Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982) was known for her luminous beauty and enigmatic talent. Though she appeared on both stage and television, Bergman's film work—Casablanca (1942) and Notorious (1946)—cemented her international reputation.
Bergman was born on August 29, 1915, in Stockholm, Sweden. She was the daughter and only child of Justus Samuel Bergman, a Swede, and his wife, Friedel Adler Bergman, a native of Hamburg, Germany. Bergman's mother died when she was a toddler, and her father, who ran a photography shop, was responsible for raising the young child. Bergman had an active fantasy life as a child, creating many imaginary friends. Justus Bergman encouraged his daughter's artistic interests, taking her to the theater at a young age. These excursions inspired Bergman to pursue an acting career. Bergman's father died when she was about 12 years old. After living for a short time with a maiden aunt, she moved in with the family of an uncle who did not want her to become an actress.
Despite the wishes of her guardian, Bergman worked towards her goal and appeared as a film extra as a teenager. While attending a private academy, Lyceum Flickor, Bergman appeared in many stage productions. In 1932, she played the leading role in a school production that she also wrote and directed. Bergman graduated from Lyceum Flickor in 1933 and entered the Royal Dramatic Theater School in Stockholm. Though she only studied there for one year, she made her professional stage debut while still a student. Two years later, Bergman appeared in her first film role, as a maid in Munkbrogreven (also known as Count from Munkbro and The Count of the Monk's Bridge). Her dramatic abilities were noticed by Swedish film director Gustaf Molander, who signed Bergman to a contract in 1935.
Within a short time, Bergman had become one of Sweden's up and coming actresses, with increasingly large roles in films such as Astrid in Swedenhielms (The Family Swedenhielms; 1936). The movie that propelled her star higher was Intermezzo (1936). In that film, Bergman played pianist Anita Hoffman, who has an illicit affair with a famous, but still married, violin player. After a period together, Bergman's character ultimately gives him up and he goes back to his wife and family. After the success of Intermezzo, Bergman appeared in three more films directed by Molander in 1937: Swedenhielms (1937), Dollar (1937), and Pa Solsidan. She was married on June 10, 1937 to Petter Lindstrom, a dentist who later became a neurosurgeon. The couple had a daughter, Pia, in 1938.
Bergman's performance in Intermezzo was brought to the attention of Hollywood movie producer, David O. Selznick. He bought the rights for an American remake of the film, with Bergman attached to the project. However, Bergman was undecided about the offer. She had film opportunities in Germany as well, and made Die Vier Gesellen in 1937. After making two more films in Sweden with Moldander—En Enda Natt (Only One Night; 1938) and En Kvinnas Ansikte (A Woman's Face; 1938)—Bergman went to the United States in 1939. Based on the the acclaim for her work in the film, Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939), Selznick signed her to a seven-year contract.
After a brief return to Sweden to make Juninatten (A Night in June; 1940), Bergman spent the next eight years in the United States. While Selznick had Bergman under contract, he wanted her to play wholesome roles. Yet she actually only made two films for him, while the rest were productions to which Selznick loaned her services. Under Selznick's guidance, Bergman became a beloved figure in the United States in the 1940s, and was regarded as a saint. Her first roles—Adam Had Four Sons and Rage in Heaven (both 1941)—set the tone.
Bergman hoped to play more than just idealized women. When she was cast as the rich fiancee of Dr. Jekyll in a version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), she and costar Lana Turner approached director, Victor Fleming, and movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer about switching roles. Bergman showed her range by playing a lewd barmaid. Though many believed that this was ultimately a good move for her career, some contemporary critics believed the role was wrong for her and that her performance was not successful. Bergman made other career choices that were important to her future. She insisted on doing some theater, making her Broadway debut in 1940 while appearing in Liliom for three months. In 1941, she also appeared on stage in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie. The production was produced by the Selznick Company.
Throughout the 1940s, Bergman played characters both dark and refined. In 1942, she appeared in one of her best known and most beloved roles, Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart. As Ilsa Lund Lazlo, a woman torn between two lovers, Bergman displayed her talent for playing women in tormented, suffering romances. While films like Casablanca were a success creatively and at the box office, not all had both qualities. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) did well at the box office, though it was not a great movie. Critics made similar arguments for Rage in Heaven (1945), Saratoga Trunk (1945)—in which Bergman unconvincingly played a Creole—and Bells of St. Mary (1945). Though Bergman won several awards for her role as nun in Bells, the movie was considered rather light.
Bergman did make other movies that attracted a large audience while being artistically challenging. She won awards for her work in the thriller Gaslight (1944), in which she played a wife driven to the brink of insanity. Bergman also appeared in two films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. In Spellbound (1945), Bergman played a psychiatrist. Some critics believed that her best acting work came in his Notorious (1946), an espionage film. Her character's descent into alcoholism and other means of self-destruction is halted only by a federal agent (played by Cary Grant) who falls in love with her. Notorious was the last movie made under Bergman's contract with Selznick. She was finally free to make her own career moves.
