Born in England, William Henry Pratt became star-actor Boris Karloff (alias ‘The Grinch’) in Canada, 1929/32, Unknown, Ajuntament de Girona, Public Domain Mark

Just like art, popular culture bears substantial traces of migration. Many famous names from the music, movie and entertainment industries have migrated and moved themselves.

In the 1930s, Hollywood was the destination for aspiring actors and actresses from around the world. But few have succeeded in the way Greta Garbo did. Greta Lovisa Gustafsson was the daughter of an itinerant labourer, who grew up in a Stockholm slum. After her theatre studies and first big role in Sweden, film director Mauritz Stiller named her ‘Garbo’ and secured a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In Hollywood, Greta’s ethereal and mysterious charm conquered the hearts of studio bosses and audience alike. She became one of the most glamorous stars of the time, most loved for her heroic and often scandalous roles (Mata Hari, 1931; Queen Christina, 1933). After decades on the screen, Garbo retired in New York City where she passed away in 1990.

Greta Garbo and Conrad Nagel in MGM’s “The Mysterious Lady”, 1928, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Maironis Lithuanian Literature Museum, Public Domain Mark
Greta Garbo and Conrad Nagel in MGM’s “The Mysterious Lady”, 1928, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Maironis Lithuanian Literature Museum, Public Domain Mark

Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski was a household name in the movie industry too. Never one to fit into constructed categories, Kieślowski understood what it means to be a migrant. In his childhood, his family moved around in eastern Poland because of his father’s health problems and the threat of World War II. Kieślowski’s final years of directing are equally important in this context, as his artistic activity of the 1980s/90s was primarily based in France. Yet borders and moves did not affect his mission: to make excellent movies about everyday life in absolute artistic freedom.

With his pearly white smile, piercing eyes, groomed hair and stylish outfit, this man exudes a star quality reminiscent of Rudolph Valentino. But Carlos Gardel was a world-renowned artist in his own right.

Born in Toulouse to an unmarried laundress, Charles Romuald Gardès was stigmatized as a child for being born out of wedlock. In search of a better life, his mother took him on board of the SS Don Pedro to sail for Buenos Aires in early 1893. There, ‘Carlos’ gained national fame as a musician with his tango-cancións. After having sold over 10.000 copies of Mi noche triste, he toured in Latin America and Europe and landed a movie contract with Paramount Pictures. He used his singing skills performing in Cuesta abajo (1934) and El día que me quieras (1935)!

Inez Lauder Maclaren too left her home in Scotland for the United States to seek fame and fortune as a performer. As a music hall artist, she first made waves in her new hometown, Chicago. Yet Spain would become the décor of her biggest successes: nicknamed ‘La Yanqui’ because of her Anglo-American accent, she surfed on the wave that all things American were and performed at the many new nightclubs that were being opened - high-class establishments with compulsory tuxedo and champagne. Spurred on by the popularity of American cinema diffusing the ‘American way of life’, La Yanqui turned from Scottish lassie to international star of the variety theatre.

'La Yanqui', 21 August 1926, Unknown, Topfoto.co.uk, In Copyright
'La Yanqui', 21 August 1926, Unknown, Topfoto.co.uk, In Copyright