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Ingrid Bergman, Her Early Career

Updated on February 24, 2014

Ingrid Bergman is something of an enigma, even if she is a great actress.  She was crucially unique and her own chosen self: tall, 'natural' looking, fluent in English yet unmistakably Swedish in her voice, an actress who always strove to be a 'true' woman.

There was a time in the early and mid-1940 's when Bergman commanded a kind of love in America that has been hardly ever matched. In turn, it was the strength of that affection that animated the 'scandal' when she behaved like an impetuous and ambitious actress instead of a saint. Is she an example of the liberated woman, exercising her freedom even to the brink of self-destruction? Or is she a curiously empty life force dependent on the changing personalities of the several men in her life? Was she one of the film world's martyrs to publicity, or did she nurse a special aptitude for suffering?

Aged 14
Aged 14

Early Years

The child of a German mother, she was an orphan by the age of twelve. She studied briefly at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockolm and made her film debut in 'Munkbrogreven' in 1934. She quickly became the darling of Swedish cinema, guided by director Gustaf Molander and her husband, Peter Lindstrom. She made 'Swedenhielms' in 1935, 'Dollar' in 1937 and 'Pa Solsidan' in 1936 before the crucial appearance in 'Intermezzo' in 1936.

That film was seen by Hollywood producer David O. Selznick, who purchased the remake rights, and Bergman was brought along as part of the deal. Before going to Hollywood, however, she made 'En End Natt' in 1938 and 'En Kvinnas Ansikte' and visited Germany for Die Bier Gesellen. Indeed she had to decide between Selznick and a serious German career-something Seznick had to hush up. And so Bergman went to America, leaving her infant daughter, Pia, with her husband.

She starred with Leslie Howard in Selznick's 'Intermezzo: A Love Story' in 1939. This was the start of an astonishing impact on Hollywood and America in which the alleged lack of makeup contributed to an air of nobility. Selznick appreciated her, and his wife, Irene, became an important friend and ally. But Selznick loaned Ingrid out more than he ever used her-thus he profited from her contract in ways not lost on Bergman or her husband. Her only Selznick films were 'Intermezzo' and 'Spellbound' in 1945. At the same time, Selznick built her up and indulged her whims by loaning her out for 'Adam Had Four Sons' in 1941 and the dreadful 'Rage in Heaven'. Then she persuaded MGM and Victor Fleming to let her switch parts with Lana Turner in 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' in 1941. Thus, for the first time she played a 'bad' girl and revelled in it, especially the sultry lipstick.

The films that made her followed. When Hal Wallis elected to make the woman in 'Casablanca' European, he soon abandoned thoughts of Hedy Lamarr for Bergman. That film shows how naturally she played romance in a mood of torment, indecision, and incipient suffering. When Vera Zorina proved inadequate, Selznick's steady boosting won her the part of Maria, with cropped hair in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'. Far better was 'Gaslight' in 1944, in which George Cukor helped her to be very moving as the wife edged close to madness by Charles Boyer. Again, she excelled in an ordeal, and her beauty seemed more vivid in masochistic situations. The Oscar for 'Gaslight' was the peak of her Hollywood glory. Asked to be a flamboyant Creole in 'Saratoga Trunk' in 1946, she was coy and unconvincing. But she was adorable agin (if hardly professional) as the psychiatrist in 'Spellbound, a very successful picture that was topped by 'The Bells of St. Mary's' in 1945 in which she played a nun opposite Bing Crosby's priest. Then Hitchcock put her in 'Notorious' in 1946 , her best performance yet, as an espionage agent driven to drink and despair. Hitchcock had seen the melancholy within her, and its closeness to guilt. With her suffering from Cary Grant's hard exterior, 'Notorious' proved a major film.

Selznick wane to renew Bergman's contract, but she insisted on going free-lace: first as a prostitute in 'Arch of Triumph' in 1948, based on the Maxwell Anderson stage play 'Joan of Lorraine', which she had played on Broadway. At this point, she went to London to make 'Under Capricorn' in 1949. It is a searching study of deterioration through guilt and again dependent on drink. The film was a flop on release but now looks like a Hitchcock masterpiece, owing a good deal to Bergman's long confessnal speech (in one tortuous take, of course).

But Bergman had reached a crisis and she now proceeded to go to the stake in public. In fact, this icon of public love had had many affairs-with photographer Robert Capa, with Victor Fleming, and with harmonica-player Larry Adler. She approached Roberto Rossellini full of admiration. The result was her refugee wife wretched in 'Stromboli' in 1950 and the birth of a child. The scandal in America was enormous, and as contrived as her reception ten years before had been absurd. But Ingrid's love affair with Hollywood was over, for a few years, at least.

The Wonderful Ingrid Bergman

Intermezzo 1939

Its a real love story

Interesting Books on Ingrid Bergman

Watch Casablanca at home


Tell the world how much you love Ingrid! - (Ingrid haters not welcome!)

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