Ingrid Bergman was Hollywood’s saintly good girl—but nothing could be further from the truth. Her explosive affair with Roberto Rossellini turned an entire nation against her, and it quickly became the Hollywood scandal. But that was only the beginning. Even after her death, sordid secrets from Bergman’s naughty past kept surfacing—and they threatened to ruin her legacy forever.
Ingrid Bergman seemed destined to be an actress. Born on August 29, 1915, she grew up in Sweden. Her father Justus was a talented painter and photographer, and from a very young age, Bergman became used to posing in front of the camera. As her father's model, she played dress-up and wore funny outfits. But Bergman's natural talent for acting also had a darker side.
Although Bergman happily danced and posed for her father, her childhood wasn't exactly a happy one. Later, she remembered, "I was a very sad child. And very lonely. And how I saved myself was to invent the characters that I could talk to because I was terribly shy". You see, there was a reason for Bergman's loneliness—and it was utterly tragic.
When she was only two and a half years old, fate dealt Bergman a heartbreaking hand: Her darling mother Friedel passed. From then on, it was just her and her father. However, Justus Bergman had lofty dreams for his daughter. He wanted her to be a star, envisioning her as a future opera singer and putting her through three years of vocal lessons. However, there was one huge problem.
When her father sent her to a girls' school, Bergman struggled to fit in. She certainly wasn't popular and didn't even stand out academically. Soon, loneliness began to creep in—and it was only about to get worse. When she was 14 years old, another loss upended Bergman's life: Her father passed from stomach cancer. Bergman was devastated—but there was still another brutal twist in store for her.
Orphaned and alone, Bergman had no choice but to move in with her aunt Ellen. Finally, she'd found a soft place to land...But it wasn't meant to last. A mere six months after taking Bergman in, Ellen passed from heart disease. These successive losses traumatized the young girl, and she later described the pain as "living with an ache".
Luckily for Bergman, however, there was a sliver of hope waiting for her just around the corner.
A year after her father's passing, Bergman put her love for acting into action and got a job as an extra for a movie studio. She was astounded that she could actually make money and have fun at the same time. For Bergman, it was a dream come true. However, two years later, she won a scholarship to the Royal Dramatic Theatre School and had to put her aspirations on hold.
Stifled by the thought of another five years in school, Bergman made a decision that scandalized her teachers.
Ingrid Bergman never felt at home behind a desk, but instead, cultivated a safe space within her imagination. All she could think about was her joyous time at the movie studio. And so, when she finally landed a speaking role, she took it without a second thought, ignoring the advice of all of her teachers. She was anxious to start living, and more than anything, her ambition ruled supreme.
Bergman always knew that she was going to be an actress, and according to her daughter Isabella Rossellini, Bergman also knew that she was destined to be famous: "[She had] this absolute certitude in total modesty that she was going to be so different that she was going to be noticed for his differences". However, Bergman's ambition wasn't always all sunshine and rainbows.
Work allowed Bergman to reach a pinnacle of happiness that nothing else in her life could touch—not even marriage, not even motherhood. At the age of 21, Bergman made an interesting choice and married the dentist Petter Lindström. It was easy to see why Lindström fell so hard for Bergman: She was young, beautiful, and terribly driven. He, however, provided her with a much-needed sense of stability.
Was this enough to keep their romance afloat? Absolutely not.
In 1938, Bergman welcomed her first child, Pia. But even with a stable film career in Sweden and a balanced family life, she longed for something more; she could never be content just coasting through life. Bergman always had her eye on the horizon, forever lusting after the next great challenge. In Bergman's case, this was transitioning to American films—Hollywood.
However, the cost of fame was high, and the actress was willing to sacrifice anything to become a star.
In 1939, with only one suitcase clutched in her hand, 24-year-old Ingrid Bergman arrived in Los Angeles, excited to begin a new chapter. Hollywood producer David O. Selznick had seen her performance in the Swedish film Intermezzo, and thought she'd be a perfect fit for the English remake. Bergman, although thrilled about this rare opportunity, fully expected to be shipped back to her husband and baby after filming wrapped...Instead, something very different came to pass.
Ingrid Bergman's first American film was a roaring success and all the critics were enamored by this stunning newcomer. After that, there was no going back to Sweden. She had actually done it; she was a star. This Swedish fledgling had arrived not knowing a lick of English, and yet she'd managed to fly over every single hurdle.
However, even as she dazzled audiences with her performance, she hadn't impressed everyone...At least, not at first.
