The Dark Side of Ingrid Bergman


It was 1948 and the stunning 32-year-old Swedish actress had a virtuous, almost prudish reputation; she had played a nun opposite Bing Crosby in The Bells of St. Mary’s and had just starred as the martyr saint Joan of Arc. Within the year she would scandalize Americans by leaving her husband and bearing a child—out of wedlock—by Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Banned by Hollywood, denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Ingrid Bergman would not visit America again until 1957. By then the morality of the times was changing and her career would recover. At the time of her death in 1982 she was a beloved figure.

Now, in a startling biography, As Time Goes By (Harper & Row, $18.95), Californian Laurence Learner presents a view of Bergman that makes her actions finally understandable. Learner talked with Bergman’s deceived first husband, Dr. Petter Lindstrom, who had never before discussed his life with Ingrid publicly, and interviewed her children and other family members.

Learner describes Bergman as a determined, often selfish woman who had begun drinking heavily in her late 20s. During her marriage to Lindstrom she was involved in an affair with photographer Robert Capa and on occasion had several lovers at the same time. Lindstrom, a proud, puritanical man, believed his wife would reform.

At the time the following excerpt begins, the couple had a daughter, Pia, then 10. Bergman’s previous two films, Arch of Triumph and Joan of Arc, were flops. Nervous about her future, she was eager to change her professional image.

Encouraged by Irene Selznick, whose ex-husband David had brought Ingrid to Hollywood, the actress approached Rossellini. She had been struck by the drama of his two neorealistic movies, Open City and Paisan.

Bergman composed a brief note to Rossellini, apparently not realizing that it would be interpreted as a tantalizing come-on: “If you need a Swedish actress … who in Italian knows only ‘ti amo,’ I am ready to come and make a film with you.” She had learned the two Italian words for her role in Arch of Triumph.

When Rossellini read the letter, he cabled: “I just received with great emotion your letter, which happens to arrive on the anniversary of my birthday as the most precious gift. It is absolutely true that I dreamed to make a film with you….”

A meeting between Bergman and Rossellini was set for Sept. 26 in Paris.

Roberto Rossellini was known as a great lover. Yet no casting director, not even the most fervent believer in neorealism, would ever have chosen him for such a role. Here was this plump Italian of medium height (Bergman was about 5’9″) with tiny feet and hands, narrow mouth, beaked nose and thinning black hair, smelling of perfume and talc. Yet to some women, Rossellini, 42, was a man of almost infinite seductiveness, enveloping them in such attention, such romantic fantasy, such drama, that for a while they forgot everything.

He had so many women in his life that he was like a short-order cook with a dozen orders steaming away. There was Marcella de Marchis, his wife, the mother of his young son, Renzo; she was a compassionate, rather simple woman of good blood and infinite understanding. He had left her years before but they remained good friends. Then there was Marilyn Buferd, Miss America of 1946, whom he met on one of his jaunts to Paris and brought back to Amalfi, where he wrote her into The Machine That Kills the Wicked in 1948. But the most public of his mistresses was Anna Magnani, the tempestuous Italian star famous for Open City and later The Rose Tattoo.

Roberto, who had been Anna’s lover for several years, had learned that he must go to extraordinary lengths to avoid her jealousy. He was worried that Magnani, who was with him at the Albergo Luna Convento, a hotel in Amalfi, would learn about Ingrid and the fact that he intended to make a film with Bergman that he had originally planned for Anna. Expecting a telegram from Ingrid confirming their Paris meeting, he had given orders that foreign mail should be delivered to him discreetly. The head porter, considering Anna to be practically family, brought Ingrid’s telegram to their luncheon table.

With a languid, disinterested air, Rossellini stuffed the unopened telegram in his pocket. Anna continued mixing a plate of spaghetti.

“Is this all right—eh, Roberto?” she said as she swirled the spaghetti in the bowl. She could see the truth written on his face.

“Ah, yes, yes,” Roberto said.


Anna picked up the serving bowl and threw the spaghetti in Roberto’s face.

The Lindstroms and Rossellini met at the Hotel George V in Paris. Roberto kissed Ingrid’s hand. “We were introduced and Petter said something to me, and I didn’t hear him,” Ingrid remembered. “I was looking at those dark eyes of Roberto’s——He was very shy, and he didn’t look like a movie man—not the sort I was used to anyway.”

