|Tom Shales (1989)|
She had played the young would-be princess Anastasia in the movies, but she was more the dowager empress now. The eyes, however, were just the same - plaintive, glistening, accusing. And blue. What a pair of peepers! At sixty-five, Ingrid Bergman was still a radiant beauty, and still a temperamental star.
On this particular afternoon in Beverly Hills, she proved she could still put her foot down with oomph. She decided she had signed enough copies of My Story, the autobiography she called "embarrassingly long," and told a publicist, "Well, I'll sign what I can. No, I'm not going to go sit in bookstores! I refuse to go to any more cities."
Then she reclined, more or less, on the couch, and though she'd had two mastectomies, began puffing strenuously on, of all things, Marlboros. Still tough, still tender; still assertive, still submissive. The old one-two. You can see it in her vintage movies on TV. She saw something else. "I run right at the television and stare at it. I think it's fun to see those old movies. And it brings back a lot of happy souvenirs. Many of the people that you see on the screen are gone. I saw For Whom the Bell Tolls not too long ago. It was very emotional, because there's hardly anybody left."
And she had awakened early that morning to watch herself on a taped talk show. "What I said was all right, but I don't like the way I look. I always say, "Where is that youth? What happened to youth?" " She smiled, "It went away, ha-ha."
Actors and actresses are usually intense, but with Ingrid Bergman there was a palpable sense of more so-higher highs, lower lows, smilier smiles, tearier tears. She was asked about the idea that she had been too dependent on men. "Not when it comes to my work, " she said. "There, I'm terribly sure. It's very funny; in real life, I'm unsure. I don't know--'Should I do this or should I not?' I follow my heart too much. I lose my head."
On movie sets, she was never hesitant to argue with directors. She argued with Hitchcock: "What he really enjoyed was the preparation of a movie, when he had all those little things on the dining room table-the camera, walls, furniture, and actors. Actors were just little things and they didn't talk back to him. When he placed them there, they stood there. Then, when I came on the set, I started to argue with him. Aw! That wasn't so good. Then his joy was over."
And she argued with Ingmar Bergman on the set of her last theatrical feature, Autumn Sonata, for which she got another Oscar nomination. "The way I argue--embarrassing. But of course I thought Charlotte, my character, a very cruel mother, so we had big arguments about that because I cannot possibly imagine a mother staying away for seven years from her child and another child that is paralyzed, plus a grandchild that's given to her--she won't even go to see the grandchild! The grandchild dies, and still she is playing the piano!
"I said, 'Ingmar! This is impossible! And so we argued and argued and finally he said,'Well, you know, we're not doing your life, we're doing Charlotte.' I said, 'Well you must have met many monsters in your life.' "
And, of course, Ingrid Bergman met many monsters in hers. On the screen, she suffered, how she suffered. Charles Boyer tried to drive her insane in Gaslight. Claude Rains gave her poison every day in Notorious (but Cary Grant carried her down the staircase to safety). Being burned at the stake as Joan of Arc was all in a day's work.
Offscreen, there was also suffering to be done. Strange as it may now seem, the world was shocked in 1948 when Bergman had an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, then married to someone else, abandoning her own husband and child in the process. That she had earlier warmed America's heart playing a nun in The Bells of St. Mary's opposite Bing Crosby made her escapade seem to many like a betrayal. Reality was betraying fantasy, and this got her denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
Bergman seemed still to have a lingering bitterness about that, even all those years later. But she said she had none. "At the time, I was terribly hurt. Of course I didn't just shake it off like a duck! I felt guilty. I was sad. I didn't want to work; I just wanted to disappear. Today I look at my beautiful handsome son and I'm very pleased." In time, as Chaplin was forgiven for his little scandals, Bergman was forgiven hers. She returned to Hollywood in 1959 for an Oscar show and was drowned in ovation.
In the sixties and seventies, her roles tended to be on the matronly side. She played a countess in the omnibus movie The Yellow Rolls-Royce and a cranky maid in Murder on the Orient Express, for which she won a third Oscar. Her last major performance was in the television miniseries Golda. The Swedish-born Bergman playing the great Israeli leader Golda Meir? Of course. They had many things in common, or a least one: a surpassing stubbornness. It was a perfect note to go out on.
Bergman said once she was shy as a child, but, "I had a lion roaring inside me that wouldn't sit down and shut up." Many years later, she said, "My strength I got from my parents, I think," both of whom died when she was young. "It must be in me. I was given very good health, strong and healthy, and I had a sense of humor. That helps a lot, if you can laugh at yourself when all those problems come. And I have an awful lot of friends. Really, people say, 'Well, how many friends do you have in your life? You can count them on one hand.' Well, I can count with both hands. I have very good friends which I can talk to. That's why I don't have to go to psychoanalysts. I bother my friends instead."
She laughed. At herself.
Of all the roles in all the movies, people will probably best and longest remember Ingrid Bergman for walking into Humphrey Bogart's gin joint in Casablanca, the movie where none of the actors quite knew what the ending would be until they shot it. Now, everyone remembers almost everything about it; it stands for all the memories over which people become nostalgic, and for lost loves and moral victories and second chances. The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.
And we remember it for Bergman as Ilsa, caught between head and heart again, vulnerable and imploring and yet steadfast and determined. And those eyes -- mirrors of a fascinating soul. Play it, Sam.
"Oh, I can't remember it, Miss Ilsa. I'm a little rusty on it." "I'll hum it for for you. De dy de dy de dum, de dy de dy de dum....."
We'll always have Paris.
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