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Book Extracts: Ingrid Bergman - "My Story"

Hitchcock related excerpts from Ingrid Bergman's biography - "My Story"



Chapter 10

In the list of Ingrid's relationships, few — at first sight — were more unlikely than her long and sustained friendship with the chubby genius of a British director, Alfred Hitchcock. Some of it was due to their mutual inclination to drift toward a martini after a hard day in the studio, but Ingrid found Hitch's dogmatic British attitude toward drinking rather odd:

The clock had to strike six before he'd race for the martinis. He just adored keeping your glass filled. He awarded me the honorary title of 'The Human Sink.'

One night he was cooking dinner for the two of us and we were drinking away and laughing and having fun. But at length I said, 'Hitch, I'm getting sleepy.'

'Well, go and lie down on the sofa and recover, while I finish the meal,' he ordered. I went into the living room and I woke up in the middle of the night. I looked across the room to the other sofa and there was Hitch curled up and sleeping like a baby. At that moment he opened one eye.

I asked, 'What happened to our marvellous meal?'

'Dammit,' he said, 'you passed out on me. And then, dammit, I must have passed out on me.'

The lovely dinner was stone cold.

She was once asked by an author who was preparing an article on Alfred Hitchcock to send him a few words regarding his qualities.

She wrote:

He is a magnificently prepared director. There is nothing that he does not know about the picture he is going to do.

Every angle and every set-up he has prepared at home with a miniature set of what is being built in the studio. He does not even look into the camera, for he says, 'I know what it looks like.' I don't know any other director who works like this. Of course he wants everything primarily his way, but if an actor has an idea, he is willing to let the actor try it. Sometimes I thought I got through, and that Hitchcock was going to change his set-up. But as a rule he used to get his way by simply saying, 'If you can't do it my way, fake it.' It was a very good lesson for me, as many times in the future when I couldn't win a battle with a director, I'd remember Hitch's words and, 'fake it.'

His humour and his sharp wit is a delight. He likes, I think, very real people. If someone on the set was a phoney he was liable to start a sort of double-talk, which sounded like absolutely normal conversation but turned out to be nonsense. That is how he got rid of visitors.

Inevitably the man who got Ingrid and Alfred Hitchcock together was David Selznick, even though by these middle forties David's astonishing career was beginning to lose momentum.

Between 1924 and 1940 he had employed practically every great star in Hollywood, produced sixty films, many of them huge international successes — and Gone With the Wind. At the age of thirty-seven, with this enormous movie for which he was predominantly responsible he reached a peak he was never to achieve again. It made him world-famous, a fortune, and it exhausted him. It also dispirited him to realize that he could never do better.

He had offered his film expertise to the war effort but the generals he approached were neither cooperative nor impressed. He flirted with the idea of entering politics, but the closest he ever got to any sort of political appointment was to become Chairman of the Hollywood Committee for United China Relief. At heart he was always a film man, and he could never desert the trade and the craft he loved.

He had such enormous enthusiasm, and such enormous energy. He really burned his candle at both ends. Of course he rented me out for large sums as soon as I returned to Hollywood, and a lot of my friends said, 'What an interesting agent you have. The roles are reversed. He takes ninety per cent and you get ten per cent.'

From 1940 until the end of 1945 Ingrid had made only eleven films and her yearly salary had worked out at sixty thousand dollars a year. But from Adam Had Four Sons onwards, David was leasing her to other film companies. From Warners, for Casablanca, he received one hundred and ten thousand dollars; from Paramount, for For Whom the Bell Tolls, one hundred and fifty thousand dollars; for Saratoga Trunk, one hundred thousand dollars; and the price became astronomical when he haggled over The Bells of St. Mary's.

I laughed about it. I didn't really mind. I'd signed a contract. I earned a lot more money than I ever did in Sweden. David didn't know I was going to be successful any more than I did. If he could make money renting me out, good luck to him. We made some great pictures and I love working.

He produced Spellbound himself with Hitch as director.

In Spellbound Ingrid played a young psychiatrist working in an expensive sanitorium who discovers that the newly appointed head of her department is as emotionally 'disturbed' as the rest of the patients. Ingrid herself was also very slightly disturbed to find that for the first time in her career she was playing with a leading man who was slightly younger than she was. He had already appeared in The Keys of the Kingdom, and was rated in the movie magazine columns as 'one of the most promising young male prospects on the screen'. Gregory Peck certainly fulfilled that prophecy.

With Selznick and Hitchcock working together, the film world expected originality. They almost got it. David Selznick engaged the surrealist artist Salvador Dali to design an elaborate dream sequence to match Gregory Peck's nightmares. It opened with four-hundred human eyes glaring down at him from black velvet drapes. Then a pair of pliers fifteen times taller than Peck chased him up the side of a pyramid, and finally he was confronted by a plaster cast of Ingrid as a Grecian goddess with a face that slowly cracked, emitting streams of ants.

Ingrid was coated in plaster but the ants were banned. And practically the whole of the scene was 'lost' in that limbo of the film world known as the cutting room floor. Salvador Dali's relationship with David O. Selznick cooled rapidly.

Time magazine said: 'Hitchcock's deft timing and sharp, imaginative camera work raise Spellbound well above the routine of Hollywood thrillers.' The New York Herald Tribune: 'compelling performances by Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck, the work is a masterful psychiatric thriller.'

The film made a lot of money. So much money that David Selznick almost immediately began to put together the ingredients for a second Hitchcock thriller, Notorious. David sold it as a package to RKO in a deal that included Hitchcock as director, Ben Hecht as scriptwriter, and Cary Grant and Ingrid as stars. David received eight hundred thousand dollars and fifty per cent of the profits. As it grossed eight million dollars, everyone was very happy indeed.

