At her insistence, producer David O. Selznick agreed not to sign her to a contract—for four films rather than the then-standard seven-year period, also at her insistence—until after Intermezzo had been released. Selznick's financial problems meant that Bergman was often loaned to other studios. Apart from Casablanca, her performances from this period include Victor Fleming's remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight (1944), and The Bells of St. Mary's (1945). Her last films for Selznick were Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) and Notorious (1946). Her final film for Hitchcock was Under Capricorn (1949).
Bergman was born on 29 August 1915 in Stockholm, to a Swedish father, Justus Samuel Bergman (2 May 1871 – 29 July 1929), and his German wife, Friedel Henrietta Augusta Louise (née Adler) Bergman (12 September 1884 – 19 January 1918), who was born in Kiel. Her parents married in Hamburg in 1907. She was named after Princess Ingrid of Sweden. She mainly grew up in Sweden, but spent the summers in Germany, and spoke fluent German.
When she was two years old, her mother died. Her father, who was an artist and photographer, died when she was 13. In the years before he died, he wanted her to become an opera star, and had her take voice lessons for three years. But she always "knew from the beginning that she wanted to be an actress," sometimes wearing her mother's clothes and staging plays in her father's empty studio. Her father documented all her birthdays with a borrowed camera.
After his death, she was sent to live with an aunt, who died of heart disease only six months later. She then moved in with her Aunt Hulda and Uncle Otto, who had five children. Another aunt she visited, Elsa Adler, whom Ingrid called "Mutti", reportedly told a family legend to the 11 year old, according to Charlotte Chandler's biography of Ingrid Bergman, that her mother may have had "some Jewish blood." One of Bergman's biographers, Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm, however, believes the claim was likely an embellishment. After doing an in-depth genealogical investigation, Bergman's maternal cousin found no Jewish ancestry on Bergman's mother's side. Furthermore, an investigation of Bergman's ancestry in 1938 when she signed a contract with the German company Universum Film found only non-Jewish ancestors.
Later, she received a scholarship to the state-sponsored Royal Dramatic Theatre School, where Greta Garbo had some years earlier earned a similar scholarship. After several months she was given a part in a new play, Ett Brott (A Crime), written by Sigfrid Siwertz. Chandler notes that this was "totally against procedure" at the school, where girls were expected to complete three years of study before getting such acting roles.
During her first summer break, she was also hired by a Swedish film studio, which led to her leaving the Royal Dramatic Theatre after just one year, to work in films full-time. Her first film role after leaving the Royal Dramatic Theatre was a small part in Munkbrogreven (1935), although she reportedly had previously been an extra in the 1932 film Landskamp). She went on to act in a dozen films in Sweden, including En kvinnas ansikte, which was later remade as A Woman's Face with Joan Crawford, and one film in Germany, Die vier Gesellen (The Four Companions) (1938).
Bergman's first acting role in the United States came when Hollywood producer David O. Selznick brought her to America to star in Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939), an English language remake of her earlier Swedish film Intermezzo (1936). Unable to speak English and uncertain about her acceptance by the American audience, she expected to complete this one film and return home to Sweden.
Her husband, Dr Petter Lindström, remained in Sweden with their daughter Pia (born 1938). In Intermezzo, she played the role of a young piano accompanist opposite Leslie Howard as a famous violin virtuoso. She arrived in Los Angeles on 6 May 1939, and stayed at the Selznick home until she could find another residence. According to Selznick's son, Danny, who was a child at the time, his father had a few concerns about Ingrid: "She didn't speak English, she was too tall, her name sounded too German, and her eyebrows were too thick."
Bergman was soon accepted without having to modify her looks or name, despite some early suggestions by Selznick. "He let her have her way," notes a story in Life magazine. Selznick understood her fear of Hollywood make-up artists, who might turn her into someone she wouldn't recognize, and "instructed them to lay off". He was also aware that her natural good looks would compete successfully with Hollywood's "synthetic razzle-dazzle". During the following weeks, while Intermezzo was being filmed, Selznick was also filming Gone with the Wind. In a letter to William Hebert, his publicity director, Selznick described a few of his early impressions of Bergman:
Miss Bergman is the most completely conscientious actress with whom I have ever worked, in that she thinks of absolutely nothing but her work before and during the time she is doing a picture ... She practically never leaves the studio, and even suggested that her dressing room be equipped so that she could live here during the picture. She never for a minute suggests quitting at six o'clock or anything of the kind ... Because of having four stars acting in Gone with the Wind, our star dressing-room suites were all occupied and we had to assign her a smaller suite. She went into ecstasies over it and said she had never had such a suite in her life ... All of this is completely unaffected and completely unique and I should think would make a grand angle of approach to her publicity ... so that her natural sweetness and consideration and conscientiousness become something of a legend ... and is completely in keeping with the fresh and pure personality and appearance which caused me to sign her.
