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The Times (14/Nov/1980) - Book review: Ingrid Bergman, My Story

(c) The Times (14/Nov/1980)

Book review

Ingrid Bergman: My Story - By Ingrid Bergman and Alan Burgess

Few publishing genres have been as recently or massively devalued as the showbiz memoir, which is why Ingrid Bergman's story is an especial delight. In the first place Miss Bergman, one of those eminently sensible and practical Swedish ladies who make you feel that they could if asked mow a lawn with their fingertips, has devised a remarkable cross between a biography and an autobiography. Roughly half this book is in her own direct quotation, the other half a commentary by Alan Burgess (author of one of her most successful films, Inn of the Sixth Happiness whose task here seems to have been to fill in the bits of her life that Miss Bergman found too boring or distressing or uninvolving to narrate personally.

Between them, Bergman and Burgess have an intriguing story to tell : that of a graduate of the Royal Dramatic School in Stockholm who decided after training there to go abroad in search of a more international stage and screen career, noting in passing that the Swedes have anyway never much cared for success.

The highlights of that career are well enough known but even movie buffs are here in for some surprises : Humphrey Bogart, owner of Rick's Cafe in Casablanca and the actor with whom more than any other she is linked As Time Goes By, rates just two of the 500 pages in the book not because Bergman disliked him but simply because she never really knew him at all. Indeed, so distant was their relationship during the shooting of one of the great screen love stories of all time that in the evenings she used to have to go and watch his old films in her local cinema in the hope of getting to know her co-star a bit better.

Bergman remained even after 15 years in Hollywood (years in which she made not only Casablanca but For Whom the Bell Tolls, Spellbound, Bells of St Mary's and half a dozen other minor classics) an utter outsider; her first husband, Petter Lindstrom, was an eminent Swedish neurosurgeon, and together they seem to have lived a Californian life of visiting dignitaries. When therefore she fell hopelessly in love with first the films and then the character of Roberto Rossellini, she was genuinely amazed that America could turn so swiftly and vitriolically against her.

True, it didn't much help that at the time she had her first Rossellini child, while still technically Mrs Lindstrom, she had just been playing St Joan; but it remains something of a shock from the vantage point of 1980 marital tolerance to realize that her "misdemeanour" was read into the Congressional Record and her future husband described in the US Senate as "Rossellini the love pirate" while she was there described as "a powerful influence for evil".

Other times, other moralities ; one hears through these pages a faint, still uncomprehending sigh as Bergman moves back to Europe and gradually comes to realise that" the Rossellini affair in fact is a private and public mistake, one for which she now takes a great deal of the responsibility while still and rightly objecting to the reaction.

Eventually her life improves again, she gets into the theatre in Paris, is from there taken back into the celluloid fold, wins her third Oscar, survives a third marriage and a third divorce, comes through a formidable struggle with cancer, and ends up at 65 back on the Casablanca set at Rick's Cafe doing a charity television concert, having received the long-overdue public apologies of the US Senate.