“One day in 1954, while I was producing the TV series The Halls of Ivy, Eleanor Aherne, the wife of the actor Brian Aherne, called to invite me to dinner. She asked me not to mention the invitation to our mutual friends the Colmans. This seemed odd, but because it was always a pleasure to visit the Ahernes at their wonderful house in Santa Monica, I saw no reason not to comply with Eleanor’s request. I did ask for an explanation, and her reply was short and dramatic: “We have Garbo staying with us.”

Eleanor Aherne was observing a cardinal Greta Garbo rule: Fewer is better.

Garbo sat opposite me, so I had a chance to study her closely. She was in her late 40s, and absolutely beautiful. She was wearing black velvet pants with a white blouse and a black velvet bolero. Her hair, cut Prince Valiant–style, came to just above her shoulders, and she kept pulling it back in a repetitive gesture. “Why do you have cotton in your ears?” I finally asked. “You know, Mr. Frye, I have a hole in my head, and here at the beach the wind blows right through, from one ear to the other. I cotton them up!” she replied with a straight face. I was totally charmed.

After dinner I told Brian that it must be thrilling to have Garbo staying in his home. “My dear boy, it’s not at all a thrill,” he said. “It can be goddamned embarrassing. When I go down to the pool in the morning to have breakfast, she’s already out there sunning herself, stark naked. I never know which way to look.”

William Frye on meeting Greta Garbo (above, photographed by Cecil Beaton)

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