This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Ingrid Bergman, the classic Hollywood starlet known predominantly for her natural talent and beauty. In celebration of the birth of this goddess of film, the TIFF Bell Lightbox is featuring a two week-long series showcasing some of Bergman’s best and beloved films, including the infamous Casablanca. But while we’re happy to devour Bergman’s films, few of us ever exhibit curiosity about the woman behind the star.
Born and raised in Sweden, Bergman puttered around in her native country for years dabbling in various film and theatre roles before being brought over to the United States by celebrated director, David O. Selznick (of Gone With The Wind fame) to star in 1939’s Intermezzo: A Love Story (in fact a remake of a Swedish movie she did the year prior) and was immediately self-conscious about her foreign name, thick eyebrows, lack of English and the fact that she was taller than the average woman. Though her role in Intermezzo: A Love Story was a small one alongside Leslie Howard, Selznick attempted to convince Bergman to change her look to better appeal to an American audiences. Bergman refused and it was only the first of many decisions she would make about her life that would help secure her as a little-known early feminist icon.
The massive success of Intermezzo: A Love Story turned Bergman into an overnight sensation and her refusal to be touched up by make-up artists or alter her natural beauty made her stand out against the glamourized American stars of the time. The fact that she could actually act and act well obviously helped as well and Bergman soon found herself landing roles with big-name directors like Alfred Hitchcock who cast her in a handful of some of his most beloved thrillers.
Casablanca is really what cemented Bergman as a star whose fame was destined to outlive her. The story of the heartbreaking romance of two lovers in the midst of World War II, Casablanca is now considered one of the most essential classics of cinema, but it was far from Bergman’s favourite role. “I made so many films which were more important, but the only one people ever want to talk about is that one with Bogart,” she once stated and truer words were never spoken. While Casablanca is a great example of 1940s cinema, it doesn’t come close to highlighting Bergman’s natural talents as an actress.
Bergman earned herself two consecutive Oscar nominations in 1943 and 1944 for For Whom the Bells Toll and Gaslight, respectively. The latter earned her her first Oscar win as well and both are fine examples of the extend of Bergman’s skill. Playing Maria in For Whom the Bells Toll, the adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name, Bergman was practically hand-picked by the author himself for the film. “You are Maria!” he supposedly exclaimed upon meeting her and while Bergman was always able to separate her characters from herself, she was skilled enough to fool her audience.
In the early ‘50s, Bergman met and began an extended affair with Italian director, Roberto Rossellini. Bergman and Rossellini collaborated on a number of films together, the most popular of the lot being Stromboli, the story of a Lithuanian woman who marries an Italian in order to escape and internment camp, and this is considered one of the finest examples of Italian neorealism. The affair with Rossellini created a massive scandal in still-too-traditional United States and actually ended up getting her blacklisted.
But that didn’t deter Bergman. Instead she left the United States and moved to Italy, continuing her affair and eventually marrying Rossellini once her divorce to her first husband was finalized. She enjoyed the marriage to Rossellini, which resulted in three children (including actress, model and all-around awesome lady, Isabella Rossellini!), until the mid-’50s when the pair separated.
Bergman made her triumphant return to American cinema with 1956’s Anastasia, for which she won her second Oscar for Best Actress and practically continued on where she had left off many years earlier without batting an eye. She was unconcerned with the public’s opinion of her and adamantly separated herself from her characters, something her audience was seldom able or willing to do. “People saw me in Joan of Arc and declared me a saint. I’m not. I’m just a woman, another human being,” she once stated, which was almost a radical thing to publicly say in a time when an actor’s celebrity persona was based heavily on the roles they took on.
Bergman continued acting until she died in 1982 and her later roles are just as memorable as her earlier ones. More than that, her person is memorable and should be remembered. For a woman who was so multi-dimensional and unwilling to hide the good and bad in her from the pubic’s eye, it’s important to remember her not only as Ingrid Bergman, the actress but as Ingrid Bergman, the woman.
Top image via TIFF.
Notorious: Celebrating the Ingrid Bergman Centenary runs at the The TIFF Bell Lightbox from August 22 until September 6. Check out tiff.net for showtimes.