Not surprisingly, Hollywood talked of little else during the long hot summer of 1948. Not surprisingly, reporters and photographers gathered for weeks outside the high walls of the house in Benedict Canyon, desperate for news of what was happening inside. For the English-style $1,000 a week mansion was the scene of one of the most intriguing and unlikely love affairs in Hollywood history.
Greta Garbo, now 43 and legendary as the woman who wanted to be alone, was sharing a love nest with aristocratic photographer and theatre designer Cecil Beaton. The pair had met in 1932, when 28-year-old Beaton went to Hollywood on assignment for Vogue magazine. She made an impression on him which lasted for the rest of his life.
But it was not until the late 1940s that the relationship finally blossomed into a love affair and in 1946 Beaton made the first of his many proposals of marriage. He was turned down but nothing Garbo could do dampened his ardour.
"I would dial her house when I knew she wasn't there, just for the pleasure of knowing the phone was ringing in her room," he remembered. "Other times I knew she was there but she just wouldn't answer the phone and sent back my telegrams. But I never gave up."
But by now Garbo seemed to have lost interest in the relationship and Beaton was delighted and astonished to be summoned to Hollywood in 1948 and told: "I miss you and I like you. They are not big words but when we say goodbye I want to see you again.
"I think I shall have to propose to you and make an honest man of you..."
When Beaton accused her of teasing, Garbo replied: "I love you, Cecil. I'm in love with you." Now Beaton was desperate to turn the affair into marriage. Later he remembered: "I didn't want to make something exquisite and ethereal into humdrum reality. But now I felt that I couldn't live without her."
He didn't have to. They were spending an increasing amount of time together, both in Garbo's Hollywood house and her New York apartment. One day Garbo remarked: "You write about people, don't you? I would be horrified if you ever wrote about us." Beaton promised that he wouldn't. When he broke his pledge Garbo would never forgive him.
But for the moment the affair was still at boiling point and Beaton spent most of the summer of 1948 behind the high walls of Garbo's Hollywood mansion. "We lived in a haze of love," he remembered. "She would cook simple meals and we worked in her garden. But most of the time we were gathered in each other's arms.
"The intensity of our love was incredible. Everything seemed so pure and natural. When she asked if I loved her I told her there were no words to express how I felt about her.
"For four months I did little but devote myself to my passion for Greta..."
On the day he left to return to London, Beaton bought a huge bouquet and tried to say goodbye. But he couldn't speak. "I felt as though I was undergoing an amputation. I was just convulsed in childlike tears and sobs. "Perhaps I knew subconsciously that I would never know such happiness again."
Unknown to his lover, Beaton had been keeping a lengthy and detailed diary of the affair and in 1961 Garbo was appalled to hear that he intended to publish his account of their love affair in a book called The Wandering Years. In vain she pleaded with him not to do it. "He has destroyed everything we had together," she told a friend. "I thought we were happy and in love but to him it was just something to make money out of."
Desperate to make amends, Beaton flew to New York to explain why he had betrayed their love but she refused to see him. He tracked her to an Italian greengrocery store and tried to hug her but she evaded him and hurried from the shop. They never saw each other again. Shortly afterwards, when Cecil Beaton suffered a stroke, a friend wrote to Garbo asking her to see "Cecil, who is very low and very sorry for what he's done.