|Ann Todd on her friend Ingrid|
|Reader's Digest Feb. 1984|
Unforgettable Ingrid Bergman
One of the world's most beautiful and talented film stars, she treated life as a merry-go-round. But when the music stopped she reacted with heartbreaking gallantry
By Ann Todd
When she appeared on the screen without makeup, cosmetic sales in the United States declined. When she played a nun, convent enrollments increased. Industrialist Howard Hughes once bought every available airplane seat from New York to Los Angeles to be sure she would accept a ride in his private plane. A fan walked a sheep all the way from Sweden to Rome as a gift for her. Letters were addressed simply "Ingrid Bergman London."
None of that is my Ingrid. My Ingrid is wandering London streets in galoshes and an old raincoat with that big stride of hers; bounding upstairs to my flat, balancing a pot of homecooked Swedish meatballs for our dinner; curling up barefoot in front of the television set and laughing and laughing and laughing.
I first heard Ingrid's magical laughter 34 years ago over scrambled eggs in a restaurant in Rome, where we had got together simply as two English-speaking actresses working in a foreign city. For me it was a case of love at first sound. Her fair hair thrown back, and those cloudless blue eyes sparkling, the low voice that could sound so masculine on the telephone that operators (to her great annoyance) sometimes answered, "Yes, sir!" During our first exuberant day together, each of us felt as if she had discovered a long lost sister and we never looked back.
Later, I remember, we attended a mass celebrated by the pope at a wooded shrine near Rome. When Ingrid became aware that the fervently praying young girl next to her was blind, she knelt beside her and quietly described in Italian every detail of the service. That warm beam of generosity she shone into the world was a very precious talent.
One of the most glamorous women of our time, Ingrid was never anything but her supremely simple self: a stage-struck life-struck girl, who loved to gobble ice cream and walk in the rain. She wanted to play every part, take every trip, give every party, drink every glass of champagne that life could offer. "I never regretted any thing I did," she once said "just the things I didn't do."
That must've been a very short list. Ingrid lived successfully in some of the world's most interesting cities Stockholm, Hollywood, Rome, Paris, and London and played starring roles on stage, screen and television in five languages. She made 47 films and won three Oscars and two Emmys. She was the devoted mother of four children Pia with her first husband, Petter Lindstrom; Roberto, and twins, Isabella and Ingrid, with her second husband, Roberto Rossellini. Her autobiography was a best-seller.
She had a ferocious dedication to her work. "If you took acting away from me," she once claimed, "I'd stop breathing." When Ernest Hemingway told her she would have to cut off her hair for the role of Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls, she shot back, "To get that part, I'd cut my head off!" She would rehearse tirelessly until any hour of the night, begging to repeat a scene long after the director was satisfied. Once she even proposed that she live on the set until the filming was over. The night before the end of an eight-month run of The Constant Wife in a London theater, she was still eagerly discussing with the director, John Gielgud, ways of improving her performance.
At the peak of her stardom, Ingrid insisted on taking screen tests and refused leads in favor of lesser but more challenging parts. Unwilling to be type-cast, she fought for roles like the young bride on the edge of madness in Gaslight and the mousy Swedish missionary in Murder on the Orient Express (both brought her Academy Awards).
Understudying Ingrid was guaranteed unemployment. She broke her foot at the beginning of the American run of The Constant Wife and played the next five weeks in a wheelchair. No matter how ill she might be, she would say with a grin, "Dr. Stage will cure me" --- and there she always was when the curtain rose.
From her earliest childhood in Stockholm, Ingrid never had a moment's doubt about where she was going. At 14 she scribbled in her diary her dreams of starring in a movie opposite Sweden's leading matinee idol and five years later she was doing just that. "I was the shyest human ever invented," she said. "But I had a lion inside me that wouldn't shut up."
Her luck was as phenomenal as her talent. In New York City, a Swedish couple praised a film of hers to their son, an elevator operator in the apartment building where one of film producer David Selznick's young talent scouts lived. Six months later, Ingrid was on her way to Hollywood. "I owe my whole career to that elevator boy," she would say laughingly.
When Selznick told his prospective new 23-year-old star that they would have to change her name, cap her teeth and pluck her eyebrows, Ingrid threatened to return to Sweden. And so the famous "natural" look was born. The critics dubbed her "the Palmolive Garbo."
One beguiling role followed another: the lonely piano teacher in Intermezzo; the passionate psychiatrist in Spellbound; the baseball playing nun in The Bells of St. Mary's. Within a few years, she was one of America's most popular film stars and a top draw at the world's box office.
Then, one night in 1948, Ingrid went to see Open City, a realistic movie of wartime Rome produced and directed by Roberto Rossellini. Drawn to Rossellini's stormy genius "I think I fell in love with Roberto the moment I saw the film," Ingrid confided to me later she impulsively wrote and offered to make a movie with him.
