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Thursday, June 6, 2013

STAR OF THE MONTH: Ingrid Bergman - Part Two

Hitch discovers his new muse. He probably thought Ingrid's
face was made just for him, and his love of it is shown in
their three collaborations.

When Ingrid arrived in the United States, she very quickly learned the film industry motto: "Hurry up and wait." While languishing in New York to await her first project- a remake of the Swedish hit Intermezzo, Ingrid did her best to stay occupied with sight-seeing, reading, and falling in love with ice cream. However, she would consistently pester David O. Selznick to put her to work! Unlike the average person, who groans when peeling themselves from the covers each morning and longs for the lazy clock to reach 5pm, Ingrid wasn't happy unless she was on the move and either preparing a character or performing as one. Her regular calls and telegrams to David and Kay Brown were desperate pleas: "Put me to work!" Finally, she got her wish. Intermezzo: A Love Story would prove to be less poetic than its foreign counterpart, but in reprising her role (as the romantic and ambitious younger lover and protégé of a married master violinist aka Leslie Howard), Ingrid did not come up short. Indeed, in this musically driven tale of the complications of passion and duty, she fittingly struck a chord with American audiences.

Already off to a great start, Selznick began establishing his campaign to promote Ingrid. Confused by her lack of pretense and low-maintenance upkeep-- Ingrid tried to refuse apartment accommodations, thinking that her dressing room/trailer provided more than enough space for her-- as well as her clear-headed drive, David didn't know how to capitalize off her regular girl persona. This issue was further complicated by the fact that Ingrid  refused to play games. When Selznick suggested that Ingrid make certain changes to her appearance, accent, etc, she-- very Garbo-like-- basically said, "Either you want me for the role or you don't. I guess we can call the whole thing off." Ah, the lightning bolt: the singular thing that made Ingrid so irregular was her regularity. She was down to earth, modest, kind, unspoiled, sincere... Thus, she was touted in all the papers and magazines as the (obscenely beautiful) girl-next-door-from-another-continent. The ploy worked. The public was quickly in love.

Ingrid's sexually provocative, humiliated, and defeated turn as Ivy in
Victor Fleming's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde turned more than
a few heads. There are rumors that she and Tracy had an
affair during filming, but it seems unlikely, as it was
Victor on whom Ingrid had a school girl crush.

The film that would tip the scales in Ingrid's direction to all out fanaticism was Victor Fleming's Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Eager for complicated work and displeased with the lackluster films she was given so far, Ingrid refused to play Jekyll's vanilla fiancé (later assumed by Lana Turner) and fought for the role of "Ivy" the prostitute. It was a wise decision, and her performance not only knocked Spencer Tracy's socks off but stole the entire film out from under him. Her mixture of provocative sensuality, later broken and disturbed by the diabolical Hyde, was both powerful and pitiful. This portrayal also started the character type that Ingrid consciously or unconsciously would be attracted to throughout her career, or likewise the persona that audiences would most identify her with. Her most popular performances remain that of a woman on the cusp of insanity. Her fragility, while shrouded in madness, is constantly tested, but her inner strength always seems to carry her back to lucidity and even triumph. While Ingrid projected an incredible amount of vulnerability in her roles, there too was a toughness. You may break my mind, but you'll never have my heart! This made her relatable as an actress, which made her the ultimate martyr and someone her audience would energetically root for.

For several years, Ingrid was untouchable. Casablanca was surprisingly a misery to make behind-the-scenes, especially for a perpetual craftsman like herself, as so much of it was created in the moment with little subtext to build upon. Her need to dig for the depth of "Ilsa Lund" was thus met with little help from director Michael Curtiz. To her amazement, the hackneyed approach to the film resulted in a classic that remains one of the most celebrated films of all time. Forbidden love, the temptation for both romantic and political escape, the tragic but brilliant ending when one impossible ending is sacrificed for another... From the casting, to the direction, to the frame composition, Casablanca remains perfect to film lovers. Gaslight was soon to follow, as was Ingrid's first Oscar, which she won for playing the mentally terrorized, paranoid, and desperate "Paula Alquist" opposite Charles Boyer's brutally sadistic (and magnificent) "Gregory Anton." With the help of George Cukor, Ingrid was easily able to project both the taut mania of her character and her cathartic retribution, resulting in one of her greatest performances.

