“If you took acting away from me, I’d stop breathing.”
My mother accompanied me on a working trip to Los Angeles some years ago. She came to the screening of Isabella Rossellini’s new film and remarked how much “the girl” looked like Ingrid Bergman, her favourite actress. I told her the girl was indeed Bergman’s daughter Isabella Rossellini.
When I interviewed Rossellini the next morning, I told her the story and she came out to find my mother. When she did she embraced her and said “I am the daughter. Are you the mother?”
It was a big moment for my mother. Her admiration of Bergman was a fact of life and source of great pleasure. Whenever her films were broadcast we watched them together on television. There weren’t any art houses where we lived offering retrospectives.
Bergman enjoyed a successful acting career in Sweden but left for Hollywood in 1939 on David O Selznick’s invitation. He’d seen her in the Swedish film Intermezzo and wanted to remake it with her. Selznick was no doubt hoping to repeat the success of another Swede transplant, Greta Garbo.
Like Garbo, Bergman maintained her standards of beauty that set her apart from actresses of the time. She refused to be compromised by the star factory so her high cheekbones, radiant skin and robust figure did what they did naturally, not what was imposed upon them.
Her European outlook gave her a special niche of exoticism, diversity and classicism. Professionally, Bergman welcomed all kinds of roles spanning the social and moral spectrum. A running theme was a woman in desperate circumstances, fearing for her life.