Roberto talked about the film he and Ingrid would make together. He didn’t care what language she spoke in the film, or what clothes she wore. None of that mattered, only the art they would create together. Ingrid listened to this story of love on the barren island of Stromboli, and it was as if he were presenting her with a great treasure, a golden work of art. No contract was signed that day, but it was agreed to go ahead once Rossellini sent Bergman a full outline of the story. Back in Rome, Roberto could not restrain himself from commenting about Lindstrom: “Swedish women are the easiest in the world to impress because they have such cold husbands.”

In November, Ingrid finally received a letter from Rossellini. “I am sure you will find many parts of the story quite rugged, and that your personality will be hurt and offended by some reactions of the personage,” Roberto said, as if Ingrid had lived her life in a nunnery. “…But I can’t deny in the deepness of my soul there is a secret envy for those who love passionately—They are guided only by a deep desire of possession of the body and soul of the woman they love.”

Roberto didn’t have a script or even a detailed story for Bergman to read. He didn’t work that way. He was offering a whole new level of danger. For years through her affairs, Ingrid had sought risk in her personal life. Now she was eager for a challenge in her professional life, and she wanted more than ever to make the film on Stromboli.

At the same time, she was taking an interest in her family unlike any she had ever shown. She decided to have a son—not simply a child, but a son, whom she would call Pelle—as if she and Petter had that much control over their destiny. She began to renovate their house, putting in a nursery and a maid’s room. Ingrid worked with the architect and, according to Petter, told him that these were the happiest days of their married life. Dr. Petter Veger, a refugee who was living in the guest house, noticed the dramatic change in Ingrid as well. “Ingrid was the matriarch of the home, and I am witness to the fact that she was building the nursery,” Veger says. “It cost her terrific money, and she wanted very much the baby.” But Ingrid did not become pregnant. “I was reluctant to have another child since our marriage seemed so shaky,” Petter Lindstrom says.

Nothing seemed to be working out right for Ingrid—not her plans for a new baby, and not her career. “She was obsessed by her failures,” Lindstrom remembers. “She kept saying, ‘I have to get out of Hollywood. I hate Hollywood.’ ” Meanwhile, Lindstrom worried about Ingrid’s heavy drinking and her depression.

The notion that she would soon be working with Rossellini took on great significance for Bergman at this time. Roberto, she felt, would bring to her a level of art, of reality, of meaning almost unknown in Hollywood. She would bring to him an audience as large as the world. It all seemed perfect. Not only did Roberto make art out of everyday life, he made life into art.

Rossellini was everything Lindstrom was not. He was romance. Daring. Adventure. Creative genius. Exotic. Ingrid thought that she and Roberto were kindred spirits. They were, but not only in the nobler aspects of their natures. Like Ingrid, Roberto was self-absorbed. He was a man of impulse and whim, who created a universe of people to serve him. He was a man incapable of a relationship in which he was less than the center.

Ingrid’s primary interest in Rossellini was still the furtherance of her career. Roberto thought about them together in quite another way. “I’m going to put the horns on Mr. Bergman,” he announced to his friends. He talked so often of cuckolding Dr. Lindstrom, and he bragged so to his male friends about his intentions toward this American star, that Ingrid Bergman, the person, seemed hardly more than an object to enhance his ego.

First, Roberto had to divest himself of Anna. One evening in January 1949, at the Hotel Excelsior in Rome, where he and Anna were staying, he told her that he was going to walk the dog. He left the animal with the concierge and then ran down the street, off for America.

In New York, Roberto accepted the New York Film Critics award for Paisan as Best Foreign Film of the Year. He cabled Ingrid in his broken English: I just arrive friendly. Ingrid replied: Waiting for you in the Wild West. The smell of an affair was already in the air. While Rossellini rode the train to Los Angeles, Walter Winchell, the gossip columnist, announced: “Ingrid Bergman’s one and only love is coming to Hollywood to see her!”

Rossellini would think of staying nowhere but the exclusive Beverly Hills Hotel. Soon after arriving, he visited the Lindstroms’ house in Benedict Canyon. Ingrid prepared for this momentous event by laying down a 30-foot runner of red carpeting. Soon Rossellini and Bergman were busy talking in her broken French or his bad English. Roberto told her all about his childhood and life in Rome. Although she later complained that Petter had been too old for her, Roberto was 10 months older than her husband.

Rossellini was the son of a wealthy architect and had been brought up in a great Roman house with nannies and tutors. Money was for spending and he had squandered his inheritance disdainfully, as if he thought it might dirty his hands. He had not bothered with a university education, but had gotten into film work for Mussolini and the Fascists.

