Principal photography on Grand Hotel
commenced in December 1931 soon after the New York stage play closed. There was a great deal of publicity surrounding the production with excitement building over what promised to be a star-studded box office event.
Much ado was made in the press about the numerous big stars in the cast and how there was sure to be a tumultuous clash of egos. Some journalists referred to this as the "Battle of the Stars," as if they were trying to deliberately egg on the perceived animosity to create a more exciting story.
The more peaceful reality was that the actors were all extremely professional and did their utmost to accommodate and respect each other and allow everyone a chance to shine. It also didn't hurt that director Edmund Goulding lived up to his reputation as a diplomatic handler of big personalities.
MGM studio brass wondered how their top female star Greta Garbo would get along with John Barrymore in their many scenes together. They were both big personalities, and she had her well-known peculiar quirks. As luck would have it, there was no need to worry as the two hit it off from the beginning. On the very first day of filming together, Garbo reportedly greeted Barrymore warmly by saying, "This is a great day for me. How I have looked forward to working with John Barrymore!" Barrymore supposedly was won over immediately. "My wife and I think you are the loveliest woman in the world," he replied.
By all accounts Garbo and Barrymore worked extremely well together and were quite generous to each other as actors. Garbo typically didn't socialize much when she was working and kept to herself, but she made an exception in Barrymore's case as she regularly enjoyed talking with him during their down time. Years later Barrymore described Garbo as "a fine lady and a fine actress." Garbo described him as "one of the very few who had the divine madness without which a great artist cannot work or live."
Greta Garbo was true to her sometimes aloof and temperamental reputation in other ways, however. Most notably, she detested having any outsiders watching her at work while she was filming and had no qualms about having people removed from the set, no matter who they were. "...it would have been the same if it had been Jesus Christ," said co-star Lionel Barrymore according to Mark A. Vieira's 2005 biography Greta Garbo: A Cinematic Legacy
. "She didn't do it to be snotty. She was frightened. She was like a cat that went under the bed when a stranger came into the room." Director Edmund Goulding agreed. "In the studios she is nervous," he said according to the 1995 Barry Paris book Garbo
. "Rather like a racehorse at the post--actually trembling, hating onlookers. At the first click of the camera, she starts literally pouring forth Garbo into the lens."
26-year-old Joan Crawford tackled her own meaty role of Flaemmchen with her characteristic gusto and confidently held her own with the rest of the more established cast. Crawford was always in awe of the mighty Garbo's presence and eager to talk to her idol, but since the film never called for their characters to be in the same room at the same time, there was little chance of the two spending much time together. Crawford was also too intimidated to ever directly approach Garbo, who coolly kept her distance. One day, however, Crawford was surprised when Garbo spoke to her first. It was an experience that Crawford called "thrilling" when Garbo stopped her on the stairs at MGM and said, "We're in the same picture. How sad I am that we haven't one scene together." It was a story that Crawford proudly told many times throughout her career, the thrill of that moment always evident. In later years Crawford described Grand Hotel
as "a grand film, a grand experience in my life. I'm so proud. I was thrilled when I heard I was going to be doing it. I only wanted to be worthy."
When shooting was completed in mid-February of 1932, MGM promoted the film heavily, its trailer boasting "the greatest cast ever assembled."
by Andrea Passafiume