Few who knew Swedish actress Greta Garbo in her formative years would have predicted the illustrious career that awaited her. Garbo grew up in a rundown Stockholm district, the daughter of an itinerant laborer. In school, she did little to distinguish herself; nor was her first job, as a barbershop lather girl, indicative of future greatness. But, even as a youth, she photographed beautifully, a fact that enabled her to get a few modeling jobs with the Stockholm department store where she worked. Her first film was a 1921 publicity short financed by her employers titled How Not to Dress. Garbo followed this with Our Daily Bread, a one-reel commercial for a local bakery. She then played a bathing beauty in a 1922 two-reel comedy, Luffarpetter/Peter the Tramp.
Billed under her own last name, Garbo (born Greta Gustafsson) garnered a couple of good trade reviews, and the confidence to seek out and win a scholarship to the Royal Dramatic Theatre. While studying acting, she was spotted by director Mauritz Stiller, who was Sweden's foremost filmmaker in the early '20s. Stiller cast Garbo in The Atonement of Gosta Berling (1923), an overlong but internationally successful film which made her a minor star. The director became her mentor, glamorizing her image and changing her professional name to Garbo. On the strength of Gosta Berling, she was cast in the important German film drama The Joyless Street (1925), which was directed by G.W. Pabst. Hollywood's MGM studios, seeking to "raid" the European film industry and spirit away its top talents, then signed Stiller to a contract. MGM head Louis B. Mayer was unimpressed by Garbo's two starring roles, but Stiller insisted on bringing her to America; thus, Mayer had to contract her, as well.