Ingrid intensified the effect of "Paula's" paranoia and increasing madness
in Gaslight by showcasing her wholesomeness and rationality in the
film's beginning. This made the character's deterioration all the
more painful to watch. When she realizes that she has been
deceived, the tigress she unleashes on her tormentor
(Charles Boyer) is much more fearful because of
the brink to which she has been pushed.

In between various films such as The Bells of St. Mary's and Hollywood dinner parties, Ingrid was able to make the acquaintance of another director whom she truly admired: Alfred Hitchcock. His equal admiration and fascination for her would turn into complete and utter obsession while filming their first collaboration, Spellbound. An intricate mystery with complicated, psychological underpinnings, the finished product remains fascinating and thankfully manageable due to the sturdy execution of both Ingrid and her leading man, Gregory Peck. However, it is Notorious that remain not only 'notorious' but sanctified as perhaps the greatest Hitchcock film ever made. Of course, that label is hard to bestow, considering the many different pictures, techniques, and experiments that he made throughout his career. Still, with the Ingrid-Cary Grant combo and the tangled plotline of espionage and romance, it is a definite front-runner. Hitch's school-boy adoration for his leading lady also turned into an aesthetic achievement, exemplified by the caressing light, shadows, and fixating close-ups that allow us to capture every nuance, eye-shift, and tick of Ingrid's portrayal of the fallen, redeemed, destroyed, and resurrected "Alicia Huberman." Ingrid made two lifelong friends in both Cary and Hitch during filming, and their names remain eternally, artistically entwined as a result.

The success of Notorious, aside from Hitchcock's artistry at one of its peaks,
was due in large part to the astounding chemistry between Ingrid and Cary.
Quickly becoming good chums in real life, their onscreen characters,
while often spiteful in their actions, had an attraction of mutual
fascination, with one character watching the other with

laughter in the eyes. It  is still refreshing to watch
 Ingrid poke fun at the super serious
"Devlin" and cut him down to size.
Sadly, Ingrid's personal life was not faring too well, and things were about to become worse. Her marriage to husband Petter had been disintegrating for some time. Ingrid relied on Petter's judgment greatly, particularly at the beginning of their marriage, thus he held the reins in terms of all major decision making. This patriarchal structure soon made her feel like more of a servant than a wife. Petter, perhaps to combat his own insecurities over the fact that his wife was such a success, made himself her de facto manager, consultant, and accountant. Ingrid was essentially given an allowance for the work she so willingly did to support her family, while Petter handled the cash-- including payments for his continuing medical education-- while consistently meddling in and complicating her professional relationships. He insisted on overseeing Ingrid's contracts, instructing her on which projects to take, bartering for better deals, and he equally saw to it that he was given a financial cut directly from the studio. Selznick himself became irate at Petter's intrusion into Ingrid's affairs, as the latter had no education whatsoever in the film business. As such, while Ingrid started twisting beneath her lover's thumb, acting became her only escape. She asked for a divorce, but Petter refused. Eventually, as the two remained passionlessly separated but together, Ingrid sought emotional comfort elsewhere, finding lovers in Victor Fleming, Robert Capa, and Larry Adler. Then, Petter asked for a divorce. The couple decided, for the good of their marital "corporation," that they should keep up appearances. They had no plans to marry others anyway.

