Leonard Nimoy Nearly Missed His Chance To Act Opposite Ingrid Bergman

Alan Gibson's 1982 TV miniseries, "A Woman Called Golda," isn't widely discussed in the pop culture firmament, but when it first aired, it felt like an event. A biography of Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 until 1974, "A Woman Called Golda" boasted an all-star, award-winning cast that boggles the mind. Meir herself was played by Ingrid Bergman in what would prove to be her final screen role. She was joined by the likes of Ned Beatty, who played an American senator, Robert Loggia who played Anwar Sadat, and Nigel Hawthorne, who played King Abdullah I of Jordan. Judy David played the young Meir. From 1917 to his death in 1951, Meir was married to a man named Morris Meyerson, and Meyerson was played by Leonard Nimoy, acting in scenes opposite both Davis and Bergman.

"A Woman Called Golda" aired in two 2-hour parts, starting on April 26 on CBS. The project was overseen by Harve Bennett, one of the masterminds behind "Star Trek," as well Gene Corman, the late legendary producer for MGM and brother of Roger. These days, if one is inclined to mail-order DVDs, one can find "A Woman Called Golda" without too many issues. The miniseries currently doesn't appear to be available on streaming. 

In an extended video interview with the Television Academy, Nimoy was asked about "A Woman Called Golda" and how he felt working with the legendary Ingrid Bergman. Nimoy revealed that he initially didn't want to play the role of Meyerson, and needed convincing by Bennett to take on the part. 

Leonard Nimoy's Emmys

Leonard Nimoy, it should be remembered, had already received three Emmy nominations for his role as Spock on "Star Trek," had already written the screenplay "Vincent," and published a memoir and five books of poetry. In 1982, he also began playing Spock in a few "Star Trek" feature films and appeared in a remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," performances that earned him Saturn Award nominations. By 1982, he had proven himself to be an artist of some range, and was seemingly confident in what he felt he could and couldn't do as an actor. Ultimately, Nimoy received another Emmy nomination for "Golda," but not after some hesitation. He said: 

"I was nominated for an Emmy. I turned the part down several times, I didn't think I could do it. It was a character, again, that I didn't feel comfortable with until I was talked into doing it by Harve Bennet, who had been a producer on some of the things that I'd done previously, and I'm grateful to him for talking me into it, and grateful I had the chance to do it. I was nominated for an Emmy, much to my surprise. She won the Emmy, the best performance by an actress in a television movie, Ingrid Bergman did."

In Bergman's own 1981 autobiography, "Ingrid Bergman, My Story," the actress recalls some of her health issues, including finding a lump in her breast as early as 1974 during the production of Ingmar Bergman's (no relation) "Autumn Sonata." Her cancer progressed for years, and she knew her prognosis when she signed on to play Golda Meir. 

Receiving the news

Leonard Nimoy recalled that Ingrid Bergman struggled with her illness, which required costume adjustments in order to hide certain symptoms:

"It was sad to know each day that she was, that she had cancer and didn't have a lot of time left. It particularly affected one arm, which was quite swollen, she got that covered with wardrobe, including a ruffle, a ruffled cuff at the end of the sleeve to hide the swelling. And I was told that she was sleeping each night with her arm elevated in a sling to help drain some of the fluid that was swelling her arm." 

Nimoy talked to Bergman a few additional times before her passing. A few months after wrapping on "Golda," Nimoy was in London where Bergman was living, and decided to give her a call just to say hello. Their conversation was largely about her health, the medicine she had to take, and her plans for the night. Nimoy said: 

"I called and we talked briefly on the phone. And she said, 'I've stopped.' She was medicated for the cancer, she said 'I've stopped taking the medication, it just makes me feel sick and I don't want to take it anymore.' So she was kind of taking her fate into her own hands at that point, which I understood. She said, 'I want to enjoy myself as much as possible, I'm on my way out to the theater, thanks for calling, nice talking to you goodbye.'"

A few months after that, Bergman passed away. She was cremated, and some of her ashes were scattered at sea near Fjällbacka in her native Sweden. The rest of her ashes were interred next to her parents in a Swedish cemetery. She was 67.