Intermezzo became an enormous success and as a result Bergman became a star. The film's director, Gregory Ratoff, said "She is sensational," as an actress. This was the "sentiment of the entire set," writes Life, adding that workmen would go out of their way to do things for her, and the cast and crew "admired the quick, alert concentration she gave to direction and to her lines." Film historian David Thomson notes that this would become "the start of an astonishing impact on Hollywood and America" where her lack of makeup contributed to an "air of nobility." According to Life, the impression that she left on Hollywood, after she returned to Sweden, was of a tall (5 ft. 9 in.) girl "with light brown hair and blue eyes who was painfully shy but friendly, with a warm, straight, quick smile." Selznick appreciated her uniqueness, and with his wife Irene, they remained important friends throughout her career.
After the onset of World War II, Bergman "felt guilty because she had so misjudged the situation in Germany" while she was there filming Die vier Gesellen (The Four Companions). According to one of her biographers, Charlotte Chandler (2007), she had at first considered the Nazis only a "temporary aberration, 'too foolish to be taken seriously.' She believed Germany would not start a war." Bergman felt that "The good people there would not permit it." Chandler adds, "Ingrid felt guilty all the rest of her life because when she was in Germany at the end of the war, she had been afraid to go with the others to witness the atrocities of the Nazi extermination camps."
After completing one last film in Sweden and appearing in three moderately successful films (Adam Had Four Sons, Rage in Heaven and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, all 1941) in the United States, Bergman co-starred with Humphrey Bogart in the classic film Casablanca (1942), which remains her best-known role. In this film, she played the role of Ilsa, the beautiful Norwegian wife of Victor Laszlo, played by Paul Henreid, an "anti-Nazi underground hero" who is in Casablanca, a haven from the Nazis. Bergman did not consider Casablanca to be one of her favorite performances. "I made so many films which were more important, but the only one people ever want to talk about is that one with Bogart." In later years, she stated, "I feel about Casablanca that it has a life of its own. There is something mystical about it. It seems to have filled a need, a need that was there before the film, a need that the film filled."
After Casablanca, with "Selznick's steady boosting," she played the part of Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), which was also her first color film. For the role she received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. The film was taken from Ernest Hemingway's novel of the same title. When the book was sold to Paramount Pictures, Hemingway stated that "Miss Bergman, and no one else should play the part." His opinion came from seeing her in her first American role, Intermezzo, although he hadn't yet met her. A few weeks later, they did meet, and after studying her he said, "You are Maria!"
The following year, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Gaslight (1944), a film in which George Cukor directed her as a "wife driven close to madness" by co-star Charles Boyer. The film, according to Thomson, "was the peak of her Hollywood glory." Bergman next played a nun in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) opposite Bing Crosby, for which she received her third consecutive nomination for Best Actress.
Bergman starred in the Alfred Hitchcock films Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), and Under Capricorn (1949). She was a student of the acting coach Michael Chekhov during the 1940s. Chekhov acted with Bergman in Spellbound and received his only Academy Award nomination for his performance.
Bergman received another Best Actress nomination for Joan of Arc (1948), an independent film based on the Maxwell Anderson play Joan of Lorraine, produced by Walter Wanger, and initially released through RKO. Bergman had championed the role since her arrival in Hollywood, which was one of the reasons she had played it on the Broadway stage in Anderson's play. The film was not a big hit with the public, partly because of the scandal of Bergman's affair with Italian film director Roberto Rossellini, which broke while the film was still in theatres. Even worse, it received disastrous reviews, and although nominated for several Academy Awards, did not receive a Best Picture nomination. It was subsequently cut by 45 minutes, but restored to full length in 1998 and released in 2004 on DVD.
