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The Sunday Telegraph (08/Apr/2007) - Why it wasn't easy being Ingrid Bergman

(c) Daily Telegraph

Shortly before she died in 1982, Ingrid Bergman told her biographer, Charlotte Chandler: 'I do not want to be remembered as a participant in one of the biggest scandals of the 20th century, the personification of the fallen woman.'

The scandal happened in 1949. Bergman was 34, she had appeared in Casablanca, Gaslight, Notorious, and For Whom the Bell Tolls and was to all appearances happily married to a Swedish dentist called Petter Lindstrom, the father of her daughter, when she left America to join the Italian film director Roberto Rossellini, by whom she was already pregnant.

Bergman was attracted to Rossellini's anti-Hollywood gritty, neo-realistic films but more by his overpowering personality. In this 'personal' biography, a yarn woven from many voices - including Rossellini's - but mainly the subject's, the scandal comes to occupy a central position.

Bergman was born in Stockholm in 1915, and fittingly named after a Swedish royal princess. Her German mother died during her infancy and her doting father, who abandoned art for photography, exposed her to an endless round of posing, so she became, as she said, 'perhaps the most photographed child in Scandinavia'. But when she was 14 her father died, from stomach cancer.

These dead parents haunted her for life. Ingrid made her own way in the theatre world, passing quickly through the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre School, and then to stardom in the flourishing world of early Swedish cinema, from which she was plucked by the Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick. With her half-German pedigree Goebbels had thought of luring her into becoming a star of Nazi cinema, but decided she was too tall.

In America, Selznick put her under contract, ruthlessly built her career, and hired her out to MGM and Columbia for three times the salary he paid her; but she bore him no grudges. She led a charmed life, although she never much liked Casablanca, the classic film which was born and nurtured in creative friction. There wasn't much off-set rapport with Humphrey Bogart, her co-star, either.

It was little surprise then, if genius recognises like, that she and Alfred Hitchcock should gravitate towards one another. Hitchcock was to direct three of her best films: Spellbound, Notorious, and Under Capricorn.

In Spellbound, Gregory Peck dreams of her as a Greek goddess who turns into a statue, and the director summoned Salvador Dali to devise the nightmare. He prescribed 400 pairs of eyes with a giant pair of pliers, which Peck chased up pyramids where he found a plaster cast of Ingrid. The head split and streams of ants spouted out of her face. Hitchcock cut the scene to ribbons, explaining: 'Actually, the ants contract was cancelled, and we never filmed that part. We couldn't get enough trained ants, and Central Casting said all of their fleas were gainfully employed.' Ingrid found motivating herself for the role difficult, and went to Hitchcock worrying she couldn't do it: 'Fake it, Ingrid. It's only a movie,' he told her.

When the news of her elopement broke she became unbankable overnight. The scandal shocked the millions of fans to whom she was an icon of wholesomeness as well as beauty. Senator Johnson from Colorado even denounced her from the floor of the Senate, and proposed a bill to protect America from the 'moral turpitude' 'aliens' such as Bergman posed.

After initial happiness, the birth of three more children, and five films 'nobody wanted to see', Bergman and Rossellini divorced. As a director Rossellini was the opposite of Hitchcock, with a passion for unchartered territory while Bergman needed a structured script and a Hollywood shooting schedule: in his hands her great natural beauty looked forced, uncomfortable, and out of place.

Charlotte Chandler helps the testimonies flow easily and nowhere does she intrude herself. She is convinced that Bergman was exemplary: unaffectedly natural and without a single tuck, a star who wore no make-up and washed her own hair. The effect she had was to make others feel they were beautiful, too. She was above all a generous spirit who put truth in personal dealings before everything else. Forgive and forget was not only her motto, but her practice.