Reclaimed .925 silver
From the pages of People Magazine, 1976
The statuesque woman in dark glasses was the first passenger off the 707 at Coolidge Field airport on balmy Antigua. She was obviously a person of substance. Discreet airline officials swiftly ushered her, a niece and six pieces of luggage through immigration and customs and deposited them in a waiting cab. Later, at the exclusive Galley Bay Surf Club, she was assigned to Cottage 17, the most secluded of the resort’s beachfront bungalows. Her niece signed the guest register—”Mrs. Gray Reisfield” and “Harriet Brown,” New York City—and the two women retired.
Just before sunset Harriet Brown emerged for a solitary walk on the beach, wearing beige Bermudas and a light sweater. Her neighbor in the next cottage, Frederick West, president of Bethlehem Steel, watched curiously as the tall figure strode barefoot across the sand, skipping away like a schoolgirl as the surf rushed in to lap at her toes. Finally he decided to introduce himself. “I know who you are, but you don’t know me,” he said. “How do you do, Miss Garbo?”
Thus did the mysterious Greta Garbo, whose reclusiveness has become part of her legend, begin her recent Caribbean vacation. Discarding the reticence that has been her public style since she made her last film, Two-Faced Woman, in 1941, Garbo not only abandoned the renowned dark glasses but sunned herself briefly seminude on the Galley Bay beach. She slipped easily into the resort’s intimate house-party atmosphere, taking lunch and dinner in the dining room and chatting amiably with those guests who timidly approached her. “She’s not standoffish,” explained Surf Club owner Mrs. Edee Holbert. “Everyone treats her absolutely naturally, and that’s what she wants.” To protect her prize guest against unwelcome visitors, Mrs. Holbert assigned a hulking machete-wielding watchman to stand guard outside Garbo’s $100-a-day cottage.
Rising each morning by 6:45, the 70-year-old Swedish-born actress breakfasted alone on her patio—on organic honey and whole-grain bread she had brought from New York—then went for a 10-minute dip. Reappearing on the beach later in the day, she would perform a ritual that left her fellow guests spellbound. Draped in a blue beach robe, she stared out across the crescent-shaped lagoon, then regally swept aside the robe, revealing a still supple, athletic body. Tucking her gray shoulder-length hair beneath a bathing cap, she smoothly breast-stroked away from shore. Sixty yards out, in 20 feet of water, she turned on her back and rested a while, smiling. Finally, back on the beach, Garbo shook loose her hair and, turning to the sun, stripped off the top of her bathing suit. There, apparently unmindful of the hushed public attention, stood the woman who has personified shyness. “My God,” breathed an attractive younger woman one day after Garbo had disrobed and then dramatically exited, “I couldn’t get away with that, and I’m 33! When we get these pictures developed,” she glumly told her husband, “I’m going to pin one over my dressing table, and every morning I’ll say, ‘Thanks a million for the inferiority complex!’ ”
Garbo’s behavior was a dramatic change from her daily routine at home. A familiar figure in midtown Manhattan, she lives in solitude in an apartment overlooking the East River. She practices yoga each morning, then begins a shopping trek that often takes her to a chic Second Avenue market for groceries and on to Saks Fifth Avenue and Bonwit Teller. An inveterate browser, she seldom makes a purchase, returning home around 3 p.m. She rarely ventures out in the evening—though she was seen recently at a performance of the Broadway comedy A Matter of Gravity, starring Katharine Hepburn—and when she does, it is usually with Sam Green, an art dealer some 30 years her junior. Day or night, she is hidden behind her masklike glasses.
In casual Antigua, Garbo seemed to have no need for her standard defenses. When Mrs. Reisfield drove her shopping in a Jeep, local people were as coolly unperturbed as they are during the visits of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, an occasional guest of philanthropist Paul Mellon and his wife, who own a house on the island. Guests at the Surf Club, of course, were somewhat more curious. Observed one well-preserved matron who had scrutinized Garbo with catlike intensity: “That face, you know, has never been lifted. I looked very carefully—I wanted to be able to tell myself she’s just like the rest of us—but that face never had a stitch or a tuck in its life.”
Another Galley Bay visitor was amazed by Garbo’s vitality. “She’s so darned healthy!” exclaimed the woman. “I’m walking behind her the other day and she’s making these footprints in the sand. I decide I’m going to walk in Garbo’s footsteps. Well, with a big strain [Garbo is a long-stemmed 5’7’] I just managed it. And she was just strolling!” Inevitably, the question arose: Why had such a vigorous woman chosen to live in seclusion? “You’re so beautiful!” gushed a starstruck fellow guest one day. “Why have you hidden yourself away?”
“Because,” replied Garbo, with an unexpected mischievous giggle, “I want to keep the myth alive.”