If there has ever been a classic Hollywood star who could give our previous Classic Hottie, Grace Kelly, a run for her money in both the beauty and ability departments, it's Ingrid Bergman. Working at around the same time as Grace and bearing a beauty and charm all her own, Ingrid was for many the epitome of womanly virtue and refinement in 1940s cinema. That reputation as everybody's favorite "good girl" icon, though a convenient facade for the public, was a mask she could not wear forever. So when passion and desire conspired to shatter that virtuous facade and doom her to a life of shame and ignominy, it was only her skill and tenacity as an actress that could save both her career and her legacy as one of Hollywood's best of all time.
Born to parents Justus Samuel and Friedel Bergman in Stockholm, Sweden in 1912, Ingrid came to understand pain and loss from an early age when, at the age of 3, her mother died. She was then raised by her father until the age of 13, when he passed away from stomach cancer. Ingrid then went to live with an aunt, who herself died only a few months later from heart disease. A second aunt was eventually located who could stay alive long enough for Ingrid to find her way in the world. Though her father's wishes were for Ingrid to become an opera singer, she instead chose the life of an actress. At the age of 17 she auditioned at the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm. Though unsure of herself and her audition, Ingrid greatly impressed and was granted a scholarship to attend the Royal Dramatic Theater school. There she excelled at her studies, advancing well past many of her peers. During her summer break that year, Ingrid did various small parts in Swedish films. She was so well received in that capacity that she left the royal school after only one year to act full time. At the age of 20, Ingrid's career was off and running.
Ingrid went on to act in several Swedish and German films throughout the 1930s, until a stroke of luck brought her to the attention of Hollywood elite. While on vacation in New York City, a Swedish couple in an elevator were speaking to their son, the elevator operator, about the films of a lovely young actress back home in Sweden. Unknown to any of them was the fact that another occupant in that elevator was a young talent scout for legendary film producer David O. Selznick. As a result of this fateful moment, Ingrid was invited to screen test for Selznick a short time later. She later said of this fateful event "I owe my whole career to that elevator boy." Naturally, Ingrid's beauty and talent made quite the impact on Selznick, who signed her to a contract. Though impressed with Ingrid, Selznick had concerns about his new actress, among them issues with the fact that "she didn't speak English, she was too tall, her name sounded too German, and her eyebrows were too thick."
For any other young actress, looking to please and appease, Selznick's concerns would have translated into demands for change. However, Ingrid was no one's pushover. Already an established actress back home in Sweden, she had no need for Hollywood glitz and little patience for those who weren't satisfied with her as she was. Thankfully, Selznick admired her pluck and used it as an opportunity for a unique marketing opportunity. Rather than trying to transform her into the standard, heavily made up starlet of the time, Selznick instead presented Ingrid as the untouched, natural beauty. This strategy proved successful and her first American film, 1939's INTERMEZZO: A LOVE STORY, which was a remake of one of Ingrid's own films from Sweden, was a huge hit. Ingrid's untouched look was a sensation, breathing fresh air into a stagnant, caked on make up and plucked eyebrow mindset that lingered from the days of silent film extravagance.
Her foot now firmly in the door, thanks in part to her beauty an unique look, Ingrid quickly set about establishing her reputation as a dedicated, hard-working actress in Hollywood. As a result, no one was more beloved on a set or a more devoted member of the cast and crew in whatever movie she made. This strong work ethic won her even more roles, 3 alone in 1941. Yet it wasn't until 1942 that Ingrid found her true immortality on the silver screen when she starred alongside fellow immortal, Humphrey Bogart, in the wartime romance epic, CASABLANCA. It's a well known fact that CASABLANCA actually fared relatively poorly at the box office, passing in and out of theaters with little fanfare. It was only later that audiences rediscovered the film and gave it the esteem it enjoys today. Perhaps those early audiences were echoing Ingrid's thoughts on the film, which were similarly ambivalent. Despite the attention the movie later received, she felt there were many other films in her resume more deserving of praise and attention. Thus, when asked about the film, she often referred to it as "that one with Bogart."
Though CASABLANCA didn't drive audiences wild at first, it's beautiful star certainly did - and the studios responded in kind with several more roles for their new hit star. Ingrid worked with some of the most iconic leading men in the business during the next few years, many of them forced to wear lifts or stand on blocks to accommodate her decidedly Scandinavian 5'10 stature. Despite those differences in elevation, 1943 saw Ingrid star in the Hemingway adaptation FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS alongside Gary Cooper, for which she earned not only the blessing of the author but also his admiration - a difficult thing to do. Ingrid officially achieved celebrated status the following year with her role in GASLIGHT, for which she earned her second Oscar nomination and first win. A follow-up role as a nun in 1945's THE BELLS OF ST. MARY earned her a third nomination. 1945 also saw the beginning of her 3-picture streak with director Alfred Hitchcock, starting with SPELLBOUND with Gregory Peck, followed the next year by NOTORIOUS with Cary Grant and 1949's UNDER CAPRICORN. Ingrid became one of Hitchcock's most beloved actresses and friends, for whom it is said he harbored a secret and torturous passion all his life. Who could blame him?
