Describing her own remarkable and sometimes controversial life, Ingrid Bergman once said, “I’ve gone from saint to whore to saint again, all in one lifetime.” This astonishingly beautiful and gifted actress was born on August 29, 1915, in Stockholm, Sweden. Her German mother, Friedel, died when Ingrid was three years old, and she was raised by her father, Justus Bergman, a Swedish artist and photographer who was the first to capture her on film and encourage her interest in the arts. Justus passed away when Ingrid was twelve, leaving the child to be briefly cared for by an unmarried aunt until she went to live with her Uncle Otto and his wife and five children during her teenage years.
She graduated from private school in 1933 and, through an audition, won a scholarship to the Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm, alma mater of the great Greta Garbo. After a year of study there, she was hired by a Swedish studio and impressed audiences and co-workers with her work in a dozen films in Sweden and Germany.
In 1936 Ingrid starred in a Swedish film called Intermezzo. Legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick fell in love with the film and its star and, in 1939, brought her to Los Angeles to reprise her role in the American remake, Intermezzo: A Love Story. By then she’d married dentist and future neurosurgeon Peter Lindstrom in 1937, and she left him and their infant daughter, Pia, at home in Sweden while she made what she expected to be a relatively brief trip to America to make this one film. Selznick was bright enough not to give her a typical Hollywood makeover, embracing her name, accent, and natural beauty, and when Intermezzo became a huge hit in the United States, so did the graceful, warmly shy, exquisitely unenhanced Ingrid Bergman.
She did return to Sweden after Intermezzo to satisfy one last film obligation, then came back to America in 1940 for an appearance on Broadway, followed by three fairly successful movies until 1942, when along came a script called Casablanca and an actor named Humphrey Bogart. Although Ingrid never considered her portrayal of Ilsa in Casablanca to be one of her best performances, she came to accept that it would always be her most talked-about film, a film that had, as she observed years later, “a life of its own.”
Next came For Whom the Bell Tolls, the screen adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, in 1943, for which she received her first Best Actress Academy Award nomination. The dark, suspenseful Gaslight followed in 1944, along with her first Best Actress Oscar. Her role as a nun in 1945’s The Bells of St. Mary’s opposite Bing Crosby made it three Best Actress nominations in a row. From 1945 through 1949 Ingrid went to work for one of her biggest fans in Hollywood, director Alfred Hitchcock, who cast her in Spellbound, Notorious, and Under Capricorn.
Ingrid’s fourth Academy Award nomination was the result of a part she’d yearned for since she arrived in Hollywood, the title role in Walter Wanger’s 1948 production of Joan of Arc. She’d starred as the tragic heroine on Broadway in Joan of Lorraine for twenty-five weeks in 1946 and won a Tony for her performance, and she was ecstatic when the time to portray St. Joan on film finally arrived. It’s impossible to calculate how popular the film might have been if its theater showings hadn’t been interrupted by the great scandal of Ingrid Bergman’s life.
By now Ingrid’s husband and daughter had moved to the United States, and she spent as much time as possible with them between films, both in Rochester, New York, where Peter studied medicine and surgery, and in San Francisco, where he completed his internship. America’s love affair with Ingrid, her sweet pristine beauty, and the flawless innocence she exemplified onscreen only deepened with her offstage roles as a dedicated wife and mother.
And so it was that the American public seemed to take it as a personal betrayal when the married Ingrid Bergman met, fell in love with, and became pregnant by the also married Italian director Roberto Rossellini. She’d written him a letter to say how much she would love to work in one of his films, and his response was to create a role for her in his 1949 film Stromboli. That both of their marriages had been unhappy for a very long time didn’t diminish the harsh judgment they faced when their affair became known, and Ingrid’s pregnancy while Joan of Arc was in theaters across the United States caused a dramatic decline in attendance. Ingrid gave birth to their son, Roberto, before she and Rossellini were able to finalize their respective divorces and legally marry in 1950, which only added to the accusations of Ingrid’s immorality. She was even denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate, where Senator Edwin Johnson of Colorado proclaimed her “a powerful influence for evil.”
Ingrid understandably moved to Italy, out of the eye of the outrage against her, and she and Rossellini made five films together there between 1950 and 1955. In 1952 she gave birth to twin daughters, Isotta, a future Italian literature professor, and Isabella, who later became a successful actress and model. Her career didn’t show visible signs of international resurrection until 1956, when her film for French director Jean Renoir, Elena et les Hommes, was released.
