Did they have an affair? Did they meet before they were famous? Did they ever meet at all? Questions such as these have arose over the years and decades since Hollywood imported the mysterious, Swedish creature known as Greta Garbo and Berlin's equally beautiful Marlene Dietrich of the 1930s.
The speculation over their proposed meeting before either of them were stars, all started with a silent film titled, "Joyless Street" (1925). It has been proven that the actress who is often mistaken for as Dietrich in the film in fact is the German actress Hertha von Walther. Although Dietrich always denied having ever made a silent picture in her career, quoted saying, "Only Garbo and Lilian Gish made silent pictures," fans from both camps, have reason to doubt that Dietrich was telling the truth.
According to the book, "The Girls: Sappho Goes To Hollywood" by Diane McLellan, Dietrich supposedly confided in a good friend about being cast in the "Joyless Street", saying, "I killed the butcher in the end." And if that were true, it could possibly have been her because only someone who was of the cast and crew would know the key detail to the ending where Hertha's character violently kills the butcher. A scene which was cut and lost along with the original reel of the film.
In 1925, Greta Garbo arrived in Hollywood at was signed to the legendary MGM Studios. She became known as the "Swedish Sensation." In order to keep with the competition, in 1930, Paramount found their exotic box office draw in Marlene Dietrich after her film "The Blue Angel" (1930) brought her international fame.
Throughout their career, the press and now fans along with film historians have drawn comparisons to their work and private lives. In their films, they have played similar roles such as Garbo in "Mata Hari" (1931) and Dietrich in "Dishonoured" (1931) where both played spies. Of course, in their ever gender-bending ways, both also played queens; Garbo in "Queen Christina" (1933) and Dietrich in "The Scarlet Empress" (1934).
In their private lives, they shared the same lovers and friends, most prominently being Mercedes de la Costa, who has become a very famous female lover of many of classic Hollywood's elite including both Garbo and Dietrich. Which begs the question did they meet at all?
In certain interviews, Dietrich denied ever meeting Garbo. When it came in regards to their so-called "rivalry", Dietrich was the only who remained vocal about Garbo. Her quotes vary between admiration - "She must think I'm trying to imitate her, but there is nobody like Garbo," and a hinge of jealousy - "I envy Garbo. Mystery is a woman's greatest charm. I wish I could be mysterious like her. I don't want people to know everything about me! Garbo never gives interviews. I wish I could do the same."
No one will ever really know the opinion Garbo had of Dietrich because to protect her mystique and privacy, Garbo rarely gave interviews.
However, this hasn't stopped film historians and classic films of the day to explore the dynamics between two of the most charismatic females in silver screen history.