Friday, July 7


She's one of those for whom we don't need a last name.  We know of whom we're speaking.  It seems more reasonable that I would have done a posting on her when I did my tribute to the 1940s since that was her most acclaimed decade but for one reason or another it didn't work out.  On the other hand it's not totally a head-scratcher to bring her up as part of our salute to the 1970s since she was not only still working but won her third Oscar in that decade. So let's see what we can say about Ingrid Bergman.

In addition to those three Oscar wins, she was nominated four other times.  She also won two Emmys, four Golden Globes, one BAFTA and a Tony.  When mentioning actresses from Hollywood's Golden Era, her name should pop up right away.  Many of her films fall into the legendary status and without a doubt she is one of the all-time great international film stars.  Equally rivaling her reel life was her real life.  If one were to speak of the great Hollywood scandals, it wouldn't take long for her name to pop up there either.

She was born in Stockholm in 1915 to a German mother who passed away when Ingrid was just two.  Her Swedish father was an artist and a photographer and Ingrid would later say that she always remembered wanting to be an actress. She would lovingly recall the days when her widowed father encouraged her to dress up, put on funny hats, make up stories and perform for him. Unfortunately, when Ingrid was 12, her father also died and she went to live with an elderly uncle.  She spent many days dreaming of being a grownup and dating boys.

She got a taste of acting when she had a bit part in a Swedish film at 17 and the following year enrolled in the Royal Dramatic Theater School in Stockholm but quickly assessed that stage acting was not for her.  (Thank goodness she recovered because I've seen her in two wonderful plays.)

She had a few small roles in films prior to filming Intermezzo (1936) for director Gustaf Molander and she became his protégée, as they like to say.  As she was making a few more films in her native country and Germany, in America flamboyant producer David O. Selznick had noticed her and was beginning negotiations for her to come to the States and make her American debut in his version of Intermezzo.

In 1933 at age 18, Ingrid's cousin introduced her to Dr. Petter Lindstrom, a bright, take-charge, sometimes-cocky dentist who was also a medical student and teaching at his university. Not that she paid all that much attention to looks, but she couldn't exactly help noticing he was tall and handsome.  By 1937 they were married and the following year daughter Pia was born.

Bergman was never faithful to him.  For all that he had to recommend him as husband material, it seems, poor chap, that he was just not exciting enough for her.  I don't think that's in just one room of the house but all rooms.  Affairs excited her.  Hollywood knew what she was up to but closed ranks around her as much as anything because she was a fabulous actress and an all-around good guy.

At the time she accepted Selznick's offer, which came with a personal contract, she and the good doctor already weren't doing so well but he wanted to continue his studies in the States and even though they knew they'd each be busy and would lead largely separate lives, there was hope that things would work out.  I hate to be cynical but I suspect that Bergman liked the status quo after a short while.  Lindstrom covered his eyes and was always there for Pia while Bergman enjoyed her affairs, free of any real entanglement. Sounds like Hollywood Marriages, Chapter One.

Before we get her into Selznick's office, let's chat up a few items that have seemingly led to Bergman's overall fame... beauty, acting ability, the public fascination.

I never considered her the great beauty that others have but that's not to say I didn't now and then see a glance or a shot or a frame or picture of her that was beautiful. It certainly could be said this woman could be photographed from any angle. In that regard, her face was perfect.  It was also so sincere, so forgiving, so longing. She eschewed the Hollywood glamour treatment as much as she could.  She gave those in hair and makeup a devil of a time because she wouldn't trim her eyebrows or lighten her hair color.  (I did think she looked much better as a blonde.)  She was also very tall and often reminded me of a big Swedish farm girl.

And yet... and yet there was an allure about her that I've wrestled with since I first became aware of her.  Perhaps it was about beauty v.s. the radiance I've seen in her face, a touching vulnerability, such heart-warming expressiveness.  And here's one good for a chuckle, I thought her face projected feminine virtue.  Take that, Lana and Hedy. 

