Niece, heiress of Greta Garbo



SAN FRANCISCO — Gray Gustafson Re­is­field, the sole heiress to her aunt Greta Garbo’s es­tate and a woman who was a long­time com­pan­ion to the late Swedish­born ac­tress, has died, a fam­ily mem­ber said Mon­day.

Ms. Re­is­field died Sun­day at her home in Marin County, Cal­i­for­nia, fol­low­ing a bout with pneu­mo­nia, said her son Derek Re­is­field. She was 85.

Ms. Re­is­field was sep­a­rated by 27 years from Garbo. But the two bonded over be­ing strong, in­de­pen­dent women and en­joyed the lighter side of life to­gether, sit­ting by the swim­ming pool, trav­el­ing to Caribbean is­lands and teach­ing chil­dren to do cart­wheels in the back­yard.

“She viewed [ Garbo] as truly a re­mark­able woman,” Derek Re­is­field said. “I think my mother re­ally re­spected her be­cause she had ac­com­plished so much, and she had done it her way. She was very in­de­pen­dent when women were not, and I think that­was a real les­son for my mother.”

Born in Stock­holm, Swe­den, in 1932, Ms. Re­is­field came to the U. S. with her par­ents and spent her child­hood in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She moved to Santa Fe, New Mex­ico, in ju­nior high school, where she en­joyed horse­back rid­ing and fish­ing.

She at­tended Bryn Mawr Col­lege, spent a year at Yale Uni­ver­sity, where she met her fu­ture hus­band, the late Dr. Don­ald Re­is­field, and later trans­ferred to Columbia Law School, where she grad­u­ated in 1957.

Derek Re­is­field, 54, said he was about 12 when he re­al­ized his great aunt was fa­mous af­ter see­ing a mag­a­zine that showed his mother and Garbo va­ca­tion­ing to­gether. Ev­ery spring, the two women would go to the Caribbean.

“They were very close,” he said.

On one trip to an ex­clu­sive Ca­neel Bay re­sort, known for its un­ob­tru­sive lux­ury and gen­tle beaches, Garbo donned slacks as she read­ied to have din­ner with a room­ful of women who would be wear­ing party dresses.

Ms. Re­is­field fol­lowed her lead.

When the two women walked into the room, heads turned, and there was a moment of si­lence, but soon ev­ery­one got back to hav­ing a good time.

“The next evening, all the women were wear­ing slacks,” re­called Derek Re­is­field with a laugh.

On screen, Garbo was known for her per­for­mances in such clas­sics as “Anna Christie,” “Grand Ho­tel,” “Queen Christina,” “Anna Karen­ina,” “Camille” and “Ninotchka.” Both on screen and off, she had a ma­jor in­flu­ence on women’s fash­ions, hair styles and makeup.

Garbo starred in 26 films in 17 years. In 1941, at age 36, she quit Hol­ly­wood, spend­ing the rest of her life in shut­tered and fenced res­i­dences in France, Switzer­land and Man­hat­tan, where she lived in an East Side high- rise. At the time of her death, she owned 18th- cen­tury an­tiques, fine rugs, damask cur­tains and many pieces of art, in­clud­ing a Renoir.

Known as “the Swedish sphinx” be­cause of her deep fear of re­porters and other strangers, she iron­i­cally be­came one of the most pub­li­cized women in the world while try­ing to guard her pri­vacy.

Her biog­ra­pher John Bain­bridge wrote in “Garbo,” that ex­cept at the start of her ca­reer, she “granted no in­ter­views, signed no au­to­graphs, at­tended no premieres, an­swered no fan mail.”

Garbo never mar­ried and had no chil­dren but chose her niece as a fre­quent com­pan­ion.

“My mother was very close to her and would go into New York once a week to see her,” saidDerek Re­is­field. “They were both very strong, very in­de­pen­dent women, and I think they bonded over that.”

She is sur­vived by her three sons and a daugh­ter, eight grand­chil­dren and one great grand­child.


Gray Gustafson Re­is­field ( left) and Bishop Caro­line Krook stand next to the tomb­stone of Greta Garbo af­ter a memo­rial ser­vice on June 17, 1999, at theWood­land Ceme­tery in Stock­holm, Swe­den.

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