Icons / July 2017

Ingrid Bergman: Swede Disposition

Even in her twilight years, Ingrid Bergman did what she had always done: repelled the Hollywood forces that would judge her, reduce her, control her.

Ingrid Bergman in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, 1946. Photo by RKO/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.

When the 24-year-old Swede Ingrid Bergman arrived in Hollywood in 1939, there were plenty in the biz who were fairly clear on what they wanted to do to her. What they were going to do with her was a different proposition.

At almost 1.8m tall and radiating a Scandinavian imperiousness, Bergman was possessed of a fine-boned beauty that was equal parts flint and Swedish symmetry. She makes modern glamour girls look like a Burbank soccer mom who’s on to her third marriage and fourth nose. But it was the
matter between her Botticelli-sculpted ears that made Bergman stand out. Where other starlets submitted to the studios’ decreeing everything from their dates to their medication, Bergman responded with a strident “nej”.

She’d boarded the plane to California, and as far as she was concerned Hollywood could come to her from that point. She bent the celluloid titans to her will with a blend of moxie, smarts and, when she chose, the kind of wholesome beauty that could provoke an erection in a cassock.

The independence that bulwarked her characters and personal life was forged under arduous circumstances. Her mother died when she was two and her father was around for only a decade longer. By the time she was a teen, the elderly uncle who had taken care of her knew better than to stand in the way of her momentum towards stardom.

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David Smiedt