Bergman soon realized that Hollywood wanted to take control of her image and change it entirely. In fact, they pointed out every fault imaginable. She later remembered, "Immediately, I was considered too tall and they were going to do something with my face and change my name". But Bergman refused to bend to the studio's demands, and in the end, it was one of the best decisions she ever made.
You see, Bergman stepped onto the scene at the perfect time. So many of the other starlets were so perfectly manufactured—they were almost too perfect. In staying true to herself, Bergman was a breath of fresh air. She had a natural look, and in the beginning, that simplicity worked in her favor. She was always the good girl or the country girl, but with a fiery personality like Bergman's, these roles started to bore her tears.
Luckily for her, a "bad girl" role was waiting for her just around the corner.
In 1941, Bergman was supposed to play another soft, feminine role in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but begged the studio to give her a chance at play the naughty barmaid instead. The studio granted her wish and switched the roles of the leading ladies, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner. Bergman was finally going to be a temptress.
However, her seductive role went far beyond her onscreen performance...Behind the scenes, something quite scandalous was afoot.
You see, Ingrid Bergman wasn't opposed to getting her kicks outside of her marriage, and throughout the 1940s, she entertained passionate affairs with quite a number of directors and actors. To begin with, on the set of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Bergman and Spencer Tracy embarked on a short but sweet dalliance—but this was only the beginning.
While Bergman was off living her dreams and sleeping with whomever she desired, she still had a family back at home. Her husband and Pia eventually followed her to America, first settling in New York and then San Francisco. When she could, Bergman would find time for them between jobs. However, as time passed, it became clear that Bergman lived a scintillating dual life—one that was destined to rip her family apart.
Oddly enough, Bergman's husband had no affinity for the "tinseled glamor of Hollywood," and began to resent his wife's profession for its superficiality. To him, as Bergman's career soared, the more vain and self-obsessed she became. She was a free spirit, while Lindström was terribly rigid and frugal. However, when he found out about her incessant cheating, his response was shocking.
Even though Bergman had betrayed him, Lindström wasn't about to go chasing after a divorce. And why would he? His wife was making bank, and the money kept pouring in. As the stalwart head of the home, he helped steer her career and delegated her finances. Later, he admitted, "I lived with that because of her income". Their love was a sham.
However, with her husband's passivity, Bergman was free to kick up her skirts. She had some high-profile hearts to break.
One of Bergman's most notable affairs only came to light after her autobiography was released. While still married to Lindström, she conducted a secret affair...His name was Robert Capa, a handsome photographer whom she'd met in Paris. After sharing one lovely evening together, they parted ways, but by sheer coincidence, fate brought them together once more.
Two months later, Bergman bumped into Capa yet again—this time, in Berlin. Inexplicably drawn to one another, the couple couldn't help but fall deeply in love. During this time, Bergman was already horribly unhappy with her marriage to Lindström and wanted to leave him for good. Eager to be close to her, Capa scrounged up enough money to join her in Hollywood—but they were doomed to a heartbreaking end.
Robert Capa was never truly cut out for a life in Hollywood and eventually, the affair fizzled out. However, that didn't stop Alfred Hitchock from fashioning two of his most iconic characters off of Bergman and Capa's romance. Years later, in the 1954 film, Rear Window, their affair influenced the lead characters played by Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart.
However, while her love life struggled to find an equilibrium, Bergman's career was about to skyrocket.
In 1942, Bergman landed her most infamous role yet—Ilsa Lund in Casablanca—starring opposite Humphrey Bogart. However, despite it becoming one of the most lauded films ever made, it was never one of Bergman's favorites: "I made so many films which were more important, but the only one people ever want to talk about is that one with Bogart".
While everyone gushed over Casablanca, Bergman had bigger fish to fry.
The next year, Bergman starred in the pivotal film, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Not only did she steal the heart of the leading man, Gary Cooper, but she also snagged an Academy Award nomination. But that wasn't even the best part. You see, when Ernest Hemingway's novel was sold to Paramount Pictures, Hemingway himself gave one explicit directive.
He said, "Miss Bergman, and no one else, should play the part". If that wasn't complimentary enough, Gary Cooper also had something to say about the film's captivating leading lady.
It really seemed like Bergman kept her heart tucked away, and Gary Cooper certainly learned this the hard way. He fell head over heels for her during the filming of For Whom the Bell Tolls—but their brief affair was never made to go the distance. Later, Cooper said, "No one loved me more than Ingrid Bergman, but the day after filming concluded, I couldn't even get her on the phone".
