Ingrid Bergman was born in Stockholm, Sweden on August 29, 1915. Her mother, Friedel Adler Bergman, a Hamburg, Germany native, died when Ingrid was just three years old. Ingrid’s father, Justus Samuel Bergman, a Swede, raised Ingrid until his death, when she was 12. Justus, who owned a photography shop, encouraged Ingrid’s artistic pursuits and even caught some scenes of her as a small child with a motion picture camera. Many years later, the famous director Ingmar Bergman (no relation), with whom Ingrid worked, compiled and edited these home movies. After her father’s death, Ingrid was left to the care of an unmarried aunt, who died within months, and she eventually spent her teenage years with an uncle and his family.
As a teenager, Ingrid appeared as a film extra, in addition to acting in productions at the private school she attended. After graduating in 1933, she attended the Royal Dramatic Theater School in Stockholm for a year, during which time she made her professional stage debut. Her first speaking role in a film came in Swedish director Gustaf Molander’s “Munkbrogreven” in 1935, in which she played the maid of a hotel that sold illegal liquor.
The Move to Hollywood
In 1936, Ingrid made the film that would change her life. The picture Intermezzo, written and directed by Molander, tells the story of a famous violinist who has an affair with his daughter’s piano teacher, played by Ingrid. Her performance caught the attention of Hollywood film producer David O. Selznick, who bought the rights to remake the film in Hollywood with Ingrid in the starring role. Between making the two versions of Intermezzo, Ingrid worked on the Swedish films En Enda Natt (Only One Night) and En Kvinnas Ansikte (A Woman’s Face), among others, and the German film, Die Vier Gesellen.
In 1939, at David O. Selznick’s request, Ingrid made the transition to Hollywood. With this move she began a career that would span five decades, win her three Oscars, two Emmys, and a Tony Award, and see her image go “from saint to whore and back to saint again,” as Ingrid once described it herself. The Hollywood version of Intermezzo: A Love Story was a success, and resulted in Selznick signing Ingrid to a seven-year contract. While she only made two movies with Selznick during the duration of their contract, Ingrid made several other movies and starred in some stage productions during those years as well.
From Quintessential Good Girl to Hollywood Heavyweight
The combined forces of Ingrid’s angelic natural beauty, which she did not embellish with the heavy makeup worn by most actresses at the time, and Selznick’s desire to cast her in “wholesome” roles won her both the adoration of American audiences and an impeccable image that would follow her throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Ingrid married Swedish dentist and later neurosurgeon Petter Lindstrom in 1937, and gave birth to a daughter, Friedel Pia, in 1938. Her roles as wife and mother further contributed to her seeming fulfillment of society’s expectations for women and the morality of the period. Both this stereotyping of her on-screen image and the public’s perception of her family life would change dramatically in the years to come as a result of her career choices and her relationship with Roberto Rossellini.
Ingrid’s roles in Hollywood films, including Adam Had Four Sons and Rage in Heaven, both in 1941, helped to create this pure persona. However, she wanted to spread her wings as an actress by taking on more diverse roles. She was originally cast as Dr. Jekyll’s fiancée in the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with Lana Turner as a barmaid named Ivy Peterson. Ingrid approached Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the movie’s director, Victor Fleming, and asked to switch parts with Lana. The change allowed both Ingrid and Lana to portray characters very different from the ones they usually played. While some critics balked at this alteration to Ingrid’s usual on-screen persona, the role of Ivy Peterson gave her a chance to show some of her incredible range as an actress. She had also been showing her range in different media, debuting on Broadway in Liliom in 1940 and starring in a production of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie in 1941.
Ingrid’s most famous and enduring role came in 1942 when she played Humphrey Bogart’s long-lost love, Ilsa, in the wartime romance Casablanca. The film was a box office success at the time and has become an enduring classic, giving Ingrid a place in the hearts of fans for years to come. She then took the role of Maria in the film version of Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1942, beating out Norwegian ballet dancer Vera Zorina. While she had not been nominated for “Casablanca,” Ingrid was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in For Whom the Bell Tolls. The Oscar still proved elusive, however: she lost the award to Jennifer Jones for The Song of Bernadette.
