1950’s Bombshell or 1940’s Pin-Up?

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Do you have glamorous karma?  Journey into the world of Old Hollywood and discover the classic film star you were in a past life.  The quiz 1950’s Bombshell or 1940’s Pin-Up? Which Classic Film Star Are You? will tell you all about your inner screen goddess.  And guess what?  It just so happens that I’m the reincarnation of one of my favorite lesbian icons.  Quelle charmant surprise!

GRETA GARBO: 1920’s-1950’s
“THE UNFORGETTABLE FACE”
Congratulations!! You were the legendary Greta Garbo. A woman of profound genius and incredible talent, you took Hollywood by storm. You never relied on overt sexuality to carry you to stardom, and instead stunned audiences world-wide with your intense, vividly honest roles. Your perfectly proportioned face and large, expressive eyes captured people’s hearts and minds. You were very meticulous, concentrated, and purposeful with your acting career. Trained in Sweden, you became the silent film star of the twenties and progressed with the decades. You were nominated for over ten academy awards and received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Your legendary role was in Camille where you immortalized the most heart-wrenching and honest death scene caught on film. Outside of work, you were very reclusive and anti-social. You controled every film you did, and picked every lead male counterpart. Only a few men could match your presence on screen, making your lead male the most difficult to cast. You retired from film upon wanting privacy and seclusion. You never allowed anyone to unveil your very mysterious aura. You left one of the biggest legends behind, and remain an inspiration to this day.

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What does a lesbian look like?

I’ve always loved discovering that beautiful, glamorous women are queer because it’s such a delightful surprise.  I certainly think that femmes are “real” lesbians, but even I find that my gaydar is based on stereotypes most of the time.  In an effort to challenge these stereotypes, I offer up this iconic image of Greta Garbo, which asks (but does not answer) the question, “what does a lesbian look like?”  

In this photograph, Garbo’s face might be described as “a pool to swim in” (to borrow from the critic David Thompson).  Although part of me just wants to swoon over this sculptural face, what especially interests me is how it highlights some of the embodied contradictions of femme identity.  There is certainly something overly precious about this image–if we are to appreciate its aesthetic we must surrender to Garbo’s cool and androgynous eroticism, which is dependent upon being idealized, deified and mystified.   And yet, although she was called the Divine Garbo, her beauty is distinctly human in its fragility.  Her persona is so seductive and haunting because it is both fragile and strong, veiled and expressive, distant and intimate, masculine and feminine. 

These contradictions are what I love about Garbo.  Parker Tyler famously reminds us that “Garbo ‘got into drag’ whenever she took some heavy glamour part, whenever she melted in or out of a man’s arms, whenever she simply let that heavenly-flexed neck…bear the weight of her thrown back head…   How resplendent seems the art of acting!  It is all impersonation, whether the sex underneath is true or not.” In short, Garbo performs queer femininity as drag, and in so doing calls into question what we thought we knew about the look (and act) of lesbian gender.