Tragic Details About Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman's terrific performance in "Casablanca" proved to the world that she was a talented and dedicated actress. Her beauty, confidence, and go-getter attitude would also endear her to others. However, her personal life became the topic of much debate, specifically her affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, which would forever alter her career.

At the time, people could not separate the actress from her film roles and acknowledge she was a real, imperfect person. "So many people, who knew me only on the screen, thought I was perfect and infallible and then were angry and disappointed that I wasn't," the actress once said (via The Washington Post). 

It would be years before she returned to Hollywood, and her public image had been undeniably damaged — so much so that she was the recipient of hate mail. While there's no denying she was involved in one of the most scandalous affairs of the time, this was not the first (nor would it be the last) challenge that the "Stromboli" actress would face in her lifetime. However, with Ingrid Bergman's grandchildren all grown up and a career full of culture-making films left behind, her complicated legacy lives on.

Ingrid Bergman was an orphan

When you think of Ingrid Bergman, you may assume she lived a glamorous life. She was certainly able to enjoy the finer things and travel the world thanks to her career. But she had humble beginnings and was orphaned as a teenager, losing her parents, Friedel and Justus Bergman. She was believed to have shared a close bond with her father, who was also a creative and a lover of film. 

Bergman's daughter, actress Isabella Rossellini — who was once married to legendary director Martin Scorsese — told People in a 2022 interview that her mother "was always very independent and strong. And I think it probably came from the fact that she was an orphan." Rossellini explained, "Her mother died when she was two, and her father died when she was 14. So she really had to fend for herself."

For Bergman, working as an actress was an escape from her life and a way to express her imagination and creativity. Speaking to Michael Parkinson, Bergman commented on her childhood, saying she was "a sad child and very lonely." But she continued, "I think that is how I saved myself, [I invented] the characters that I could talk to ... And that was how I became an actress."

Her honesty was hard for others to accept

One of the most impressive things about Ingrid Bergman was her confidence in her identity. When she moved to Hollywood, film producer David O. Selznick asked the actress to change her German last name, since there was sensitivity around the country in the midst of World War II. Her daughter, Isabella Rossellini, recalled this story to the Irish Examiner, sharing that her mother's response to this request had been, "'Absolutely not. I have a career in Sweden, my name is Ingrid Bergman [and] this is the way I look.'" According to Rossellini, the producer then labeled Bergman "the first natural actress." Her daughter explained, "She was an incredible validation to women that you can still be beautiful and attractive and talented without the artifice."

Though Bergman's ability to be straightforward was impressive, her willingness to be candid in interviews also came as a surprise to some. "Mother was very Swedish, practical, direct, and down-to-earth," Rossellini told The Telegraph. "She always told the truth, so when an interviewer asked, 'Who's your favorite designer?' she replied, 'I don't buy designer clothes, they're too expensive.' Everyone was stupefied, it was blasphemy!" 

The star wasn't afraid to do what she wanted, even if it challenged the time period's rigid standards for how actresses should act and look. "I do everything they say you shouldn't," she wrote in her memoir. "I eat and drink what I like. I stay up late." 

The actress had an affair with Roberto Rossellini

Perhaps the most scandalous thing Ingrid Bergman ever did in her personal life was have an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, which, unfortunately, also impacted her career. She had traveled to Italy to be in one of his films, but at the time of the affair, Bergman was still married to her first husband, Petter Lindström, and the couple had a child together, Pia Lindström.

Rossellini and Bergman would go on to have their first child together, Renato Roberto, and marry in 1950. However, their affair caused an intense backlash, with criticism primarily falling on Bergman's shoulders. Their daughter Isabella Rossellini has given insight into this time in her mother's life. "My mum was very hurt by the scandal," Isabella told the Irish Examiner. "When she talked about it, it was clearly very painful to her."

But what was it about Roberto Rossellini that drew Bergman to him? "It was a combination of passion that I fell in love with a man who was so different from any other man I had ever known, and it was my boredom in Hollywood — I wanted to do something that they didn't expect me to do," Bergman said of the relationship (via The Guardian). Interestingly, this was not the "Gaslight" actress's first affair while married to Lindström. She is also reported to have had extramarital relationships with Robert Capa and Gregory Peck.

