“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”
― Ingrid Bergman
Ingrid at age fourteen.
Ingrid’s mother, Frieda, dies when she is only two years old. Her father, Justus, is an interesting man, an artist, but also a man obsessed with cameras and video. He borrows a video camera for each of Ingrid’s birthdays, and from what people have commented from looking at those old films, Ingrid is in love with the camera and the camera is in love with her. She knows from a young age that she wants to be an actress. Her father has other dreams for her. He hopes she’ll be an opera star. I have a feeling that whatever Ingrid Bergman had decided to do with her life she would have been committed to being successful. Unfortunately, Justus dies when she is thirteen, so he never has the opportunity to even see the beginning of what would become a monumental career.
In 1937, she marries Petter Lindström, a dentist who is studying to become a neurosurgeon. He is a scientist and approaches life with a practicality that sometimes jars with the emotions of his artist wife. He negotiates all her contracts. He is sometimes seen as too controlling, especially by producers who find it easier to make deals with actresses than their analytical husbands. Bergman just wants to act, so contracts and money disputes just do not interest her.
David O. Selznick, out of a pack of interested producers, is the one that finally convinces Petter and Ingrid that for her career to flourish she needs to come to Hollywood. The American public falls in love with her. They respect her, look up to her, and sees her not only as a desirable woman, but as a loving and devoted wife.
That all comes crashing down in 1950.
The camera and her public adored her.
Ingrid has affairs, and most of them Petter finds out about but always forgives her. Maybe out of love, but maybe more likely that practical side of him realizes that she is a big star with big earning potential. Of course there is their daughter Pia to consider as well.
Ingrid sends a letter to a director she admires.
Dear Mr. Rossellini,
I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. 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 and make a film with you.
That innocent letter from an admiring actress to the neorealist Italian director touches off a firestorm that will forever alter her public perception and have a detrimental impact on her career that takes years to repair. Rossellini casts her for the movieStromboli, and during the filming they begin a torrid affair. This one is different than her other affairs.
She becomes pregnant.
Rossellini is married as well, but he is already known as one of the bad boys of cinema, so knocking up a pretty Swedish actress only adds to his legend. Ingrid is not to be so lucky. Once the press discovers she is pregnant, not by her husband, but...gad...by an Italian director, her image as “the good girl of film” is finished. This results in six years of banishment from Hollywood. She has benefited from her image with the public. People packed movie theaters to see her films because of who they perceived her to be. Once they discover that she isn’t who they thought she was, the condemnation is harsh and unrelenting. People feel fooled. It would still be scandalous today, but certainly nothing like 1950 when even the thought of a woman abandoning her husband and her child to run off with another man was considered worse than murder. I think a lot of the backlash was certainly based on a sexist morality, but also was based out of a fear that other women would get the idea that they could leave their husbands and find a new life.
To make matters worse she marries Rossellini, and he prefers her home and pregnant. He discourages her from working, and even when he does let her work as an actress, he is hypercritical of the script, the director, and her performance. She went from one form of repression with Petter to a much worse form, in my opinion. After reading this biography, I’m no fan of Rossellini, but he did contribute to giving the world the lovely Isabella Rossellini.
A Comparison of mother (Ingrid) and daughter(Isabella). The resemblance is striking.
One of the themes that Donald Spoto has to address throughout the book is Ingrid’s relationship with her children. Especially in America, the expectation for a woman is to give up everything for her children. Ingrid certainly feels guilty that she isn’t more available for her children, especially Pia. When she is with them, she is the best of mothers, totally devoted to them and not letting anything intrude on their time together, but then due to her working schedule, she is gone for long periods of time. She isn’t able to see Pia for a long stretch of time simply because Petter makes that very difficult. It is hard for her to leave Europe and come to America with the Scarlet A blazing on her chest.
In the 1950s Ingrid’s parenting skills would have been seen as irresponsible. I believe now, most women are discovering that they must have a balance. Not necessarily always to have a career, but to have something that they do for themselves.
Ingrid returns to Hollywood in 1956 with a bang by starring inAnastasia which wins her a second Academy Award. She has finally been forgiven. The price is a large one, not only for Ingrid but for her true fans as well. It is tragic to lose those prime years of her life to play the role of a wife. It is easy to hide for a while because she is also having to contend with feeling ostracized from the world, but soon her hunger to perform overrides all other concerns. Who knows what wonderful Ingrid performances would exist for us to enjoy today if she had been allowed to continue to work during that period.
There is some relief for Ingrid to shed the “good girl” image. It is a lot to live up to, and ultimately she proves all too human. We see some actresses today going to great lengths to transition from child stars to being seen as full grown women. Ingrid is a hearty drinker, a heavy smoker, and a woman who likes a good party. She also has a sweet tooth that sometimes stretches her figure to proportions unflattering under the unflinching gaze of the camera.
That key in Ingrid’s hand is the key from the movie Notorious. Cary Grant stole it from the set and later gave it to Ingrid when she was going through some troubling times. Later Ingrid gave it to Hitchcock during a tribute being held for his eightieth birthday.
I first met Ingrid, like most people, in Casablanca. She never really understood what all the excitement was about that film. It certainly wasn’t a role that required much from her, but the script of course, the dialogue especially, is what makes that film so memorable for many of us. She is wonderful in Gaslight, but I think my favorite film of hers these days is the Alfred Hitchcock film Notorious. She made three films with Hitch. The other two were Spellbound with Gregory Peck (she had a little fling with Peck during the filming), and the difficult to watch Under Capricorn. Hitch left her with some advice that saved many future directors a lot of trouble with Ingrid.
“I said, "I don't think I can give you that kind of emotion." And he [Hitchcock] sat there and said, "Ingrid, fake it!" Well, that was the best advice I've had in my whole life, because in all the years to come there were many directors who gave me what I thought were quite impossible instructions and many difficult things to do, and just when I was on the verge of starting to argue with them, I heard his voice coming to me through the air saying, "Ingrid, fake it!" It saved a lot of unpleasant situations and waste of time.”
She developed breast cancer in 1974 and battled the disease until 1982. She took it well, knowing she was going die. Her positive attitude allowed her to make the most out of the short time she had left. “Cancer victims who don't accept their fate, who don't learn to live with it, will only destroy what little time they have left.”
This book was read over a long period of time not due to any failing of the subject matter or the writer. I have to drive long distances for business trips, and sometimes I also travel for pleasure. When my wife could go with me, she grabbed the Ingrid Bergman biography to read to me as I drove. We plan to continue this tradition with other Hollywood biographies. We both enjoy learning about the Golden Age of Hollywood. While listening to her read, the miles went by at a faster clip. We also had the added bonus of discussing revelations as we discovered them together; this contributed to the enjoyment of the book. This book and the method with which it was read are highly recommended.
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