She was elusive and enchanting, but the disappointed hopes she left in her wake were a mere preview of the scandal to come.
Of all the roles Bergman lusted after, Joan of Arc was at the top of the list. Something about that self-assured character truly resonated with her and it became the ultimate dream. However, there was just one problem: Nobody was making this film. In 1946, however, the hopeful actress hit a stroke of luck when she starred in Joan of Lorraine at New York's Alvin Theatre.
The unprecedented success of the play was a stepping stone to fulfilling one of her greatest wishes.
Bergman's fantastic performance on Broadway did indeed win her the role in 1948's Joan of Arc. She devoted everything to the production, even her own money, but sadly, it all ended in disappointment. Although the Academy nominated her for her performance, she did not win the public's good opinion. Why? Well, Ms. Bergman had gotten herself tangled up in a terrible scandal...
Ingrid Bergman's descent into disgrace began innocently enough. Growing tired of her life in Hollywood and her lackluster marriage, Bergman was on the lookout for her next great adventure. That's when she discovered Italian director Roberto Rossellini's work and fell in love. In watching his film Open City, she witnessed true artistry.
She later said, "That wonderful human feeling came across the screen that was hard to find". And so, enraptured by Rossellini, she wrote him a letter that changed everything.
Bergman reached out to Rossellini at the peak of her career and her letter ended with a clear declaration: "I am ready to come and make a film with you". Italy was a faraway land, but her family had no reason to suspect that this film would be any different. They were so, so wrong. After leaving the country, Ingrid Bergman wouldn't return to Hollywood, or her family, for years.
When Bergman arrived in Italy in 1949, her life changed forever. Roberto Rossellini's process was so different than that of Hollywood directors. With him, all the rules went out the window. For her first film with him, Stromboli, the leading man wasn't even a trained actor; he was originally just part of the crew. However, that was just the tip of the iceberg.
When it came to Bergman herself, Rossellini didn't care about her "good side" or what shot made her look the most resplendent—he chose whatever angle he desired. So much about working in Italy was a challenge for Bergman, but that was exactly why she loved it so much. Rossellini was an absolute light, so vibrant and free, and before she knew it, Bergman had fallen in love.
Now, Bergman was no stranger to affairs, but her love for Roberto Rossellini was a whole different story. Still married to Lindström, Bergman went ahead and had a child with her Italian director. This was a game-changer, and not in a good way. When the press caught wind of the illegitimate child, they had a field day. Just like that, Bergman and Rossellini quickly became the Hollywood scandal.
Bergman's unabashed infidelity turned audiences against her; the public felt betrayed. You see, because of her chaste roles, like that of a pious nun and a saint, everyone believed that Ingrid Bergman was the ultimate "good girl". They confused her for her characters, making her unsaintly behavior all the more shocking. Even her old lovers felt like their world had turned upside down. And that wasn't all.
Forget the public, the entire nation came to despise Bergman. Heck, even politicians became involved, with Senator Edwin C. Johnson stating, "Under the law, no alien guilty of turpitude can set foot on American soil again". He even called her "a powerful influence for evil". It was the perfect opportunity for prejudice to rear its head.
Because Bergman was a foreigner—and an immoral foreigner at that—her bad behavior only fueled America's disdain for immigrants. She, however, was more than ready to cut her strings loose.
It's safe to say that Bergman's daughter Pia, endured the brunt of her mother's absence. With an ocean between them, Pia could only read about her mother in the paper. And when Bergman finally secured a divorce from Lindström, she threw herself into putting down fresh roots and cultivating a home life that did not include her firstborn.
The desertion was real, and to add insult to injury, it became clear that Bergman absolutely adored her new life.
Bergman devoted herself to Rossellini and her growing brood. First came a boy named Renato, followed by twin girls in 1952—Isabella and Isotta Ingrid. Bergman continued with her busy acting schedule until one desperate situation called for her to make a sacrifice. Little Isabella suffered from scoliosis and required a very serious operation.
The recovery proved long and arduous, and so, for her daughter's sake, Bergman needed to step up to the plate.
Although never known for her doting motherhood, Bergman gave up acting for two full years in order to care for Isabella, whose spinal surgery required her to be in a cast for up to a year and a half. Meanwhile, Bergman's initial zeal for Rossellini's avant-garde filmmaking began to waver. Used to the celebrity of Hollywood, Bergman began to feel discouraged by the poor reviews.
