Ingrid Bergman was – and still is – one of the most famous film stars in the world and one of the most internationally renowned Swedes.
Ingrid Bergman’s father was Justus Bergman, an artist who had trained in the USA. He met Frieda, the woman who became his wife and Ingrid Bergman’s mother, in Kiel while he was travelling through Germany. Frieda died when Ingrid Bergman was just three years old. Justus died ten years later and the young Ingrid Bergman was subsequently brought up by various relatives in Stockholm. She also maintained contact with her mother’s family in Germany.
Justus Bergman had encouraged his daughter’s artistic interest and saw to it that she learned to play the piano, to sing and to dance – often in front of a camera. Justus ran a photographer’s studio in central Stockholm and recorded moving pictures. Throughout her life Ingrid Bergman remained a keen amateur film-maker alongside her work as an on-screen actress.
Ingrid Bergman was accepted at the Kungliga Dramatiska Teaterns (Dramaten) school but she, like her fellow students, dreamt of working for Svensk Filmindustri (SF) at their new studios in Råsunda. Through her extensive and well-to-do family’s many contacts she received an opportunity to meet SF’s artistic director, Karin Swanström. Swanström was an experienced actress who had recruited many talents during her years at the head of successful touring theatre companies. She took a shine to Ingrid Bergman and hired her almost immediately.
There are many accounts of Ingrid Bergman’s life. Most of them share the common view that her private life was sacrificed in favour of her professional life. Her career can be divided into four clear phases. The first of these covers her youth and her promising theatrical debut, which was followed by cinematic advances. The second phase covers her hard-working period in Hollywood which led to major success. The third phase began when she moved to Italy in order to make films with Roberto Rossellini. The fourth phase is marked by returns of various types: returns to film genres and styles, a return to Hollywood, and also a return to Sweden.
Ingrid Bergman made her debut in the film Landskamp, 1932, a contemporary melodrama that focuses on the conflict between the countryside and the city, tradition and modernity. Initially it received moderately favourable reviews. She was considered sweet but as representative of an over-used “type”, already portrayed by the likes of Birgit Tengroth and Birgit Rosengren. However, the directors at SF didn’t agree and by 1935 Ingrid Bergman had been given lead rolls in no less than five separate films. Of these Swedenhielms, a comedy by Hjalmar Bergman and directed by Gustaf Molander, and Valborgsmässoafton, a melodrama directed by Gustaf Edgren, deserve special mention.
Already at that point Ingrid Bergman was included in the younger generation of Swedish actors who represented a natural form of acting, in contrast to the style of acting which was nurtured and maintained largely at Dramaten. The latter style was marked by the use of exaggerated movements, a haughty use of the voice and inflected articulation. Perhaps the larking about in front of her father’s camera, combined with the fact that she very quickly broke with her original training, contributed to an acting style which differed considerably from that of many of her contemporaries. Her acting was muted, more “natural” and lingering than the dominant style. She was a devoted admirer of Gösta Ekman senior who had learned his trade through the amateur theatre and who had developed a similar low-key on-screen acting style.
In total Ingrid Bergman made eleven films in Sweden, including two which were made after she had obtained a Hollywood contract. She played the lead roles in Gustaf Molander’s films Intermezzo, 1936, and En kvinnas ansikte, 1938, which both became international successes. The American producer David Selznick acquired the manuscripts of both in order to film American versions of the films. Intermezzo, a love story, as the American version was titled, was Ingrid Bergman’s Hollywood debut in 1939. Her co-star was Leslie Howard, whose performance, according to the experts, was but a pale copy of Gösta Ekman’s portrayal. The film gained a lukewarm reception, although the beautiful Swede was welcomed.
Hollywood, in its heyday during the Second World War, was structured around a well-organised system of studios reminiscent of a factory complex. Each phase of film production was handled by a cadre of specialised workers who knew little of the entire product. Ingrid Bergman was quickly introduced to people who became her voice and language coaches, fashion and presentation stylists. These tasks were given to three women who became her lifelong and closest friends, her three “pillars of support”: Irene Selznik, wife of the producer who had introduced Ingrid Bergman to Hollywood, Kay Brown, who was Selznik’s talent scout and who convinced Ingrid Bergman to give up being a film star in Sweden, and Ruth Roberts, who was tasked with removing the rising star’s Swedish accent.
The “natural” image of which remained associated with Ingrid Bergman throughout her life dates from this period. According to all accounts she refused to change her name, to pluck her eyebrows, or to stuff her brassiere. She thereby became linked to a small and exclusive crew of stars who exuded integrity and independence. This was also the period during which she made several statements which continued to be repeated long into the future, such as “I did not choose acting, it chose me”, “keep it simple”, “be yourself”, and “the world worships the original”. Whether it was real or not, the image of a devoted and capable professional was gradually consolidated.
After Intermezzo, a love story, Ingrid Bergman made a film which received even less attention before she was contracted to play a role in the film Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 1941, directed by the well-respected Victor Fleming with Spencer Tracy in the lead role. The film was a great success, and her next film, Casablanca, 1942, directed by Michael Curtis, where she acted opposite Humphrey Bogart, became an icon of the international popular film culture. She recorded a string of major films during a ten-year period including Gaslight, 1944, Spellbound, 1945, and Jeanne D’Arc, 1946. Several of her great successes were directed by Alfred Hitchcock, possibly because her style of acting was so well compatible with Hitchcock’s demands for “free expression” in front of the camera. Ingrid Bergman allegedly said: “It is not whether you really cry. It is whether the audience thinks you are crying.”