It was also in 1956 that Ingrid finally returned to Hollywood to star in Anastasia, for which she won another Best Actress Oscar and made great strides in winning back the affection of America. Her marriage to Rossellini ended in 1957, and in 1959 she married Swedish producer Lars Schmidt, whom she divorced in 1975.
The next ten years were busy and ultimately triumphant for Ingrid Bergman, beginning with a Best Actress Emmy in 1959 for the television adaptation of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. She gave critically acclaimed theatrical performances in London in 1965’s A Month in the Country, and in an American production of More Stately Mansions in 1967. She further won back film audiences in 1968 with her performance in the Goldie Hawn vehicle Cactus Flower.
In 1974 Ingrid Bergman received the rare compliment of a third Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actress in the Sidney Lumet film Murder on the Orient Express. Her seventh Oscar nomination came in 1978 for Autumn Sonata, directed by a man to whom, despite many rumors to the contrary, she was not related, the esteemed Ingmar Bergman. The beautiful film, shot in Norway, was one of her finest performances and, as it turned out, her last feature.
Her final appearance as an actress was the 1982 miniseries A Woman Called Golda, in which she starred as Israeli prime minister Golda Meir. She won a Best Actress Emmy for her stunning portrayal. Sadly, it was presented posthumously; her daughter Pia accepted it on her behalf. It was widely known in the industry that Ingrid’s health was failing. She’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, and it was spreading. What wasn’t so widely known was how far it had progressed.
On August 29, 1982—her sixty-seventh birthday—Ingrid Bergman lost her seven-year battle with breast cancer. Her body was cremated in London, where she died, and her ashes went home to Sweden, where some were scattered in the sea and the rest were interred beside her parents.
Ingrid was greeted by her parents before she’d even emerged from the tunnel. She lingered at the Scanning Machine and in Orientation, very methodical in her determination to learn all she could from the lifetime she’d just left behind and make peace with it. She knew she felt no guilt about the Rossellini scandal, because at no time did it feel like a choice to her. Instead, it seemed to her that she was participating in an inevitability, against her wisdom and logic, but something she had to demand of herself, regardless of scandal and public censure, whether she understood it or not.
What became very clear to her after reviewing her lifetime repeatedly at the Scanning Machine and with the help of her Orientation counselors is something that so many learn, to their surprise and relief, when they return Home: what they charted for themselves often has a purpose greater than what might have been apparent on earth. When Ingrid met Rossellini and found herself prepared to abandon everyone and everything she knew and compromise her reputation, to be with him, she mistakenly believed at the time that their passionate love for each other was the reason he had seemed so inevitable to her. That belief turned to confusion when that passionate love and their marriage began dying and it became clear she would not be spending the rest of her life with him.
The confusion ended when, on the Other Side, she was able to reflect on that lifetime and the chart she wrote before she was born: Rossellini’s overwhelming importance to her was nothing more and nothing less than the fact that only he could give her the exact three children she charted to bring into the world. And of course Rossellini charted Ingrid for the same reason. Only secondarily was it about the magnetic attraction between the two of them. That attraction existed purely because they recognized each other on sight from the pact they’d made before they incarnated, that together they would create Roberto, Isotta, and Isabella. Once they’d satisfied that mutual purpose, there was no further reason for their relationship.
Ingrid and Rossellini occasionally see each other here at social events, particularly the ballet and art exhibits. They’re pleasant, as we all are to each other, but there is no special connection between them. It’s interesting that Ingrid is as innately drawn to directors here as she was in her lifetime. She, Alfred Hitchcock, and Carlo Ponti, old friends from Home, are frequently together again as usual.
Like so many actors, by the way, Ingrid’s visage on the Other Side is identical to the physical image she had on earth. Picture her as you knew her at the age of thirty and you’ll know exactly how she looks now, with the added light of peaceful bliss radiating from her, as it does from all of us.
She says she was very discouraged when the lump in her breast was discovered and she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
Even though her doctors reassured her that they had caught it very early, she knew when her arm began to swell that she would be taking advantage of this Exit Point and heading Home, with her intended purposes on earth accomplished. She urges her daughters, particularly Isabella, to be religiously vigilant about their health, not only through regular mammograms, but also by CAT scans every two years.
Ingrid’s chosen passion here is in Orientation, where she specializes in working with girls who come over in their early teens, particularly trauma cases and suicides related to pregnancies and bullying, for which her most recent lifetime prepared her so effectively. She has no desire to incarnate again.