Orson Welles spins a tale about two incomparable beauties; Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo…truth or fiction?

Once upon a time, in Hollywood’s Golden Era, there lived a photographer named Clarence Sinclair Bull who made it his business while at MGM to capture starlight. His portraits were legendary, and so were those who sat for them. Like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich…

garbo clarence s bull 1929 the kissclarence sinclair bull dietrich

Now, there is a lot of illusion in these photographs, but the indelible impression is one of transcendent glamour and appeal, did it exist behind the scenes? Not so much.

I turn it over to Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, who would, for a period of years meet for lunch and gab. The resulting book is, My Lunches with Orson, a really fun read.

Orson Welles… I was always a wild Garbo fan. But when I saw her in Grand Hotel, at first I thought it was somebody else making fun of her, like somebody taking off on Garbo. She was totally miscast as a ballerina. She’s a big-boned cow. She did everything that you would do if you were a drag queen doing an imitation of Garbo, you know.

Did I ever tell you about the time I introduced Marlene to Garbo? Marlene was my house guest, and for some unaccountable reason had never met Garbo, and she was her hero. I arranged for Clifton Webb to give a party for Garbo so I could bring Marlene. I was living with Rita at the time, and she didn’t want to go. That was very much like her. She never wanted to go anywhere, just stay home. So Marlene and I went without her. Garbo was sitting on a raised platform in the middle of the living room, so that everybody had to stand and look up at her. I introduced them. I said, “Greta, it’s unbelievable that you two have never met—Greta, Marlene. Marlene, Greta.” Marlene started to gush, which was not like her at all. Looking up at Garbo, she said, “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, it’s such a pleasure to meet you, I’m humble in your presence,” and on and on. Garbo said, “Thank you very much. Next?” And turned away to somebody else. Marlene was crushed.



  1. George Kaplan

    Bwahahaha! One is tempted to disbelieve Mr Welles, he liked telling stories but I suspect quite a few of them had only a glancing acquaintance with the truth. That is to say he “improved” them in the telling!

    • He was a raconteur! Did I ever tell you I had a friend who was a waiter at the restaurant where these conversations took place? Mr. Welles would always arrive early, have a solo lunch, his guest would arrive and he would eat again—he always had the same table, and he tipped 50%. Very cool.

  2. PJR

    A particularly fascinating insight into classic Hollywood’s divine ennui – thank you as ever, Vickie, for lending glamour and intelligence to blogging. I’d like to reblog this soon, if OK with you.

    • I think there’s a book based on that premise, something about them meeting on movie directed by Pabst in Germany when Garbo was nineteen, and an older Marlene (23!) breaking her heart. Only trouble is when the affair was supposed to have taken place the divine Ms. Dietrich was giving birth to her daughter…

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