Ingrid Bergman Was Exiled from Hollywood for No Good Reason

Known for her natural poise and elegance, Ingrid Bergman was like no other. What set her apart from other Hollywood stars was how ordinary she was, yet how undeniably charming. Surprisingly, when she first arrived in Hollywood, she was deemed too tall, her name too weird, and her face “not quite right.” Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for America to fall in love with this Swedish force, who refused to undergo any changes to her appearance.

Ingrid Bergman / Lars Schmid and Ingrid Bergman / Ingrid Bergman.
Source: Getty Images

But when she followed her heart into a troublesome affair behind her husband’s back, America turned its back on her. She was publicly demonized, with a U.S. Senator denouncing her as a “powerful influence of evil.”

She held her head high through it all. Let’s take a look at this inspiring icon.

Daddy’s Little Girl

Born in Sweden in 1915, Ingrid was raised by her father, Justus, a photographer, who would regularly snap photos of her going about her day. Sitting on a chair, looking up at the sky, holding a newspaper, he knew how to capture Ingrid’s mundane moments and turn them into something glamorous. He would also tape moving footage of her. In a way, Ingrid was born into the spotlight. A spotlight her dad created for her.

Ingrid Bergman as a kid with her father artist Justus Bergman circa 1920.
Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images

But all that changed when she turned 13. Sadly, her dad died of stomach cancer. Having lost her mom at the age of two, Ingrid found herself entering her teenage years as a lost and puzzled orphan. All she had left were her dad’s photographs and moving pictures. That was the closest she could get to family life, through photos.

A Lonely Childhood

“I was a sad child,” Ingrid once said of herself, “very lonely.” She managed to cope with the solitude by inventing characters she could talk to. She also used to imagine herself as a completely different person. “Sometimes it doesn’t affect you if you can put on the character of somebody else,” she explained.

Portrait of Ingrid Bergman laying down looking up in a silk dress.
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Ingrid’s imagination was her true home. As long as she could tap into her little fantasies, she felt safe. By the time she was old enough to read, she began reciting full-on monologues to herself. She would walk around the room and act out dramatic poems, hand gestures and all.

Almost an Opera Singer

The first time Ingrid laid eyes on a stage was when her father took her to the opera. He was passionate about the genre and wished for his daughter to grow up to become one of the stars on stage. She began taking singing lessons, although she never felt quite comfortable doing it. But there was one element that did comfort her – the stage.

Ingrid Bergman with Italian composer Renzo Rossellini and the cast of the opera 'Cavalleria rusticana' right after a performance.
Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When she went to the theater for the first time, she thought to herself, “Yes, I don’t have to sing to be on a stage. I can just talk!” From the moment she glanced at the lively actors in front of her, playing out different characters in different costumes, she was sold. She knew acting was her vocation.

She Dropped Out of Acting School

She was 15 when she found work as an extra at a movie studio in Stockholm. Ingrid couldn’t believe she was actually being paid to have so much fun. Two years later, she was accepted into Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic School. But her time there was short-lived. Ingrid had better things to do.

Ingrid Bergman smiling for a photo
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Like working on an actual film instead of practicing in school. She was offered a speaking part in a movie, so she dropped out of school and took it, against the advice of all her teachers. Young and restless, Ingrid didn’t want to waste her time acting in drama school. She wanted to be out there living it.

Her First Love, Petter

Barely an adult, Ingrid tied the knot in 1937 with Petter Lindström, a Swedish doctor who was eight years older than her. He represented stability, knowledge, intelligence. Still very much a child, Ingrid was likely attracted to his confidence and the fact that she could rely on him for unconditional support.

Ingrid Bergman with her first husband, dentist Dr. Petter Lindstrom, holding together a flower bouquet at their wedding
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Shortly after, the couple gave birth to Pia, a beautiful, blonde baby girl. It’s unclear how much Ingrid really sentimentalized her daughter’s birth, because for her, being on set was still her “happy place.” Her vocation wasn’t to be a mom necessarily. It was to perform. She once admitted that when she wasn’t working, she felt like she wasn’t doing anything.

Her Move to America Was a Chance of a Lifetime

Ingrid went from a humble, Swedish actress to a megastar in America thanks to – her great acting, yes – but also thanks to Kay Brown, a Hollywood talent scout who spotted Ingrid in the Swedish film Intermezzo and brought the actress to the attention of American producer David O. Selznick.

