Last Wednesday would have been Ingrid Bergman’s birthday and Reel Movie Nation would like to wish her memory a very sincere “Happy Birthday!” It was the 30th anniversary of her death — she died on her 67th birthday.
Is the name Ingrid Bergman not ringing a bell? Check out this picture to refresh your memory:
That’s 27-year-old Bergman with Humphrey Bogart (1899 – 1957) in Casablanca. She played the lovely Ilsa, a woman torn between two men in a city torn by war. But we’ll get to all that later. First, a word about her pre-actress life.
On August 29, 1915, Bergman was born in Stockholm, Sweden to Justus Samuel Bergman and Friedel Bergman. Unfortunately, her mother died three years later. Her time with her father was short as well, and he passed away when she was only 13. His wish was for Bergman to become an opera star and he paid for singing lessons, but it was acting that she loved.
The loss of Bergman’s closest relatives continued. After the death of her father, she moved in with an aunt who died less than a year later. Finally she found a permanent home with another aunt and uncle who raised her alongside their five biological children.
She was 17 when she received her first formal push towards the stage, thanks to an acting competition by the Royal Dramatic Theatre. Originally she was under the impression that she’d completely screwed up her audition. She was heartbroken when she walked offstage. However, she had nothing to worry about — the judges loved her and she was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm.
It didn’t take the Royal Dramatic Theatre School very long to realize Bergman’s brilliance for after only a few months she was given a part in a play (EttBrott, by Sigfried Siwertz). This violated all protocol, as the school’s procedure was to only award major parts to students who’d completed three years of study. After one year of study, she left the Royal Dramatic Theatre to work as a full-time actress. Her first role after leaving school was a bit part in 1934 film Munkbrogreven. She was just 19.
In 1936, she played a pianist in Gustaf Molander’s romantic drama Intermezzo. This gained her popularity in Sweden and also captured the eye of American producer David Selznick.
Coming to America
In 1939, Bergman was invited to Hollywood by Selznick to do an English-language remake of Intermezzo (titled Intermezzo: A Love Story). She was under contract with Selznick, but he loaned her to other studies for films such as 1941′s Adam Had Four Sons, Rage in Heaven, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Unlike many other actresses, she wasn’t “dolled up” to change her appearance, despite initial worries over things like her tall stature (5’9″), thick eyebrows, and foreign name. Originally, Selznick pushed her towards more innocent roles as the good-girl hero. After all, it’s hard to look at her smile and not see girlish purity in it. However, she broke this stereotype in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by playing the role of a prostitute.
Bergman is widely recognized for her role in 1942′s Casablanca. Although many (including herself) don’t consider it her best role, it’s certainly her most iconic. Casablanca was both set in and filmed during World War II. Its timely release coincided with the invasion of North Africa and the capture of the city of Casablanca.
The plot follows the lives of smart-aleck pub owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), his past lover Ilsa, and her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). The film hinges on Rick’s decision whether or not to give both Ilsa and Victor ill-gotten letters of transit (exit visas to America) or to only give a letter to Victor, thus ensuring that Ilsa will stay with him in Casablanca. Although we’ve moved on from the war and concepts like letters of transit are little known in America, the film is still relevant today as both a historical monument and a timeless love story.
Although Casablanca may have been her most important role, many Bergman fans consider her part in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 film Notorious to be her best role. She plays Alice Huberman, a Nazi spy’s daughter who’s recruited to infiltrate a Nazi organization. A twisted love story follows as government agent T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant), who Alice gets her orders from, falls in love with her but must command her to seduce another man (Claude Rains). There are many similarities to Casablanca – the trio of lovers, the Nazi backdrop — but unlike Casablanca, Notorious has a typical Hitchcock thriller plot twist.
Notorious has two famous scenes, one which is a talented piece of camera work, and the other that’s a clever way to get around a production code ban. The nifty camera work begins with a wide-angle shot of a ginormous ball room. Slowly it zooms in closer and closer on Bergman’s hand until the whole screen is taken up by an image of the key she’s holding. It was such a dramatic transition that the picture of a key became a big theme in Notorious‘s promotional material. (Though I won’t spoil it for you by telling you the key’s importance — watch the movie and find out!)