From early on, Sweden's greatest gift to Hollywood (förlåt, Greta)
didn't care much for her new home.  She loved the sunshine and the orange blossoms but detested publicity, the obsession with looks, the manipulation and being nice to people she soon quite disliked. She didn't like the silly cheesecake photos and the intrusion in her private life (with good reason, of course, on the latter).  She never much acted the diva role, didn't throw temper tantrums on a set and knew a script backward and forward.

What she did love, what totally absorbed her was acting and she had the passion and drive to succeed.  (As a life-long lover of traveling, she adored that her profession provided plenty of it.)  She simply loved to act and she was so natural that she didn't appear to be acting at all.  She immersed herself in studying acting, continuing long after she was a known commodity, an expression she hated.  She was always keen to challenge herself, was always ambitious and always had her eye on the prize.  One of her most shared little nuggets was I'm only interested in two kinds of people... those who can entertain me and those who can advance my career

Selznick's version of Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939), costarring Leslie Howard (who was bicycling for a while back and forth between that and Selznick's Gone With the Wind), is the story of a married, concert violinist who is carrying on with a young woman on tour with him. It caused a sensation because of Bergman.

She soon appeared in Adam Had Four Sons (1941) as a governess who takes over a rich man's family after the wife dies.  It certainly doesn't belong in the same league with most of her later films, but it remains a sentimental favorite of mine, thanks, in part, to a feisty performance from Susan Hayward.

MGM agreed that she and Lana Turner could switch roles in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941).  Turner, tired of slutty roles, would play the good girl (and less showy part) and Bergman would play, against type, the bad girl.  Off screen, however, both actresses were the same type. Bergman pulled double-duty on this one... she was sleeping with star Spencer Tracy and director Victor Fleming.

Only later in life did she come to terms with the fame she gathered with Casablanca (1942) or with the film itself.  She never much cared for it and didn't understand the eclat surrounding it.  She
always said that filming it was a cluttered, rather frustrating mess. We have a number of films to discuss so rather than comment more on it, we'll refer you to an earlier posting for more of her musings on this one.

She was asked by author Ernest Hemingway if she would cut her hair to play Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), and she responded that she would cut her head off to play the part.  That was good since he claimed he wrote the part with her in mind. She would receive her first Oscar nomination in her first color film. Gary Cooper plays an American attached to a guerilla unit during the Spanish Civil War.  Bergman makes a strong showing as his lover and fellow fighter.  She and Cooper began a torrid affair that would last through two years and two films.  Unquestionably he was her male counterpart.  Damn the marriages, full steam ahead.

I always loved Gaslight (1944), which justly brought the actress her first Oscar as a wife driven mad by her calculating, murderous husband (Charles Boyer in one of his best roles).  A sophisticated thriller taking place in Victorian London, watching the skill of this actress going from nervous to hysterical is a revelation.

Spellbound (1945) was the first of her three outings with Alfred Hitchcock and concerns a psychoanalyst (Bergman) who sets out to solve a murder she is certain her patient (Gregory Peck) didn't commit.  Despite the lofty pedigree of the participants, the film borders occasionally on the absurd but it was a crowd-pleaser.  The Salvador Dali dream sequence was worth the price of admission. Bergman, of course, had an affair with her costar who apparently claimed he had fallen in love with her.

Spellbound also featured famed Russian drama coach, Michael Chekhov, in a small part and Bergman had the good fortune and,
of course, the steely determination to become his student.

Saratoga Trunk (1945) was fun enough but it was unworthy of the talents of Bergman and Cooper.  She plays a Creole aristocrat's shunned daughter in love with an opportunistic gambler who take on the society that snubs them.  Cooper volunteered in my whole life I never had a woman so much in love with me as Ingrid was. The day after the picture ended, I couldn't get her on the phone.

In 1945 after capturing another Oscar nomination for playing a nun opposite Bing Crosby in The Bells of St. Mary's (1946), Bergman, though still married and living with Lindstrom, launched an affair with famed war photographer Robert Capa. They met in Germany while she was viewing the devastation and entertaining the troops. He visited her in Hollywood while she was filming Hitchcock's Notorious and she made every effort to get him to quit his job and secure work in the movie business.  She also told him she hoped they would marry. While their romance was certainly hot and heavy, he was too dedicated to his work to give it up and smartly, he also knew his work would never allow room for a wife and family. Parting must have been sweet sorrow and for the rest of her life, she would claim Capa was her one true love. Hitchcock said his 1954 James Stewart-Grace Kelly starrer, Rear Window, was based loosely on the Capa-Bergman romance.

