Ingrid Bergman Had To Test The Waters Before Trusting The Hollywood System

Whenever Hollywood looks to the rest of the world to find talented, beautiful women to star in their films, they inevitably end up falling into one of two categories: They are either able to completely assimilate into what Hollywood deems to be American culture, or they are branded as exotic temptresses. They even do this with American women as well, which is how Margarita Cansino, the child of Romani and Spanish parents, becomes the pale, redheaded bombshell Rita Hayworth. A few women were able to buck this trend, like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, but they had the ability to transition out from the silent era of filmmaking where their natural accents weren't an issue. Audiences had already grown to love them by the time talkies came around. If you were coming over from Europe in the sound era, you had to nail the mid-Atlantic accent that was in fashion at the time or be the foreign object of fascination.

Ingrid Bergman, who of course would become one of the faces of the Golden Age of Hollywood, was not interested in doing either of those things, and they nearly put her off from ever coming to Hollywood. Of course, the opportunity to star in a major Hollywood film would be interesting, but she wanted to make sure that she didn't have to compromise herself to do so. Bergman was Swedish, born in Stockholm, and she was not going to hide that fact. So, in 1939, she gave Hollywood a test run to see if it was worth her while.

Reprising a role

Ingrid Bergman starred in about 10 films before Hollywood came knocking. One of them was called "Intermezzo," a Swedish romance between a married violinist (Gösta Ekman) and a piano instructor (Bergman). David O. Selznick, as Hollywood likes to do, wanted to remake "Intermezzo" for an American audience, and he hoped to bring Bergman along to reprise her role as Anita Hoffman for the picture. Naturally, he would have wanted to put her under contract, but Bergman was not prepared to uproot her life for Hollywood. She agreed to do the "Intermezzo" remake, opposite Leslie Howard, but that was all. Speaking with L.A. Times drama critic Cecil Smith for National Educational Television, Bergman spoke of her hesitation with working in the Hollywood system:

"I only signed up for one picture because I – I didn't want to have the fate that so many European actresses had. They were good actresses, and stars in their own right in their country, and then they were engaged by Hollywood. They came over here. They changed their looks – their hair, their eyes, their teeth, and everything ... and then send them back to their own countries. So I said, 'No. I'm coming there and for one picture, and I'm going back to my own country.'"

She was true to her word, and her next picture was back in Sweden, a film called "June Night." However, she then quickly pivoted to go work in the States right after that. So, did she become seduced by the power, money, and glamor of Hollywood? No. The reason for her move was quite practical: World War II.

The war changes everything

Sweden may have technically been neutral during World War II, but that doesn't mean the war just passed them by. It still affected its citizens' safety and opportunities. Countless actors from Europe made their way to Hollywood as a means of escape, and Ingrid Bergman also found herself heading to the United States and signing a contract with David O. Selznick. As Selznick worked as an independent studio, Bergman was loaned out to the various studios if the role was right. First, she reunited with the director of the "Intermezzo" remake, Gregory Ratoff, for the picture "Adam Had Four Sons." She had only ever been in one Hollywood film before and already was receiving above-the-title billing.

Her next couple of films, "Rage in Heaven" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," weren't anything to write home about, though the Spencer Tracy-led adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic made decent money. However, she then was loaned out to Warner Bros. for a film that featured an immense amount of actors who also made their way to Hollywood because of the war. This is a picture you may have heard of called "Casablanca." You don't need me to tell you that movie is kind of a big deal. But for Bergman, specifically, it allowed her to play a woman who was clearly from Europe but was not some mysterious foreigner. Ilsa Lund is a full-fledged human being with all the trappings a traditional leading lady would have. That took her from a charming international performer to Hollywood star. She rudely wasn't Oscar-nominated for "Casablanca," but she garnered Best Actress nominations four of the next six years, including a win for 1944's "Gaslight." Ingrid Bergman conquered Hollywood without downplaying who she was or where she came from.

Hollywood turns its back on her

By the end of the 1940s, World War II had come to an end. European cinema was blossoming, telling rich, emotional stories of post-war life. Nowhere did you find this more than in the neorealist movement in Italy, and one of its major figureheads was director Roberto Rossellini, who beautifully captured the harsh aftermath of WWII in masterpieces like "Rome, Open City" and "Paisan." Ingrid Bergman was a big fan of Rossellini's films and wanted to work with him. So she headed back over to Italy and made "Stromboli," released in 1950.

Infamously, Bergman and Rossellini began an affair during the making of "Stromboli" and had a child. This scandal was so extreme that she could not get acting work back in the States for years. So many fear their accent or their look will make the public reject them as an actor, but it was just silly, destructive American puritanism that did this. Bergman remained in Europe, working with her now-husband Roberto and a few other European filmmakers. Ironically, this was the thing she always saw herself doing with her career, but it ended up being forced upon her. She didn't make another Hollywood production until her relationship with Rossellini was basically over, when she appeared in 1956's "Anastasia," which won Bergman her second Academy Award.

Once she was able to get back into Hollywood's good graces, Ingrid Bergman had the ability to basically go and do what she pleased. It could be in Hollywood, Europe, or the theatre. If the part was worth her time, that's what she would go do, and that mentality lasted into her later years, as well. Bergman saw the highs and lows of the entertainment industry and always delivered excellent work, no matter where she made it.