Will Garbo Marry Her Director, Rouben Mamoulian? (1934) 🇺🇸
Is Rouben Mamoulian the man she has been waiting for all these years? Has she found love at last? His father, who ought to know, thinks and the evidence bears him out!
by Boris Nicolai
“My son is going to marry Greta Garbo,” chuckled Rouben Mamoulian’s father. Proud and unfathomably happy, he was delighted with the bombshell he had thrown. He was talking confidentially to a few select friends. (And this was before the couple took their famous “vacation.”)
“My son is going to marry Greta Garbo,” Rouben Mamoulian’s papa told me the other evening, not confidentially at all. After all, I was the grandson of the Count whom he had known in his youth in Russia. No doubt he was proud to show me how his family had advanced in this new world to which a red tide had swept us. America, too, has its aristocracy, its nobility — the motion picture stars. And, of them all, Garbo is queen. She was not always queen. Years ago, this pale Swedish girl — who did not then dream of the strange career of loneliness and glory ahead of her, this lovely blonde who laughed loudly and slapped her knee at her first Hollywood interview — confided to a writer-friend of mine that her ambition was to have sometime a tiny country home with flowers and children. That, she said, was every Swedish woman’s life, every Swedish woman’s dream. And it was hers.
But dreams vanish in Hollywood. Greta Garbo forgot Greta Gustafsson. Now she was a motion picture actress, now a star, now the greatest of all stars. She did not laugh loudly any longer. She did not even smile. She had a great house hidden behind walls and she returned to it at night to hide away from her fame.
Only once in the seven years of Greta Garbo’s stay in Hollywood has she ever seemed to listen to a man when he came a-courting. John Gilbert’s screen love-making was devastating. His private love-making, they say, was equally fiery, and there seems no doubt that Garbo became a woman, instead of a coldly isolated star, under the spell of his whirlwind courtship. They made a trip secretly — to escape the preying eyes of newspaper reports — to the marriage license bureau of a little Orange Valley town. Greta Garbo and John Gilbert were only a few feet away from the city clerk and matrimony when she turned away, shaking her head. “I have changed my mind,” she said. But now, apparently, the man for whom she has waited has appeared.
Rouben Mamoulian, famous director of stage and screen, is that man, if the statement of the pleased little old foreigner who is his father is to be believed. And who should be better able to divulge the secret than the proud father of the prospective bridegroom?
For a long time Mamoulian lived in a lovely house on fashionable Hillside Avenue. It overlooked the blinking lights of Hollywood from far up among the gently sloping hills — in just that secluded and wild solitude which the great Garbo seeks on her long hikes. And rumor has it that she has walked there often when she had a day away from the grueling lights of the studio.
When Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer planned the production of the most pretentious picture of Garbo’s career, the historical record of the life and loves of Christina, Queen of Sweden, the question of who would be the leading man was settled by Garbo in two words.
“John Gilbert,” she said calmly.
“Ah, Garbo and Gilbert — the greatest love team of them all — together again! She is repaying him for the great opportunity he once gave her!” Hollywood cried, remembering the old days.
“And who is to direct the picture?” studio officials asked — as her new contract says they must.
Again Garbo spoke without hesitation: “Rouben Mamoulian.”
Why did she insist on Mamoulian? Was it only because he had made Marlene Dietrich so glamourous in “The Song of Songs?” Or did Garbo sense an intellectual and spiritual affinity between them?
He had never made a picture on the Metro lot. There were a half-dozen directors who had worked with Garbo — and they were available. But Greta was stubborn. She did not argue, she did not insist, she simply stated.
The intellectual young Mamoulian’s name had often been mentioned in connection with a number of gorgeous women. A friend of Countess Landi, Elissa Landi’s mother, he had often dined at the Landi home — and Hollywood wondered if Elissa’s hubby, in London, was perturbed. Professional gossipers had hinted that Marlene Dietrich’s interest in the swarthy Mamoulian was more marked than that of a star for her director. And then there was the very wealthy Madame Drake who had been seen with the tall Armenian so often when he first came to America to direct the Theatre Guild’s school in New York. Wasn’t his name linked with that of Helen Flint while he was directing her career on Broadway? And had he not been seen often with Helen Morgan, whom he directed in “Applause”? (That early talkie, made in the East, was the first picture he directed. “City Streets” was his first picture in Hollywood — and Sylvia Sidney’s first.)
He Became Sphinx-Like, Too
So it was in an atmosphere of excitement and expectation that Rouben Mamoulian, the accented director from Tiflis, went to Metro to take charge of the most important picture in the Swedish star’s career.
Naturally, gossips talked. And Mamoulian, heretofore so affable to reporters, suddenly adopted the Garboesque mantle of silence. “They ask me whether I am engaged to Miss Garbo,” he told the studio hotly. “If I said anything to them, if I said ‘No,’ they would make it sound as they wished. So I shall not talk at all.”
Now, Garbo was working daily with the two men whose names had been linked most closely with hers in a romantic way. This was news. This was vital. But now, while the dark and flashing Gilbert was supposed to be her lover — perhaps the man who really was inspiring her emotionally was the dark and suave Mamoulian, who, oddly enough, looked so much like the man who brought her to America, the late Mauritz Stiller, as to arouse comment from all who saw him with her.
Few people are admitted to a Garbo set. But the strained relations between the leading man and director of “Queen Christina,” which often broke out in open argument and more than once in anger, were too marked to be kept a secret long. Hollywood jumped to the conclusion that the real reason for this tenseness between the two men was — Greta Garbo! When John Gilbert cried, dramatically, “I’m an actor! You can’t tell me how to act!”, studio gossips whispered, he was playing up to an audience, the remote, and beautiful woman whom he had once loved. Now, Hollywood wonders if his being with Garbo again could have led, in any way, to his subsequent separation from his wife, the former Virginia Bruce.