Between motion pictures, Bergman had appeared in the stage plays Liliom, Anna Christie, and Joan of Lorraine. During a press conference in Washington, D.C. for the promotion of Joan of Lorraine, she protested against racial segregation after seeing it first hand at the theater she was acting in. This led to a lot of publicity and some hate mail. Bergman went to Alaska during World War II to entertain US Army troops. Soon after the war ended, she also went to Europe for the same purpose, where she was able to see the devastation caused by the war.
Bergman strongly admired two films by Italian director Roberto Rossellini that she had seen in the United States. In 1949, Bergman wrote to Rossellini, expressing this admiration and suggesting that she make a film with him. This led to her being cast in his film Stromboli (1950). During production, Bergman fell in love with Rossellini, and they began an affair. Bergman became pregnant with their son, Renato Roberto Ranaldo Giusto Giuseppe ("Robin") Rossellini (born 2 February 1950).
This affair caused a huge scandal in the United States, where it led to Bergman being denounced on the floor of the United States Senate. Ed Sullivan chose not to have her on his show, despite a poll indicating that the public wanted her to appear. However, Steve Allen, whose show was equally popular, did have her as a guest, later explaining "the danger of trying to judge artistic activity through the prism of one's personal life." Spoto notes that Bergman had, by virtue of her roles and screen persona, placed herself "above all that." She had played a nun in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) and a virgin saint in Joan of Arc (1948). Bergman later said, "People saw me in Joan of Arc and declared me a saint. I'm not. I'm just a woman, another human being."
As a result of the scandal, Bergman returned to Italy, leaving her husband and daughter (Pia). She went through a publicized divorce and custody battle for their daughter. Bergman and Rossellini were married on 24 May 1950. In addition to Renato, they had twin daughters (born 18 June 1952): Isabella Rossellini, who became an actress and model, and Isotta Ingrid Rossellini, who became a professor of Italian literature.
Rossellini completed five films starring Bergman between 1949 and 1955: Stromboli, Europa '51, Viaggio in Italia, Giovanna d'Arco al rogo, and La Paura (Fear).
Rossellini directed her in a brief segment of his 1953 documentary film, Siamo donne (We, the Women), which was devoted to film actresses. His biographer Peter Bondanella notes that problems with communication during their marriage may have inspired his films' central themes of "solitude, grace and spirituality in a world without moral values."
Rossellini's use of a Hollywood star in his typically "neorealist" films, in which he normally used non-professional actors, did provoke some negative reactions in certain circles. In Bergman's first film with Rossellini, her character was "defying audience expectations" in that the director preferred to work without a script, forcing Bergman to act "inspired by reality while she worked, a style which Bondanella calls 'a new cinema of psychological introspection'". Bergman was aware of Rossellini's directing style before filming, as the director had earlier written to her explaining that he worked from "a few basic ideas, developing them little by little" as a film progressed.
After separating from Rossellini, Bergman starred in Jean Renoir's Elena and Her Men (Elena et les Hommes, 1956), a romantic comedy in which she played a Polish princess caught up in political intrigue. Although the film was not a success, her performance in it has since come to be regarded as one of her best.
With her starring role in 1956's Anastasia (1956), Bergman made a triumphant return to working for a Hollywood studio (albeit in a film produced in Europe) and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for a second time. Its director, Anatole Litvak, described her as "one of the greatest actresses in the world." He also offered his description of her at the time:
Ingrid looks better now than she ever did. She's 42, but she looks divine. She is a simple, straightforward human being. Through all her troubles she held to the conviction that she had been true to herself and it made her quite a person. She is happy in her new marriage, her three children by Rossellini are beautiful, and she adores them.
Bergman made her first post-scandal public appearance in Hollywood in the 1958 Academy Awards, when she was the presenter of the Academy Award for Best Picture. She was given a standing ovation after being introduced by Cary Grant as she walked out onto the stage to present the award. She continued to alternate between performances in American and European films for the rest of her career and also made occasional appearances in television dramas such as The Turn of the Screw (1959) for the Ford Startime TV series—for which she won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress.
During this time, she performed in several stage plays. She married producer Lars Schmidt, a fellow Swede, on 21 December 1958. This marriage ended in divorce in 1975. Schmidt died on 18 October 2009. After a long hiatus, Bergman made the film Cactus Flower (1969), with Walter Matthau and Goldie Hawn.
In 1972, U.S. Senator Charles H. Percy entered an apology into the Congressional Record for the attack made on Bergman 22 years earlier by Edwin C. Johnson.
