Obituary: Gray Gustafson Reisfield, heir to Greta Garbo’s estate

Gray Gustafson Reisfield pictured circa 1972 (Donald and Gray Reisfield Trust via AP)
Gray Gustafson Reisfield pictured circa 1972 (Donald and Gray Reisfield Trust via AP)
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Gray Gustafson Reisfield, the sole heiress to her aunt Greta Garbo’s estate and a woman who was a long-time companion to the late Swedish-born actress, has died.

Reisfield died on Sunday at her home in Marin County, California, following a bout with pneumonia, said her son Derek Reisfield. She was 85.

Reisfield was separated by 27 years from Garbo. But the two bonded over being strong, independent women and enjoyed the lighter side of life together, sitting by the swimming pool, travelling to Caribbean islands and teaching children to do cartwheels in the backyard.

“She viewed [Garbo] as truly remarkable woman,” Derek Reisfield said. “I think my mother really respected her because she had accomplished so much, and she had done it her way. She was very independent when women were not, and I think that was a real lesson for my mother.”

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1932, Reisfield came to the US with her parents and spent her childhood in Southern California. As a teenager she moved to Sante Fe, New Mexico, where she enjoyed horseback riding and fishing.

She spent a year at Yale, where she met her future husband, the late Dr Donald Reisfield, and later transferred to Columbia Law School, from which she graduated in 1957.

Every spring Reisfield and Garbo holidayed together. in the Caribbean. “They were very close,” Derek Reisfield said. On one trip to an exclusive resort, Garbo donned slacks as she prepared to have dinner with a roomful of women who would be wearing party dresses.

Reisfield followed her lead. When the two women walked into the room, heads turned and there was a moment of silence, but soon everyone got back to having a good time.

“The next evening all the women were wearing slacks,” laughed Derek Reisfield.

Garbo, star of such films as Anna Karenina, Camille and Ninotchka, never married, but chose her niece as a frequent companion.

“My mother was very close to her and would go into New York once a week to see her,” said Derek Reisfield. “They were both very strong, very independent women, and I think they bonded over that.”

She is survived by her three sons and a daughter, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild.