BERGMAN, INGRID (1915–1982) Actress
During her rocky career, screen idol Ingrid Bergman was beloved, then reviled, then beloved again by American moviegoers. Born on August 29, 1915, in Stockholm, Sweden, she was raised by her father, Justus, after her mother died when Ingrid was three. Justus Bergman nurtured Ingrid’s interest in the arts. Their trips to the theater inspired her to crave a career as an actress. After Justus’s death, 13-year-old Ingrid went to live with her uncle and aunt, who were far less sympathetic to her ambitions. While attending a private girls’ school, she began working as a movie extra against their wishes.
In 1933, Bergman won a scholarship to the school of the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theater, the alma mater of film star GRETA GARBO. The next year, she won her first movie part and was subse quently offered a contract by Svensk Filmindustri. After a series of small roles, she was given the lead in her sixth film, Intermezzo (1937). Bergman played a young pianist who has an affair with married violin ist, but in the end sacrifices her love so that he can return to his family. The romance made her one of the most sought-after actresses in Sweden. In the year of its release, she also married dentist and medical student Peter Lindstrom. She gave birth to their child, Pia, in 1938.
After several more films in Sweden and one in Germany, Bergman was called to Hollywood by producer David O. Selznick. He was so impressed by her work in Intermezzo that he wanted to produce an American remake. The second time around, the film again made her star to watch, this time in Hollywood. Selznick signed his new ingenue to a seven-year contract. Her new studio began promoting Bergman as a natural beauty, pointing out that, unlike most starlets, she had not been transformed by the makeup department to seem more glamorous.
Even so, Hollywood created its own image of Bergman, casting her often as an innocent. Bergman resented the mold and lobbied for meatier roles. When Selznick lent her to another studio for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1942), she convinced the director, Victor Fleming, to allow her and LANA TURNER to swap roles so that she could play a prostitute instead of Jekyll’s dutiful fiancée. In 1942, Selznick again loaned Bergman out for Casablanca, the film that would make her a legend. As Ilsa Laszlo, Bergman effectively played a woman torn between love and doing what was right, as she had earlier in Intermezzo. With the movie’s success, she became one of America’s hottest stars. Bergman followed Casablanca with a string of popular films. In 1944, she earned her first Academy Award for Gaslight (1946), in which she portrayed a wife driven mad by her husband. Bergman also made two memorable movies with director Alfred Hitchcock—Spellbound (1945) and Notorious (1946).
When her contract with Selznick expired in 1946, she took advantage of her newfound freedom to appear as Joan of Arc on Broadway in Joan of Lorraine. The play broke box-office records and won Bergman a Tony Award. However, her next three films—Arch of Triumph (1948), Joan of Arc (1948), and Under Capricorn (1949)—failed to strike a chord with moviegoers or critics. Hoping to reinvigorate her movie career, Bergman wrote to Italian director Roberto Rossellini, expressing her desire to work with him. When he agreed to write a part for her, she traveled to Rome to meet him. Their film collaboration quickly turned into a love affair. Bergman, whose marriage was already crumbling, had had several secret extramarital relationships. But her affair with Rossellini was discovered by the press and widely reported, especially after Bergman became pregnant with Rossellini’s child. Once embraced by the American public for her seeming purity, Bergman was suddenly the target of savage attacks on her morality. Colorado Senator Edwin C. Johnson even denounced her on the senate fioor as “a powerful infiuence for evil.” As Bergman’s daughter Pia once observed, she went “from being a saint to a tramp in a few days.” Freshly divorced from Lindstrom, Bergman married Rossellini in 1950 soon after giving birth to their son, Robertino. Two years later, they had twin girls, Isotta and Isabella, the latter of whom would become a noted model and actress. For the next seven years, Bergman acted exclusively in Rossellini’s films, including Stromboli (1950) and Viaggio in Italia (1953), but none were successful. Their relationship grew equally troubled. In 1958, their marriage was annulled, and Bergman married theatrical producer Lars Schmidt. She and Schmidt were divorced in 1975.
After seven years of exile, Bergman made a triumphant return to Hollywood, playing the title role in Anastasia (1956). She won her second Oscar for best actress for the movie, a gesture widely interpreted as a symbol of forgiveness of her past indiscretions. Two years later, Cary Grant, her costar in Notorious, introduced her as a presenter at the Academy Awards, pointedly calling her “a great actress and a great lady” to thunderous applause. Though clearly back in the Hollywood fold, Bergman found fewer good film and stage roles. Her later films were relatively light fare, such as Indiscreet (1958), Cactus Flower (1969), and Murder on the Orient Express (1974), which earned her a third Oscar, this time for best supporting actress. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, she made one last great film, Autumn Sonata (1978). Directed by Ingmar Bergman (the two are unrelated), the movie brought together the two giants of the Swedish cinema to tell the story of a renowned pianist confronting her failure as a mother. Capping her occasional work in television, Bergman found her final role in A Woman Called Golda (1982), a biography of Golda Meir, for which she won an Emmy Award. On August 29, 1982—Bergman’s 67th birthday—she finally succumbed to cancer. In a late interview, she looked back on her often tumultuous life and career without regrets. Bergman said, “When I was very young in Sweden, I used to pray ‘God, please don’t let me have a dull life.’ And He obviously heard me.”
Bergman, Ingrid, and Alan Burgess. Ingrid Bergman: My
Story. New York: Delacorte, 1980.
Leamer, Laurence. As Time Goes By: The Life of Ingrid
Bergman. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
Spoto, Donald. Notorious: The Life of Ingrid Bergman. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.
Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Autumn Sonata (1978). Home Vision Cinema, DVD/VHS, 2000/1999.
Casablanca (1943). Warner Home Video, DVD/VHS, 2000.
Intermezzo (1939). Anchor Bay Entertainment, VHS, 1999.
Notorious (1946). Anchor Bay Entertainment, DVD/VHS, 1999/1998.