Ingrid Bergman is my favorite actress, and it’s partly because Casablanca is my favorite movie. No female character was ever more radiant, beautiful, and alluring than Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund.
Ingrid Bergman died on her 67th birthday. Hers was a relatively short life, but surely it was more exciting and tumultuous than anything she could have possibly dreamed of growing up in Sweden- and she did imagine herself as a great actress. But, it wasn’t her acting career but rather the heartaches of her personal life that caused her so much tumult.
But, even her childhood was tragic. She was born in Sweden in 1915 to a Swedish father and a German mother. But her mother died when she was only 3, and Ingrid was sent to live with an aunt. But, that aunt died less than a year later, so Ingrid suffered again. Then, she went to live with her beloved father, but he died when she was 12. Then, she spent her teenage years living with another aunt and uncle, who had 5 children of their own. So, it was a harrowing childhood, for sure.
The book I read was called Ingrid by Charlotte Chandler, and it is one of the best known Bergman biographies. It was good, and it almost left me in tears at the end. But, I am also rather annoyed with the author. She never mentioned anything about Ingrid’s smoking, and she was a heavy smoker. Her most famous character Ilsa Lund never smoked- even though Casablanca is probably the most smoke-laden movie ever made, and there were other female characters in it who did smoke. And, it was Ingrid’s decision not to smoke on camera in Casablanca. She said it was because “Ilsa was a good girl.” I learned that from reading a book about the making of Casablanca, and to me, it is an interesting piece of trivia that a tenacious biographer would have included. Ingrid Bergman not only smoked, but she smoked the strongest cigarettes in the world: unfiltered Gauloises cigarettes from France. She also drank quite a lot of alcohol, and her drinking was an issue between her and her first husband, Petter Lindstrom.
However, one thing the book did cover very well was Ingrid Bergman’s eating habits. I am going to address that, but before I do, I want to point out that I am not trying to disparage Ingrid Bergman. I admire her greatly, not just for her radiant beauty and immense talent but for her courage in coping with all the trauma in her life. She played Joan of Arc, and you could say she was Joan of Arc. I am just trying to analyze why she died of cancer at 67.
Ingrid Bergman liked to eat. The book said that. As a child and as an adult, she had a healthy appetite. And, I don’t say that facetiously. It is healthy to have a good appetite. But Ingrid was tall (5’9”) and rather big-boned, and it was a constant struggle for her to maintain her ideal weight. One of the biggest problems in her first marriage was that her husband, Petter, was constantly riding her about what she ate. Nobody likes that. And unfortunately, she leaned towards fattening foods. The Swedish diet that she grew up on was heavy on cream, butter, meat, fish, and low on fruits and vegetables. She had a powerful sweet tooth, and she adored “butter cookies.” Can you imagine using so much butter that you name the cookie after it? When she came to America, she discovered American ice cream. She found it to be so much richer and creamier than the European frozen desserts, such as Italian gelato. The book said that, when in New York, she would sometimes consume 3 or 4 big ice creams desserts a day, such as ice cream sundaes, and she would visit different ice cream parlors to avoid embarrassment.
The sad thing is that there is nothing wrong with having a sweet tooth. I certainly have one. It just depends on how you satisfy it. Eating fruits is the best and most natural way to satisfy it, and it would have been so much better if she had eaten fruits, and even pigged out on them. It may not have been practical for her as a girl growing up in Sweden, but once she became a movie star, I dare say she could have indulged in all the fruits she wanted. And you can argue that fruits alone might not have done it for her by then, but if so, it was only because she got conditioned to ice cream and other more intense sweets. When it comes to food, conditioning is a powerful factor.
The most tumultuous time in her life had to be when she left her husband and daughter in America to join famed director Roberto Rossellini in Italy to make a movie. She had become enthralled with his "neorealism" approach to movies. It began innocently enough, but before long, she fell in love with Rossellini, conceived a child by him, and it became a major scandal. Can you imagine that a US Senator stood up before the entire Senate to condemn her? He even proposed legislation to formally condemn her. Condemnation came from all quarters. The Swedish Lutheran Church, of which Ingrid was a member, formally condemned her, and so did the Roman Catholic Church- even though she wasn’t Catholic. She received hate mail from all over the world, which, unfortunately, she read. What’s insane about it- besides the fact that it was none of their business- was that they didn’t even know the whole story. They didn’t know that her marriage to Petter was already on the rocks, and that she had already discussed divorce with him- for reasons that had nothing to do with Rossellini. She had been miserable in her marriage to Petter for a long time. It was a major reason why she worked so much- to get away from him. He was a tyrant. And the attacks on her motherhood were also unwarranted. She loved Pia. It is true that she went 6 years without seeing her, but that was only because Petter did everything he could to prevent it. He would not allow Pia to travel to Italy, and Ingrid could not come to America- for fear of her life. There were death threats, and there was even talk of arresting her. Eventually, Pia did reunite with her mother, and she also bonded with her Rossellini siblings. So, that aspect of the story did have a happy ending.