Bergman was the recipient of hate mail

While the tabloid criticism of Ingrid Bergman's affair was widespread, people may not have known she also received hate mail and telegrams in large quantities. She was called rude names, told to leave the country, and called a disgrace to her family. Even for someone as spirited as Bergman, these comments would have taken an emotional toll. But they would not break her. 

Instead of tossing the letters or refusing to open them, she kept them. Writer Art Buchwald commented on Bergman's handling of the situation in a 1951 feature for Look Magazine. He wrote, "She has tried to answer all the friendly ones and she retains enough of her sense of humor not to destroy the others. These included threats on her life, prayers for her salvation, poems of praise, anti-Catholic and anti-Italian obscenities, penciled notes of sympathy, and printed and unsigned scrawls of disgust." Initially, Bergman wouldn't give her critics the satisfaction of knowing they hurt her, but she later commented on the situation.

 "It was absolute hell," she told The Washington Post. "I didn't think it would upset the whole world, but it did." The star even began to feel that newspapers were right when they called her "an awful woman."

The star was confined to her apartment to avoid backlash

There was a point in Ingrid Bergman's life when things were so bad she did not leave her home. It was around the time the news of her scandalous affair with Roberto Rossellini came to light, and she was pregnant with their first child. She would later give birth to their son, Renato Roberto (also referred to as Robin), on February 2, 1950. In her final trimester of pregnancy, Bergman prioritized herself and her baby's health by avoiding the press.

The New York Times reported that the star "remained almost constantly in her apartment for the last two months [of her pregnancy] to avoid publicity." Bergman herself has acknowledged how her actions had caused upset, perhaps even more so because she was unapologetic about her decision. She said, "In those days, it was a shock to leave a husband and a child, and fall in love with a man, and openly show the world that she had fallen in love, and not deny the baby to be born" (via The Irish Independent). 

Despite how the press treated her, Bergman never lost sight of who she was and continued to treat people with warmth and acceptance. "She was the most trusting person," Charlotte Chandler, author of the book "Ingrid," said to Today. "She saw everyone as a friend. She had a kind of openness and innocence that she had all her life."

Bergman struggled for custody over her daughter Pia Lindström

When Ingrid Bergman had an affair with Roberto Rossellini, it was widely reported that she had left not just her husband at the time, Petter Lindström, but also their daughter, Pia Lindström. The decision was met with much criticism, and what followed was a bitter custody battle that kept the mother and daughter apart for years.

"My mother was not able to see Pia for many years because of the divorce," Bergman's daughter Isabella Rossellini told People in a 2015 interview. "It was totally traumatic." Bergman would finally reconnect with her eldest daughter in 1957. Their separation must have been unimaginably hard, but it was not the only challenge the "For Whom the Bell Tolls" actress was facing at the time. She was also dealing with criticism from the U.S. Senate. 

What happened between Bergman and Rossellini was such scandalous and far-reaching news at the time that U.S. Senator Edwin C. Jackson of Colorado would take drastic measures to ensure that Bergman was not an example for other women. There was even a bill proposed to prevent actors found "guilty of immorality and lewdness" from appearing in American cinemas (via The Independent).

Rossellini reflected on the controversy with People in 2022, praising her mother for "stand[ing] her ground and say[ing], 'This is the man I want to marry. We're going to have three children.'" Rossellini added, "She did have three children from my dad. That's pretty amazing, I think."

She put her career before her children

Ingrid Bergman made it no secret that she loved what she did and was exceptionally good at it. The camera also loved her back. But that meant there were times when she would be away from her children, and she often decided to put her work first. Bergman's comments about acting make it seem like it was a clear choice. "If you took acting away from me, I would stop breathing," she said, according to The Guardian. 

Many years later, her daughter Isabella Rossellini showed compassion for Bergman's choices. "I understand how difficult it must have been, to be working all the time," she said to People in 2022. "And I know that she felt guilty, as I felt guilty, for working," Rossellini said, now a parent herself. However, she shared that she's followed her mother's example while raising her own daughter. "Independence comes first with financial independence," she explained. 

