Greta Garbo arrived in Hollywood as an unknown, unsophisticated actress from Sweden and left 16 years later a rich woman. “I have made enough faces,” said the Golden Age star, who successfully transitioned from silent films to talkies in the 1930s. But after starring in 24 feature films and amassing a $3 million fortune, Garbo walked away.

She had family in Sweden, but she landed in New York City. In 1953, she purchased a seven- room apartment at 450 East 52nd Street and became a familiar sight walking around the city. Neighbors, tourists and photographers were thrilled at sightings of the reclusive actress who famously said, “I want to be left alone,” in 1932’s Grand Hotel. But if you knew where to look, Garbo wasn’t so hard to find.

She shopped for produce in the morning. In the afternoon, Garbo enjoyed a second walk, usually wearing casual clothing, a hat and oversize sunglasses. By 5:30, she’d return home to eat dinner in front of the black-and-white television in her bedroom.

Her life actually wasn’t as solitary as this quiet weekday routine suggests. “She was private, but she had a very active social life,” Garbo’s great-nephew Derek Reisfield exclusively tells Closer. “If you look at her datebooks, she’s out and about, meeting people, going to dinner parties, going to people’s homes for the weekend.”

Garbo also enjoyed hosting gatherings at her apartment. “When I moved to New York after school, I lived about five blocks away from her, so I would see her a lot,” Derek recalls. “[Guests] would all assemble at 5 for cocktails at her apartment, and then [we’d] go out to dinners or a play or whatever we were doing. That was a weekly event, and it was a lot of fun.”

But most friends, like fellow New Yorker Jackie Onassis, didn’t even have Garbo’s phone number. The film legend preferred to be the one doing the calling and setting up dates. “I detest crowds,” she said years earlier in 1927. “[I] don’t like many people.”

Inside Greta Garbo’s Secret Life in New York City Home
Ruth Harriet Louise/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Inside Greta Garbo’s Life in Her NYC Home

At home, Garbo decorated her apartment, which encompassed the whole fifth floor of the exclusive Campanile building, in girlish colors, like the salmon-hued silk fabric on her bedroom walls. It’s said that the sight of boats traveling the East River, which she could see from many of her windows, reminded her of her native Sweden.

Her Hollywood rival Marlene Dietrich once claimed that Garbo was so cheap she counted her sugar cubes to ensure her maid wasn’t stealing them, but Garbo enjoyed some indulgences. She invested her money in real estate and collected fine art from Impressionists including Pierre-Auguste Renoir. She also traveled every summer. In addition to visits to her native Sweden, Garbo, who became an American citizen in 1951, was often spotted among the jet set sipping champagne in Italy, Switzerland and the south of France.

Over the decades, the spotlight tried to lure her back, but Garbo turned down the role of Norma Desmond in 1950’s Sunset Boulevard. Barbara Walters also tried and failed to land a TV interview with the legendary star, who died in New York City in 1990 at the age of 84. “She was a remarkable person. She was very intuitive, very intelligent and extremely funny,” says Derek. “She was pretty content.”