Ingrid was to win her first Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of a Victorian housewife who was being driven to insanity by her husband in the 1944 film Gaslight. The next year, she was nominated for Best Actress again for the film The Bells of St. Mary’s, but lost to Joan Crawford. Then, Ingrid worked on two films with Alfred Hitchcock: Spellbound (1945), and Notorious (1946), opposite Cary Grant. Many consider this second Hitchcock film to be Ingrid’s finest work.
Ingrid returned to Broadway in 1946, playing Joan of Arc for 25 weeks in the play Joan of Lorraine, to much acclaim. It also won her a Tony Award for Best Actress. In 1948, she starred in the film version of this play and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, although the film itself was not a commercial success.
Scandal and Adversity
In 1949, Ingrid wrote a fan letter to Italian director Roberto Rossellini, expressing her desire to work in one of his films. He responded by writing a part for her in his 1949 film “Stromboli.” During the production of this film, Ingrid and Rossellini began an affair that would change her previous wholesome image forever and cause her to lose many fans in America. Ingrid was still married to Petter Lindstrom at the time, although their marriage had not been happy for many years. Rossellini was still married to another woman as well, although they were separated. Ingrid became pregnant, and she and Rossellini sought divorces from their respective spouses so they could marry each other. Ingrid gave birth to a son, Roberto, before the couple were married in 1950. Moralists and fans in America expressed outrage at this seeming downfall of their former idol and denounced her as immoral. Although her marriage had been unhappy for quite some time, the public had only seen Ingrid’s saintly image before, and balked at the revelation of her affair. United States Senator Edwin C. Johnson of Colorado even criticized Ingrid, condemning her publicly as “a powerful influence for evil.”
Ingrid lived in Italy with Rossellini, away from America’s outrage, and made five movies with him between 1950 and 1955. Among these films was Europa ’51 in 1952, which was released the same year she bore twin daughters, Isabella, who later became a famous model and actress, and Isotta. Ingrid did not work with any filmmakers besides her husband until 1956, when she made the film Elena et les hommes with French director Jean Renoir. This film began to resurrect her career in the eyes of international audiences, although she had enjoyed success in Italy with her Rossellini films.
The Triumphant Return
Ingrid returned to Hollywood in 1956 to star in Anastasia and her marriage to Rossellini ended months later in 1957. This return to Hollywood further rejuvenated her career, and Ingrid began to regain much of her former popularity in America, in addition to winning another Oscar for Best Actress for Anastasia. Around this time she also married Lars Schmidt, a theatrical producer from Sweden.
Over the next decade, Ingrid worked in films, television and on the stage. She won an Emmy in 1959 for the television miniseries adaptation of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. She made her London theater debut in 1965 with the play A Month in the Country. Ingrid also starred in the play More Stately Mansions back in the States in 1967.
In 1974, Ingrid won a Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar for Murder on the Orient Express. In the years since her separation from Rossellini, Ingrid regained much of her previous adoration from her American fans. Her career was coming to a close, however. In 1975, in the same year she divorced third husband Lars Schmidt, Ingrid found out that she had breast cancer. Despite her failing health she continued to work and completed her last film, Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata in 1978.
Ingrid’s last acting role was in the 1982 television miniseries A Woman Called Golda, in which she portrayed Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, a role that won her both an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Then, on August 29, 1982, on her 67th birthday, Ingrid lost her seven-year battle with cancer, and died in her London home. Her funeral was held in the Swedish church in West London. Her remains were cremated and her ashes were scattered off the coast of Sweden except for a tiny part, which were kept to be interred in the Norra Begravningsplatsen cemetery in Stockholm.
In her absence, Ingrid Bergman has left fans worldwide with an enduring legacy of over 50 films that are evidence of her lifelong dedication to the art of acting.