Bergman's decision to play Joan of Arc in the 1946 Broadway production of Joan of Lorraine was one of her best. In its 25-week appearance, box-office receipt records were shattered and critics were nearly unanimous in their praise. Bergman's work also led to her first Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award. Her next three films featured mediocre performances and failed at the box office. Bergman was forgettable as a hooker in Arch of Triumph (1948). She then played Joan of Arc in a movie based on the same source as her successful stage play. Though this was Bergman's favorite film role, the film lost $3 million. Unhappy in Hollywood, Bergman returned to Europe to make another film with Hitchcock in London. Under Capricorn (1949), in which she played a drunken Irish aristocrat, was also unsuccessful.
Bergman had admired the work of Italian neo-realist director, Roberto Rossellini, for several years before sending him a fan letter. In the note, she told him she was available for any film roles he might have. Bergman hoped that making a film with Rossellini would jump start her career. Rossellini rewrote a part in his new script for her. The movie was Stromboli (1949). During the course of making the film, Bergman and Rossellini had a love affair, though both were married to other people. Bergman had had numerous affairs during her years in Hollywood, and had been seriously unhappy in her marriage as early as 1946. Rossellini was separated from his wife Marcella de Marchis, but seriously involved with another actress, Anna Magnani. When Bergman became pregnant with Rossellini's child, they both sought divorces from their respective spouses. Bergman's husband did not want a divorce, but eventually agreed, though Bergman lost custody of her daughter. Just before marrying Rossellini in 1950, Bergman gave birth to a son, Roberto Guisto Guiseppe. Two years later they had twin daughters, Isabella Fiorella Elettra Giovanna (who became an actress and model) and Isotta Ingrid Frieda Giuliana.
The affair did more than throw Bergman's personal life into turmoil. She was vilified in the United States for her actions and unable to find work in Hollywood for seven years. Senator Edward C. Johnson denounced her and the film company who distributed Stromboli on the Senate floor. He proposed a licensing system for foreign actors so they could be thrown out of the country on immoral grounds. Further, the six films Bergman made with Rossellini were all box office failures. Only a couple of them were artistic successes for Bergman. The first Stromboli (1949) was among them. In the movie, she played a Lithuanian immigrant who tries to build a new life on an island off of Sicily. The film explored her reaction to this unfamiliar world. Bergman's work in Europa '51 (1952) and Viaggio in Italia (Voyage in Italy; 1953) was also noteworthy.
In the first five years of their marriage, Rossellini did not allow Bergman to work with anyone else. In 1955, he permitted her make a film with the famed French director, Jean Renoir. Elena et les hommes (Paris Does Strange Things) helped to reestablish Bergman's reputation. At the same time, her relationship with Rossellini had soured. They separated in 1956, and their marriage was annulled the following year.
Bergman returned to Hollywood in 1956 and played the title role in Anastasia, for which she won an Academy Award. Though she would continue to work regularly in film throughout the 1950s and 1960s, it was not until the 1970s that she made great movies again. Bergman was remarried to Lars Schmidt, a Swedish theatrical producer. In 1959, she made her television debut, and would appear often in the medium for several years. She won an Emmy for her television appearance as Miss Giddens in The Turn of the Screw. By the mid-1960s, Bergman returned to the stage. She made her London stage debut in 1965 with A Month in the Country. In 1967, she appeared on the American stage for the first time in 21 years in More Stately Mansions.
In the 1970s, Bergman continued to appear on stage and television, but it was in film that she received most acclaim. In 1974, she appeared in Murder on the Orient Express and won an Oscar for best supporting actress. In 1978, Bergman worked with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman in his Autumn Sonata. Many thought this was one of Bergman's best performances, playing a talented pianist who failed as a mother. Her work won multiple awards. Around the time she divorced her third husband, in 1975, Bergman was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. While she fought the disease, Bergman continued to work—but only if the role interested her. She told Murray Schumach of The New York Times, "Cancer victims who don't accept their fate, who don't learn to live with it, will only destroy what little time they have left."
Bergman's last role was on television in 1982. She played Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir, in the miniseries A Woman Called Golda. Though Bergman was ill, she received critical kudos for her accurate performance. Bergman finally succumbed to cancer on her 67th birthday, August 29, 1982, in London, England. She had told Judy Kelmesrud of The New York Times a couple of years before her death, "I'm happy it all happened to me. I've had a very rich life. There was never a dull moment. When I was very young in Sweden, I used to pray 'God, please don't let me have a dull life.' And He obviously heard me."
American National Biography, volume 2, edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, Oxford University Press.
Cassell Companion to Cinema, Cassell, 1997.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers-3: Actors and Actresses, edited by Amy L. Unterburger, St. James Press, 1997.
Thomson, David, A Biographical Dictionary of Film, third edition, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
The New York Times, October 7, 1980, p. 1; August 31, 1982, p.A1.
Variety, September 1, 1982, p. 2.