With the great love of her life war photographer Robert Capa

In her second and much better film with Hitchcock, Notorious (1946), Bergman again played a role she did so well... the adulterous wife.  But this time she is doing it for political reasons. An American agent, Cary Grant, enlists her to romance (and eventually marry) an old acquaintance (Casablanca costar Claude Rains) to help foil a Nazi plot.  It was deadly serious and great fun. Despite one of the longest movie kisses in American film history between her and Grant, he was one of the few costars she did not get to bed.  In a couple of years, few would say Ingrid Bergman in Notorious but rather Ingrid Bergman is notorious.

Arch of Triumph and Joan of Arc, both 1948, and Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949), all did poorly at the box office.  If the public and the Hollywood bigwigs were disenchanted, they had nothing on Bergman herself.  She was unhappy with three less-than-perfect films in a row, miserable in her marriage and still licking her wounds from the end of the Capa affair and she became restless again.  

She had seen the work of Italian director, Roberto Rossellini, and was captivated with his neo-realism style of movie-making. She thought he might be the answer to her career woes and a damned good opportunity to extricate herself from Sunny California.  She wrote the director a letter, a fan letter of sorts, and told him how much she would like to work with him.

The Rossellinis

If Bergman thought Casablanca was a patchwork affair, she may not have been ready for Stromboli (1950).  Rossellini was a director who rather made it all up as he went along and his actors were rarely professional ones.  There was lots of yelling and screaming... hey, it's Italia.  She said she wanted something different from her Hollywood experience and being on one of his films was certainly nothing at all like the cotton candy backlot at MGM.  

Mario Vitale was plucked out of obscurity to play a fisherman on the volcano-threatened island of Stromboli, off the coast of Italy, who marries a foreign woman fleeing a torturous life in her homeland.  Both of them seek a better life but Rossellini's characters usually found their lives working out another way.

Filming on Stromboli certainly got even more taxing when it was revealed to the world that the actress and her director were not only engaged in an affair but she was pregnant. Of course, she was still married (though unhappy) and so was he.  This would cause fewer ripples in America today but in 1949 it was a devastating blow to Bergman.The saint had become a sinner. She went from playing a saint and a nun to a whore. That's what they said.  She was excoriated in the movie magazines that once curried her favor. The movie moguls would miss the money she brought in but still jumped aboard the no more Bergman bandwagon.  She was even blasted on the floor of Congress, the very mention of her adultery causing profuse sweating among the self-righteous.

The truth is... no, wait... the lie is that Bergman was ever a saint. Certainly not from early teenage years.  She had been the other woman in plenty of relationships.  She slept with most of her leading men and quite a number of her directors... and others she fancied.  She didn't do it much differently than many in her community and she certainly wouldn't have gotten the working-over by the public had she been a man. When men left their marriages and moved on, they did so without their children.
But women didn't.  They may have left a man but they didn't leave a child behind. Bergman did.  And that's why she was being burned at the stake.

She and Rossellini had a son and would later have twin daughters, one of whom is the very magical Isabella Rossellini. Bergman not only left America but was no longer welcome back.  She was assured no one would see her films in America.  After Stromboli, she and Rossellini made Europa '51 (1952), Siamo donne (1953),
Viaggio in Italia (1954) and two more but they were given virtually no showing at the time in the States.

(Hey Carlo, could you shed any light on Ingrid & Roberto from an Italian perspective? May I assume she wasn't treated so harshly there?)

She made a few other European films during their seven-year marriage and then it was over.  After she and Rossellini married, American hostilities subsided and things lightened up even more as we heard little about them.  When they divorced, she thought she'd give America another try.  Had it forgiven her? 20th Century Fox was willing to bet it had and she was still looking good and would be newly-blonded as Anastasia (1956).

The story of Anastasia is about a woman who is attempting to crawl back into life and find her rightful place.  No wonder Bergman was willing to be attached to such a homecoming piece.  She turns in a very touching performance as a woman hired to impersonate the missing royal and becomes so good at it that
she convinces everyone around her, including herself.  Of course, she enjoyed a romp with costar Yul Brynner.  

