Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ingrid Bergman: An Intimate Portrait

1959, 1960 Popular Library edition
Joseph Henry Steele
Ingrid Bergman: An Intimate Portrait
Original price 50 cents, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback with split spine

Bergman's confidante Steele tells of her life of onscreen and off dramas, with almost a third of the book relating that tumultuous year 1949, when Bergman met, fell in love with, ran off with, got pregnant by, and made a movie with director Roberto Rossellini, although they were both married with children.  This was probably the biggest post-World-War-II Hollywood scandal.

Both Bergman's first husband, Dr. Lindström, and Rossellini come off as controlling jerks, although, true to ethnic stereotypes, Swedish Lindström sounds aloof and unemotional, while Italian Rossellini was more of a drama king.  In less than a decade, the Rossellini marriage was also falling apart, and since it was of dubious legality, it, too was dissolved.  Bergman married another Swede, Lars Schmidt, who sounds more even-tempered.  But according to Wikipedia, they divorced as well, in 1975.  Bergman died of cancer in 1982 at age 67.

She had long since made a comeback.  While at first she was threatened with having her films banned, she continued to work, mostly in flops by Rossellini, and then more successfully with others.  She won her second Oscar for Anastastia (1956), and was warmly welcomed when she was a presenter at the 1959 Oscars.

As for this book, it's pretty good, although it has two disadvantages, "intimate portrait" or not.  One, Steele couldn't be there for most of the important moments, and there were times (like when she was secretly pregnant) that Bergman actually lied to him.  This gives it a second-hand feel, and I wonder if her Ingrid Bergman: My Story (1980) might be a better book for being more direct.  The other flaw is that Steele's clear dislike of Bergman's first two husbands may overemphasize their jerkiness, and they might not have been quite as bad as they seem.  (Schmidt comes off better.)

I've seen two or three Bergman movies-- Casablanca, Gaslight (which earned her first Oscar), and I can't remember about Notorious-- and while Bergman was certainly a good actress (not amazing) and pretty (not beautiful), she seems to have been more likable offscreen.  With the quotes from her conversations and letters, her wit, bravery, and modesty shine through.  I'll try to read her autobiography someday, or at least see Murder on the Orient Express, for which she won her third Oscar.

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