from partner to partner. "Most people knew that I was not capable of love," Garbo writes, via amanuensis Gronowicz, in words that sound suspiciously like the dated dialogue of so many of her films, "and I was treated like a marvelous Greek sculpture which everyone looked at, admired, and tried to touch. But they knew that they could not receive love from marble. I seemed indifferent to all those attentions, because I was afraid of displaying emotion, thinking that I might somehow be punished for it."

This book often reads like a clip job propped up by spurious interior monologues. It is filled with obvious errors (George Cukor is mentioned as a powerful Hollywood figure years before he directed his first major film), reveals no new romantic partners for Garbo (other than, unlikely as it may seem, Dinner at Eight's Marie Dressier), and offers few specific stories about Garbo's work in films.

Ultimately, Gronowicz does little to illuminate the Garbo legend and much to harm it. Garbo wanted to be left alone. Too bad old pal Antoni didn't comply. (Simon and Schuster, $24.95)

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