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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On the Subject of Ingrid Bergman

If you've been reading my blog for a while yet, it's probably no news to you when I say that I love plenty of actresses. I'm always discovering new favorites, altering my list, and forever trying to emulate these ladies because there's a part of me that aspires to be a little bit like each of them. My favorite, far and away (thus this should give you a idea of how much she means to me), is, obviously, Lucille Ball. But after that it's hard for me to rank them in a chronological order. It's like trying to pick between your children, okay?

However, if I really had to pick a second favorite, it would probably be the lady I'm writing about today: Ingrid Bergman.

Today would be her 97th birthday - and it is also the 30th anniversary of her death. It's exactly what it means; she died on her birthday. I think it would be pretty terrible to die on your own birthday (and, alas, there's only one day to celebrate Ingrid rather than two), but all the while, it seems quite neat and particular and special - so it's no wonder it happened to Ingrid. Isabella Rossellini thinks it was "just like Mama to die on her birthday" because she was "very orderly, and it was a tidy thing to do."

There are so many things I love about Ingrid, I wouldn't even know where to begin to tell you. I believe I have seen more movies of hers than any other actress (as so many of Lucy's B movies are hard to find). I'm in awe of her as an actress, and respect her as a human being. So here's a post to celebrate my second favorite star on the occasion of her birthday - and the anniversary of her death. It's cliche, and you saw it coming, but how can I not say it? Here's looking at you, kid.

Happy birthday, Ingrid
[ and rest in peace! ]

Inspirational - because I have learned quite a few things from Ingrid and the way she lived her life. For one, there is the passion for her occupation and how much she genuinely enjoyed her work. "If you took acting away from me, I'd stop breathing!" she once declared, and I'm pretty sure she would have. And for another, she lived honestly, always, with no regrets, and I'd like to be that way too.  

Natural - Ingrid Bergman was the most natural actress in Hollywood. When she first arrived in this country, David O. Selznick wanted to pluck her eyebrows, cap her teeth, and change her name ("how about Barrymore?" he suggested). But Ingrid, forever true to herself, would have none of it. Selznick had to think of a different way to market/typecast her, so she became the "natural goddess," wearing little to no makeup on screen and appearing most often in wholesome, saintly roles, so much so that the public saw the private Ingrid as one and the same. Thus, they were all the more shocked and scandalized when their St. Ingrid of Stockholm had a love affair with her Italian director in 1950. But she was natural - natural at acting, and natural in her beauty. 

Gorgeous - Well, I'm pretty sure this one needs little to no explanation. All you have to do is take one look at her and get the general idea. She was very nearly perfect looking, and I love how tall she was, making her less than conventional amongst the petite starlets of the day. Stories about how her famous male co stars, like Humphrey Bogart and Yul Brynner, having to stand on lifts when doing love scenes with her never fail to make me grin! 

Resilient - I have told this story on here before, but I think it is one that best demonstrates Ingrid's love and passion for her craft; and what resilience she had. By the time she was working on her final project, a biopic of the life of Golda Meir - this would win her a posthumous Emmy - she was deep into the stages of her cancer, and her arm had swollen up to the point where Ingrid had dubbed it her "big, overgrown, ugly, sick dog." Meir used to often make the gesture of crossing her face with her two arms, and this was televised and seen around the world, but Ingrid could not physically lift up her right arm. Though she had been assured she did not need to do it, Ingrid knew the part would not be complete without it, so the nights before she had to film she would have to suspend that arm in the air so the fluid would go down and she would be able to do the simple task of raising her arm. She would do this all night long, and she wouldn't sleep, but she would do it, and she did. That's how devoted and resilient she was.

Interesting - Or, rather, for lack of a better adjective starting with I, her life was interesting! I've read her life story multiple times and it's never a dull moment. She had a great personality, one that seemed warm and kind, and she seemed like she'd be fun to be around. Especially those stories about her in the 1940s, when she was a young star in Hollywood, and she enjoyed pulling pranks. Her husband often thought this was childish of her, but of course, that didn't stop her. I love the story about her and her Gaslight costar Joseph Cotten going to a Hollywood party, except they dressed up as the maid and the butler. She did have an affair with Victor Fleming, and on Halloween one year, she swept into his house dressed up in a ugly witch's costume, throwing bags of candy into the laps of his daughters. AND, she died on her birthday! Tell me that isn't interesting or particularly special?!

Darling - Well, okay, before you laugh this was one of the better adjectives I could find starting with D! Besides, anyone who knows me a little will know that it's just one of my favorite words, okay? And Ingrid was just that. Darling. In absolutely all sorts and kinds of ways. So yes, I'm going to go with darling for this one, because she definitely was. I mean, have you seen those incredibly adorable closeups of her?

Brilliant - As in a brilliant career. Everyone makes stinkers, everyone must, and trust me, she did. (Of course her performances were always that: brilliant!). But she also made so many fabulous films in Hollywood; so many of my favorite films are Ingrid movies. Notorious. Gaslight. The Bells of St. Mary's. Spellbound. But, most appropriately, there is Casablanca - and I think because of this movie she will live in on film eternally. Patricia Clarkson once narrated a tribute for her for TCM, and in it she says, "After all, you never heard anyone say, who was that girl in Casablanca?"

