Her luminous beauty and the powerful sincerity of her craftwork caused this Stockholm native to take Hollywood by storm in the ’40s, and carried her through four decades of acclaimed and memorable performances. Born on August 29, 1915 and orphaned by the time she was 13, Ingrid Bergman was thereafter raised by a succession of aunts and uncles, her camera merchant father having left her enough to study at the city’s Royal Dramatic Theater.
Bergman obtained her first speaking screen role in 1935’s Munkbrovregen. Within the course of two years, Ingrid appeared in a series of successful Swedish films, becoming her homeland’s fastest rising movie actress, and producer David O. Selznick brought her to Hollywood in 1938 to remake her 1936 European vehicle Intermezzo, this time opposite Leslie Howard.
The stateside response to Bergman was enthusiastic and immediate. She co-starred with Robert Montgomery in Rage in Heaven (1941) and, after appearing opposite Spencer Tracy and Lana Turner that same year in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, she crafted her signature part as Ilsa Lund, the woman who must bargain with abandoned lover Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) for the safe passage of resistance fighter husband Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) in 1942’s Casablanca. Thirty years later, with Casablanca still a film favorite, Ingrid said, “I made so many films which were more important, but the only one people ever want to talk about is that one with Humphrey Bogart.”
The following year would see her obtain her first Best Actress Oscar for the woman driven to the brink of madness by calculating spouse Charles Boyer in Gaslight. Bergman would obtain three more nominations in the ’40s: for the Hemingway-penned war tale For Whom the Bell Tolls with Gary Cooper; opposite jovial priest Bing Crosby as Sister Mary Benedict in the sequel to Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary’s, possibly Bergman’s most underrated accomplishment; and as the doomed title heorine of 1948’s Joan of Arc.
Other memorable performances in the course of the decaded included 1945’s Spellbound, her first of three films for director Alfred Hitchcock; a reunion with Cooper in a sprawling tale of New Orleans society, Saratoga Trunk (also ’45); the 1946 Hitchcock espionage tale Notorious with Cary Grant and Claude Rains, followed by Arch of Triumph (1948) with fellow European Charles Boyer; and Under Capricorn (1949), another Hitchcock thriller, with Joseph Cotton.
The actress’ roll came to an abrupt end when her professional intrigue with Italian neorealist filmmaker Roberto Rossellini became personal. In the course of her performing the lead in his 1950 drama Stromboli, the two fell in love; pregnant with the director’s child, Bergman left her family. The American public was sufficiently scandalized that Bergman would work exclusively in Europe through the mid-’50s. In 1954, under Rossellini’s direction, she repeated her former success in Joan of Arc at the Stake.
However, 1956 brought her the opportunity to portray an amnesiac trumped up to portray a young woman who may be the last of the Russian royals in Anastasia, and she obtained a second Best Actress Oscar — along with filmgoers’ forgiveness as a result. Always good-naturedly honest about herself, years later she would remark, “I’ve gone from saint to whore and back to saint again, all in one lifetime.”
Following up with Cary Grant in the delightful drawing room comedy Indiscreet in 1958, and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness that same year, Bergman’s screen appearances became increasingly intermittent. In 1963, she joined a distinguished British cast playing the title role in the powerful adaptation of the Henrik Ibsen play Hedda Gabler, and the following year she was seen in MGM’s episodic The Yellow Rolls Royce and alongside Anthony Quinn in The Visit. With 1969’s Cactus Flower with Walter Matthau, she actually returned to America for a Hollywood studio production.
Highlights from the balance of her career include A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970), in which Ingrid rediscovers the joys of life with former co-star Quinn amid Tennessee’s Smokey Mountains. In 1974, she was a missionary and one of Hercule Poirot’s suspects in a case of Murder on the Orient Express, where her efforts amongst the all-star ensemble garnered the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, her last prize from the Academy. 1976 brought Bergman together with Liza Minnelli and old friend Charles Boyer in the musical/drama A Matter of Time; two years later, with Autumn Sonata, she had her one collaboration with countryman Ingmar Bergman. Her final appearance was the 1982 made-for-TV biofilm, A Woman Called Golda, in which her turn as Israeli prime minister Golda Meir earned a posthumous Emmy. Miss Bergman, who died of breast cancer on her 67th birthday, had arranged for her ashes to be spread along the coast of her native Sweden.
Besides an unforgettable legacy of classic performances, Ingrid Bergman left behind her philosophy of life when she reported, “I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have lived my life the way I did if I was going to worry about what people were going to say.”
Editor’s Update: Last week the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp of Bergman, the 19th person to be so honored in their Legends of Hollywood series, to mark the 100th anniversary of her birth.