As the days went by, Rossellini and Bergman approached Hollywood producers and moneymen about Stromboli. Sam Goldwyn, with whom they had discussed the project, later explained why he turned it down: “I can’t understand a guy who says, ‘I want to make up the scenes when I see the actors. I’m crazy about Ingrid.’ Everyone in town is offering her scripts. Why does she want to get into a story without a script? There’s got to be something else going on. They’re either having an affair or about to have one.”

Bergman remained mesmerized by Rossellini. Since he didn’t have enough money to remain at the Beverly Hills Hotel, she invited him to stay in their guest house. “Roberto was so warm and outgoing,” Ingrid said of those days. “When I was with him, I didn’t feel shy or awkward or lonely—perhaps for the first time in my life. Most of all, he was alive and he made me feel alive.”

At a dinner party at Goldwyn’s one night, Ingrid got up, walked over to Roberto, threw an arm around him and kissed him on the cheek. She meant her embrace to symbolize artistic camaraderie. The other guests read a more personal meaning into the gesture.

Bergman and Rossellini were the center of the evening. Petter stood to the side, confiding to Hedy Lamarr that “he went to these functions with his wife because he knew it was good for her career.” Lamarr recalled the evening: “As time wore on, Ingrid was standing with Roberto in a corner, twisting a button on his brocade vest and looking into his eyes with a tiny, inviting smile. She was beautiful and it was clear her charm was being appreciated. When I saw Ingrid and Roberto, hand in hand, stroll over to Petter, who was standing alone trying to look happy, I drew closer, to hear what would be said. A dramatic moment was definitely coming. Ingrid very coolly said to Petter, ‘Mr. Rossellini is going to take me home. May I have the key, please?’

“I could see Petter was terribly embarrassed yet reluctant to make a scene. Hesitantly he brought out his key chain, opened it and slid a key off. Without one word he handed it to her, and she didn’t say one word in return. Then Ingrid and Roberto walked out.”

Bergman took Rosseliini to Howard Hughes, and he agreed to finance their film for RKO, his new studio. Here she did not let her adulation of Roberto stand in the way of business. She would receive $175,000. She also would get 40 percent of the net profits, while Roberto would receive a salary and 20 percent of the net profits. As an American star making a film in Italy, Ingrid would also receive a subsidy from the Italian government worth at least $50,000. Rarely has idealism paid so well. For her adventure into the world of Italian neorealism, Ingrid would earn the most she had ever earned for a picture. If the film was a major success, she would have wealth far beyond anything she had known.

When it came time for Rosseliini to depart for Italy, he wanted to buy a gift for his son, Renzo. In a toy store he bought cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and an Indian headdress. Then Roberto spied an enormous stuffed cow wearing an apron. It cost $75. He bought it with money borrowed from Petter and took it home to a delighted Pia.

On Feb. 27,1949, the evening before he left, he and Lindstrom sat down for a talk. Roberto, according to Petter, said he would take care of Ingrid in Italy, protecting her from gossip. He would introduce Ingrid to Anna. He also promised that they would take separate boats to Stromboli.

Yet as the start of filming approached, Ingrid told Petter that Roberto had promised to take her to Capri and to the Sicilian city of Messina before beginning the film. Petter did not like the idea of his wife traveling around Italy with Rosseliini and he told her so.

Bergman was unperturbed and on Mar. 9, 1949 she said goodbye to the household help and to Pia as she had said goodbye so many times before. At the Los Angeles airport, she saw Petter standing there, “so lonely and silent,” she later wrote Rosseliini. For the first time Ingrid felt “sentimental.” Petter had always been there for her through all her affairs. He was her past, her country, her language. He was the soil from which she had sprung. If she abandoned Petter, she would abandon her history and her memories.

As Bergman’s plane touched down in Rome, searchlights played on it. All the other passengers filed out. Rosseliini entered the cabin with an enormous bouquet of long-stemmed roses. Ingrid kissed him and whispered: “Je t’aime.” Then, in her fur coat and holding the flowers in her arms, she stepped out into the cool Roman air. Spread out below was a great crowd welcoming her, as if, she said later, “it was a queen arriving.” Roberto finally managed to push Ingrid into his red Cisitalia sports car and accelerated into the night.

Although it was nearly 3 o’clock in the morning, his friends were waiting to greet Ingrid in a suite Roberto had taken at the Hotel Excelsior. There was champagne and little gifts and what Ingrid considered Roberto’s wondrous, magical presence. He had planned this moment, even to the extent of making sure that Anna Magnani would be out of the country, unable to stage one of her operatic scenes. Anna still loved Roberto, and she understood him as well as she loved him. From London she called her friend Suso Cecchi d’Amico, a prominent screenwriter.