And now Greta Garbo and her director were seen openly together. They played tennis often, they dined and lunched at the Russian Eagle. How much in love the great Garbo must have been to make this dramatic departure from her rigid rule of seclusion and avoidance of publicity! And as the picture progressed, so did the apparent romance of the sensitive dark Armenian and the sensitive blonde Swede.
Wanted Even More Privacy
The sombre Garbo’s home was not sufficiently secluded. A ten-acre estate in the bottom of a Santa Monica canyon seemed a better place for loneliness — or love. Here she would be protected from the ever-staring public by tall cypresses. Behind the trees a wire fence topped with barbs and a stone wall further discouraged intrusion. Huge iron gates, double-padlocked, and four fierce police dogs were the final touch. Truly, Garbo wants to be alone, to be ultra-private in her private life.
But there is one man for whom the padlocked gates open. Often, romance-lovers say, Rouben Mamoulian strides down the avenue of cypresses, and the front door of the white villa opens for him, a welcome dinner guest. You could almost number on the fingers of one hand the chosen few whom that door admits — Maria D’Acosta, Mrs. Salka Viertel, Lew Ayres and Richard Cromwell (they say) and now Mamoulian. Those who enter maintain Garbo’s own silence, as though a spell lay over house and famous recluse and the tree-shaded acres where she lives.
But the spell does not touch Rouben Mamoulian’s father, the little old man whose pride in his son’s close association with the greatest of the great lies back of the statement that startled Hollywood: “My son is going to marry Greta Garbo!”
Hollywood recollects that when the director of “Queen Christina” went house-hunting recently, he did not go alone. Greta Garbo went with him. She helped him choose that spacious Spanish house on Palm Drive with its wide lawns. It cost more than fifty thousand dollars, but why measure romance so sordidly in terms of dollars? Was the architecture not romance itself — were there not alcoves and balconies for a fitting background for the glamourous drama of love?
And the furniture that seemed so much to please the flaxen-haired Swede — the furniture that she helped to pick out, herself, they say — cost fifteen thousand dollars more. Yet how well those massive antique carvings and the Spanish statuary blended with the low, amber lights and soft, velvety rugs!
His Friends Are Her Friends
Rouben Mamoulian moved with his parents into his new home. They have lived there only a few weeks, but already Russian friends, dropping in to chat, have found there — almost as a member of the family, or perhaps in the role of hostess — the woman whom many of them had seen hitherto only on the screen. Greta Garbo, in Mamoulian’s drawing room, or at his dinner table, was simple, gracious, friendly. Could such a secret be kept? Of course not. Each proud Russian who met her there and talked with her told his friends.
A group of the artistically minded elite decided to give a play, “Sinless Sinners,” translated from Ostrovsky’s masterpiece. In the cast was featured Mamoulian’s talented mother. And in the darkened house during rehearsals, night after night, Greta Garbo sat beside Actress Mamoulian’s son, Rouben. Rather unusual for a star who takes only a passive or purely professional interest in her director!
I have visited that lovely house on Palm Drive. I looked hopefully for photographs, perhaps tenderly inscribed, of the Great Garbo. But if there were any, they were discreetly hidden — as Garbo might prefer. Yet I thought that the house seemed full of her! I left there happy, for were not my friends happy, too? The real love of Greta’s life has emerged, I believe, and he is one of us — one of my people. Of course, I am proud!
A few days after I talked with the elder Mamoulian, newspapers all over the country burst forth with front page headlines, telling that Garbo and Mamoulian, under other names, had been “discovered” at the Grand Canyon, had refused to answer “elopement” questions, and had departed in a cloud of dust for an unknown destination. Reporters burrowed into marriage license files throughout Arizona and New Mexico, but did not find what they were seeking.
The next day, the star and the director arrived back in Hollywood and reporters managed to get in touch with Mamoulian by telephone. To their surprise, they found him affable, willing to talk up to a certain limit, and amused by all the “stir” that had been created (“all for nothing,” he added). For, said he, they were not married and had no marriage plans. They had just been on “a little vacation trip” and hadn’t had any idea that their holiday would cause so much excitement.
He was asked, point-blank, if they might have talked about marriage — and if they might possibly be in love. Mamoulian ironically chided his questioner. Wasn’t that question a bit too personal? The same day he wired friends in New York: “I am still a bachelor.”
But everything seems to point to the conclusion that they are in love — and that, if they aren’t married already or by the time you read this, they will be one of these days.
But I wonder if the Caucasian Genius known now to all as Rouben Mamoulian, is destined to be relegated to stand hereafter in the shadow of his wife’s fame, to be known as “Greta Garbo’s husband”? Or if they marry, will she fling her career aside, with the disdainful gesture of queens, for “that little house which is every Swedish woman’s dream”?
And that beautiful home that she helped select — must Papa Mamoulian, who was too happy to keep a secret, come back to it only as a visitor? He is so nice, this fine old man, too nice to be just a relation, like Garbo’s uncle, who chauffeurs a taxi back in her native Sweden.
We shall see. Perhaps Papa Mamoulian may yet attend a movie where Metro’s lion will roar as a prelude to the appearance of his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Rouben Mamoulian, in her newest feature picture!
Who can tell? Strange things happen in Hollywood.
To be with Rouben Mamoulian, Garbo has at last forsaken her solitude. It MUST be love!
Photo by: Clarence Sinclair Bull
Source: Movie Classic, March 1934