For 1948, Ingrid pushed heavily to produce a film based on the life of Joan of Arc, whom she had already played on stage years before. Eventually securing private financing, she and director Victor Fleming worked hard to bring this story of the sainted female freedom fighter to the big screen. Yet, before the film could hit theaters, completely unrelated yet disastrous events conspired to bring down the film and Ingrid herself.
Years before, in 1937, Ingrid had married a Swedish dentist and had a child with him. After her rise to fame, the two often remained apart, spending only a few weeks out of the year together at their New York home. This created a problem for Ingrid, who in 1949, became intrigued and enamored with Italian neorealist director, Roberto Rossellini. Corresponding with Rossellini, Ingrid proclaimed her adoration for his work and expressed interest in appearing in one of his films. This invitation was accepted and the two were soon not only working together, but also involved romantically. By 1950, Ingrid had not only bore a son by Rossellini, but also faced the prospect of a world now fully aware of her illicit affair.
The effects of this affair becoming public knowledge had a catastrophic effect on Ingrid's life and career, for many reasons. Such scandals, in a time when moral values were much more ardently cherished, could easily destroy careers and even end lives. However, the severity of the situation was further exasperated for Ingrid because of the reputation she had earned for herself during her time in Hollywood. In the eyes of many Americans, Ingrid was the virtuous nun, the unspoiled virgin saint, the beautiful, wholesome, natural beauty, representing the essence of the American vision of womanhood. Even if she wasn't American, she and the example she set in her films were the symbols of what America thought women should be. It came as no surprise then that Americans were completely unprepared when the real, flawed and passionate Ingrid was exposed in the harshest of lights. Outcries from a wounded public were deafening. Big names in entertainment began to distance themselves from her, among them people like Ed Sullivan, who refused to have her on his show. She was even decried and lambasted on the floor of the American Senate, which went so far as to describe her as an "instrument of evil." Clearly feelings were intense, wounds raw.
The result of this controversial affair's exposure was a virtual banishment from Hollywood for Ingrid. She spent the next 6 years unofficially exiled from America, living in Rome and marrying her lover Rossellini, for whom she left her first husband and child. The two made several more neorealist films together, as well as two more children, twin daughters Renata and Isabella Rossellini, the later becoming a famous model and actress in her own right years later. However, emotional distance and communication issues between the two made their relationship difficult and by 1957, the marriage was over.
Fortunately for Ingrid, the loss of her second husband was cushioned by her triumphant reconciliation with Hollywood, due entirely to her role in 1956's ANASTASIA - the story of the supposed sole survivor of the murdered family of Czar Nicolas of Russia. The film earned Ingrid her second Oscar win, which she was content to witness from a bathtub in Paris, for fear of dealing with an American public still potentially sore with her. It was not until the following year that Ingrid made her first public appearance at a Hollywood event following her affair scandal. When she was called to the podium to present that year's Best Picture, she received thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
Like many from the era we now call "old Hollywood," Ingrid's movie career slowed somewhat as the 60s dawned. However, being the devoted, hard-working actor she was, she didn't disappear from the acting scene. Much of this decade saw her alternating between European and American productions, performing on stage and even on TV. She earned Tony and Emmy awards for her performances during this time, making her one of the few actors in Hollywood history to win the actor's "Triple Crown" of Oscar, Tony and Emmy awards. She also married again, to Swedish film producer Lars Schmidt. In 1974, Ingrid proved she still had what it took to stay in Oscar's good graces by earning a third statue for her performance in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, cementing her legacy as a true Hollywood legend.
Her final performance would come in the early 1980s. Weakened and suffering from breast cancer, she still managed to achieve an inspired performance as Israeli leader Golda Meier in the TV movie A Woman Called Golda. Her performance would earn her yet another Emmy award, though she sadly did not live long enough to receive it herself, succumbing to her illness in 1982 on her 67th birthday.
Ingrid Bergman stands as one of the most accomplished, celebrated and beautiful actresses ever to grace the silver screen. However, 50 years of fame and celebrity does not often pass by without incident. For Ingrid, truer words were never spoken. Being America's most cherished import almost from the start, as well as an icon of womanly virtue in her time, was simply a pedestal too high for any human being to sit. As Ingrid herself said, years after her controversy had passed, "people saw me in Joan of Arc and declared me a saint. I'm not. I'm just a woman, another human being." Yet despite all that ignominy, Ingrid managed to not only endure, but prosper, becoming one of, if not the most cherished actress in Hollywood silver screen history. Not bad for an orphan from Stockholm.