Cary Grant was a United States Secret Agent who suspected Ingrid — daughter of an already convicted Nazi spy — of a lack of loyalty, but who fell in love with her. To prove her patriotism she married the villain, Claude Rains, and helped Cary uncover the secret of the locked wine cellar, and the bottle containing, of all surprising deposits, the almost unheard of ore, uranium. The camera's zoom down from above the chandelier of a crowded ballroom to the precious key clutched tightly in Ingrid's hand as she danced with Cary Grant, was one of the most spectacular shots of Hitch's spectacular career. And the use of uranium as a plot motive around the time the first atomic bomb was detonated attracted the attention of the F.B.I. Although Hitch rolled his eyes and protested no interest whatsoever in such nasty chemicals, the security men who kept him under surveillance for several weeks were not amused.

Outwitting the 'establishment' was a natural Hitchcock technique. He delighted in overcoming the censorship of the Johnson office by filming a kiss between Cary and Ingrid which lasted five times longer than that permitted:

A kiss could last three seconds. We just kissed each other and talked, leaned away and kissed each other again. Then the telephone came between us, then we moved to the other side of the telephone. So it was a kiss which opened and closed; but the censors couldn't and didn't cut the scene because we never at any one point kissed for more than three seconds. We did other things: we nibbled on each other's ears, and kissed a cheek, so that it looked endless, and became sensational in Hollywood.

Notorious was the start of a continuing friendship between Cary Grant and Ingrid. And it was shortly afterwards that Cary was to utter the immortal phrase: 'I think the Academy ought to set aside a special award for Bergman every year whether she makes a picture or not!'

Chapter 12

Dear Ruth (At the studio. August 6, 1948) Oh dear! This is my seventh week waiting. The picture [Under Capricorn] started O.K. the 19th, but with Hitch's ten-minute takes they were behind one week after one day's shooting. The technicians here have very little or no experience. And they don't seem to care. I have been waiting and waiting, but every day it is the same: 'We didn't get the shot today, but for sure we'll have it tomorrow morning.' Finally after four days I was told Hitch had abandoned the shot and would start with my entrance. I was so happy, rehearsed and at two o'clock the same day had the first take. During the second take all the lights went out, the electricians walked down the ladders and left. Strike! All afternoon we waited for them to finish their meeting, but they never came back. This morning I was up at six; at nine I was told they had not come back yet: 'Just relax in your dressing room!'

I am outraged but the others seem to take it relaxed. Nothing new. After the war they always have a couple of strikes. The reason for the strike was that two men were fired because of bad work and coming late to work several times.

Hitch is trying to find an entirely new electricians' crew. Until then, we'll have no peace. This is their second walkout. The camera crew and sound crew are nice. But it is a hostile feeling on the set that just kills you. People hardly look or speak to you. When I had the first test, the crew were whistling and making funny remarks. I was stunned because you know how very good people have always been. Don't think everybody is bad but you know if it is just a few they colour the whole set. The script is interesting now, we've got a pretty good end, but Hitch's new technique I don't like. I have had no experience with it yet, for my first entrance was just a normal shot. But I have watched him with the others. It is so frightening for actors and crew. If the least bit goes wrong, you know ... I think Hitch and I will have some arguments. He wanted to shoot a whole roll of film, the camera following me everywhere and the sets and furniture being pulled away. It meant we had to rehearse a whole day without shooting and then shoot the scenes the following day. It made everybody nervous, but he insisted. We already had one little argument about my entrance and I got my way. I know I always can with him, but I dislike the argument... To top the rest of the mishaps I have a slow hairdresser. I have to be here at seven thirty. Makeup is very fast, hardly any, and very gray: no lipstick, no ice-towels, and the rest of Jack Pierce's fun. All the time is for hair, So already at nine a.m. I am sore, not only my behind.

I saw Noel in Paris. Noel Howard had been technical adviser on Joan of Arc. He was going with Capa to Capri, and was worried about Capa's light view on money. Noel is as broke as a painter should be. Too bad. Capa I don't worry about. He is working on a new book, sold the old to the movies. Television is on-and-off, and much gambling on, so I guess he'll carry Noel on his gay gypsy shoulders.

Look what a long letter the strike will give you. It is now eleven thirty. No move in any direction. I fear I'll be here until Christmas. Pia and Petter arrive from Liverpool eleven o'clock tonight. Poor child. What a trip. Train Los Angeles to New York. Boat eight days. Five hours train journey to London. I didn't want her to fly across. I wanted her to know how big the world is. Now she knows, I'm going to be in trouble. I smoke all the time. I drink more than ever. I have put on at least ten pounds. I am just ready for Petter! Now my pencil is disappearing, so it's no use starting a new sheet of paper. Give my love to Hollywood... lovely place where you can work despite a strike. Next time I'll tell you about my meeting with George Bernard Shaw.

At the end of August 1948, Ingrid wrote to Ruth:

Petter and I went to Paris for the weekend of my birthday. We had a most wonderful time. To bed at five in the morning two days in a row...

Under Capricorn is half finished. The other day I burst. The camera was supposed to follow me around for eleven whole minutes, which meant we had to rehearse a whole day with the walls or furniture falling backwards as the camera went through, and of course that couldn't be done fast enough. So I told Hitch off. How I hate this new technique of his. How I suffer and loathe every moment on the set. My two leading men, Michael Wilding and Joe Cotten, just sat there and said nothing, but I know they agree with me, and I said enough for the whole cast. Little Hitch just left. Never said a word. Just went home... oh dear...

A month later in another letter to Ruth, Ingrid was prepared to concede that maybe there was some good in Hitch's new method after all.

The picture is nearly finished. Some of those damned long scenes work out very well. In one nine-and-a-half-minute take, I talked all the time; the camera never left me and it worked fine. I must say much better than being cut up and edited...