It’s that day of the year again: August 29 or Ingrid Bergman’s birthday (and unfortunately, also her 36th death anniversary). For the occasion, I’m, once again, hosting my Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon via my main blog The Wonderful World Of Cinema. But I decided to write my entry on Three Enchanting Ladies because all the occasions to publish on this blog are good and it needs more traffic.
Before continuing, I have to tell you something weird. My plan for the blogathon was to write about Ingrid Bergman as a feminist icon. And it’s still what I intend to do. But here’s the story. When I added myself to the roster I was 100% sure I wrote the name of the subject like that: “Ingrid Bergman: A Feminist Icon” or something like that. However, yesterday, I noticed that it was written “Ingrid Bergman: Power and Feminism”. I swear, I really don’t remember writing this. I stayed in front of my screen for a few seconds with a “what the hell” face. I guess memory plays tricks as They say. Anyway, I still thought it would make a nice title for my entry. I just changed the word “power” for “courage”. This was just an anecdote from my blogging life. Did something weird like that ever happen to you?
But let’s get back to business now: the blogathon. Yes, Ingrid Bergman, just like her daughter Isabella Rossellini could definitely be considered a symbol of feminism and I’ll try to explain why the best way I can.
Be yourself, the world worships the original.
– Ingrid Bergman-
Ingrid was one of these actresses who didn’t like to follow a crowd and preferred to do things her own way and take the decisions SHE wanted instead of being manipulated by the various powerful heads that controlled Hollywood and the movie industry at the time. This allowed her to stand out from everybody and really forge her name. Beware: I’m not saying that the other actresses in Hollywood weren’t unique. Yes, everybody is different, but there was something about Ingrid. You can feel in your guts.
And you all know the story: when Ingrid arrived in Hollywood, she was told something should be done about her teeth, her eyebrows, her overall look. The industry wanted her to be more conform to the beauty standards of Hollywood. But Ingrid refused. And I mean, she was beautiful! No need to be transformed. And who doesn’t love her teeth??? They could bite into life like no one and were those of a woman with a strong character. Ingrid was also known as a natural beauty not only for refusing to change her appearance but also by wearing very little make-up or none at all when performing on-screen (and it her everyday life, we assume). Women in Hollywood were often first praised for their beauty before their talent and became “stars” because of their sexy and glamorous looks. Ingrid initial plan was to be an actress, not a star. And she respected her desires. She stayed herself and the world indeed still worships her for that.
I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have lived my life the way I did if I was going to worry about what people were going to say.
– Ingrid Bergman
Yes, if you worry too much about what people think of you, you won’t go very far in life. Ingrid has a LOT of lessons to teach us and this is one of them. I am not sure when Ingrid said this thing about having no regrets, but we suspect she was referring to her relationship with Roberto Rossellini. In the article Old Hollywood Feminist Movie Stars Who Were Seriously Ahead Of Their Time, author JR Thorpe mentions Ingrid’s independentism. She dared a lot and, as Rossellini explained, she was punished for it. The author indeed quotes the director explaining how Ingrid lived in a society that was changing but that was still not fully ready for women to be as independent as men. Ingrid was not only independent, but she was also brave. If she would have regretted what she did, she would have, in a way, let the opposite side win and would have been back to the starting point. Ingrid’s life was unfortunately too short due to her death at 67, but she lived it to its fullest.
I was the shyest human ever invented, but I had a lion inside me that wouldn’t shut up.
– Ingrid Bergman –
Ingrid decided to become an actress when her father brought out to the theatre when she was a young girl. One of her favourie hobbies was to disguise herself and pretend she was someone else. She was playing a character. So, acting came to her as something natural. And that passion allowed her to breathe for the rest of her life. Ingrid described herself as shy but with a roaring lion inside of her. What does that mean? I think Ingrid was one of these artists who could completely transform herself when exercising her passion. Take the example of that singer who is quite reserved in his or her everyday life, who appears timid at first glance and quite humble. But when singing on stage, he/she completely transforms himself/herself and become a beast. I think it was a similar case with Ingrid. She wasn’t necessarily the most extravagant person ever but when she was acting, you could feel she was comfortable and loved doing it. And she said it herself. She transformed herself, not only by becoming a different person for the sake of the film or the play but also by showing the other facets of her personality: the ones of confidence and expressivity. I feel that, by choosing the acting career, Ingrid found herself and found a way to let that lion go and really showed the world what she was able of. So, acting basically was her reason to live. As so, Ingrid sort of chose an “unconventional” path for a woman at the time. These were generally expected to stay home, raise children while their husbands were winning the daily bread. But when one became an actress, they chose a life completely opposed to that. Yes, Ingrid did have children: four and she loved them. Many accused her to care more for her career than her children. Yes, there have been some ups and downs in Ingrid’s relationship with them, but I don’t think these accusations are valid. She wasn’t made to be the mom at home. Not-at-all. Ingrid was, after all a great woman who made a lot of sacrifices. And let me ask a question: would confiscate happiness from someone?
