Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982) was a beguiling, accomplished, and an especially controversial star of stage and screen. During her career, she received three Academy Awards, a pair of Emmy Awards, four Golden Globes, a BAFTA, and a Tony Award at the very first Tony Award ceremony in 1947. Bergman’s Oscars are for Anastasia (1956), George Cukor‘s Gaslight (1944), and Murder On The Orient Express (1974).
Bergman is most fondly remembered by film fans for her performance as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca (1942), one of the most celebrated films of all time. I resisted it for a couple of decades, but watching it in 2016, I was suddenly won over completley.
Amazingly, while in cancer treatment for eight years, she continued to work, receiving some of her best reviews and winning international awards for her final roles. Cukor once said to her:
“Do you know what I especially love about you, Ingrid, my dear? I can sum it up as your naturalness. The camera loves your beauty, your acting, and your individuality. A star must have individuality. It makes you a great star. A great star.”
While still married to Dr. Petter Lindström, she became pregnant by the great Italian director Roberto Rossellini while they were working on a film together. Bergman had written Rossellini a fan letter strongly suggesting that they do a project together:
“If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French and who in Italian knows only ‘ti amo’, I am ready to come make a film with you.”
That pregnancy caused a huge scandal in the puritanical United States of America. It even led to Bergman being denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Edwin C. Johnson, a Democrat from Colorado. Johnson referred to her as:
“A Free-Love cultist and a horrible example of womanhood and a powerful influence for evil”.
There was a Senate vote, because in the 1950s, Congress actually bothered themselves with people’s private sex lives. Can you imagine such a thing? The action resulted in Bergman being made persona-non-grata in this country. She was unable to find work and was even shunned by others in the industry.
The scandal forced Bergman to go in to exile in Italy; not a bad gig. During Bergman’s time in Italy, anger over her private life continued unabated in the USA, with Ed Sullivan at one point infamously polling his television show audience as to whether she should be permitted to ever appear on his show. Although the audience was mostly in favor, Sullivan declined to ever book her again. Steve Allen then booked her on his show opposite Sullivan and answered critics by stating:
“If it became a principle to keep off TV those performers who have been guilty of adultery, then I am very much afraid that a great many of your favorite programs would disappear.”
Bergman made her first post-scandal public appearance in Hollywood at the 1958 Academy Awards. She was the presenter for Best Picture. She was given a standing ovation, after being introduced by her friend Cary Grant. I remember my mother explaining the entire controversy to me when I was just 5 years old. My own comment to her was: “Hey! Who can resist an Italian man?”
In 1972, after her career was back on track and the affair was just a sad showbiz footnote, an official apology to Bergman was entered into the Congressional record. Bergman:
“I’ve gone from saint to whore and back to saint, all in one lifetime.”
Bergman had solid stage and film training and a dozen screen credits in Sweden. She came to Hollywood in 1939 and at first struck audiences with her natural, fresh-scrubbed look and un-plucked eyebrows, which seemed revolutionary in an era where Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford were the biggest stars.
She dominated the 1940s with a string of successes, proving her impressive range, despite her accent and big Nordic physicality. She convincingly played a Cockney slut and heartbreakingly pathetic victim in Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1941), a Spanish anti-fascist in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), a fragile Victorian wife being gaslit by her husband played by Charles Boyer in the thriller Gaslight (1944), an unlikely, yet ravishingly funny French Creole New Orleans wanton woman in Saratoga Trunk (1945), and as the most radiant nun in history in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945), plus Saint Joan of Lorraine in Joan Of Arc (1948), a role for which she won a Tony Award two years earlier.
Bob Hope joked that Bergman was in every other movie of the era, but she left Hollywood to work in experimental European films with Europeans Rossellini, Bernhard Wicki and Jean Renoir. She had an American second act that includes television productions of Hedda Gabler (1962) and Turn Of the Screw (1959) and improbably, but convincingly as Golda Meir in A Woman Called Golda (1982) her final film, winning a posthumous Emmy Award.
In moments like her hysteria in Gaslight, Bergman brought a raw, animal ferocity unseen in American films, except maybe by Bette Davis in her more stylized manner. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, her speech describing the savage execution of her parents by Francisco Franco‘s fascists is heart stopping.
Bergman was a jaw-droppingly gorgeous, sublimely talented woman who confessed to being painfully shy. Yet, she had no fear of the camera, working, smiling, laughing in front of it, a talent that seems natural, but was cultivated from an early age.
She married three times and had four accomplished children. She had an affair with her Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde director, Victor Fleming, who also directed her in Joan of Arc. Lucky girl, she also had romances with Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck and famed war photographer Robert Capa.
Astonishingly, Bergman spoke five languages and made films in all five.
In 1963, 48-year-old Bergman was arrested on a beach for wearing a bikini that was too revealing according to the standards of conservative Portugal.
Bergman took her final curtain call on August 29, 1982, her 67th birthday. That goddamn cancer got her. She is, of course, the mother of beautiful and talented Isabella Rosselinni.
“I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have lived my life the way I did if I was going to worry about what people were going to say.”