"Everyone was a symbol: the gangster, the femme fatale. Cary Grant always played Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart played Jimmy Stewart. Mother was typecast as the ingenue, but she was very adventurous and wanted to find more ways of making art."— Isabella Rossellini on her mother, Ingrid Bergman, quoted in Julia Llewellyn Smith, “Isabella Rossellini on Ingrid Bergman's Painful Final Days,” The Telegraph (UK), Aug. 25, 2015
Today marks the centennial of the birth of Ingrid Bergman (in the image accompanying this post, with perhaps her most famous movie, Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart). She was, as her daughter matter-of-factly notes above, “very adventurous”—and, to the enduring delight of cinephiles such as myself, she founded every possible way of “making art."
In her very first Hollywood picture, Intermezzo, the Swedish actress refused the urging of producer David O. Selznick that she change her German-sounding last name and fix her teeth. (Eventually, as I recounted in a prior post, Selznick realized that he could capture on film her luminous beauty by laying off the heavy makeup—and found himself credited with pioneering a trend toward “natural beauty” onscreen.) Her resistance to typecasting was braver than we can imagine now, imn an era when actresses such as Luise Rainer, Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland had to endure suspensions, litigation and even exile to break out of the creative straitjackets imposed by the studios.
That adventurousness also threatened to end her career at its height, when an extramarital affair with director Robert Rossellini led to a hysterical outcry that might have reached the ultimate in ludicrousness when she was even denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate as an “instrument of evil”! It took six years for the hubbub to die down and Bergman to return to Hollywood in the role that won her a second Oscar, for Anastasia.
Her work, particularly in the 1940s, can hold up with the best of any actress of her time. But Bergman ended up sacrificing much for her art and her desires, including, because of appearances on film and stage sets, time with her children. I urge you to read a fine dissection of her last film, Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata, by the exceptional blogger Farran Smith Nehme (or, as she’s known in the blogosphere, “Self-Styled Siren”), which examines how her role as a career-first concert pianist inevitably reflected aspects of her own life.
Bergman was ready to try a role in any medium--for instance, taking on the role of Joan of Arc on film, on stage, and even in an opera. As part of a collection of interviews with actors, The Player: A Profile of an Art, Bergman communicated to sister co-authors Lillian and Helen Ross that she even found television “very stimulating”:
“Television acting combines the best of the theatre and the best of movies. It is another new thing to do and to try. In making a movie, you say a line over and over, and by the time you've said it for the take, you don't remember what it is you're saying. Acting in the theatre, you have to shout, so that people up in the balcony can hear you. But when you do a television play, there are four cameras working at once, and you have both the wonderful intimacy of the screen and the live acting of the stage. In television, I know I have to be calm while everybody else is rushing around, and I love it.”
You can see what Bergman is talking about in her performance in a 1963 TV adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. I was lucky enough to view it several years ago at the Paley Center for Media in New York, but you can see it here now, on this YouTube clip. It might not be as widely circulated as Casablanca, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Gaslight, The Bells of St. Mary's, or Murder on the Orient Express (which won her a third Oscar). But, in taking on the female role that, in fearsome complexity, most rivals Hamlet, Bergman demonstrated again her infinite artistry as well as fearlessness. Her sense of the dramatic moment persisted to the end, as she died of breast cancer on her 67th birthday.