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Curio: Getting Intimate With Ingrid

Alexa here with a curio in honor of Ingrid Bergman's centennial.  A few years ago, during a stop at Brooklyn thrift shop The Thing for some record shopping, I spied a paperback lying with a small pile of vintage books. There's nothing I love more than a pulpy celebrity biography, so I left the store without any LPs and with Ingrid Bergman: An Intimate Portrait in my bag instead.

It turned out to be perfect summer reading...

It turned out to be perfect summer reading.

 Published in 1959, it was written by Joseph Henry Steele, Bergman's personal publicist from 1945 to 1952 and the man charged with defending her public image after her affair with Roberto Rossellini became public.  Anyone looking for a rich discussion of her Hollywood films from the 40s will be disappointed; the book is primarily a defense of her personal life written by a close confidant. Steele certainly makes clear how she was drawn to Rossellini's work, especially after her box office failures in Arch of Triumph, Joan of Arc and Under Capricorn.  The book is indeed a bit of fluff, but fluff with some nice personal details.

A few excepts I particularly enjoyed...

On first meeting the star and her particular beauty...

My first impression was of her size, assuredly the biggest actress I had ever seen. As I was to learn, her aversion to high heels was not an affectation, but due rather to sensitivity about her height - almost five feet, nine inches, of sturdy, peasant structure. Few persons realized how large she was because most of her leading men - such as Gary Cooper and Gregory Peck - towered well over six feet. Small men, like Charles Boyer, had to stand on boxes when appearing with her in intimate scenes...

She was twenty-seven at the time. Even today she retains the vivid full glow of rugged health. Her eyebrows remain eneven and unplucked, and only in recent years has she added a light touch of rouge to her lips. Her sage-honey hair requires but three or four strokes of a brush and, behold, it is dressed. Hollywood make-up wizards tried to get at her eyebrows and the laughter creases around her mouth, but she said no, very grimly, and they threw up their hands in resignation. David Selznick once told me that soon after he met Ingrid Bergman, he put his finger to her lips to find out how much rouge she used. He found none. 


The star on her name...

When I was attending dramatic school I got the notion that Ingrid was not a good artist's name. I longed for a French-sounding name because I was so impressed by those I saw in French movies, especially those who were known by single names, such as Raimu and Fernandel. They seemed lusty, forceful, and with music in them.

There was a French actress known only as Anabella, and I thought I would like something similar. So I secretly chose Isabella because it sounded so much like Anabella. When I first came to Hollywood David Selznick wanted to change my name because he said it sounded too German. I said, "Why? It's my name, isn't it?" But what was in the back of my mind was that my contract was only for one picture - Intermezzo - and then I was to return to Sweden.  I refused to change my name for this one picture, thinking that if the picture failed I would be going back home having accomplished nothing but a change of name. I didn't want to be a phony with a new name in Sweden.


On surprising Alfred Hitchcock at home on Halloween...

On Halloween day, Ingrid tapped members of the staff to come for cocktails at five. Once they had gathered in the cottage living room there issued from the adjoining make-up room the apparition of an evil-eyed witch, black-robed, hook-nosed, green-skinned, and snaggle-toothed. A mattress of flying black hair behind her, she leaped into their midst with a shriek.

"Aaoow! You are all under my spell!"

This was the first witch with a slight Swedish accent most of them had ever seen. After cavorting for a few minutes and posing for pictures, she asked me to drive her to Alfred Hitchcock's, where the director was bedridden with a cold.

"But you mustn't let him see you, of he'll know who I am," she said.

"Then wait a little while until I go home and get an old wig I used to wear to masquerade parties."

We presented a rather startling sight as we drove toward swank Bel Air. At the busy intersection of Wilshire and Westwood Boulevards, several distracted motorists nearly tangled fenders. The traffic cop stepped over and took a look.

"Get along, you kids, before you cause an accident," he said. Ingrid bared her fangs and leered at him.

When we arrived, Mrs. Hitchcock answered the door and instinctively drew back. Quickly, before she could raise an alarm, Ingrid said, "Ssh, I want to surprise Hitch."

"Gracious, you did give me a fright," said Mrs. Hitchcock, leading us to the bedroom.

Hitchcock's eyes were closed in a half-sleep. Ingrid peered down and proceeded to emit eerie noises. The man whose business was frightening others slowly opened his eyes and calmly regarded the witch.

"Where did you find that get-up, Ingrid?" he said quietly.

"Oh, you," she said, "you're no fun at all. Couldn't you be scared for just a little bit?" 


On her opinion of an unnamed Hollywood actor's limitations...

In the course of our chat she told of a movie she had seen the day before. The leading man had had star ranking for many years, yet he somehow missed the electrical eminence symbolized by the Clark Gables, Gary Coopers and Cary Grants. "He's too nicey-nice," I said. "I can't stand him."

"That's right," said Ingrid. "That's exactly what's the matter with him. He had no secret vices."

"A very cogent observation. Did you make that up all by yourself?"

"Oh no," she laughed. "Somebody said that once, and I thought it was pretty good. People like that are like a canvas that an artist has painted white, with no other colors."



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Reader Comments (2)

What a great find! I love to peruse thrift store book selections, or second hand book stores though they are becoming harder to come by, and stumble across books like these. They make for a great quick read.

Ingrid comes across just as you would expect her to have been.

August 24, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Ooohh, good stuff. I love her strength and self-confidence. Not many stars could survive the scandal that rained down on her, but she pushed on and thrived. Even in a p.r.-driven piece like this, that comes through. Good find, Alexa.

August 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

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