“People saw me in Joan of Arc and declared me a saint. I’m not. I’m just a woman, another human being.”
– Ingrid Bergman
Born on August 29, 1915 in Stockholm to Swedish Father, Justus Bergman and German Mother Frieda. When she was just two years old her Mother died and years later at the age of thirteen she lost her Father. In the years before his death, her Father wanted her to become an opera singer. While she did take vocal lessons for three years, she claims that from the very beginning she knew she wanted to be an actress. After her parents death, Bergman was sent to live with an Aunt, who died of heart disease only six months later. She was then sent to live with her Aunt Hulda and Uncle Otto. During this period another Aunt implied to the young Bergman that her Mother was of Jewish decent and cautioned her about speaking of it as there were difficult times ahead. It has since been proven that the actress had no Jewish ancestry.
She received a scholarship to the Royal Dramatic Theatre School and after several months was given a part in a new play, Ett Brott (A Crime), written by Sigfrid Siwertz. During her first summer break the young actress was hired by a Swedish film studio which led her to leave school after only one year to work on films full time. She went on to act in a dozen films in Sweden, and one in Germany, from 1935 to 39, making a name for herself long before she started acting in Hollywood.
In 1937 at the age of 21 Bergman married dentist Petter Aron Lindstrom and they had a daughter Pia on 20 September, 1938. It was around this time that Hollywood beckoned but the actress was so certain that she would soon return to Sweden, her husband and child did not follow her to Los Angeles until 1941.
Bergman’s first acting role in the United States came when producer David O. Selznick brought her to America to star in Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939). Unable to speak English, the actress assumed she would complete this one film in America and return home to Sweden. She arrived in Los Angeles on 6 May, 1939 and resided at the Selznick home until she could find somewhere to live. At the time, Selznick’s son Danny commented about Bergman, ‘She didn’t speak English, she was too tall, her name sounded too German and her eyebrows were too thick.’ Eventually though, the actress was accepted without having to modify her looks or her name, despite suggestions she change both. The actress is widely regarded as one of the most naturally beautiful women in Hollywood. Selznick was quite protective of the young actress and would instruct hair and make-up artists to ‘lay-off’ when preparing her for a scene.
Intermezzo was an enormous success and as a result Bergman became a star in America. Selznick appreciated and cultivated her uniqueness and he and his wife would remain close friends with the actress throughout her career.
During the Second World War Bergman felt guilt and regret at what she perceived to be her poor judgement when it came to the situation in Germany. She had considered the Nazi’s a temporary aberration which were too foolish to be taken seriously. For the rest of her life she would feel guilt at having been in Germany at the end of the war but being too afraid to witness the atrocities of Nazi extermination camps.
After completing a film in Sweden and three moderately successful films in America, the actress starred opposite Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (1942), which to this day is viewed as her most iconic role.
‘I made so many films which were more important, but the only one people ever want to talk about is that one with Bogart.’
Casablanca delivers some of the most widely quoted and iconic lines in the history of cinema and when people think of Bergman, they think of this film.
With support from Selznick, Bergman’s next role was as Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) which was her first colour film. She would receive her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. When Hemingway’s book was sold to Paramount Pictures, the author stated, ‘Miss Bergman, and no one else should play the part.’
The following year she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Gaslight (1944) and in 1945 would star opposite Bing Crosby in The Bell’s of Saint Mary’s, for which she received her third consecutive nomination for Best Actress.
Bergman would go on to star in three Alfred Hitchcock films, Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946) and Under Capricorn (1949). Starring with Cary Grant in Notorious, they would become friend and Grant even publicly supported the actress when she was eventually shunned by Hollywood in the 1950s.
Her husband, now a neurosurgeon, insisted she draw a line between her film and personal life, as he disliked being associated with an industry he viewed as frivolous. This was merely the start of problems between the couple.
Bergman received another Best Actress nomination for Joan of Arc (1948), however the film was not a big hit with the public, partly due to the fact that news had broken of the actressess affair with Italian film director Roberto Rossellini. Worse still, it received disastrous reviews and although nominated for several Academy Awards, it did not receive a Best Picture nomination.
Bergman strongly admired two films by director Rossellini which she had seen in America. In 1949 the actress wrote to the director expressing her admiration and suggesting she make a film with him. This led to her being cast in Stromboli (1950) where, during production, the two began an affair and Bergman fell pregnant with their son. The affair caused an enormous scandal in the U.S, where it led to the actress being denounced on the floor of the United States Senate. Popular talk show host Ed Sullivan chose not to have her on his show and as a result of the scandal Bergman returned to Italy, leaving her husband and daughter behind. They experienced a very public divorce and custody battle over their daughter Pia. A week after her son to Rossellini was born, her divorce to Lindstrom was finalised and she married Rossellini in Mexico. On 18 June, 1952 she gave birth to twin daughters, Isotta and Isabella.
Between 1949 and 1955 Rossellini completed five films starring Bergman; Stromboli, Europa ’51, Viaggio in Italia, Giovanna d’Arco al rogo and La Paura (Fear). After separating from Rossellini Bergman starred in Elena and her Men (1956) and while it was not considered a huge success, it has since been thought of as one of her best performances.
With her starring role in the 1956 film Anastasia, the actress mad her triumphant return to Hollywood and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the second time. The award was accepted on her behalf by long time friend Cary Grant. A year later in 1957, Bergman and Rossellini were divorced. The very next year she married Lars Schmidt, a theatrical entrepreneur, and their marriage would last nearly two decades with the pair divorcing in 1975.
Bergman’s first post scandal public appearance was at the 1958 Academy Awards where she presented the award for Best Picture. She was given a standing ovation, after being introduced by Cary Grant and walking onto the stage. She continued to alternate between performances in American and European films for the rest of her career and made the occasional appearance on television. After a long hiatus, the actress returned to the screen in Cactus Flower (1969) alongside Walter Matthau and Goldie Hawn. In 1972 U.S Senator Charles H. Percy entered an apology into the Congressional Record for the attack made on Bergman 22 years earlier by Edwin C. Johnson.
Bergman became one of the few actresses ever to receive three Oscars when she won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Murder on the Orient Express (1974). In 1978 she would receive her seventh Academy Award nomination for Autumn Sonata, which was to be her final performance on the big screen. Her final role was the starring part in a television mini series A Woman Called Golda (1982) for which she was honoured posthumously with a second Emmy Award for Best Actress. During filming Bergman was frequently ill and four months after filming was complete she died on her 67th birthday of breast cancer.
One of the most unique and independent actresses of her generation, Bergman fought against the Hollywood stereotype of female beauty and paved the way for women to have greater control over their image. Although her personal life was plagued by scandal, she never backed down and she always followed her own path.