“Did Ingrid arrive?” Anna asked.


“Did Roberto go to the airport?”


“At the airport, which road did they take?”

D’Amicos thought a moment. Two roads led to Rome. The new modern highway, a direct swath cut through the countryside. That was the road everyone took. Then there was the Via Appia Antica, the ancient route, tree-lined, meandering, romantic, a road that had been there since early times. This was the road on which Roberto had often driven Anna, mesmerizing her with his tales of ancient Rome.

“I think the old road.”

Anna hung up.

Though Roberto had promised Petter that he would not allow even a scent of scandal, he seemed positively chummy with the paparazzi. The photographers took pictures of Roberto and Ingrid holding hands, and sent them to their newspapers.

Bergman was absorbed in Roberto and Roberto’s Rome. He had told her about his family’s summer home’ at Ladispoli, north of the city on the coast. In broad strokes he had sketched an image of an idyllic retreat, something out of Chekhov, and Bergman insisted on driving out to see it. Film director Vittorio De Sica and another friend, Sergio Amidei, joined them.

Whatever the town had been before the war, it was now little more than a wart on the land. But as Ingrid and Roberto walked hand in hand through the cluttered, dirty streets, the actress was in ecstasy. All she saw were the Rossellini had created for her, not the squalor beneath her feet. De Sica returned to Rome to tell his friends, “Ingrid’s completely crazy. It’s a slum and she was enchanted.” De Sica coined a new term to describe Ingrid: “la grande ignora.”

At Amalfi, 70 miles south of Naples, the pair stayed, as Anna and Roberto had before, at the Albergo Luna Convento. It was here, less than two weeks after her arrival in Rome, that Ingrid sat down to write a letter to Lindstrom, asking for a divorce. What she had to say was poignant and deeply felt. Significantly it did not include even a single word about her daughter, although later in her autobiography Ingrid would add Pia’s name.

‘Petter lilla [little]—

“It will be very difficult for you to read this letter and it is difficult for me to write it. But I believe it is the only way. I would like to explain everything from the beginning, but you already know enough. And I would like to ask forgiveness, but that seems ridiculous.

“It is not altogether my fault, and how can you forgive that I want to stay with Roberto?

“It was not my intention to fall in love and go to Italy forever. After all our plans and dreams, you know that is true. But how can I help it or change it? You saw in Hollywood how my enthusiasm for Roberto grew and how much alike we are, with the same desire for the same kind of work and the same understanding of life.

“I thought maybe I could conquer the feeling I had for him when I saw him in his own milieu, so different from mine. But it turned out just the opposite. The people, the life, the country is not strange. It is what I always wanted.”

Bergman and Rossellini then continued on their way down the coast of Italy, heading for Stromboli, where the film was to be shot. On the beach at Salerno, he told Ingrid he would find her leading man. Twenty minutes later he returned to tell her that he had found two men, and one of them, Mario Vitale, a handsome 21-year-old fisherman, became the romantic lead for pay of $75 a week.

In the town of Catanzaro in southern Italy, the main street was lined with well-wishers, waiting to see Hollywood’s golden queen. Ingrid and Roberto had the finest room in the hotel, but even the finest room did not have a private toilet. When Ingrid had to go to the bathroom, the local dignitaries stood in the hallway. She was applauded on her way into the bathroom, and on her way out, though her audience allowed her to perform her ablutions in silence. For their bed at the hotel, the mayor donated his silk wedding sheets, asking that they kindly sign the sheets in the morning. He would keep them like a relic of the church.

Stromboli lay off the north coast of Sicily. With its 3,000-foot-high volcanic cone rising practically out of the ocean, the island was a spectacular setting for a love affair. For the first week or so, that was Roberto’s main concern, even if it was on RKO’s time and money. Roberto was an expert diver and spearfisherman. The waters around the island are rich with fish, and he dove repeatedly into the sea, surfacing with a fish to deposit at Ingrid’s feet.

Bergman and Rossellini lived in the schoolmaster’s home, the best house on the island. The island had no running water. For Ingrid a bathroom was specially built onto the house. It included a makeshift shower, consisting of an old oil drum on the roof that the maid filled with water heated on the stove. There was a little courtyard as well, where Ingrid and Roberto could at least not be overheard.

“I have seen her sit on a low wall outside the house—the Love House as it came to be called—for hours on end without saying a word,” said Michael Wilson, the public relations man assigned by RKO to the film. “She just nods her head, while Rossellini talks.”