When Rossellini came up with a plan to tour Europe with the play, Joan of Arc at the Stake, Bergman felt ready for a comeback—but her hopes never came to fruition. Like many of Rossellini's avant-garde pursuits, the play wasn't a money-maker. Before long, crack began to form in their marriage. And to make matters worse, Rossellini wasn't always Prince Charming.
You see, when it came to Bergman, Rossellini was extremely possessive. Up until 1956, he'd kept the actress under lock and key—only he could direct her. Finally, however, he gave her an inch of freedom and allowed her to travel to France where she starred in Paris Does Strange Things. However, Bergman's faltering success and dominating persona weren't the only red flags.
For Bergman, her marriage to Rossellini truly fell apart after he dealt her a heartbreaking betrayal: He cheated on her with the screenwriter Sonali Das Gupta. After that, there was no way to salvage their relationship. But that wasn't the worst part. Rossellini didn't waste any time. Before the year was up, he'd already eloped with his new girlfriend.
However, for Bergman, this wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
Around the same time that her marriage began to falter, Bergman got a very important second chance. She'd been gone from Hollywood for a whopping seven years, but executive producer Buddy Adler envisioned her for the lead role in the Twentieth Century Fox film, Anastasia. It was the kind of role she'd become famous for—good and pious—and she managed to capture the hearts of the American people once again.
It was the most sensational comeback imaginable, and because of Anastasia, she even snagged her second Academy Award. For Bergman, this marked a new beginning.
In 1958, Bergman's agent introduced her to her next great love, Lars Schmidt. Schmidt was gloriously wealthy, his family flourishing in the shipping business, while he himself was a theatrical entrepreneur. When he met Bergman, they hit it off immediately, and in December of that year, they tied the knot. Unfortunately, there were rough waters ahead.
Once again, Bergman's children became a matter of concern, and they ended up staying with their father in Italy. Bergman, on the other hand, jetted off to France to live with her new husband. Separated from her children, she managed to sustain her longest marriage yet. She and Schmidt stayed together for almost two decades before infidelity eventually destroyed them.
By that time, however, Bergman had an even greater battle to fight.
In 1974, Bergman made a horrifying discovery: A lump in her left bosom. Doctors advised her to seek treatment immediately, but the stubborn actress had other plans. Never one for self-pity, the actress continued working through her cancer diagnosis. She endured a couple of operations and suffered through trying rounds of chemotherapy. However, the outlook was unimaginably bleak.
By 1981, cancer had ravaged Bergman's body; it had reached her spine, causing her twelfth vertebra to collapse. But the horror didn't end there. It was also in her lungs, and now, only one of them barely functioned. The end was undeniably near. On August 29, 1982, Ingrid Bergman passed at the age of 67, with her ex-husband, Lars Schmidt, by her side.
However, even in death, Bergman managed to spark a scandal.
Five years after her death, news of one of Bergman's secret affairs came to light. In an interview with People, Gregory Peck made a shocking confession: On the set of 1945's Spellbound, he and Bergman had enjoyed a fleeting moment of pure passion: "All I can say is that I had a real love for her (Bergman), and I think that's where I ought to stop...I was young. She was young. We were involved for weeks in close and intense work".
Oh, but Peck wasn't the only one to creep out of the woodwork.
In her autobiography, Bergman spoke of all her ex-husbands with utter respect and even remained close friends with Rossellini and Schmidt to the day she died. However, there was one man with an ax to grind—one who still held a grudge for the wife who abandoned him: Bergman's first husband, Petter Lindström. He wanted the world to know the "real" Bergman and didn't care if it threw a shadow across her legacy.
In the biography As Time Goes By, The Life of Ingrid Bergman by Laurence Leamer, Lindström went on the record and revealed some of the unfeeling things his wife had uttered. Allegedly, she'd said, "I’m only interested in two kinds of people, those who can entertain me, and those who can advance my career". But this barely scratched the surface.
Lindström didn't hold anything back and helped the biographer paint a very unappealing portrait of Ingrid Bergman. Through his eyes, she became the most selfish human imaginable. And then, to add insult to injury, there were her vices. According to the biography, she drank and smoked and slept around with all scores of men. And it didn't end there.
Bergman's ex-husband certainly got his petty revenge, even if the actress never lived to feel his wrath. He condemned her for abandoning her children and for always prioritizing her career over her family. But in the end, was his vitriol really necessary? After all, Bergman's own children seemed to forgive their mother on all counts.
Finally, no tell-all could erase the fact that Ingrid Bergman was a formidable acting talent—one of the all-time greats.
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