|New York Times|
|Aug. 27, 1967|
Bergman: “I Am the Way I Am”
By Joan Barthel
Girlish and austere. Wistful and imperious. Seductive and maternal. Talkative and frank, yet surprisingly uncommunicative. Basic and complicated. Earthy and fragile. Bergman.
Everybody knows by now that she doesn’t regret a thing. She has said so whenever anybody asked, and they asked often after 1949, when she left Hollywood “to go out and look for life”, and especially around 1957, when she came back to pick up the Film Critics Award for Anastasia (which also won her a second Oscar). She has been back several times since then, so that her visit here is not all that dramatic, not all that extraordinary, and the excitement does not lie in the mere fact that she got on a plane and came, but rather in her appearance in O’Neill’s More Stately Mansions, which will soon open here for a five-week run and which will bring her, after 21 years away from the Broadway stage, to the Broadhurst on Oct. 31.
Yet, whenever and whyever Bergman returns, it is treated as an Event, a major Happening, a secular Second Coming, because she tends to overshadow not only her roles but the facts around her.
She does this for two reasons. The first involves timing. When she shook the North American conscience to rock (of ages) bottom by leaving her husband and daughter and flinging off to Italy to work with Roberto Rossellini and bear his child, the country was caught up in a mood of postwar purgation, in which Joe McCarthy was already clearing his throat, and the stars – as well as their movies – were supposed to be better than ever. And, now that we are all older and sadder and maybe wiser, she symbolizes for us that lost time which was not more innocent but much less agonizing; now that we have had Vietnam and Dallas and four dozen Americans being shot down by other Americans in a torn-up American city, it is sweet to remember that one upon a time an actress’s morality was one of our most pressing national problems.
But not just any actress, which brings up the second reason: Bergman herself, brimming, robust personality that freely admitted what other women would hush up, that was abundant where others would be sparing, that threw open doors that others would surely lock and bolt. This has not changed. She says it will never change.
“I am the way I am; I can’t help it. People say to me, ‘You don’t have to tell everything. Can’t you learn from Garbo? She never says anything, and you are talking your head off.’ But I’m terribly frank, and I don’t have the restraint to think, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t say that.’ Usually people hide behind some kind of façade. Usually people are much more careful. I am not careful. I throw it right out, and I never say anything that is not the truth.”
The only trouble is that she has told it, and told it, so that by now she is tired of telling it, and conversation with her tends to be jerky, stop-and-go, as disconcerting as it is disconnected. “Well?” she says abruptly, after answering a question. “What else?”
At the same time, she leans toward very small, very non-involved talk. Bergman, it comes as a special surprise to learn, chatters. By free association, ice in a drink brings up ice in vending machines, which brings up the array of vending machines backstage, which brings up theater facilities and the inadequate air-conditioning in her dressing room. Mention of her summer home, an island off the west coast of Sweden, reminds her of Coney Island (“The shock of my life was seeing such crowds! It was gruesome”) which brings up beach-bound traffic in California, which brings up the humidity, which she laments.
But threaded through the lunchtime interview are two substantial strands that ultimately save the hour: that frankness and an intermittent bright humor. Recalling how, at the height of her romantic notoriety, a senator burned her at the rhetorical stake – “From the ashes of Ingrid Bergman, will rise a better Hollywood!” – she shakes her head. “That is in the record. Imagine! It is part of American history – and I’m not even an American citizen!” On the subject of age: “I do not lie about it, because I would blush, and anyway, it is so easy to find out. Why, I wonder, is everybody so crazy about putting the age? And always in parentheses. When they write a story about someone coming at the airport, they say, ‘So and so (43) arrived, and the baggage was carried by a porter (28).”
In fact, Bergman will be 52 on Tuesday, although she has a fresh, 40-ish look, with her hair pulled back from her face, a light tan, excellent legs, and in her straight blue silk jacket dress with a Paris label and a string of ice-white summer beads, she makes other women in the room look weedy or wilted or worried. She smokes and drinks and laughs a great deal and does not worry.