Elegant - Of course, just because she was one of the more natural beauties in Hollywood doesn't mean that she couldn't be just as elegant or glamorous as the rest of them. How about the party scene in Notorious (1946)? She has on that long, black gown and the way she carries herself in it so regal. In reality, she was a pretty classy lady herself. She speaks with such grace and the perfect drop of candor in all her interviews. I've seen many from the late 60s or early 70s where she is asked if the film industry is getting better and better, but she begs to differ: "they were better in the old days." Her explanation for this is exactly how I feel about old films. One would wonder what Ingrid - who, for her time, was considered 'notorious' - would think of some movies today.

Romantic - Because, I think, Ingrid did romance better than anyone else in Old Hollywood. After all, when Humphrey Bogart was asked about Casablanca (1942), he easily credited his performance to Ingrid, saying "when the camera moves in on that Bergman face and she's saying she loves you, it would make anybody feel romantic." And, of course, the many romantic scenes in Notorious cannot be forgotten, most especially that famous kissing scene between her and her husband Cary Grant where they skirt the three second law on kisses. She played different characters but she was always best, perhaps, when playing a woman in love. 

Global - Ingrid did all kinds of foreign films. She started out her career in her native Sweden, also doing one German film, and when America sent her packing thanks to her affair with Roberto Rossellini, she did movies in his native Italy, as well as France. She played roles that travelled to all parts of the world and experienced a handful of different cultures, like the Chinese missionary in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) and the Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in The Woman Called Golda (1982). You can't help but grasp the feeling that Ingrid had a openness to experiencing many different ways and walks of life. And she definitely returned to her Swedish roots - one of her final film roles was Autumn Sonata (1978), completely in Swedish with Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann. 

Multilingual - This ties in with the latter, and it's honestly one of the things I admire most about her because I muddle through learning the alphabet in French. (This is also coming from the girl who took five years of Spanish in elementary school and wouldn't be able to say more than "Hola.") Guess how many languages Ingrid spoke? FIVE. Her native Swedish, English, French, Italian, and German. She learned German as a child from her aunt (and excelled in this class at school!), and picked up English, French, and Italian over the years. I can hardly imagine being fluent in FIVE different languages. How incredible is that?!

Actress - This one is obvious, and she was truly one of the best. The very best. When you watch her on screen, you can believe anything she does or says. When I watch her in any film, whether it's amazing or really terrible, I'm in awe of her brilliance, of how she can bring small things to a performance to make it believable, how she was a master at drama but could also be incredibly witty and funny. I love her as a human being, obviously, and as an actress just as much. I really have yet to find a performance of hers that I found so-so. Her work in Gaslight (1944)? Really and honestly one of the most worthy Oscars given. 

Notorious - Before you think that using this adjective as a way to end off a post filled with so much affection for her is meant to be negative, believe me, it's not! Nor is it meant to be a pun! I mean this in a positive way. Being notorious to a particular group of people is not always a bad thing. At the time people may look down their noses at you, but later on you'd realize that being notorious was something you had to do. I'm referring to her scandal with Roberto Rossellini in 1950, of course. The way people treated her at the time was incredibly terrible. Was it really nessescary to take to the floor of the U.S Senate to condemn her?! I think it was because Americans thought of her as such a saint, scrubbed with soap, that when she went out and did something as outrageous get pregnant by her Italian director, it drove them wild. It was as if she had turned on them. Thankfully, she was forgiven - and publicly apologized to - but it still must have been a hell of a time for her. Perhaps what she did was notorious, but rightfully so. She was not the public's slave, and she lived honestly. I suppose she could very easily have covered up the scandal (as Loretta Young had done a few years before when becoming pregnant with Clark Gable's love child), but she didn't. I guess you could say there was a little feminism showing in her in this action, too. It was her private life, and her body, and she did what she pleased.

“Do you know what I especially love about you, Ingrid, my dear? I can sum it up as your naturalness. The camera loves your beauty, your acting, and your individuality. A star must have individuality. It makes you a great star. A great star.”

- George Cukor 


Anonymous said...

wonderful sound track! I'm in heaven!

Marcela Costa :} said...

My eyes are so teary right now. Ingrid was a true gift to the world. "and, alas, there's only one day to celebrate Ingrid rather than two" -> There are 365 days every year to celebrate Ingrid! :)

LĂȘ said...

This idea was fantastic and a great way to honor her! I myself did an acrostic some time ago, but it was about Pythagoras :)
Anyway, I loved your piece! And I didn't know her arm story while playing Golda. Really moving.

Tiela Garnett said...

Love your site!

My name is Tiela Garnett. I'm the only daughter of director Tay Garnett ("The Postman Always Rings Twice," "Bataan," "Mrs. Parkington," "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," "Trade Winds," "China Seas," "One Way Passage," and countless others).

Please check out my Kickstarter project to publish a double-memoir - his and my own! I really think you'll appreciate it.

(I'm sorry, but you'll have to cut and paste - I don't know how to create an actual link!)

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