Bergman was the President of the Jury at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.
Bergman became one of the few actresses ever to receive three Oscars when she won her third (and first in the category of Best Supporting Actress) for her performance in Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Director Sidney Lumet offered Bergman the important part of Princess Dragomiroff, with which he felt she could win an Oscar. She insisted on playing the much smaller role of Greta Ohlsson, the old Swedish missionary. Lumet discussed Bergman's role:
"She had chosen a very small part, and I couldn't persuade her to change her mind. She was sweetly stubborn. But stubborn she was... Since her part was so small, I decided to film her one big scene, where she talks for almost five minutes, straight, all in one long take. A lot of actresses would have hesitated over that. She loved the idea and made the most of it. She ran the gamut of emotions. I've never seen anything like it."
Bergman could speak Swedish (her native language), German (her second language, learned from her German mother and in school), English (learned when brought over to the United States), Italian (learned while living in Italy) and French (her third language, learned in school). She acted in each of these languages at various times. Fellow actor John Gielgud, who had acted with her in Murder on the Orient Express and who had directed her in the play The Constant Wife, playfully commented: "She speaks five languages and can't act in any of them." (This is from a Dorothy Parker quote which became a snowclone, "That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can't say 'No' in any of them.")
Although known chiefly as a film star, Bergman strongly admired the great English stage actors and their craft. She had the opportunity to appear in London's West End, working with such stage stars as Michael Redgrave in A Month in the Country (1965), Sir John Gielgud in The Constant Wife (1973) and Wendy Hiller in Waters of the Moon (1977–78).
In 1978, Bergman played in Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten) for which she received her 7th Academy Award nomination. This was her final performance on the big screen. In the film, Bergman plays a celebrity pianist who travels to Norway to visit her neglected daughter, played by Liv Ullmann. The film was shot in Norway.
In 1979, Bergman hosted the AFI's Life Achievement Award Ceremony for Alfred Hitchcock.
She was offered the starring role in a television mini-series, A Woman Called Golda (1982), about the late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir. It was to be her final acting role and she was honored posthumously with a second Emmy Award for Best Actress. Her daughter, Isabella, described Bergman's surprise at being offered the part and the producer trying to explain to her, "People believe you and trust you, and this is what I want, because Golda Meir had the trust of the people." Isabella adds, "Now that was interesting to Mother." She was also persuaded that Golda was a "grand-scale person," one that people would assume was much taller than she actually was. Chandler notes that the role "also had a special significance for her, as during World War II, Ingrid felt guilty because she had so misjudged the situation in Germany."
According to Chandler, "Ingrid's rapidly deteriorating health was a more serious problem. Insurance for Bergman was impossible. Not only did she have cancer, but it was spreading, and if anyone had known how bad it was, no one would have gone on with the project." After viewing the series on TV, Isabella commented,
She never showed herself like that in life. In life, Mum showed courage. She was always a little vulnerable, courageous, but vulnerable. Mother had a sort of presence, like Golda, I was surprised to see it ... When I saw her performance, I saw a mother that I'd never seen before—this woman with balls.
Bergman was frequently ill during the filming although she rarely complained or showed it. Four months after the filming was completed, she died, on her 67th birthday. After her death, her daughter Pia accepted her Emmy.
In 1937, at the age of 21, Bergman married dentist Petter Aron Lindström (later to become a neurosurgeon); the couple had a daughter, Friedel Pia Lindström (born 20 September 1938). After returning to the United States in 1940, she acted on Broadway before continuing to do films in Hollywood. The following year, her husband arrived from Sweden with daughter Pia. Lindström stayed in Rochester, New York, where he studied medicine and surgery at the University of Rochester. Bergman would travel to New York and stay at their small rented stucco house between films, her visits lasting from a few days to four months.
According to an article in Life magazine, the "doctor regards himself as the undisputed head of the family, an idea that Ingrid accepts cheerfully." He insisted she draw the line between her film and personal life, as he has a "professional dislike for being associated with the tinseled glamor of Hollywood." Lindström later moved to San Francisco, California, where he completed his internship at a private hospital, and they continued to spend time together when she could travel between filming.
