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Star of the Month: Ingrid Bergman

Star of the Month: Ingrid Bergman

Wednesdays in December / 31 Movies

Ingrid Bergman, TCM Star of the Month for December, was a luminous acting talent and beauty whose magnetic presence rivaled that of her fellow countrywoman Greta Garbo.

After early stardom in her native Sweden, Bergman became a major force in 1940s Hollywood. During that decade she appeared in one successful film after another, racking up a series of awards and nominations and changing the face of movie-star glamour with her fresh, natural look and unaffected manner.

In an effort to define the young actress’s appeal, critic Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times, “Picture the sweetheart of a Viking, freshly scrubbed with ivory soap, eating peaches and cream from a Dresden china bowl on the first warm day of spring atop a sea-scarred cliff, and you have a fair impression of Ingrid Bergman.”

After such idealization, Bergman faced a disillusioned press and public in the 1950s. She became an object of scorn after a world-wide scandal when she left her family in Hollywood to work with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini and bore his child out of wedlock.

Weathering the storm with no apparent resentment or regrets, Bergman eventually found redemption with her performance in Anastasia (1956), reclaiming most of her fans and winning her second Oscar. After that, she maintained a successful international career in films and on stage and television.

Producer David O. Selznick, who brought Bergman to the U.S., once summed her up by saying, “She had an extraordinary quality of purity and nobility and a definite star personality that is very rare.” Cary Grant, a favorite Bergman costar, was more succinct: “There has never been anything like her.”

Ingrid Bergman was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on August 29, 1915, to Justus Samuel Bergman and his wife, Frieda Adler Bergman, who originally was from Germany. Ingrid’s mother died when she was three years old and her father, who owned a photography shop, raised the girl until his death when she was 14.

Her father shot scenes of Ingrid with a movie camera when she was a child, and years later her colleague, director Ingmar Bergman, would compile and edit these scenes for her. After her father’s death she was left to the care of an unmarried aunt who also died soon afterward. During her teenage years, Ingrid was cared for by another aunt and her family.

Ingrid attended a private school, where performing in plays inspired her ambition to become an actress. Timid as a youngster, she came to life when stepping onstage. “Although I was shy, I had a lion roaring inside me that wouldn’t shut up,” she remembered.

She won a scholarship to the Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm, where she studied for a year before beginning to act in Swedish films in the early 1930s.

In 1937 Bergman married Petter Aron Lindström, a Swedish dentist who would go on to become a neurosurgeon. Their daughter, Friedel Pia Lindström (who would later become a television journalist), was born the following year.

Bergman had roles in a dozen early Swedish films, and TCM is screening seven of them. The Count of the Old Town (1935), considered her movie debut after an uncredited bit in 1932’s Landskamp, is a Mack Sennett-styled comedy in which she plays a hotel maid.

In Swedenhielms (1935), a drama about the family of a Swedish scientist (Gösta Ekman), Bergman plays the fiancée of one of the sons. Walpurgis Night (1935) is a topical drama whose subjects include abortion, with Bergman cast as a secretary in love with her married boss (Lars Hanson).

In Intermezzo (1936) Bergman plays a pianist who falls for world-famous violinist (Gösta Ekman) who also happens to be married. In a 1939 remake, Hollywood producer David O. Selznick would choose this story to introduce Bergman to American audiences.

Dollar (1938) is a domestic comedy in which four married couples face romantic and financial problems. Bergman plays a glamorous actress who feels neglected by her businessman husband (Georg Rydeberg).

A Woman’s Face (1938), a true star vehicle for Bergman, casts her as a woman whose face has been hideously scarred since childhood and who has become the head of a blackmail ring. After her face is restored through surgery, she finds redemption. This one was remade in Hollywood as a Joan Crawford vehicle.

June Night (1940), Bergman’s final film before coming to America, casts her as a young woman who moves to Stockholm from her small town to escape a scandal after she is shot and wounded by a jealous lover.

Some of Bergman’s best Swedish films, including A Woman’s Face, were directed by Gustaf Molander, who served as a mentor. She was embraced by her country’s critics, who routinely used such adjectives as “superb,” “brilliant,” and “magnificent” in describing her acting.