Ingrid Bergman and David O. Selznick smiling at each other.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Image

David was eager to meet the young star and convinced her to come to America and take part in a remake of Intermezzo. Ingrid knew that the move to the U.S. would change her family’s life, yet she saw it as a chance of a lifetime, one she believed she had to take.

A Full Hollywood Makeover

Petter and Pia stayed in Sweden, as Petter was still training to become a brain surgeon. So, all alone at 24, Ingrid arrived in the U.S. with a tiny suitcase in hand. As excited as she was for what was to come, her enthusiasm was quickly dampened by Hollywood’s ridiculous demands.

Ingrid Bergman is posing beside a train.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

She was too tall, her name was too weird, and there was something off about her face. In other words, Hollywood producers wanted to change Ingrid. Hearing all that, the actress strongly refused. And refused. And refused. She refused so many times until they had no choice but to accept her name and looks.

A Swedish Milkmaid

Ingrid was presented to the American public as somewhat of a goody-two-shoes Swedish milkmaid. The parts she was given were always of the angelic wife waiting at home, doing the dishes, tending to family life. It’s like Hollywood didn’t know what to do with her.

Movie still from the movie
Photo by John Springer Collection/Corbis/Getty Images

They couldn’t turn her into a glamourous diva, so they were like, okay, let’s go with country girl. “I was just the simple girl, the refugee, and the good girl. I grew tired of being good,” Ingrid once stated. But as she grew in success, she found the courage to express herself more and more about which characters she truly wanted to play.

The Ideal of American Womanhood

Ingrid Bergman wasn’t interested in makeup, fake-up, or glossy add-ons. She wanted to appear as natural as she could on stage and for viewer’s focus to be on her acting, on her raw emotions and witty lines. At a time when everyone was pampered all the way to their pinky toe, Ingrid stood out and in the best way possible.

Ingrid Bergman is wearing a pink dress and big golden earrings portrayed as an ideal of elegance and sophistication.
Photo by Bettman/Getty Images

She represented purity and sincerity. Her wholesome look earned her a reputation as America’s “ideal woman.” Ironically, she was trying to escape the image of a perfect woman but ended up becoming precisely that, with or without the makeup.

Her Main Dilemma – Family Life or Career?

In America, Ingrid had to face the same dilemma over and over again – whether to dedicate herself to motherhood or pursue her career. Petter and Pia had ultimately followed in Ingrid’s footsteps by moving to the States, yet they still spent little time together.

Pia Lindstrom is adjusting her father's lapel at the Idlewild Airport.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Ingrid was constantly traveling and shooting in different places. There was always this constant battle between how much time she spent at home and how much time she spent on her art.

Ingrid once explained that for her, “making a movie [was] a vacation.” So, for the most part, her internal battle ended with art having the upper hand.

She Was Painfully Shy

Ingrid said time and again that she was naturally very shy, even painfully shy. A surprising trait when you consider her career of choice. Her daughter, Pia, explained how she was able to pull it off: “I remember I went on stage with her when the theater was empty, and I asked her how she could do what she did.”

Ingrid Bergman in period costume on set during the filming of 'Elena Et Les Hommes'.
Photo by Thurston Hopkins/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“And she told me, ‘Because I am someone else when I go on stage, I’m another person.’” According to Pia, her mom was self-conscious about so many things, but when there was no so-called “self” involved, she was able to let loose and unapologetically be whoever she wanted to be.

A Heartbreaking Flop

If there’s one character Ingrid identified with the most, it was Joan of Arc. Not because she felt she was some saint, but because she felt to a certain extent that she, like Joan, was a simple girl who became a warrior and succeeded against all odds. She desperately wanted to play her in a film.

 Ingrid Bergman is playing Saint Joan of Arc on the US stage with a sorrowful expression.
Photo by Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Luckily for Ingrid, she was contacted by Maxwell Anderson, who told her he would like her for a film he was doing about Joan of Arc. She obviously agreed on the spot and put her whole heart into it. But sadly, it wasn’t received well by critics. And Ingrid knew why. She admitted that the movie was TOO beautiful. Even the battle scenes, they were too doctored and fake.

Disillusioned With Hollywood

After Joan of Arc, Hollywood gradually lost its appeal. Ingrid was no longer interested in clean-cut, glamorous productions with makeup and pretty scenarios. She wanted authenticity, which is exactly what she spotted when she came across the work of Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini.