Though she admitted to feeling lonely as a child, Rossellini said her mother's dedication to her craft ultimately gave her the "gift of self-determination."

Ingrid Bergman was not wanted in America

It's difficult to conceive of a comparable historical precedent for the intense fallout from Ingrid Bergman's affair. While it was a different time then, the backlash the "Murder on the Orient Express" actress received was so bad that she left America for almost a decade. 

In 1950, U.S. Senator Edwin C Jackson called Bergman "one of the most powerful women on earth—I regret to say a powerful influence for evil" (via The New York Times). Reflecting on the Senator's harsh words toward her, Bergman stated (via The Irish Independent), "I was a danger for American womanhood." She added, "To criticize people's private life, I thought was wrong, to such an extent that even a senator in Washington gets up on the floor to say 'out of Ingrid Bergman's ashes will grow a better Hollywood.'" 

Her daughter, Isabella Rossellini, has also discussed the cultural turmoil created by her parents' extramarital relationship and her mother's pregnancy outside of wedlock. She told Reuters in 2015, "This created a big scandal, and she was chased out of America because they felt that foreigners and stars, we come to America, and then behave immorally and are bad examples to the younger generations."

Roberto Rossellini prevented her from being directed by others

When Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini first got together, their attraction was undeniable. Why else would she have risked her life and reputation to be with the Italian director? It all started with a letter the actress wrote.

The letter read (via Criterion), "I saw your films 'Open City' and 'Paisan,' and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only 'ti amo,' I am ready to come and make a film with you." Bergman's humor and confidence solicited a reply from Rossellini, and she was cast in his 1949 film, "Stromboli."

Things between Bergman and Rossellini would quickly turn from professional to romantic. But as good as things may have been in the beginning, their happiness wouldn't last. They split up in 1957, and although the exact details surrounding this decision are unknown, it may have had something to do with Rossellini's allegedly controlling behavior. Bergman was apparently prevented from working with other directors while married to Rossellini. "I experienced such happiness with Roberto," Bergman wrote in her diary. "but such misery too. I tried so hard to live with him. But I know my life has changed. He has left me ... I feel strangely relieved."

She had breast cancer

In her autobiography, "My Story," Ingrid Bergman recalled the moment she was informed of her breast cancer diagnosis. "[The] doctor came, and I could read his face as an open book," she wrote. "I felt sorry for him, because it must be a terrible job [to] tell women they were maimed." She would go on to have two mastectomies. 

Her daughter, Isabella Rossellini, also discussed her mother's health in an interview for The Telegraph. "Mama suffered from breast cancer for nine years, and the last three years, when my brother and sisters took turns to be with her in London, were very difficult," she said. As Bergman's condition worsened, she also struggled to accept that her acting days were over.

Ingrid Bergman passed away on her 67th birthday on August 29, 1982. Before she died, however, the star made sure that her collection of letters and photographs fell into the right hands.  

Bergman had one major regret

Ingrid Bergman lived a full life. She traveled around the world, pursued projects she loved (even if that meant leaving her children behind), and remained determined, resilient, and strong. Isabella Rossellini reflected on her mother's life, telling Reuters, "She showed that women are independent, that women want to tell their own story, want to take initiative, but sometimes they can't because sometimes our social culture doesn't allow women to break away from certain rules." 

While it appears the "Casablanca" actress lived without regrets and accepted the consequences of the decisions she made, there was one thing she later wished she had done differently. Bergman didn't invite her daughter Pia Lindström to an event in New York City after not seeing her for five years. "I asked her not to come and I think she's had a very hard time [understanding] why," Bergman said in an interview with Michael Parkinson. She explained, "I didn't ask my daughter to come to New York because I couldn't bear to see her after so many years."

However, reflecting on her life, Bergman appeared content. She said to Parkinson, "I'm sure if I knew then what I know now ... I could have changed many things." She concluded, "But there we are, we don't know better, I did what I thought was right."