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Sunday, June 2, 2013

STAR OF THE MONTH: Ingrid Bergman - Part One

Ingrid Bergman

Over the years, after multiple movie viewings and adventures in cinematic history, it has become difficult for me to decide who should top the list of the "Best." How could I? This industry, though often malicious, has also birthed and introduced countless amazing artists, craftsmen, and masterpieces to the world. Clearly, based on my Label list alone, Lon Chaney can be singled out as my favorite actor, but the cluster of men that keep company with him as my top favorites is always expanding and changing-- sometimes Clift is there, sometimes Holden... Strangely, the women on said list have never changed, and with this blog (and my former home at MySpace), I have tried to give my top five divas-- including Katharine Hepburn, Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, and Carole Lombard-- what I consider to be the proper attention they deserve The last Lady (in no particular order) on that list, is a woman for whom I have sincere respect and who grows more impressive every time I watch her work. It seems appropriate that I make her June's "Star of the Month" and, coincidentally, the last official member of the L.A. La Land club to bear that title. Dear Readers, I give you Ingrid Bergman:

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Ingrid followed in the footsteps of another very important Swede: Greta Garbo. Indeed, Sweden was home to many cinema greats who physically or artistically crossed the Atlantic to make an impact on Hollywood. Victor Seastrom (Sjostrom), Ingmar Bergman (no relation), and even the ultimate 60s pin-up Ann-Margret (Olsson), have done more than their share to contribute to the world of film. Like her predecessor Garbo and other fellow countrymen, Ingrid was passionate yet realistic. She loved America, but she was not taken in by its garish extremities nor the world of luxury and glamour it offered her as a film star. She was a gracious and grateful swan among cockeyed cockatoos who made few friends in the entertainment industry aside from Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, and Katharine Brown. Thus, similar to Garbo, she was a private and practical person who possessed a fiery inner life bursting with creativity and the desire for artistic release. Yet, unlike Garbo, her public persona was not that of ice and mystery but of wholesome warmth, fragile beauty, and a light and welcoming demeanor. 

Ingrid's bright, genuine presence was like a breath of
fresh air to worldwide audiences. She was real from
her head to her toes, both in life and on the screen.

Ingrid did not play hide and seek with the public. She would participate in the publicity needs that naturally coincided with the acting business while masterfully keeping her own head. To her, the film was the thing. The film was what mattered. Due to her dedication to her work and the all-driving energy she put into it, she is not remembered as a distant Goddess like Garbo, nor is she referred to as a typical "star" at all. She remains outside that category of celebrities. She was an "actress" who was famous. The integrity of her work and the public's response to her beauty and depth made her something beyond the general perception of a Movie Star. She was idolized not for her extravagant lifestyle, or wealth, or the mythological existence most celebrities are given. She was genuinely worshipped for her talent. You hear Ingrid Bergman, and you don't think "Oh, she was a HUGE star!" You think, "Oh my God, was she good..." 'Good' and decent was also her projection. As a person, people saw her as good. Until they didn't... And then they decided that she was good again. Yet, over the years while the public's perception of Ingrid changed, came, went, and returned, Ingrid never changed. Ingrid was always honest. This is why she is still revered: an artist you can trust.

The dual impact of Ingrid's work is composed of both her intensity and her vulnerability. A versatile actress who didn't even know the definition of "vanity," Ingrid gave her soul to her work, resulting in her complicated and nuanced performances of both sexual hunger and vulnerable innocence. She was both a woman and a little girl. In truth, there was a part of her that never did grow up; a part of her that escaped the uncertainties of life by hiding in characters that she could absorb, meld with, and release. To Ingrid, her characters are akin to her children. She would approach them with utter sincerity and lack of judgment, and when she found a role she adored, she had a compulsion to rip the amorphous being from the page and exorcize it from oblivion with her own voice and body. Acting was her religion. Her devotion was inherited from her Swedish father, Justis Bergman, who was an artist and aspiring Opera singer. His dreams were put on hold when he fell in love and consequently adjusted his bohemian ways to support his straight-as-an-arrow, level-headed, German wife Frieda Adler. As a young girl, Ingrid remembered her father running a camera shop and bringing home the latest invention, which she loved mugging for.

As a Swedish ingenue, Ingrid captivated with her soft, doe-
like beauty and uninhibited, instinctual performances.

It was Ingrid's father with whom she would most identify and emulate in her later life, not because she did not love her mother, but because Frieda died far too young to pass on her own orderly and constructive influence. Frieda had fought and lost a grueling battle with a violent fever when Ingrid was but three-years-old. Due to her painful loss, Ingrid would grow up sharing only the dream world of her father, whom she adored, which was both beneficial to her creativity but stifling in terms of personal growth. She missed the impact in her early years of learning what a mother was, as well as the general facts of life. For a time, she worked through her depression with her father, performing her skits and impressions for him, while he taught her to sing. When Justus too suddenly passed away, Ingrid was abruptly robbed of the two pillars that were meant to establish the foundation of her very being. For a time, she became very introverted, disappearing in her mind perhaps to a place of fantasy that she had dreamed up with her father-- a place where she could see a mother she barely knew. She would live a large portion of her life in this safe place, cloistered from the world, where she knew she could depend on nothing and no one but herself for salvation. Eventually, she would find a way to bring this imaginary realm to life by becoming an actress.

