By Alexandra Goho
Ingrid Bergman's Toughest Act
A beloved actress quietly kept her disease off camera
By Alexandra Goho
In the 1978 Swedish film Autumn Sonata, Ingrid Bergman plays the role of a world-famous concert pianist, Charlotte Andergast, who returns home to visit her daughter. In an early scene, Charlotte sits down and recalls the death of her friend in the hospital. She had stayed with him at his bedside all night until he passed away. The film’s director, Ingmar Bergman, who was not related to the actress, would later say, “It was one of the most beautiful film scenes in my whole life as a director.”
It was also Ingrid Bergman’s last feature film. Although she will forever be remembered for her role alongside Humphrey Bogart in the 1942 classic Casablanca, many consider her performance in Autumn Sonata, for which she received her seventh Oscar nomination, to be among her best.
It was a challenging performance. Not only did the life of the character she played mirror her own in many ways, but she was quietly dealing with breast cancer—a disease that eventually took her life four years later.
One of the most glamorous film stars of all time, Ingrid Bergman was known for her innocent beauty onscreen and her controversial relationships offscreen. She appeared in 50 movies and more than a dozen theater and television productions, earning three Oscars, two Emmys and a Tony Award.
Bergman was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on Aug. 29, 1915, and lost both of her parents early: Her mother died when she was three; she lost her father when she was 13. Her father, an artist and a photographer, shot home movies of Bergman as a little girl and frequently photographed her playing dress-up, wearing funny hats, glasses, or his big shoes. In her autobiography, Ingrid Bergman: My Story, she says, “It was my father’s enthusiasm over my play-acting that turned me into an actress.”
Bergman entered the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm in 1933. Three years later, she made her cinematic debut in the Swedish director Gustaf Molander’s Munkbrogreven, playing a maid in a hotel that sold illegal liquor. After acting in half a dozen Swedish films, she caught the attention of Hollywood producer David O. Selznick, who brought her to the U.S. to appear in the 1939 English remake of Molander’s Intermezzo.