The second, and sillier, scene the film’s famous for is a two and a half minute kiss sequence. I say “sequence” because at the time movies weren’t allowed to included a kiss that lasted longer than three seconds on screen. So the actors would alternate every three seconds between passionately kissing and whispering intimate nothings to each other. The end result? Something much more erotic than if they were allowed to spend the entire time kissing.
Her Final Film
Her final role was in the 1982 TV mini-series A Woman Called Golda. Her performance as Israeli prime minister Golda Meir was posthumously honored with an Emmy for ‘Best Actress.’ She was frequently ill during the filming, but persevered. Four months after the completion of filming, she died from an eight-year battle with breast cancer.
Bergman married a total of three times, the first when she was only 21. Her first husband was Petter Aron Lindström with whom she had a daughter, Pia. When she began filming in America, her husband and daughter originally remained in Sweden, though they later moved to New York. Bergman traveled to see them between films, though she often could only stay for a few months at a time. Perhaps it was these extended absences that later lead to problems in her marriage. Whatever the reason, in 1949 she had an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Following a very messy and public divorce scandal, she married Rossellini and had three children — a son, Renato “Robertino,” who was conceived during the affair, and twin girls Isabella and Isotta.
Isabella Rossellini continues to follow in her mother’s footsteps as an actress. She’s best known for her roles in 1986′s Blue Velvet and 1992′s Death Becomes Her. She’s also been on the TV show Alias and has made appearances on 30 Rock. Isotta, who now goes by her middle name, Ingrid, has steered clear of show biz and instead has earned her Ph.D. in Italian literature.
The negative publicity following the affair, divorce trial, and publicity battle over her first daughter affected Bergman’s professional life. She was denied a showing on The Ed Sullivan Show because of it and was even banned from American films for seven years. Perhaps it was her aura of innocence which she used during most of her roles that made her broken marriage seem so shocking. She was eventually forgiven by the public and returned to Hollywood with 1956′s Anastasia, a role which won her an Oscar.
Her marriage to Rossellini was annulled in 1957 and in 1958 she married producer Lars Schmidt. Their relationship lasted until 1975.
Regardless of the black spot on her image left by her affair, Ingrid Bergman is undeniably an amazing actress and an amazing woman. She always loved acting, and audiences always loved her. Her face was one of untainted beauty, and she always carried herself with admirable grace and dignity. Despite her declining health, she continued to make movies until the very end. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered at sea, but her legacy lives through her work. We will always know her as a love-struck pianist in Intermezzo, as the spy’s daughter in Alfred Hitchcok’s Notorious, as desperate young Ilsa in Casablanca.
- A Woman Called Golda (1982)
- Autumn Sonata (1978)
- A Matter of Time (1976)
- Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973)
- A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970)
- Cactus Flower (1969)
- Stimulantia (1967)
- The Human Voice (1966)
- The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964)
- The Visit (1964)
- Hedda Gabler (1963)
- Goodbye Again (1961)
- Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman’s Life (1961)
- The Turn of the Screw (1959)
- The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)
- Indiscreet (1958)
- Anastasia (1956)
- Elena and Her Men (1956)
- Giovanna d’Arco al rogo (1954)
- Fear (1954)
- Journey to Italy (1954)
- The Greatest Love (1952)
- Stromboli (1950)
- Under Capricorn (1949)
- Joan of Arc (1948)
- Arch of Triumph (1948)
- Notorious (1946)
- The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
- Saratoga Trunk (1945)
- Spellbound (1945)
- Gaslight (1944)
- For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)
- Casablanca (1942)
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
- Rage in Heaven (1941)
- Adam Had Four Sons (1941)
- Juninatten (1940)
- Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939)
- Only One Night (1939)
- A Woman’s Face (1938)
- Die vier Gessellen (1938)
- Dollar (1938)
- Intermezzo (1936)
- Pa solsidan (1935)
- Walpurgis Night (1935)
- Swedenhielms Family (1935)
- The Surf (1935)
- Munkbrogreven (1932)