At least, the didn't until Ingrid saw the great neo-realist accomplishment of Italian cinema, Rome, Open City. Blown away by the filmmaking, authentic acting, and brutal storytelling, Ingrid became determined to work with the film's director, Roberto Rossellini. As he was looking for American money to finance his foreign films, he jumped at the chance to work with Ingrid when he received her fan letter. Despite the fact that Roberto was married, having an affair with Anna Magnani, and simultaneously sleeping with a plethora of other women, he fell in love with Ingrid, and she was as smitten with him. Finding a man who supported her creativity instead of condescending to it, as Petter had, the two quickly started a quiet affair that turned into the Mt. Vesuvius of scandals. Ingrid filed for divorce, Petter sued for custody of daughter Pia and won, and the public turned against the angelic actress whom they had once adored. She had betrayed them by making the crystalline image of perfection that they had projected upon her counterfeit. Ingrid found herself unceremoniously blacklisted. As she refused to play ugly, as Petter did-- ignoring his own faults in the marriage and shamelessly slandering her in all the papers-- Ingrid was fingered as the guilty party. Strangely, it was her own sense of decency and loyalty that was the nail in her coffin. She actually felt an incredible amount of guilt, and in recompense ,never spoke out in her own defense to combat Petter's accusations. After filming Stromboli in Italy with Roberto, the duo wed, and Ingrid soon announced that she was pregnant. To America, she was just a fallen woman in exile.

Ingrid, Roberto, Robertino, Isotta, and Isabella.

Strangely, Ingrid was not loathed at all by her new Italian compatriots. They found her glamorous and fascinating, and they celebrated her presence in their country. Despite Ingrid's hopes, her professional alliance with Roberto did not prove to be felicitous. None of his films ever measured up to the groundbreaking Rome, Open City, and despite Ingrid's performances, Roberto's "naturalistic" style proved to be little more than a symptom of his lack of organization and creative incoherence. While he spent money like water, she had to work twice as hard to earn her growing family's keep. The growing Pia now had three step-siblings: brother Robertino (Robin) and twin sisters Isabella and Isotta!

Ingrid's children became her only blessing. As a mother, Ingrid was always emotionally present and protective of her children, yet her number one devotion remained her work. She would often grow stir-crazy after being inactive for too long, and her need to work made her a loving but inconsistent mother. Her latter three children, growing up in a household with two artistic parents, took no offense to Ingrid's comings and goings nor their father's. It was the norm for them. However, things were different with Pia, who rarely got to see her mother due to her social exclusion from American shores and Petter's resistence to their meetings. With Petter filling poison in her daughter's ear, Ingrid's relationship with her eldest child would remain tense and guilt-ridden. It would take time for her two separate families to coalesce into one.

Mysterious and hypnotic photo of Ingrid which explores
the dark inner turmoil of the classic beauty.

Photographer: Sam Shaw in Rome, 1963.

Finding herself soon in the same place that she had been with husband #1, husband #2 slowly became just as judgmental and controlling, not to mention philandering. Ingrid considered it a deserved punishment. Yet, as her marriage to Roberto started to die, Ingrid's artistic life was coming back to life. After performing almost solely for Roberto, due to his possessiveness, she finally made a creative partnership with Jean Renoir and performed in his Elena and Her Men. This peaked interest from other filmmakers. Was she finally going to come out from hiding?

Almost immediately, Ingrid would get an offer from old pal Kay Brown and 20th Century Fox to appear in Anastasia. Ecstatic about the opportunity and nervous about the public's reception, Ingrid took on the project and churned out her first smash hit in 6 years. Suddenly, the tides were starting to turn and public favor tipped in her direction once more. As time heals all wounds, people began to forgive and forget. Likewise, public governmental figures who had once lambasted Ingrid for her "indecency" were soon muttering apologies and supplicating themselves at her feet due to their reawakened respect for and awe of her work. Fittingly, at the Academy Awards in 1957, it was the loyal Cary Grant who bestowed the Best Actress Oscar on Ingrid in her absentia. It was the perfect way for Hollywood to welcome her back. But would she come???

Ingrid and Michael Redgrave in "Hedda Gabler."

