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Who Should Play Garbo and Dietrich?

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 18, 2014 at 9:11PM

A new project financed by billionaire scion Megan Ellison looks into the love affairs of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. Some have long fantasized that they loved each other, but they claimed never to have met. Who should play them in a new TV series?
Marlene Dietrich in 'The Aviator'
Marlene Dietrich in 'The Aviator'
Greta Garbo
Greta Garbo

So it looks like indie-minded producer Megan Ellison of Annapurna Pictures, who backed upcoming Cannes entry "Foxcatcher" as well as such Oscar contenders as "The Master," "American Hustle" and "Her," is now developing her first TV series to be sold to the networks. 

Set during Hollywood's Golden Age, the drama focuses on Nordic beauties Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, who were known for their androgynous mystery. “The Swedish Sphinx” and “The Blonde Venus” could be both glamorous and alluring--and get away with wearing pants. Thus, much like one-time roommates Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, rumors swirled surrounded them. 

Based at MGM, Greta Garbo ("Grand Hotel," "Ninotchka," "Queen Christina") never starred in a movie with Paramount's reigning diva Dietrich ("Shanghai Express," "Morocco," "Catherine the Great"), and the two so-called studio rivals claimed to have never met. (Back in Europe, they reportedly each enjoyed an affair with elegant aristocrat Mercedes de Acosta.) But that didn't stop people from gossiping about them. And photographer Edward Steichen once mashed up some pictures of them together for Vanity Fair.


Annapurna is financing with executive producers Angela Robinson and Alex Kondracke ("Hung" and "The L Word") a period drama focused on the young Swedish actress and German star--and the people in their lives, including Cary Grant, John Gilbert, Tallulah Bankhead, Alla Nazimova, Barbara Stanwyck and John Wayne. 

So assuming this comes to pass, who should play these stunning women? Who could pull it off, accent and all? Garbo was tall, slim, and athletic with a deep Swedish-accented voice, while the more diminutive Dietrich had gorgeous gams and sang like an angel with a rich German accent. Who has the chops? Could an American actress pull a Meryl Streep? I'd wager that Michelle Williams, Kirsten Dunst or Jessica Chastain could pull off Dietrich. And for Garbo, how about Rooney Mara ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"), Dutch actress Carice van Houten ("Game of Thrones") or Swedish actress Alicia Vikander? Any other ideas? 

This article is related to: Megan Ellison, Marlene Dietrich, TV, Television, Television, TV News

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.