Half Past Autumn excerpt
Gordon Parks (1997)
I was packing for my return from Paris when another cable from Wilson Hicks arrived, instructing me to proceed to the island of Stromboli to cover the Bergman-Rossellini affair. Maria Sermolino, from the Rome bureau, could accompany me.

The two harried lovers were ensconced on a volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was a bad time for them. Most of the world was looking upon Ingrid with shame. Roberto, with great difficulty, was directing a motion picture in which she was starring. Newsmen and photographers besieged them; helicopters with more cameramen hovered above. Exasperated, he had ordered all of them off the island. I never knew why Life was invited, but obviously they felt the magazine would handle the situation with discretion.

Ingrid was smiling and waving as our boat slowly edged toward shore. But Roberto was spewing wrath at a reporter in an outgoing boat. "Go! If you return you will die at my hand! You are a fascist ingrate and a liar!"

"Addio, tyrant, pig, wife stealer!" came the reply. Enraged, Roberto splashed through the water in pursuit of the boat. By then it was well out to sea.

Bad weather and trouble had set in. The film wasn't going well. What's more, it was reported that Dr. Lindstrom, the jilted husband, was sailing toward Stromboli for a showdown. Despite her distress, Ingrid appeared unruffled amid the confusion. Maria Sermolino had plenty of news to report. Her problem was getting it off the island without Roberto's censorship. He lorded over the cable office and the people who staffed it. Messages could be sent by the boat that came from the mainland three times a week, but Sermolino strongly suspected that the ship's officers were also under Roberto's control. Her suspicions were confirmed when a message to the Rome bureau about Dr. Lindstrom's pending arrival failed to reach its destination. It had been returned to Roberto, who had it placed on Sermolino's bed. After that the two seldom spoke to each other.

I admired Ingrid as a person and as an actress, and, despite Roberto's Gestapo-like tactics, I grew to like him. In his less harried hours, his charm and gentleness shone through. He treated her with tenderness and concern, and one could sense her warm feelings for him. Unfortunately, he was under pressure most of the time, filming less and less as costs steadily mounted.

During Ingrid's free time we roamed Stromboli by foot, shooting pictures of her for the coverage. She was gracious, kind, and easy to work with. Before long a sense of trust grew between us, one I honored. We were walking the beach when she suddenly stopped. Looking out to sea, she said, "Roberto's losing touch with the film. The wonderful locations where you have photographed me seem to have escaped his eye. Would you consider staying on to assist him?"

Surely I was surprised. "That's a very flattering offer, but Roberto would never agree to it."

"I'd like to try." Later that evening she did try. Angrily he refused. The matter was dropped.

What every magazine longed for was a photograph of that unguarded moment when the two lovers might surrender to an embrace. I accidentally wandered into that moment one evening after everyone had left the set except the two of them. Innocently, they stood holding on to one another in the center of a large room, tired, drained from their ordeal. I was about to raise my camera when her trust in me struck; the moment was undeserving of betrayal. I put the camera in my pocket and slipped out, allowing the moment to slip away.

On Sunday morning Ingrid knocked at my door. "Roberto and I are going for a boat ride and a walk along the shore. Would you like to join us?"

"I would love to."

"Then bring your camera. We would like some nice pictures together."

Soft rain was falling as we started off. After a short boat ride they began their walk. And, as unobtrusively as possible, I recorded their peaceful journey along the beach of black volcanic sand. That sought-after moment I had allowed to escape was generously rewarding me.

Maria Sermolino and I left the island at dawn a week later. The waves, I remember, were angry as we boarded our ship. Maria went to her quarters, but I remained on deck, my camera trained on smoke curling over the volcano of Stromboli. From the distance its cone seemed to be slowly sinking into the sea. Soon, the two lovers would awake to yet another day of trouble, heartache, and uncertainty. My thoughts drifted toward Ingrid's most crucial ordeal. In changing her life to pursue happiness, she was caught up in the despair of deserting one child while another one, fathered by Roberto, grew inside her. But nothing stopped the love flowing between them. It would stay until death turned up for both of them.

Below are photos of Ingrid by Gordon Parks; click on thumbnail for larger photo.

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