Ingrid lived with extended family through her adolescence, being sent to whatever Aunt or Uncle was available to take her in, while attending the Lyceum School for Girls. Ingrid was an awkward girl by the age of thirteen, having already reached her maximum height-- 5'9",  which was tall for any woman, let alone a young girl. Yet, she won her classmates over with her friendly, helpful nature and surprising sense of humor, often asking the other girls to join her in an impromptu performance. Still, she generally spoke very little in class, considering school to be boring if not an altogether horrible experience. When the time came to settle down and look for a simple job to hold until she could find a supportive husband, Ingrid opted for a different path. She had always known what she wanted on the inside, but it wasn't until she found herself performing as an extra in the film Landskamp that she knew that she had received her calling. She was accepted at the Royal Dramatic Theatre School (alma mater to Garbo, Lars Hanson, and later Max von Sydow) wherein she went to work impressing her teachers and classmates. 

Ingrid's performance in Intermezzo with her childhood idol, Gosta Ekman,
was the first major turning point in her career. Overnight, she became
a lauded actress and local celebrity.

Insecure about her body, tall stature, and long arms and legs, she was aware that she didn't look like the typical leading lady, and certainly, people agreed with that idea when they first saw her. Her golden hair and bright blue eyes won her some points back, of course, as did her amiable personality. The review of her audition piece had been the following: "While she has too much the appearance of a country girl, she is very natural and is the type that does not need makeup on her face or on her mind."  As indicated, Ingrid's full charm and beauty was easily made clear to those who saw her as little more than a lovely young woman only when she acted. Any second-guessing would fade away once she exposed those around her to her unexpected and affecting presence on the stage. Her talent carried her quickly from the school's curriculum, to roles in the legitimate theater-- a fact over which the other students were not so happy. Allegedly, after one of her castings, a jealous schoolmate tossed a book at her head! Ingrid did not let this sway her, for she possessed, as another more appreciative classmate would recall, an "iron willpower." Ingrid decided to leave school after she had adventured into the world of motion pictures. Her first role was a bit part in Monkbrogreven, during which she eagerly observed the entire process of filmmaking-- even if she weren't on call for the day. She went on to peform opposite her idol Gosta Ekman in both Swiedenhelms and her later coup Intermezzo. Her charisma and hypnotizing performances quickly made her a a sensation! 

Petter Lindstrom and Ingrid Bergman on their
wedding day in 1937.

In the midst of this, Ingrid had fallen in love, ironically with a man whose pragmatism mirrored her mother's. Petter Lindstrom was a handsome and intelligent dentist who would eventually work his way up to being a neurosurgeon. Naturally, Ingrid was attracted to his intelligence and stability. He was a man who took action, made decisions, and was the imaginative but unromantic yin to her rational but whimsical yang. Thus, she found in him both the father figure she had been searching for as well as the ostensible opposite that would make her complete. Attracted to men older and more experienced than she and equally reliant on their worldly knowledge, Ingrid had taken her (alleged) first lover at the age of eighteen: Edvin Adolphson, with whom she had worked in various plays and films. Yet, as adoring as she initially was of the gifted (and philandering) actor, she also knew that her only true love would ever be acting. A famous and temperamental performer, therefore, was not someone she wanted to bind herself to. She needed someone as focused and devoted to his own life as she, who needed little mothering or coddling, and would thus allow her the independence of her own career. She believed that Petter fit the bill. After all, he was as ambitious about science and medicine as she was about acting. They were married in 1937.

Ingrid had no inhibitions about playing the mutated leading lady in
A Woman's Face, a dark film which showcased her as the female
Lon Chaney (and you ask why I love her). The film was
re-made in America with
Joan Crawford, but it possessed
 the usual Hollywood-ized errors and flaws.

Ingrid's career would continue to thrive, as would her reputation as a powerhouse actress as she collaborated with director Gustav Molander in Dollar, Only One Night, and A Woman's Face, playing every type of woman throughout-- bitter, broken, reborn, martyred, comedic, frigid, erotic, vengeful, and outcast. With Petter increasingly navigating the course of her career, Ingrid soon was looking for better contractual opportunities. She signed with Germany's UFA Studios while simultaneously discovering that she was pregnant. Additionally, the increasingly threatening nature of Nazi politics was starting to take over Europe. Fortunately for Ingrid, Kay Brown, David O. Selznick's talent scout extraordinaire, had just seen the American debut of Intermezzo, and she subsequently badgered her boss to sign the amazing ingenue to his roster of talents. What better time to move West?

To Be Continued...


  1. Oh this is too good! I'm excited for part two.

    "She would approach them with utter sincerity and lack of judgment, and when she found a role she adored, she had a compulsion to rip the amorphous being from the page and exorcize it from oblivion with her own voice and body. Acting was her religion" OMG! Do you know how amazing this piece of writing is? That's no doubt the best way I've ever seen great acting described.

    And oh at her getting a book thrown at her head. Haters to the left.

    1. You are officially my new favorite person, hahaha! I should have part two ready to go in a few days, so hopefully it stands up to part one.

      "To the left, to the left..."