Ingrid Bergman’s good reputation was unprecedented and she attracted admirers wherever she went. At this time she was married to professor Petter Aron Lindström and they had a daughter, Friedel Pia Lindström, together. The whole family had moved to the USA and settled at 1220 Benedict Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills. However, disaster was to follow – seemingly through an innocuous visit to the cinema – which initiated the third phase of Ingrid Bergman’s life. She saw the film Roma, cittá aperta, 1945, by the Italian director Roberto Rossellini. She was deeply moved by the film; in contrast to Hollywood, where almost everything was filmed in a studio, this was a film purporting to portray reality. Instead of appearing as mistakes, clumsy sequences, irregular lighting and unfocused images served to emphasise authenticity and closeness to real life. The actors seemed to be untrained and their articulation was terrible. Ingrid Bergman had finally found a name for her professional aspirations with “free expression” and a “low-key approach”: (neo)realism.
After having seen Paisá, 1946, another film by this Italian who was unknown in Hollywood, Ingrid Bergman wrote him a letter. She offered to work with him, and act in some of his future films. Rossellini suggested that she play a part in his next film which was going to be called Stromboli (Terra di Dio), to be released in 1950. This film is now considered to belong to the canon of film history. It is also the only one which lists Ingrid Bergman as a producer. Working closely together led Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini to develop a relationship, and six months before their film had its premier they had a son together. They were both married to other people and the ensuing scandal was enormous. Indignation even extended itself to the American senate when the Colorado senator, Edwin Johnson, condemned Ingrid Bergman as a “powerful influence of evil”. The public, in particular in America, could not bring themselves to forgive their adored idol. What they had thought to be an upright, intelligent, respectable woman had not only abandoned her husband and daughter in order to work abroad, but she had even been unfaithful. She was not only a double homewrecker, but had also had a child out of wedlock. Intriguingly enough the reaction in Catholic Italy was far more muted than it was in the Protestant USA.
Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini collaborated on several films made in the spirit of neorealism, which sought to match the aesthetics of documentary films, using lightweight and mobile cameras, “on-location” film sets and relatively low budgets. The couple made a few shorter and longer films: Europa ’51, 1952, Viaggio in Italia, 1954. They met with little success. Unable to get film contracts Ingrid Bergman turned to the theatre where she played the leading role in a play about Jeanne D’Arc in Naples. As the media frenzy in the USA remained unabated she found it impossible to get a film contract there. By 1952 she had had twins and the growing family placed her marriage to Rossellini under strain.
Thus Ingrid Bergman opted to go to France in order to make the film Éléna et les hommes, 1956, which was a comedy directed by Jean Renoir. This film was not a success, but her choice of genre was. During the 1930s Ingrid Bergman had acted in several popular comedy films directed by Gustaf Molander. Her Hollywood career had, however, consisted of melodramas and thrillers, and so this return to comedy was taken by many as a new turn. She then agreed to act in the popular Broadway play Tea and Sympathy at Théâtre de Paris, which enjoyed a lengthy run and was well-received by the critics. Ingrid Bergman had already done theatre during her first stint in America and had made her Broadway debut in 1940. Her return to theatrical acting brought her into contact with Lars Schmidt, a theatrical agent based in New York who had been born in Uddevalla. His summer house was in Fjällbacka, and this came to take an important place in Ingrid Bergman’s life. The couple married in 1958, the same year that the romantic comedy Indiscreet, directed by Stanley Donen, was released. This was a British-American production, filmed in London, and it facilitated Ingrid Bergman’s return to Hollywood. Her actual comeback film is considered to be Anastasia, 1956. In this film, as in Goodbye again, 1961, Ingrid Bergman plays more rounded, complex characters. In 1957 she was awarded both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her role as Anastasia.
The combination of Ingrid Bergman and comedy came as somewhat of a surprise to the American public, albeit an irresistible one. She displayed her comedic talents in Cactus Flower, 1969, and in Murder on the Orient Express, 1974. For her role in the latter she won the Oscar for best supporting female. Ingrid Bergman made her professional return to Sweden in 1967 with the multiple storyline film Smycket, directed by Gustav Molander. However, her last significant success in the Swedish film industry was the complicated role of the pianist Charlotte Andergast in Höstsonaten by Ingmar Bergman, 1978. She was nominated for several prizes for this role which bore certain similarities with her own life.
In 1979 Ingrid Bergman was awarded the Illis Quorum medal in recognition of her significant cultural contributions. The American Film Institute list her at number four in their assessment of the greatest female screen legends, thereby positioning her ahead of Greta Garbo. The film Casablanca, in which Ingrid Bergman is the lead female, has been voted the third greatest US American film of all times.
Ingrid Bergman died in London in 1982. She is buried at the Norra cemetery in Stockholm. Author Tytti Soila Translation Alexia Grosjean