Sadly, Anastasia would be the straw that broke her marriage's back. Roberto was threatened by Ingrid's career, which would continue in its excellence without him over the next quarter century. Mixing her projects between the stage and screen, she would complete compelling work abroad in "Tea and Sympathy" and "Hedda Gabler" and return to the America stage for the first time in 20 years in "More Stately Mansions." She had also returned to business on the silver screen, reuniting with Cary for the delightful comedy Indiscreet and teaming with Walter Matthau and Goldie Hawn in Cactus Flower. Ingrid proved that age was not something to hide from, but something to embrace. She had already shown herself to the world anyway, warts and all, so all that was left to re-introduce was her incandescent beauty. Ingrid Bergman was back, and she continued to brighten movie theaters and earn critical kudos, including her acclaimed work in The Visit and her third and final Oscar-winning performance in Murder on the Orient Express. Autumn Sonata proved to be a poignant and personal piece of film, showing Ingrid's craft at its finest. The tale of an emotionally bitter and tension fraught relationship between mother and daughter, it too became her love song to her daughter Pia, with whom she had slowly reconciled. She also married for the third time to producer Lars Schmidt, who understood and embraced her eccentricities and personal needs like no other before. While her work ethic, as always, drove a wedge between them-- leading to another divorce, done secretly--Lars remained a consistent friend and ally for the remainder of her days. Indeed, her friendships with Roberto and the majority of her ex-lovers was quite remarkable. Ingrid had no malice for anyone. She always made her piece with the past and moved forward.

Unfortunately, there was one thing that Ingrid could not escape-- death-- and she would become ill with the same disease that had claimed her father's life: cancer. Her many years of chain-smoking certainly hadn't help matters, but it was the growths in her breasts that would torment her. After enduring two mastectomies and feeling her body weakening, Ingrid was in constant pain during her final performance in the television movie, "A Woman Called Golda." As ever, she refused to complain, arrived on time, and gave a performance that both honored the real-life character she portrayed and her own lifetime of deep and conscientious work. As usual, she put aside any medical issues during her sickness to make things easier for the crew. For example, when close-ups of her hands had to be shot for one particular scene, Ingrid insisted on performing the snippets herself, and she willingly drained the fluid from her swelled arm for several days to do so-- a pro til the end. Ingrid would sadly pass away on her 67th birthday (Aug. 29th, 1982), after spending the evening having a final champagne toast with jovial friends and loved ones. Thus, having completed a perfect circle, she faded out of this life as bravely and gently as she had lived it.

"Be yourself. The world worships the original." Ingrid
had no qualms with "roughing it" during For Whom
the Bell Tolls
. In fact, she enjoyed fishing
between takes.
I have noticeably devoted a lengthy retrospective of Ms. Bergman, her life, and her art, and hopefully my words have been able to indicate why. Ingrid was stunning. Her art was sublime, pure in its motivations, and uncontaminated by the pollutants of public scrutiny, industrial disingenuousness, and personal pain. Instead, just as when she was a little girl, she carried her worries, shames, fears, and passions with her deep inside, only opening them up as her own Pandora's box when they would be most useful-- and even helpful. Every time she approached the camera, "[her] old friend," she purposely disappeared into the same dream world that she had once created with her father and willingly left her guts on the floor every take, every time. As such, we continue to worship the characters that she birthed, die beside her in each martyrdom, and come back to life with each redemption. Her humanity, her scrupulousness, and her virtue were as true in her personal life as in her work. Ingrid was not a movie star. Ingrid was-- and is-- everything.


  1. Wow. What a wonderful tribute to a great actress. I agree that she was not a movie star, not in the usual use of the word. She is still remembered today as a consummate actress and not as just another image from Old Hollywood. Her star image lived and died with her, as natural as her look and performances. After her death, it is through her work that she is celebrated.
    Again, fantastic work. Probably tied with Marilyn's as my favorite Star Of The Month tribute.