 Ingrid Bergman clutches handfuls of earth in an agony of emotion in a scene from a film directed by Roberto Rossellini.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

She happened to see his film, Rome: Open City, and it struck her. It moved her. Finally, she thought to herself, real feelings, real people. A wonderfully human and relatable feeling projected to her from the screen. She knew she had to talk to him.

She Wrote Roberto a Letter

Ingrid wished for Roberto to contact her, but during those days, she was so successful in Hollywood that she highly doubted he would dare to approach her. She thought he wouldn’t believe her to be willing to come to Italy and appear in one of his little movies.

Actress Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini inspect the Etruscan ruins in Italy.
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So, she decided to write him a letter. After some back-and-forth exchanges, it was decided: Ingrid was to fly to Italy, meet him in person, and star in his upcoming film. Once again, Ingrid was parting ways with her family, but this time, it would be years before she would see them again.

Hollywood Did Not Spoil Her

In Rossellini, Ingrid saw a generous and talented man. She was always naturally timid, and he was always outspoken and optimistic. He had so much vitality, a great sense of humor, and an immense lightness that always seemed to brighten up her day.

Ingrid Bergman is wearing a polka-dotted dress, portrayed with Roberto Rossellini while looking out of the hotel window.
Photo by Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images

Being with him in Italy was Ingrid’s way of getting away from everything Hollywood. Even though Rossellini’s movie sets were far less fancy than what she was used to in the States, she enjoyed the hard work. It’s exactly what she wished for.

“A Powerful Influence for Evil”

In 1949, while still married to Petter, Ingrid fell in love with Rossellini and soon became pregnant with his child. The affair caused a massive uproar in America, leading Senator Edwin C. Johnson to state that his once-favorite star “had perpetrated an assault upon the institution of marriage” and even called her out as being “a powerful influence for evil.”

Roberto Rossellini embraces his partner Ingrid Bergman.
Photo by Ivo Meldolesi/Mondadori/Getty Images

There’s no doubt that America’s reaction was way over the top. They felt betrayed, even though Ingrid’s personal life had little to do with them. The reason was likely because they were so used to seeing Ingrid play heroic and good-hearted characters that they forgot she was human. With actual feelings and temptations and personal needs.

“I’m Just a Woman, Another Human Being”

America was infuriated with Ingrid’s scandalous behavior. Talk show host Ed Sullivan refused to have her on his show (despite the fact that his viewers clearly wanted to see her, according to several polls). And media outlets shamelessly called her a “b*tch,” who should never be allowed back in the country.

Ingrid Bergman in a natural look being photographed at the set of a movie.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

But not everyone shunned Ingrid. Talk show host Steve Allen for example, decided to have her on his show, explaining that there was great “danger of trying to judge artistic activity through the prism of one’s personal life.”

In response to all the chaos, Ingrid stated, “People saw me in Joan of Arc, and declared me a saint. I’m not. I’m just a woman, another human being.”

Her New Italian Life

As a result of the scandal, Bergman remained in Italy, leaving Petter and Pia in L.A. She went through a widely publicized divorce and an agonizing custody battle for their daughter, which she lost. But she didn’t let it stop her from living. She married Rossellini on the 24th of May, 1950.

Pia Lindstrom is smiling at her father, Doctor Peter Lindstrom.
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Shortly after, she gave birth to their son, Robertino. And two years later, the couple welcomed twin daughters, Isotta and Isabella. Ingrid’s family in Italy was growing, her love for Roberto was deepening, and America? They were still reluctant to “forgive” her.

Roberto Was Possessive, and It Harmed Her Career

For years, Roberto had been pretty possessive when it came to Ingrid. He refused to let her work with another director, no matter how much she could make or how successful the movie might turn out. His selfish grasping ended up harming her career, and he ultimately concluded that he had to let her do it.

Roberto Rossellini is congratulating Ingrid Bergman at a party that followed a theater premiere.
Photo by Central Press/Getty Images

After years of working solely with Roberto, Ingrid was finally on her way to France to work with a director named Jean Renoir on his film Paris Does Strange Things (1957). The movie did okay, but her next film was what really threw her back into the spotlight – Anastasia.

Back in the U.S.A.

Anastasia was Ingrid’s ticket back into the heart of America. Her performance was spectacular and helped her regain the affection of the American public. After seven long years, she finally returned to New York. And despite the press’s intense questioning, she had no apologies to give to anyone.