Stanley Donen served up one of his delicious soufflés with Indiscreet (1958), which reunited a more mature Bergman and Cary Grant. He was so much funnier with actresses approximating his own age. She plays an actress, cynical about love, who begins a flirtation with a suave, married banker.  While not a great film, it is a most delightful one thanks to these three.  America may have forgiven her, but it sure didn't seem like anyone stopped casting her as the other woman.    

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) is one of my favorite Bergman performances.  It is a real-life story of a 1930s Englishwoman who can't qualify as a missionary but saves up enough money as a charwoman to move to China to care for all the little children.  Of course she does so against the backdrop of Japan invading China.  It's both a tender story of an enormously caring woman against war and includes a bi-racial love story that adds its own interest.  There is a delightful onscreen pairing with virile Curt Jurgens.  They were very similar people in real life.  I wonder if they rehearsed together.

The Yellow Rolls Royce (1964) and Stimulantia (1967) were fluffy films, far below the actress's usual fare, and vignette pieces as well where she appears in just one of the segments.  She had worked very little in 10 years.  In 1958 she married theater producer-director Lars Schmidt, a fellow Swede, and their marriage was at its happiest in the 60s.  Even after their 1978 divorce, they remained close until the end of her life.  He was at her bedside when she died.

Cactus Flower (1969) is cute and it seemed like a bit of a comeback film for Bergman... and a rare comedy, no less. Interestingly, she accepted second-billing, no doubt triggering a case of big-headedness for Walter Matthau.  Bergman took Lauren Bacall's Broadway role and made it her own as a dentist's lovesick nurse who poses as his wife so he can avoid matrimony with Oscar-winning Goldie Hawn.

Another of my favorite Bergman performances came in A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970).  She is better than the film itself but I enjoyed the soft, easy feel of the story. A college professor and his wife relocate for a year to a Tennessee farmhouse so that he can do some writing.  She has nothing to do but give a lot of mixed signals to an unhappily married neighbor who expresses undying love for her.  I thought her scenes with Anthony Quinn were played with great passion because they, too, enjoyed an affair that began on a previous film together.  

Quinn later commented:  The two greatest talents I worked with were Ingrid Bergman and Anna Magnani (a former Rossellini mistress).  I would prefer to work with Anna, whom I didn't like, than Ingrid, whom I loved

The film that gets Bergman mentioned in my piece here on the 1970s is Murder on the Orient Express (1974), her third Oscar-winning role.  Later on Meryl Streep would join Bergman's esteemed company as the most Oscar-winning actresses behind Katharine Hepburn at four.  A piece on this film appeared earlier.  

Autumn Sonata (1978) provided the actress with one of her greatest roles.  For years she and director Ingmar Bergman had wanted to work together but couldn't find the right property or right time.  It finally came together for the story of a severely-damaged mother-daughter relationship.  It tells of the sadness of a mother who has neglected her daughter (an equally gorgeous performance by Liv Ullmann) and they now have a bitter meeting after many years apart. The bleak story of middle-aged people didn't appeal so much to American audiences and this was not an easy film to get to see but am glad I did.  Sadly, it would be Bergman's last big screen appearance.

Her children had been encouraging her for some time to write her autobiography.  Their reasoning apparently was do it before someone else does.  It was not a task she invited.  For one reason, she was not much of a person who looked back.  She was forward-moving.  She didn't particularly want to speak of her many love affairs, her sometimes questionable mothering skills and she could be rather closed... in her Swedish sort of way.  People often claimed she was so honest.  Likely they were thinking of her magnificent skills at acting because she wasn't as honest in real life as she was, perhaps, more forthright.  Whatever it took, she buckled down and wrote (with Alan Burgess) a rather glorious assessment of her colorful life, published by Delacourt Press in 1980 as Ingrid Bergman: My Story.  Isn't it funny that the same year Harper & Row published Laurence Leamer's oh-so-readable As Time Goes By: The Life of Ingrid Bergman?

