After Stardom and Scandal, Ingrid Bergman Tells 'My Story'
“Here’s looking at you, kid”—those immortal words Bogie rasped to Ingrid Bergman on-screen in 1942 will forever haunt her. “I get the creeps when I hear Casablanca,” Bergman sighs. “No one talks about Gaslight, Anastasia, Notorious or The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. ” Nor is the stately, Swedish-born actress, who is now 65, ever likely to live down her off-screen drama with the late Italian director Roberto Rossellini. In 1949, when she was America’s No. 1 box office star, Bergman left her husband, Dr. Petter Lindstrom, and their daughter, Pia (now a TV newscaster in New York), for Rossellini. Soon after starring in his film Stromboli, Ingrid bore him an out-of-wedlock son, Roberto. America was horrified. Bergman was denounced on the Senate floor in 1950 as a “powerful influence for evil.” Years later, after Bergman and Rossellini had properly married, become parents of twins Ingrid and Isabella, and finally divorced, public opinion softened. Today Ingrid is once again beloved in America. Audiences acclaimed her on Broadway in The Constant Wife in 1975 and in the movies Murder on the Orient Express and Autumn Sonata. Her current tour de force is literary: Ingrid Bergman, My Story (Delacorte, $14.95), a best-seller co-authored with BBC producer Alan Burgess. To promote her autobiography, Bergman recently visited the U.S. (She lives alone in London, having divorced her third husband, Swedish producer Lars Schmidt, in 1975.) In New York, the actress talked with Andrea Chambers of PEOPLE.
What made you decide to write your book?
My son, Roberto. He said, “Mother, I wish you’d put it down. Do you realize that when you are dead, many people will throw themselves on your life story, taking information from gossip columns, rumors and interviews? Your children can never defend you because we don’t know the truth.”
Did you enjoy the writing process?
Well, I didn’t want to write just about my career. I wanted something more of the woman behind the career. But then I started to wonder: “Why should I tell? It’s none of their business.” And then I said: “Yes, people want to know.” Going over some of those things in the past was difficult, but fun too. The only thing that embarrasses me about the book is that it’s too long.
In retrospect, how do you feel about your decision to leave Dr. Lindstrom?
We did something to upset other people. It’s not what you call good behavior to have a child with another man who is not your husband.
Would you do it over again?
Yes, but I would try not to hurt my oldest daughter, Pia, so much. I would have had her with me more.
Stromboli and the other films you made with Rossellini were not well received. Do you feel Roberto hurt your career, and vice versa?
He was a magnificient director who did documentaries better than anyone else. Then he was stuck with me. I was an actress and I was used to entertaining. He tried to do pictures that would suit me. We couldn’t make it together.
Did this lead to your marriage breakup?
Yes, it was difficult to make one film after another, none with any success. But our temperaments were different. Swedes and Italians don’t mix.
Near the end he found another woman. Were you jealous?
No, I’m not made that way. I’m like Hemingway. I say, “Thank you for the good years.”
After three marriages and three divorces, are you unlucky in love?
No! I’d rather have three husbands than one. I should have married more.
Which was the strongest marriage?
My third, to Lars. We were both Swedish, so much alike. We loved the theater. We’re made of the same material. But we were apart most of the time and eventually divorced.
What was your weakest marriage?
Why should I tell you?
Would you marry again?
No. I’m 65. I’m too old.
As an actress, you always put career before family. Did you ever feel guilty?
Yes, but not guilty enough to stop working.
Which of your children is most like you?
Oh, that’s very difficult. Roberto—Robin, we call him—is the most Swedish, strangely enough. He’s on time. He’s very frank. He keeps that Swedish distance. Pia and I have the same way of laughing and moving. Ingrid and Isabella are very Italian, especially Isabella. She has enormous courage. She’ll do any job. Now she’s acting, but just for the hell of it.
What is your son Roberto’s relationship with Princess Caroline?
That’s not my department. You ask her. Ah, poor Caroline. I feel sorry for her. I know what it’s like to be hunted by photographers wherever you go.
Did you always want to be an actress?
Yes, though my father wanted me to be an opera singer. My mother died when I was 3. All my love went toward my father. I was 13 when he died and I didn’t see how I could go on living. Well, I did. We all do.
You married Petter Lindstrom when you were 21 and he was 30. Being an “older man,” was he perhaps a father figure?
Yes, I’m sure. Of course, I loved him very much too.
After David O. Selznick brought you from Sweden to the U.S. in 1939 to make Intermezzo, you were an instant success. In Hollywood, did you have a favorite leading man?
No. How can you compare Gary Cooper with Spencer Tracy, Spencer Tracy with Bing Crosby, Bing Crosby with Yul Brynner?
How has Hollywood changed?
In my time, those studio walls were like a prison. I kept arguing with all those producers to shoot on location. I said: “Let’s go to Casablanca. Think of all the new faces.” But nobody wanted to leave his swimming pool.
Who in Hollywood would you have liked to know better?
Greta Garbo. We’re so different. She never talks. I talk all the time. We only had one brief meeting, at a big luncheon party in Barbados. I almost regret I wrote about her in the book. I should have respected her privacy.
What actresses do you admire today?
Meryl Streep. I don’t go to the movies much, but I saw her in Kramer vs. Kramer. Actors? I like Dustin Hoffman.
In your era, you were something of a free spirit. What do you think about the current standard of morality?
I think it’s good young people can live together without going through a lot of papers and complications. But if there are children, I think it’s nice for them if the parents are married. In another generation, they won’t care.
A priest once suggested to you when you were pregnant with Roberto that you have an abortion. You threw him out. Are you against abortion?
No. I can well understand how a woman who cannot take care of a child, who cannot face the world alone would be tempted to do that. The Pope condemns abortion, not me.
In your book, you write frankly of having a mastectomy in 1974 and another in 1979. Why did you decide to reveal this?
There were all those rumors. Everyone had written that I was dying.
Does an experience like the surgery give you a different perspective on life and death?
We all don’t want to die, but I don’t fear it. I have a friend who is 95. She said she’s as little afraid of death as she was of birth. I think it’s a good answer.
Do you have any advice for other women with breast cancer?
Try to get used to it. There are a lot of other things in life more important. Try to hold onto those things. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Something worse can happen. I was lucky I had iron health until this and never missed a performance.
As an actress, you’ve always had to be very concerned with your physical appearance. Was your illness especially traumatic for this reason?
Oh, I’m fed up with all this. I…
[At this point, Ingrid Bergman tensed with emotion and left the room with eyes brimming. She returned in a few minutes and concluded the interview.]
You once said acting was the best medicine. Do you have any plans?
My age is not right for a leading lady. The parts I am offered are usually small and uninteresting. I’ve played so many revivals—four—and I think that number five should be a new play. But I haven’t found it. All the theaters in London are anxious for me to come back, for some strange reason. I happen to fill the theater.