“I am not the kind of person who walks around with a lot of guilt complexes. I just say, ‘That’s life.’ I’m terribly jolly. I don’t have any great depressions, and that’s why I can go through what I have gone through. I don’t like to fight. I hate fights. For two years the fight for the children went on – throwing the mud back and forth – and then I saw that my children, when the telephone rang, would stiffen and say, ‘Is that the lawyer?’ So I gave up, and they moved to Italy, and since then everything has been peaceful.”
I don’t think my children are unhappy; I think the situation is as good as it can be for the children of divorced parents. He takes good care; I take good care, and that’s as good as you can hope for in this world.”
“He’ is Rossellini, who married again when their proxy marriage was annulled, and the children are their 17-year-old Robertino and 15-year-old twins, Ingrid and Isabella. (Her oldest daughter, Jenny Ann, whom she still calls Pia, is 29, divorced, with a job at a San Francisco TV station). Bergman was married again too, shortly after the annulment, to Swedish producer Lars Schmidt. With the apparent exception of her first husband (“he’ll read this and say, ‘there she goes again, after all these years’”), all the principals today seem to be good friends. “I saw Roberto as late as a few weeks ago. He was very low, and I said, ‘For God’s sake, try a little wine, it’ll do you good.’ And he did, and he liked it. He used to drink coffee, coffee, coffee – the espresso – to relax. But when people say, ‘I’ll have coffee’, I say, ‘I’ll have a gin and tonic.’”
“I like to drink. I was taught to drink in America. The idea of cocktails is a typically American institution, and when I came to America and saw all the names – stingers, daiquiris- I just started with ‘A’ and went down the list. I am very healthy – touch wood – and it didn’t do me any harm; I never had any trouble with drinking. My first husband said I was a drunkard – I don’t blame him for that, you say desperate things – but he didn’t drink at all, you see, and he couldn’t realize that I could relax after work with a tiny martini. Then I went down to Italy and married Roberto, and he didn’t even touch wine!”
“Going to Italy was the greatest experience of my life. Thank God I went, or I would never have seen life. When you realize that things go by and never come back – youth and life never come back – you should do everything. Well, of course you do the wrong things, but that’s how you learn, and if I had it to do over I would do exactly the same thing, except that I might have a little more tolerance and patience and maybe be a little less abrupt. You learn with the years to become a little bit more careful with other people’s feelings.”
“Nobody is ever able to force me to do something I don’t want to do, but I will try to see their point of view; I am not stubborn to the extent of wanting to have my way always. I am not afraid of losing face – is that the expression? And I have no pride at all. It’s quite difficult to make me angry. Only injustice makes me angry, when people are not fair. Nothing shocks me except man’s cruelty to other men. It is terrible that we are born with such a streak of cruelty.”
“Questions do not make me angry, but I get tired of putting on the same old record. I can never come back without them asking, ‘How do you feel about that outcry against you? Do you resent it?’ This time I thought, ‘For God’s sake. Will they ask that again after 18 years?’”
Somebody did, at the airport. She said no, and the talk turned to acting, which – after seeing Bergman – makes much more sense. So she’s a celebrity. So she has a colorful past. So she’s a headline maker and, in some subtle way, still an exile, nation-hopping from Paris to Sweden to Italy to wherever. So she’s a frustrating interview. Before all this, she was an actress. “I was born to be an actress,” she says, “and if they take it away from me I will just lie down and die.”
She was an actress when she was a lanky student at Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theater School, and when Selznick fetched her to Hollywood for Intermezzo, and when she won her first Oscar for Gaslight (in a year when the other nominees were Colbert, Garson, Stanwyck and Davis). She was an actress when she won the Tony for Joan of Lorraine, the Emmy for The Turn of the Screw, and all sorts of other awards for all sorts of other parts. She was an actress when she was scandalously pregnant and making Stromboli. And she is still and most purely an actress here when, as O’Neill’s dominant mother, she sits on the big, bare stage of the Ahmanson Theater, a naked light bulb glaring above her, and waits for her son to enter the room.
He comes in, talks; she never takes her eyes off him, and when she sees her chance, her head goes back slightly, her chin tilts proudly, and she gives him a look that is part challenge, part possession, part appeal and altogether what acting – and Bergman – is all about.
“You find me still a little beautiful?” she asks.
| Links | View Guestbook | Sign Guestbook | E-Mail |