Ingrid Bergman is wearing a regal silk dress with a silver necklace and tiara in a publicity portrait issued for the film 'Anastasia' circa 1956.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

By the time Ingrid filmed Anastasia, her marriage to Roberto had come to an end. The Italian director fell in love with another woman who had his child. And Ingrid was, sadly, left on her own, surprised, sad, and most of all, confused. She wondered if there was anything she could have done differently.

Away From Her Kids (Once Again)

Ingrid wasn’t single for long. She met her third husband in Paris, a fellow Swede, and a theatrical producer named Lars Schmidt. They met while Ingrid was dealing with yet another divorce and another custody battle, which ended in the same way as her first one – with Ingrid’s three kids from Roberto remaining in Italy with him.

Lars Schmidt and Ingrid Bergman Sailing Together.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Once again, Ingrid settled in a different country than her children. They were in Italy; her first daughter, Pia, was in America; and she was in France, building a new life with her new husband. Interestingly, none of her kids came out with any claims of feeling abandoned by her. All of them loved her until the very end.

She Loved All the Men She Married

She remained with Lars for 12 long years, her longest marriage out of the three. But as things ended with Roberto, her marriage to Lars ended after she discovered he had been with another woman. Still, she remained friends with Lars until her death.

An older Ingrid Bergman next to Lars, circa 1960.
Photo by REPORTERS ASSOCIES/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Amazingly, Ingrid cherished all the men whom she’d been married to. She knew how to forgive and didn’t have any enemies, regardless of how things ended. She didn’t have relationships with people and then go, “oh, it was all a mistake.” She learned from every single one of them.

Unfortunate News

In the early ‘70s, Ingrid moved to London. And for the first time in forever, she lived alone. Shortly after, at the age of 60, she discovered she had breast cancer. The doctor advised her to head straight to the hospital. But she went on with her plans as if everything was okay.

A close-up of Ingrid Bergman in a dressing room with a floral wallpaper motif in the background, circa 1967.
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Finally, after putting it off for enough time, she checked herself into a hospital in England, where she underwent surgery. Her kids came all the way from Italy and America to support her. They stayed with her there until she felt better.

She Never Felt Sorry for Herself

If there’s one admirable thing about Ingrid, it’s the fact that self-pity has never been part of her emotional repertoire. She became famous when she was a young beauty, but even without her youthful looks, she still shined bright on the screens and wasn’t shy about showing her wrinkles.

Portrait of Ingrid Bergman, alone for the first time, sitting joyfully at her house.
Photo by Jean-Regis Rouston/Roger Viollet/Getty Images

When she played a supporting role in the movie Murder on the Orient Express in 1974, Ingrid wasn’t afraid to look old and drab. She took the role with a good sense of humor. And it paid off. She won an Oscar for her incredible performance.

Playing Golda Meir in a Woman Called Golda (1982)

When Ingrid was offered the role of Israel’s prime minister, Golda Meir, in the 1982 film A Woman Called Golda, she laughed. She couldn’t understand how they expected her, a tall Swedish, to act as a short, Jewish prime minister?

Ingrid Bergman is depicting a serious Golda Meir.
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But after looking into Golda’s story and discovering that she had died of breast cancer, she knew she could do it. It took a lot to play her because of how fundamentally different the two were. Golda was a confident and calm leader. And Ingrid was a timid soul. But none of that showed when she acted. For her performance, she received an Emmy award, which was given to her posthumously.

She Died on Her Birthday

She was born on August 29, 1915, and she died on August 29, 1982, at the age of 67, from cancer. After a long and tiresome battle and countless chemotherapy sessions, her body gave in. The cancer had spread from her breasts to her spine, collapsing her twelfth vertebra.

 A photo of Ingrid Bergman
Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty Images

Ingrid lived a colorful life. And she lived it just the way she wanted to. Throughout the years, the highs and lows, the prosperous times and the stagnant ones, she maintained a child-like quality that was contagious, inspiring, and healing.

She died in her bed in London with a copy of the novel, A Little Prince, by her side and with her ex-husband Lars Schmidt holding her hand.

A Rootless Wanderer

Ingrid’s second daughter, Isabella, stated once that one of the many things she finds amazing about her mom is the mark she left in different countries. “Mother means something in Sweden, in Italy, in France, in London, and in America,” she explained.

Italian actress Isabella Rossellini is gently posing, wearing red lipstick and shirt on a grey background.
Photo by frederic meylan/Sygma/Getty Images

Unlike other old Hollywood starlets like Katherine Hepburn and Bette Davis, who made a mark primarily in the States, Ingrid was a woman of the world. When interviewers used to question her about her roots, she would say “I don’t have any!”