Ingrid flew to Rome and stayed for seven years. Still married to Petter Lindstrom, she bore Rossellini a child, causing public outrage. A hostile press called it the "scandal of the century." And Ingrid was reviled on the floor of the U.S. Senate as unworthy to "set foot on American soil again."
Transformed overnight into box-office poison, Ingrid found her Hollywood career in ruins. The films she made with Rossellini were largely failures and so, in the end was their marriage.
In 1956 the clouds finally broke when Ingrid played the fictional surviving daughter of the last Czar of Russia in Anastasia. Her enthralling performance won her an Oscar. Subsequently, Sen. Charles H. Percy read into the Congressional Record a nation's apologetic tribute to her: "One of the world's loveliest, most talented women was made the victim of a bitter attack in this chamber twenty-two years ago. To the American public she will always hold a place in our hearts as one of the greatest performing artists of our time. Miss Bergman is not only welcome in America, we are deeply honored by her visits here."
Ingrid's performances, like her life, seemed to flow with utter candor from her innermost nature. "When she went onstage", her one-time costar Joss Ackland said, "it was as natural as a housewife walking into her kitchen."
Producer Sidney Bernstein described her as the most sophisticated peasant he'd ever met. Indeed, like many Swedes, she positively relished housework. I remember a time when I arrived at Ingrid's house outside Paris for what I imagined would be a relaxing weekend in the country. Ingrid announced she had a surprise for me: she had sent her staff of two away for a short holiday, so that she and I could have the fun of cleaning the house from top to bottom. And she distributed mop and pail like a contented drill sergeant. I don't think we were ever closer than we were those few days while we swabbed the floors and gabbled about our children.
Ingrid always had a project, whether it was dashing into my Suffolk village by the sea to buy an emergency bottle of champagne or bicycling in Hyde Park in London with me on a Sunday morning or flying to Tokyo to see a new hit stage version of Gone With the Wind. Everything was an excuse for a party. Ingrid wanted life to be one long merry-go-round ride.
But she also concerned herself with serious matters. In 1958, Ingrid had made a film called The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, the story of a British missionary who rescued hundreds of Chinese children during World War II and founded an orphanage in Formosa. Some years later, Ingrid made a trip to the orphanage. Moved by the plight of the children, she poured lavish doses of that Bergman energy into raising funds in Europe and America for the orphanage. She then became fervently active in the Ockenden Venture, a British organization caring for refugee children. Joyce Pearce, its founder, once told me, "No matter where in the world Ingrid was or how busy we always knew we could count on her."
Not even the cancer that struck Ingrid in 1973 could stifle her spirit or sap her energy. As long as there were some good times to be had or some work to be done, she faced each day with heartbreaking gallantry.
For a long time, even those of us who were close to her had no idea how sick she really was. "When we were working, she wanted us to share only her joys," Wendy Hiller recalled, "never her misery." She underwent two mastectomies. Her right arm swelled grotesquely. "My pet dragon," she called it with cheerful courage.
Against all odds, she was determined to take on the role of the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in a grueling four-hour television biography. "Time is shortening,' She admitted. "But every day that I challenge this cancer and survive is a victory for me."
Ingrid barged into the project with all her old energy. She traveled around Israel and interviewed those who had known Golda Meir intimately. She spent hours studying old newsreels to master Golda's mannerisms. I can still see tall, elegant Ingrid practicing her new prime-minister walk up and down my kitchen until she was transformed into squat, scrappy Golda.
During the filming, Ingrid was in constant pain from her arm, which had to be put up in torturous traction every night. When the long, final close-up came around, a tearful Ingrid knew it was the last time she would face her beloved camera. Her stunning portrayal won her a 1982 Emmy.
Ingrid never once relinquished the dignity of hope. Only days before her death, she was considering new parts. She gave me a last present of a ticket to the Edinburgh International Festival and, I wept to discover, had arranged a place for herself as well though we both knew it was a trip she would never make. When I spoke to her one night, she said, "Oh, I am so tired. I just want to sleep." On another occasion shortly before her death, I told Ingrid, "It is a great gift you have to bring out love.greater than loving." Laughing, she shook her head. But to me this was the true essence of her magic.
She died on August 29, 1982, her 67th birthday but not before she had one last sip of champagne.
For many film-goers Ingrid will always be alive with Gary Cooper in the snowy Spanish mountains or with Cary Grant in spy-filled Rio. But perhaps the role that most vividly conjures up her haunting face is that of Ilsa Lund in Casablanca. There, forever, is Ingrid standing by the piano, murmuring, "Sam, play it once for old time's sake"; smiling wistfully at Humphrey Bogart's toast "Here's looking at you, kid"; making her anguished farewell on that foggy airfield.
| Links | View Guestbook | Sign Guestbook | E-Mail |