Bergman had a grandiose conception of her life as an actress with Rossellini. Finally she would begin exploring roles with all the depth and subtlety of a Magnani. But Roberto had cast Stromboli with the islanders not simply because they looked authentic, but because he didn’t want “actors.” In fact he was disdainful of them and their narcissistic craft. He treated actors as puppets, creatures who mouthed whatever words he told them. On Stromboli, Rossellini even tied string to their big toes, which he pulled when he wanted an “actor” to speak.

Meanwhile, Ingrid was trying to act with subtlety in a part she didn’t understand, in a plot that hardly existed. In the evenings, when if she was lucky she had some lines to memorize, Ellen Neuwald worked as a dialogue coach for other cast members. “The actors could hardly speak Italian, only their dialect,” Neuwald said. “At night I had to hammer the Italian words into them. Rossellini said, ‘Don’t you dare tell them what the words mean. Just drill the lines into them. I’ll supply the meaning.’ ”

Ingrid pretended that all was well with Roberto. But after several days of shooting she exploded. “You can have these realistic pictures!” she screamed. “To hell with them! These people don’t even know what dialogue is, they don’t know where to stand; they don’t even care what they’re doing. I can’t bear to work another day with you.”

However, the filming continued. Ingrid was often distraught. Her broken marriage had become public knowledge thanks to Rossellini. In Amalfi she had apparently been afraid to mail the letter to Lindstrom. Roberto had taken it from her and before mailing it displayed the letter to his friends like a Sicilian newlywed hanging out bloody wedding sheets. Thus the news found its way into Italian and American newspapers.

Lindstrom now was pursued and hounded. Pia’s name appeared in the columns. He sent the child off to stay with Lydia Vernon, the wife of the family’s business manager. That summer she lived with friends on a Minnesota farm.

Lindstrom tried to act well. He wrote to Ingrid after receiving her letter. In his reply he did not attempt to woo her back (“A wife that does not want to stay with me is no good to me”). He focused on the morality of the situation. He could rarely bring himself even to write Rossellini’s name. He referred to him as “your Italian.” Lindstrom pointed out that Rossellini was married, living in a Catholic country. Ingrid would end up merely as his mistress.

He told Ingrid it was “about time you grew up.” Then he called up the litany of what he had done for her—all his sacrifices, all that he had done to protect her. If she wanted a divorce, he insisted that she not hide in Italy but return to America and get it there. Bergman cried when she read the letter.

Her glorious romance had lasted no more than three weeks. Rossellini and Lindstrom were both capable of emotional cunning. Petter was more than 6,000 miles away, and for a husband who felt that he had given his wife so much, his demands were deceptively small. He asked only that Ingrid stop behaving so scandalously and return to the U.S. to discuss a divorce.

Roberto didn’t trust Ingrid to go off to California to settle things with her husband. He swore to Bergman that if she left him he would blow out his brains with a revolver.

Ingrid told Petter she wouldn’t return to America. He asked her to fly to London or somewhere else in Europe. Roberto would not allow that. Eventually it was decided that the meeting would take place the first week of May in Messina. Lindstrom insisted that Roberto not be present.

When husband and wife finally met in Lindstrom’s hotel room on May 1 (a month and a half after Ingrid had left California for Italy), Petter locked the door. When Roberto learned that the pair were together, he called the police in a rage. They decided that the dreadful crime taking place in the Albergo Reale was that a man and his wife were together. When the police declined to intervene, Roberto decided to act on his own. He stationed three underlings at the entrances to the hotel, so that Lindstrom would not be able to spirit Ingrid away. Then he jumped into his sports car and began racing around the hotel.

Ingrid remembered the meeting as a long nightmare, Lindstrom talking for hours while outside she could hear Roberto’s sports car endlessly circling. Later in a court deposition, Ingrid talked of the “insults that were hurled at me by Dr. Lindstrom in the room where he had locked himself with me.”

“I didn’t insult her,” Lindstrom now says. “That was the end for me. She promised to see Pia in London if I waited a couple of weeks. She said she would cooperate in a final, simple divorce. We didn’t stay together all night either. She went out.” Lindstrom flew to London to wait for the shooting to end on Stromboli. He had been told it would be two weeks. Ingrid was supposed to join him then, and they would have another talk.

On Stromboli, Roberto was covetous of Ingrid’s every moment. He threatened to kill himself if she went to London. He didn’t care if the film was sacrificed. Though in the film she was supposed to be married to her co-star, Vitale, Roberto wouldn’t even allow her to kiss him. Their scenes together had as much excitement as the mating of insects.

Then, in late May or early June, Ingrid told Roberto that she was pregnant.

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