Bergman first came to the U.S. at the invitation of producer Selznick, who was deep into the filming of Gone with the Wind (1939) but had seen the original Intermezzo and chose to refilm it as Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) with Bergman and Leslie Howard in the leading roles.

Selznick insisted that Bergman be presented and photographed as she had been in her Swedish movies – in a totally natural way without the “synthetic razzle-dazzle” of the Hollywood style. American movie audiences found the effect refreshing and embraced the new star.

Now under contract to Selznick, Bergman was loaned to other studios for leading roles in such films as Adam Had Four Sons (1941), a romantic drama from Columbia Pictures with Susan Hayward in a supporting role; and Rage in Heaven (1941), a psychological thriller from MGM costarring Robert Montgomery.

Also at MGM, Bergman performed memorably opposite Spencer Tracy, who played the title roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941). Originally cast as the ingenue, she persuaded director Victor Fleming to let her exchange parts with Lana Turner and take on the role of the “bad girl,” a barmaid named Ivy.

Bergman’s career took on a whole new dimension with Warner Bros.’ Casablanca (1942), the wartime romantic melodrama that won a Best Picture Oscar and achieved classic status over the years.

Bergman, as the former love of cynical café owner Humphrey Bogart, brings a radiant presence to her role and regards Bogart with such glowing adoration that he emerges as a believable romantic hero.

“I didn’t do anything I hadn’t done before,” Bogart later said. “But when the camera moves in on the Bergman face and she’s saying she loves you, it would make anybody look romantic.”

As she continued to move from studio to studio, success followed success for Bergman in the mid-1940s. In Paramount’s adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), she captured the coveted role of María and gave a glowing performance opposite Gary Cooper.

Bergman won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance as the distraught wife in MGM’s Gaslight (1944), a screen version of the stage thriller Angel Street. She was reunited with Gary Cooper in Saratoga Trunk (1945), playing a Creole adventuress in 1875 New Orleans in Warner Bros.’ adaptation of the Edna Ferber novel.

Bergman played a nun opposite Bing Crosby’s priest in RKO’s The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945), a sequel to the 1944 hit Going My Way. She also acted in a pair of highly entertaining thrillers from Alfred Hitchcock: United Artists’ Spellbound (1945) with Gregory Peck, and RKO’s Notorious (1946) with Cary Grant.

Bergman’s box-office glow lost its luster with her next three films: United Artists’ Arch of Triumph (1948), RKO’s Joan of Arc (1948), and Under Capricorn (1949), a Hitchcock production from Warner Bros.

The actress was also restless and dissatisfied in her personal life. She would remember “one day sitting at the pool and suddenly the tears were streaming down my cheeks. Why was I so unhappy?…I had security but it wasn’t enough. I was exploding inside.”

earthy, emotionally powerful studies in neo-realism, Bergman wrote him a letter and expressed a desire to work with him. She traveled to Italy to appear in his film Stromboli (1950), leaving her husband and daughter behind in the U.S. During production, Bergman and Rossellini began their affair, and she became pregnant with his child.

 The resulting international scandal was one of the most highly publicized of its time, with Berman’s condemnation being especially harsh in her native Sweden and in America, where a U.S. senator suggested that she “not be allowed to set foot on American soil again.”

The film itself, a study of life on a volcanic island as experienced by a displaced Lithuanian woman (Bergman), was a commercial failure with a poor critical reception in the U.S. It was more warmly received in Italy, where it received the Rome Prize for Cinema as best film of the year.

Bergman, who secured a divorce from Lindström and married Rossellini in 1950, remained in Italy and made other films with her husband over the next five years.

Their other joint efforts included Europe ’51 (1952), in which Bergman plays a woman struggling with the loss of her son; Journey to Italy (1954), which follows a troubled married couple (Bergman and George Sanders) as they travel to Naples to sell a house; and Fear (1954), in which Bergman is a businesswoman threatened by blackmail.

