Paths crossed…with Greta Garbo

Source: Greta Garbo’s East Side Co-op Goes on the Market – The New York Times

Did you take a look at Greta’s co-op? Maybe you’ve made an offer. No?

I wouldn’t either, even if I could afford it. It sits in a neighborhood that isn’t really a neighborhood. There is no way of getting to it or out of it without either (a) having a limo and chauffeur at your beck and call or (b) walking many, many blocks. So not only do you have to be rich to buy it, you have to be rich to subsist in it.

I can’t say I’m intimate with that neighborhood but I did spend nearly a week there. Once.

I had gotten a job as assistant to a film producer–a nice step up in the hierarchy of those times, when women like me, still uncertain about a career field, depended on circumstance to nudge us toward bigger jobs in production.

Problem was: the producer was 25-year-old Peter Stark, son of Ray Stark, the very, very powerful producer responsible for, among other major films, Funny Girl, about his late mother-in-law, Fanny Price.

Peter was a producer in the sense that his father had set him up as a producer. That is, he was completely dependent on the oblige of his father’s noblesse. Ergo, so was I, one generation removed.

Peter worked out of his apartment in a pre-war residential building on way East 57th Street, the Garbo neighborhood. I started work for him on a Monday. I had my own little office. In that office, I was asked to read a Vonnegut novel Peter had an option on. Or interest in. Something.

I don’t like Vonnegut. I read the book. I wrote a report. (Why? I don’t know and I never found out.)

Peter sat in the living room opening his mail until 3 pm. He took a phone call from his father. He did not speak to me, except to say “good morning,” and “okay” when I told him I was leaving for the day.

It was winter. A big snowfall had dumped a couple of feet onto the city so I had to slosh through it to get to and from work.

Peter had given me a key to the front door because, he said, he might be out at meetings when I arrived in the morning. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. No way to know. I’d enter, put my coat into a front closet which contained posh hangers, each hanging exactly 3 inches from each other. Then I’d walk directly into “my” office and be there until 5 or so.

When you begin a job, you don’t consider what you’ll do for lunch on that first day. So I had not brought food and around midday was getting pretty hungry.

I withdrew my mufti coat from the military closet, went out to forage for lunch. The neighborhood was so bland I could only find one place within five blocks that purveyed food of any kind. It was a dumpy take-out on First Avenue.

I bought some yogurt and a cold, pallid version of bialy. Very cold. Probably stale. As I departed the deli, I brushed past a woman with a heavily wrinkled face, so wrinkled it look like special effects make-up. Half a block away I realized I’d seen Greta Garbo.

For these many years, since I stopped working in film, I’ve considered what it is about encountering celebrities that makes many people so excited. I still don’t understand it, not fully. Have I been elevated, or blessed in some fashion by that moment in which Greta Garbo and I stepped past each other? No. So why do I recall those few seconds vividly, why am I telling you about them?

Because, whatever that day was, on Thursday morning at 10:30 am, my starting work time, I put my key into the lock of Peter’s apartment door but the door swung open. The apartment was full of cops and janitors.

Earlier that morning, Peter had gone up to the roof of the building and had jumped off.

This entry was posted in Paths Crossed, The Facts of Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.