When Ingrid Bergman first came to the United States in 1939 at the age of 24, she was already a star in her native Sweden and known throughout Europe. The great David O. Selznick, who brought her across the ocean, played it safe, casting Bergman in the English-language remake of her 1936 Swedish hit Intermezzo for her American debut. A mere two years later, and thanks mostly to her performance in the immortal Casablanca (1942), Bergman was Hollywood’s most beloved female star. Unlike most of her peers who exuded a thick air of nobility, inaccessibility, even arrogance, Bergman’s intelligence, warmth, and genuine modesty shone all the way through her physical beauty. She had that rarest beauty that Hollywood professionals at the time would call “bulletproof angles,” referring to the ability to be photographed from any angle while retaining all the allure and near-perfection.
The lightning speed of Bergman’s rise can unfortunately be matched only by the split second in which the American public decided to start ignoring her completely less than a decade later. All because of a single letter—one of the most beautiful letters in film history. In early 1948, Bergman, already an Oscar-winning celebrity, saw Rome, Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946), two masterpieces by founder of the neorealist movement Roberto Rossellini. Dazzled by his unglamorous, truthful, and radically non-Hollywood approach to filmmaking, and by the almost miraculous humanist spirit emerging from the ruins of post-WWII Europe depicted in these two films, Bergman offered herself to the Italian filmmaker in a two-sentence letter:
“Dear Mr. Rossellini, 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. Ingrid Bergman”
The rest, as they say, is history. Bergman and Rossellini made five brilliant films together—the most famous being Journey to Italy (1954)—got married, and had three children. The only problem, at least for the morally righteous public at the time, was the fact that Bergman fell in love with Rossellini while she was still married to her first husband, the respected and pioneering Swedish-born neurosurgeon Petter Lindström. And here is where the story of Ingrid Bergman connects with Rochester, making this the second reason for our special retrospective (the first being the fact that Bergman, born on August 29, 1915, would have been one hundred this year). It was at the University of Rochester where Lindström received his degree in 1943, and where Bergman stayed with him and their daughter between shooting. The New York Times reported that Rochesterians loved her just a little bit too much:
“They took a small house in Rochester, N.Y., where he attended medical school. Whenever she was not working on a picture or appearing on the stage, she flew there. There was but one trouble. Her admirers of both sexes ran her and her husband ragged. They could not even go skating without a gallery.”
Join us in September and October at the Dryden Theatre for seven films with Ingrid Bergman:
Saturday, September 12, 8 p.m.: Spellbound
Sunday, September 13, 2 p.m.: Intermezzo: A Love Story
Saturday, September 19, 8 p.m.: Notorious
Saturday, September 26, 8 p.m.: Under Capricorn
Sunday, September 27, 2 p.m.: Journey to Italy
Sunday, October 11, 2 p.m.: Elena and Her Men
Sunday, October 18, 2 p.m.: A Walk in the Spring Rain
As always, we warmly invite you step away from your tiny, solitary digital screens, and experience our offerings in the way they were meant to be experienced, on the big screen and in all their celluloid glory, with their emotional and intellectual impact preserved.
Only at the Dryden.
Jurij Meden is the curator of film exhibitions at George Eastman House. Through his more than fifteen years of experience, Jurij has curated and presented film programs around the world, served as a jury member at numerous film festivals, and written or co-written more than 250 published essays.