Famed for her saintly, natural beauty, Ingrid Bergman was the most popular actress of the 1940s; admired equally by audiences and critics, she enjoyed blockbuster after blockbuster — until an unprecedented scandal threatened to destroy her career.
Born August 29, 1915, in Stockholm, Sweden, Bergman was only two years old when her mother died; her father passed on a decade later, and the spinster aunt who had become her guardian perished only a few months after that. Her inheritance allowed her to study at Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre, and in 1934 she made her screen debut after signing to Svenskfilmindustri with a small role in Munkbrovregen. Bergman’s first lead performance followed a year later in Brunninger, and with the success of the 1936 melodrama Valborgsmassoafen, she rose to become one of Sweden’s biggest stars. Later that year, she starred in the romance Intermezzo, which eventually made its way to New York where it came to the attention of producer David O. Selznick.
After signing a Hollywood contract, she relocated to America where her first film, 1939’s Intermezzo: A Love Story, was an English-language remake of her earlier success. Bergman’s fresh-scrubbed Nordic beauty set her squarely apart from the stereotypical movie starlet, and quickly both Hollywood executives and audiences became enchanted with her. After briefly returning to Sweden to appear in 1940’s Juninatten, Selznick demanded she return to the U.S., but without any projects immediately available he pointed her to Broadway to star in Liliom. Bergman was next loaned to MGM for 1941’s Adam Had Four Sons, followed by Rage in Heaven. She then appeared against type as a coquettish bad girl in the latest screen adaptation Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. However, it was 1942’s Casablanca which launched her to superstardom; cast opposite Humphrey Bogart after a series of other actresses rejected the picture, she was positively radiant, her chemistry with Bogart the stuff of pure magic. Now a major box-office draw, she won the coveted lead in 1943’s For Whom the Bell Tolls with the blessing of the novel’s author, Ernest Hemingway; when her performance earned an Academy Award nomination, every studio in town wanted to secure her talents.
Bergman next starred in Sam Wood‘s Saratoga Trunk, but because the studio, Warner Bros., wanted to distribute more timely material during wartime, the picture’s release was delayed until 1944. As a result, audiences next saw her in Gaslight, starring opposite Charles Boyer; another rousing success, her performance won Best Actress honors from both the Oscar and Golden Globe voters. The 1945 Spellbound, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was another massive hit, and a year later they reunited for Notorious. Sandwiched in between was The Bells of St. Mary’s, and all told, the three pictures helped push Bergman to the position of Hollywood’s top female box-office attraction.
Upon fulfilling her contract with Selznick, she began freelancing, starring as a prostitute in 1948’s Arch of Triumph; the public, however, reacted negatively to her decision to play against type, and later that year she was even more saintly than usual as the title heroine in Joan of Arc. Expected to become a blockbuster, the film performed to only moderate success, and after a similarly tepid response to the 1949 Hitchcock thriller Under Capricorn, she began to reconsider her options. Like so many viewers around the world, Bergman had been highly moved by director Roberto Rossellini‘s Italian neorealist masterpiece Roma Citta Aperta; announcing her desire to work with him, she accepted the lead in 1950’s Stromboli.
During production, Bergman and Rossellini fell in love, and she became pregnant with his child; at the time, she was still married to her first husband, Swedish doctor Peter Lindstrom, and soon she was assailed by criticism the world over. After divorcing Lindstrom, Bergman quickly married Rossellini, but the damage was already done: Stromboli was banned in many markets, boycotted by audiences in others, and despite much curiosity, it was a box-office disaster. Together, over the next six years, the couple made a series of noteworthy films including Europa ’51, Siamo Donne, and Viaggio in Italia, but audiences wanted no part of any of them; to make matters worse, their marriage was crumbling, and their financial resources were exhausted. In 1956, Bergman starred in Jean Renoir‘s lovely Elena et les Hommes, but it too failed to return her to audience favor.
Few stars of Bergman’s magnitude had ever suffered such a sudden and disastrous fall from grace; even fewer enjoyed as remarkable a comeback as the one she mounted with 1957’s Anastasia, a historical tale which not only proved successful with audiences but also with critics, resulting in a second Academy Award. For director Stanley Donen, Bergman next starred in 1958’s Indiscreet, followed by The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Also in 1958, she married for the third time, to Swedish impresario Lars Schmidt, and when a series of planned projects failed to come to fruition she simply went on sabbatical, appearing in a television presentation of The Turn of the Screw in 1959 but otherwise keeping out of the public eye for three years. She resurfaced in 1961 with Aimez-Vous Brahms? Another three-year hiatus followed prior to her next feature project, The Visit. After 1965’s The Yellow Rolls Royce, Bergman appeared in the 1967 Swedish anthology Stimulantia and then turned to the stage, touring in a production of Eugene O’Neill‘s More Stately Mansions.
Bergman’s theatrical success re-ignited Hollywood’s interest, and Columbia signed her to star in 1969’s hit Cactus Flower; 1970’s Spring Rain followed, before she returned to stage for 1971’s Captain Brassbound’s Conversion. After winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express, Bergman appeared opposite Liza Minnelli in 1976’s A Matter of Time before returning to Sweden to star in 1978’s superb Herbstsonate, the first and only time she worked with her namesake, the legendary director Ingmar Bergman. After penning a 1980 autobiography, Ingrid Bergman: My Story, in 1982, she starred in the television miniseries A Woman Called Golda, a biography of the Israeli premier Golda Meir; the performance was her last — on August 29 of that year she lost her long battle with cancer. In subsequent years, her daughter, Isabella Rossellini, emerged as a top actress and fashion model.