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The Life and Art of Greta Thyssen Guenther

Greta Thyssen Guenther (1927-2018) was more than just a blonde bombshell. Like any good story, her life had many layers. Colin Stair was initially drawn to the easy style of her paintings and the volume of books in her apartment. She was clearly a well-read and intelligent person. Raised in Denmark, she became a beauty queen in the 1950s with admirers who are rumored to have included billionaire Howard Hughes. Greta Thyssen moved to Hollywood to pursue her acting career during the era of Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe. Her experience in Hollywood reads like a movie script. She was hired to act as Monroe’s body double for the movie Bus Stop in 1956, which was followed by several starring roles in B movies. She was romantically involved with actor Cary Grant while he underwent doctor supervised LSD therapy. Their affair ended after the actress gave an interview to Cosmopolitan about the relationship. She may be best remembered for her role in the late 1950’s revival of the Three Stooges.

 

Greta Thyssen left acting in 1967 when she married mining engineer Theodore Guenther and had daughter Genevieve Guenther. Her daughter recalled in her obituary for The Hollywood Reporter, “She was always cagey about her acting career and its trajectory. My mother was a very clever woman and extremely well-read. If she had been born in a different era, I think she could have been a lawyer or professor. I think that she always felt a little bit embarrassed about the movie persona that she adopted as this kind of voluptuous, glamorous Danish pastry with nothing between her head except silk and feathers.”

After her retirement from acting she spent the rest of her life as a New Yorker and explored her passion for painting at the Arts Student’s League. She spent years studying and painting the human form, experimenting with realism as well as Surrealism. She is currently the subject of the documentary My Friend Greta which is based on the unusual 18-year friendship between Greta Thyssen and African American actress Leslie Fry. Most recently, art critic Jerry Saltz tweeted about discovering Thyssen’s works, noting that she was a ‘prolific painter’ following his initial tweet ‘women’s lives are incredible things’.

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