I highly recommend both books.  If you like or admire this actress and have the time and the reserve, read them both, one after the other.  Read in one those intimate details, the thoughts that only the lady herself could possibly know.  And read a still kind but more penetrating look into a few things she rather brushed over in her book.

By the time she began the acclaimed television movie, A Woman Called Golda (1982), Bergman was quite ill.  She had had cancer for eight years but her last couple of years she was in great pain.  It didn't stop her from traipsing all over Israel collecting bits of information from people who knew the former prime minister.  Her preparation for the role and her spot-on acting in it is a tribute to the magnificent actress she had always been.

Ingrid Bergman died on her 67th birthday in London in 1982.

To help connect you with the acclaim of this woman, the august American Film Institute named her as the fourth greatest film legend of all time.  Mull that one around.

Next posting: 
The directors


  1. Perfect post on Ingrid. She is one of our essential stars, her book (with the author of the book that became The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness) captures her perfectly, like describing her last in the theatre (at the The Theatre Royal Haymarket London) and her last time before the cameras on Golda, where her sense of humour shines out. I love Autumn Sonata too, that scene at the piano is a masterclass on acting as every emotion flickers across her face as her daughter plays badly. She is marvellous and attractive in Cactus Flower as her starchy dental nurse becomes a beauty, and I find her very funny in The Yellow Rolls Royce. I have not seen the two with Quinn. She is delightful too in Renoir's Elena et Les Hommes before returning to Hollywood in 1956. Of the Rossellin's I particularly like the 1953 Journey to Italy, a modern classic, paving the way for the likes of Antonioni etc. Notorious of course is a key 1940s film and a favourite Hitchcock, and I even like the 1949 Under Capricorn. Of her early films the 1938 Swedish A Woman's Face is stunning, some of it is on Youtube, no wonder Hollywood bought it for Joan Crawford. We were lucky in London to see Ingrid on the stage several times, I saw her in two plays (A Month in the Country, Captain Brassbound's Conversion)|and got her autograph twice, when I was a young autograph hound, she was always perfectly pleasant to meet and talk to. I also saw her at the BFI for a screening of Casablanca, where she once again talked about its making and how they just regarded it as a regular wartime potboiler. She was on camera since she was a child, as per her father's home movies, included in that recent documentary about her, which is well worth seeing with her children and friends talking about her.

  2. A great comment, Michael and I learned a couple of things, too. Love that! I will catch "A Woman's Face" asap. We saw her in the same two plays as well. A simply stunning actress.

  3. Great post!
    I remember that when Ingrid came to Italy to work with Rossellini, all magazines were filled with enthusiasm for this actress who was still considered one of the greatest. Then the affair with the R. and- oh my God!- the child, she was no more the great actress but just an adulterous woman. But this ONLY for the press.
    You have to consider that in those years the Vatican opinion was like a blanket spread all throughout Italy and divorce itself was "TABU".
    Yet for us, the "people", IB was still the Hollywood star. A lot of us teen agers went to see STROMBOLI just because she was playing in Italian language. I know that this movie was not what everibody exspected . but it's also true that all audiences, not only in Italy, saw only 70 minutes
    of the 92.Then VIAGGIO IN ITALIA. The Italian press distroied this film. Then, France press considered Viaggio in Italia one of the best films ever made in Europe.
    The best thing in those days what to follow what your mind or/and heart told you to do. In those days I loved movies. All of them!
    I saw I.B. a couple of times in Rome's Condotti street and one time I realized that I was sitting beside her and her daughters watching Pasolini's DECAMERON.
    She wasn't a great beasuty in decade thet saw Turner, Lamarr and Gardner yet when I think of IB I cannot stop thinking of the wonderful closeups of Maria in For Whom The Bell Tolls. Ciao

  4. Another perfectly delicious Ingrid movie now is the 1961 GOODBYE AGAIN, one of those nice early 60s black and white movies, as Ingrid and Tony Perkins drive around Paris - he is the younger man who falls for her "older woman" (she is a glamorous 40!) as she tries to make unfaithful lover Yves Montand jealous, from a Francoise Sagan novel, directed by Anatole Litvak.

  5. We saw her in the same two plays as well. A simply stunning actress.

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