But, there wasn’t much happiness for Ingrid with Rossellini. He turned out to be just as bossy and controlling as her first husband. And he had one fault that her first husband completely lacked: unfaithfulness. The reason their marriage ended was because he went off to India to make a movie, and he returned with a young Indian woman whom he had impregnated. But of course, there were problems before that. From what I can tell, Rossellini was, frankly, a jerk.
My impression is that her first husband was loyal, reliable, and very mature and responsible, also very accomplished in his own field, which was Medicine, but he was also rather cold and unfeeling- or at least unable to express much feeling. Rossellini, on the other hand, had tons of feeling, but he was a perennial adolescent, totally spoiled, and recklessly irresponsible. So, Ingrid went from the frying pan to the fire to be with him. It must have been every bit as stressful as being with Petter and maybe more so. But as she said herself years later looking back, if she hadn’t gone with Rossellini, her three beloved children with him wouldn’t exist, and that was, indeed, the only way to look at it.
Her third and final marriage was to Swedish theater producer, Lars Schmidt. It was probably her most peaceable marital union, but there was still plenty of stress fighting with both her ex-husbands to get access to her children. And ultimately, Schmidt did the same thing that Rossellini did; he got a young woman pregnant, which led to their divorce. It’s amazing that the actress who, in her prime, was heralded as being the most beautiful in the world was cheated on by two husbands.
And she had other stresses. For instance, her daughter Isabella (the well-known actress and model Isabella Rossellini) developed a severe spinal scoliosis at age 13. She required multiple operations, braces, casts, etc., and it was an extremely laborious, protracted, and painful ordeal. Ingrid took two years off from acting to be by her daughter’s side.
In her early 60s, Ingrid discovered that she had breast cancer. There is no telling how long she had it because in the early stages it is completely asymptomatic. She discovered it while reading a magazine article about the importance of doing breast exams. So, she did one, and she found a rather large lump which proved to be cancerous. She underwent a complete, radical mastectomy, and then, for some reason, they had to go back in to remove more tissue. The removal of her lymph glands resulted in severe chronic swelling of her right arm, which was both painful and disfiguring. She always wore a shawl on that side to cover it.
But, she continued working after she got cancer, and she worked up until a few months before her death, her last project having been a television biopic about Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Ingrid died in 1982 in Stockholm, Sweden- the same place she was born. And, she died on August 29- which was the same day on which she was born. Imagine that there she was celebrating her birthday, receiving calls of appreciation from family and friends from all over the world, and then, she died.
But, why did she die so young, especially when she looked so vibrant, healthy, and all "peaches and cream" when she was young?
Well, we know that smoking has been tied to breast cancer, and it’s a fact that drinking alcohol is even more strongly tied to breast cancer. And the tie with alcohol is linear, meaning that there is no level of “moderate consumption” at which there is no increased risk. It starts with the very first drink. One of the largest studies of its kind found that even moderate alcohol consumption, as little as one drink per day, increased the risk of developing the most common kind of breast cancer. And the more a woman drank, the higher her risk. Those women taking 3 drinks a day had a whopping 51% higher risk of breast cancer than non-drinkers.
And regarding diet, studies have shown a significant correlation between dairy products and breast cancer. Ingrid ate plenty of dairy- not just her beloved ice cream, but cheese, yogurt, butter, etc. And, the anti-cancer compounds that we now know occur in plants, particularly fruits and vegetables, she did not eat enough of. Not a single vegetable was mentioned in the book as a favorite of hers, and the only fruit mentioned was banana- as part of a banana split!
What about all the stress in her life? Did it contribute to her getting cancer? It had to have worked against her. But, I suspect that the worst thing it did was push her to indulge more in her bad habits. If you smoke, you smoke more when you are under stress. If you drink, you drink more when you are under stress. It seems that people treat themselves the worst when they are under stress.
I want to finish by pointing out that Ingrid Bergman was an incredibly nice person. She was good to everybody. And that included not only her ex-husbands long after they were divorced, but also their children. For instance, she bought gifts for the Indian son of Roberto Rossellini. And she made it a habit to invite him to family gatherings and treat him like family. This young man, Gil Rossellini, thought the world of Ingrid Bergman. Also, in the last year of her life, she tried to make amends with her first husband, Petter Lindstrom. He was a leading American brain surgeon by then. He had a wife and four children- plus the daughter he had with Ingrid, Pia. Ingrid visited him and his family in San Diego and brought them all gifts. She knew that the end was near for her, and she wanted to find peace and equanimity with Petter before she died. Reportedly, he did not respond in kind, but she tried. And, consider how brilliant she was: she spoke 5 languages fluently: Swedish, German, English, French, and Italian. And, she was an accomplished musician. In her first big Hollywood production Intermezzo, she played the role of a concert pianist, and she did her own playing. The sound that you hear in the movie is that of a professional pianist, but the hands that you see performing authentically on the keyboard are those of Ingrid Bergman.
I will leave you with some quotes from Ingrid Bergman, who was a great star and an inspiring person.
“Happiness is good health, and a bad memory.”
"A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous."
"I've gone from saint to whore and back to saint again, all in one lifetime."