Although underappreciated at the time, the Rossellini/Bergman films are now considered forerunners of a new style of European cinema and influential in the work of such filmmakers as Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini and Jena-Luc Godard.

Bergman broke away from her husband, both personally and professionally, to film Elena and Her Men (a.k.a. Paris Does Strange Things, 1956) for her old friend, French writer-director Jean Renoir. Set in Paris in 1890, the film is a gay romantic comedy that emphasizes Bergman’s warmth and glamour.

Bergman would divorce Rossellini in 1957. They had three children together: Roberto, born in 1950; and twins Isabella and Isotta, born in 1952. Isabella became a noteworthy actress in her own right, and Isotta has been a teacher and academic.

Anastasia (1956) was an unqualified triumph for Bergman, affording her not only a return to filmmaking for a Hollywood studio (20th Century Fox) and her second Oscar, but a renewal of her international career as an actress.

Directed by Anatole Litvak, Anastasia is based on a play about Anna Anderson, a woman who is presented as the Grand Duchess of Russia and a survivor of the 1918 execution of the royal family.

Her follow-up films were Warners’ Indiscreet (1958), a charming romantic comedy reuniting Bergman with Cary Grant; and Fox’s The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), based on the true story of Gladys Aylward, a missionary to China during the tumultuous years preceding World War II.

Bergman films of the 1960s included Goodbye Again (1961), based on the novel Aimez-vous Brahms? by Françoise Sagan; and The Visit (1964), from a play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

MGM’s The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), an episodic film costarring Rex Harrison and Shirley MacLaine, casts the top-billed Bergman as an American socialite caught up in the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia during World War II.

In a surprise bit of casting, Bergman starred in the sex farce Cactus Flower (1969) alongside Walter Matthau and Supporting Actress Oscar winner Goldie Hawn. It was Bergman’s first time in years working on Hollywood sound stages (Columbia’s), and the film was a hit.

Among Bergman’s films of the 1970s were A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970), a gentle romance with Anthony Quinn; and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973), a children’s film about young hideaways in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

She won her third Oscar (as Best Supporting Actress) for her role as one of the suspects, a Swedish missionary, in the all-star Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Vincente Minnelli’s A Matter of Time (1976) offered Bergman another colorful role, as an aging Contessa who transforms the life of a chambermaid (Liza Minnelli).

Bergman’s outstanding vehicle of the ’70s, and her final big-screen film, was Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata (1978). In a drama with parallels to her own life, she plays a famous, egocentric pianist who neglects a daughter (Liv Ullman) to pursue her own fulfillment.

Bergman received her seventh and final Oscar nomination for Autumn Sonata. In addition to her three wins, the other nominations came for For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Bells of St. Mary’s and Joan of Arc.

Over the years she also distinguished herself onstage, acting in various languages in such classics as Liliom, Anna Christie, Joan of Lorraine, Tea and Sympathy, A Month in the Country, More Stately Mansions and The Constant Wife

Beginning in 1959 with her Emmy-winning performance in an adaptation of the Henry James story The Turn of the Screw, Bergman explored the possibilities of television drama.

Other notable TV appearances included Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman’s Life (1961), Hedda Gabler (1962) and The Human Voice (1966). Bergman won a second Emmy, posthumously, for her final performance as Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in the syndicated biopic A Woman Called Golda (1982).

lost a battle for custody of her oldest daughter and was not reunited with her until 1957, when Pia Lindström was almost 20. Lindström expressed no resentment toward her mother in public, and the two remained friendly for the rest of Bergman’s life. 

In 1958 Bergman married Swedish theatrical entrepreneur Lars Schmidt. The couple divorced in 1975 but remained friends until Bergman’s death. She died from cancer in London on her 67th birthday, August 29, 1982. Her ashes were taken to Sweden and partly scattered at sea, with the remainder placed at a cemetery with her parents’ ashes.  

In looking back at her tumultuous existence in a 1968 interview, Bergman described it as “a very beautiful life. A very interesting life. A very lucky life. I’ve had ugly moments in my life, it is true. But they were never stupid moments, stupid tears. Even sorrows sometimes are fortunate.”