Cecil Beaton and Greta Garbo after she retreated from fame
She arrived somewhat out of breath, dressed entirely in darkest blue, looking pale but even more incandescent than before. A crowd of bobbysox autograph-hunters had run after her on her way to my hotel, and they were cruel and ruthless and upset her very much. But now she would enjoy a cigarette – calmly. We sat side by side on a long red sofa. She had not telephoned before because she had been ill: she had caught cold – doubtless by going on to that roof-top. I felt great guilt. But she explained she is an easy victim of colds, and it was foolish of her to be tempted out into the icy night winds. “But if you had not come out on the roof with me you wouldn’t be here this afternoon.” She smoked more Old Golds and drank a cup of tea remarking that cows’ milk tastes so much better if it is not pasteurized, and when she pronounced a biscuit to be “deliciosa” I remarked: “Then this is a festival”, to which she chirped: “Is zat so?” She talked with the excited vivacity of a child just home for the holidays, and did not look around her at my room, or show surprise or curiosity at what might be considered its somewhat startling decoration. But she did compliment me on keeping the rooms at a reasonable temperature: in fact, the steam heat was never turned on. “Ah, fresh air!” then saluting, she cried: “British Empire!” This was funny and somehow made sense, and I suppose was flattered by, even in fantasy, personifying the Empire. Garbo employed many “service” terms and, in reply to my question as to where she lived most of the year, said: “Oh, I follow the Fleet.” She elaborated: “I don’t quite know what that means, but I often say things like that, that only signify if you scratch beneath the surface.” But I discovered quickly that it displeased her to be asked any direct question, and she would invariably answer with some evasion.
The whole conversation had a rather whacky, inconsequential quality, but because the creature sitting by my side was so ineffably strange and beautiful one automatically and willingly accepted the idiom imposed by her. This wackiness took the place of wit and would change erratically from gay to sad. “A doctor once looked at me very carefully and asked: ‘Why are you unhappy? Is it because you imagine you’re ill?’ Another doctor asked: ‘Are you bored?’ I don’t know why he used so violent a word!”
Cecil Beaton’s diaries, April – 1946
He reports that during this conversation, perhaps their third or fourth meeting in ten years he asked her to marry him. Comments?