A Woman of Many Tongues

Ingrid was a woman of the world. She grew up in Sweden, traveled through the U.S., made her way around Europe, and visited countries in Asia and Africa as well. Her love of the world, and her constant yearning to learn more, opened her up to many languages.

Ingrid Bergman is standing next to a large globe.
Photo by Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

The actress spoke five in total. She grew up speaking Swedish and German, took French classes in school, and recited lines for movies in English and Italian. We have no doubt that if she had lived a few more decades, she would have picked up on at least two other languages!

“Better Later”

Whoever worked with Ingrid Bergman quickly realized how overly hard she was on herself. She was an enthusiastic perfectionist who didn’t mind doing the same take over and over until she felt she had done her best.

A portrait of Burgman in a sand quarry on the Via Portuense in Rome.
Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

She earned a reputation among Swedish directors for being a truly dedicated worker, and they soon began calling her “Betterlater” because of one sentence she kept repeating on set – she would promise to “do it better later.”

She Had Little Faith in Casablanca

During the filming of Casablanca (a movie that has become a classic and a must-see for every film lover out there) Ingrid had her doubts. The script wasn’t fully written when they started filming, and none of the actors were sure what would end up happening with their characters.

Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund, with map coordinates illustrated in the background for the film Casablanca.
Photo by John Springer Collection/Corbis/Getty Images

“The script was written day by day,” she told CBC. “We didn’t know where we were going. And I didn’t know which man I was supposed to really love.” The filmmakers advised Ingrid to “play it cool” in her love scenes because they weren’t yet sure who she’d end up being with.

She Was Taller Than Her Co-Star

One thing that Casablanca’s filmmakers didn’t want was for their leading lady to be taller than her co-star, Humphrey Bogart. Unfortunately, Ingrid Bergman was. They signed her up before they realized that she had a few inches on him.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman on the set of Casablanca before a kissing scene.
Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty Images

Viewers probably didn’t notice this because the shooting angles and different camera tricks made it so that it didn’t come across in the film. The filmmakers did everything they could to make Humphrey taller. They made him sit on thick cushions and even forced him to wear platform shoes!

It Runs in the Family

Ingrid had three daughters and one son. Her daughter from her second marriage to Roberto, Isabella, grew up to become a stunning woman who dipped her feet in the world of acting and made a name for herself as a model.

Ingrid Bergman with all her children in her dressing room.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

She was the face of Lancôme for years and has appeared in huge magazines like Elle, Marie Claire, and Vanity Fair. As for the silver screen, Isabella has starred in films like Blue Velvet (1986) and Death Becomes Her (1992). She’s also proved that talent clearly runs in the family after winning a Golden Globe Award nomination for her performance in Crime of the Century (1996).

A Bright Journalist

Ingrid’s eldest daughter, Pia (from her first marriage to Petter), has grown to become a well-educated, quick-tongued journalist who has covered things from theater to arts to current affairs. She’s rightfully earned two Emmy Awards for her news coverage.

Newscaster Pia Lindstrom is filming a news report.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Like her mother, Pia has also tried her hand at acting (mostly in Italian films) and, like her mother, she’s also been married three times. Having to grow up without a mom definitely impacted Pia, but she insists that despite her rocky upbringing, she has always deeply loved her.

The Perfect Pick for Gaslight

The 1944 thriller Gaslight is a testament to Ingrid’s incredible acting skills. She plays a vulnerable opera singer who is slowly manipulated by her devious husband into thinking she’s losing her mind. Her great performance earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Movie still of a scared Ingrid Bergman starring in the thriller 'Gaslight'.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The movie was nominated in 1945 for seven Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Apart from Ingrid, it features Joseph Cotten as a detective who grows suspicious about the whole thing and Angela Lansbury as the feisty housekeeper.

No Small Parts

Ingrid joined a talented ensemble in 1974 when she starred in the detective thriller Murder on the Orient Express. She starred with actors Sean Connery and Lauren Bacall, among others. The film’s director, Sidney Lumet, wanted her to play Princess Dragomiroff.

Ingrid Bergman with her luggage in a scene from the film 'Murder On The Orient Express' circa 1974.
Photo by Paramount/Getty Images

Lumet even promised her she would snatch another Oscar if she took the part. But Ingrid wasn’t after that. She wanted to play someone else. To Lumet’s surprise, she chose a much smaller role – the family nurse, Greta Ohlsson.