Bergman returned to Europe after the scandalous publicity surrounding her affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini during the filming of Stromboli in 1950. In the same month the film was released, she gave birth to a boy, Roberto Ingmar Rossellini (born 2 February 1950). A week after her son was born, she divorced Lindström and married Rossellini in Mexico. On 18 June 1952 she gave birth to the twin daughters Isotta Ingrid Rossellini and Isabella Rossellini. In 1957 Rossellini had an affair with Sonali Das Gupta. Soon after, Bergman and Rossellini separated. Rossellini later married Sonali Das Gupta in 1957. Ingrid would marry Lars Schmidt in 1958, a theatrical entrepreneur from a wealthy Swedish shipping family. Curiously, while vacationing with Lars in Monte Gordo beach (Algarve region, Portugal) in 1963, right after recording the TV movie "Hedda Gabler", Ingrid got ticketed for wearing a bikini that showed too much according to the modesty standards of conservative Portugal. After almost two decades of marriage, Ingrid and Lars divorced in 1975.
During her marriage with Lindström, Bergman had a brief affair with Spellbound costar Gregory Peck. Unlike the affair with Rossellini, that with Peck was kept private until he confessed it to Brad Darrach of People in an interview five years after Bergman's death. Peck said, “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.”
Bergman died on 29 August 1982 at 12:00 AM, her 67th birthday in London, of breast cancer. Her body was cremated at Kensal Green Cemetery, London, and her ashes taken to Sweden. Most of them were scattered in the sea around the islet of Dannholmen off the fishing village of Fjällbacka in Bohuslän, on the west coast of Sweden, where she spent most of the summers from 1958 until her death in 1982. The rest were placed next to her parents' ashes in Norra Begravningsplatsen (Northern Cemetery), Stockholm, Sweden.
According to biographer Donald Spoto, she was "arguably the most international star in the history of entertainment." After her American film debut in the film Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939), co-starring Leslie Howard, Hollywood saw her as a unique actress who was completely natural in style and without need of makeup. Film critic James Agee wrote that she "not only bears a startling resemblance to an imaginable human being; she really knows how to act, in a blend of poetic grace with quiet realism."
According to film historian David Thomson, she "always strove to be a 'true' woman", and many filmgoers identified with her:
There was a time in the early and mid-1940s when Bergman commanded a kind of love in America that has been hardly ever matched. In turn, it was the strength of that affection that animated the "scandal" when she behaved like an impetuous and ambitious actress instead of a saint.
Writing about her first years in Hollywood, Life magazine stated that "All Bergman vehicles are blessed," and "they all go speedily and happily, with no temperament from the leading lady." She was "completely pleased" with her early career's management by David O. Selznick, who always found excellent dramatic roles for her to play, and equally satisfied with her salary, once saying, "I am an actress and I am interested in acting, not in making money." Life adds that "she has greater versatility than any actress on the American screen ... her roles have demanded an adaptability and sensitiveness of characterization to which few actresses could rise."
She continued her acting career while suffering from cancer for eight years, and won international honors for her final roles. "Her spirit triumphed with remarkable grace and courage," adds Spoto. Director George Cukor once summed up her contributions to the film media when he said to her, "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."
For her contributions to the motion picture industry, Bergman has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6759 Hollywood Blvd.
Woody Guthrie wrote the erotic song "Ingrid Bergman", which references Bergman's relationship with Roberto Rosselini on the film Stromboli. It was never recorded by Guthrie but, when later found in the Woody Guthrie archives, it was set to music, and recorded, by Billy Bragg on the album Mermaid Avenue.
In March 2015, a picture of Bergman photographed by David Seymour was chosen for the main poster for the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. A documentary titled Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words was also screened at the festival.
In 1980, Bergman's autobiography was published under the title Ingrid Bergman: My Story. It was written with the help of Alan Burgess, and in it she discusses her childhood, her early career, her life during her time in Hollywood, the Rossellini scandal, and subsequent events. The book was written after her children warned her that she would only be known through rumors and interviews if she did not tell her own story. It was through this autobiography that her affair with Robert Capa became known.
Bergman won three Academy Awards for acting, two for Best Actress and one for Best Supporting Actress. She ranks tied for second place in terms of Oscars won, with Walter Brennan (all three for Best Supporting Actor), Jack Nicholson (two for Best Actor and one for Best Supporting Actor), Meryl Streep (two for Best Actress and one for Best Supporting Actress), and Daniel Day-Lewis (all three for Best Actor). Katharine Hepburn still holds the record with four (all for Best Actress).