You must train your intuition. You must trust the small voice inside you which tells you exactly what to say, what to decide.
Following your intuition was indeed something Ingrid understood perfectly. And that forged the idea of a feminist symbol. Take for example the fact that Ingrid was choosing her roles very wisely. I think it was in a French interview that she explained that she rarely played roles that she didn’t like or that didn’t fit her. If Ingrid was going to play a character, she was totally devoted to it, which meant studying it in full details. Following her intuitions also allowed Ingrid to move forward and explore different horizons, not only geographical ones but also personal and symbolical ones. If you read my article on how Ingrid could be considered a citizen of the world, I explain how having a career in various countries was a way for her to develop her acting skills. And playing in different languages couldn’t be a bad thing either. Therefore, Ingrid was a versatile person. Moving to the USA for security reasons (rise of Nazism in Europe) was more of a personal challenge for her than a constraint. Ingrid once again followed her intuition when she went to Italy to make a film with Roberto Rossellini. Yes, this led to the famous Bergman-Rossellini scandal but Ingrid was initially going in Europe for professional reasons. But life is unpredictable. Ingrid’s adultery was something very badly seen and I think it was the case because she was a woman. A lot of male actors in Hollywood had adventures while being married but we never seem to talk as much about them as we are talking about the affair between Ingrid and Roberto (an affair that resulted into a wedding). But if Ingrid would have decided to stay in Hollywood she wouldn’t have the chance to become a symbol of Italian Neo-Realism and maybe not to be such an acclaimed celebrity all across the world today.
Some of her roles:
Ingrid acted until her death and defied the problem of women not been giving roles due to their ages. Among the roles she played, many were of women we can admire for various reasons. She portrayed the characters with always a lot of conviction and these could be models to us:
Anna Holm ( A Woman’s Face)
Anna Holm is first seen as a woman with no pity. She was disfigured in a fire when she was a young girl and, for her, “having the face of a monster” means being a bad person until she is proved wrong. Ingrid, even if she plays a villain in the first part the film, also plays a strong woman. A leader who refuses to have people walk on her feet.
Maria (For Whom the Bell Tolls)
Just like Anna Holm, the young Maria is someone who suffered a lot. For Whom the Bell Tolls (adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel) takes place during the Spanish Civil War. She is an Orphan who saw her parents being killed by the Fascists and had then been tortured by them. But Maria is ready to fight for her rights and becomes part of a group of local anti-Fascist guerrilas. They live in the mountains and constantly take risks as the opposite side. Maria is a young woman who decided to move forward instead of only living with the past. That’s how her courage can be admired.
Dr. Constance Petersen (Spellbound)
Once again, a woman was generally expected to be at home. But some made an exception and this was the case, not only for Ingrid Bergman but also for Constance Petersen. Ok, Constance is a fictional character, but we have a lot to learn from her. In Spellbound, Ingrid plays a psychoanalyst. Women scientist were unfortunately not as commonly acclaimed as men scientists, but, with this role, Ingrid proved us that the female brain was as strong as the male one. If women at the time often played the victims saved by the man, here it is the opposite. The victim is Gregory Peck and his saviour is Ingrid Bergman. She indeed does all she can to cure him and to find the origin of her amnesia. Just like Ingrid herself, Constance is someone who takes a lot of risks but only for the good reasons and who has no reasons to regret it.
Joan of Arc (Joan of Arc)
Do I need to explain this one? Joan of Arc is perhaps one of the strongest symbols of woman power in the History. Ingrid Bergman was a great admirer of Joan of Arc so playing her was a dream come true.
Gladys Aylward (The Inn of the Sixth Happiness)
When I want to give myself courage, I say to myself, “Come on girl, be a bit more like Gladys Aylward!” Indeed, due to her many courageous acts, Aylward changed the life of children in China. While there were some inaccuracies in comparison to the real Gladys Aylward life, one must not forget the favourable light in which Ingrid Bergman portrays her. The scene at the prison is one of the best examples of this character’s courage, just like the challenge to lead hundreds of children in the mountains of China in order to bring them to a safer place.
Stephanie Dickinson (Cactus Flower)
Here, I think Ingrid Bergman’s role could reflect the idea of feminism for the reason that she portrays a woman who wants to have fun before Cindy Lauper even sang “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. Stephanie Dickinson, Dentist Julian Winston (Walter Matthau)’s secretary, is first seen as a cold woman but she later shows her other side in those hilarious dance scenes at the bar. Stephanie is not someone who let other people walk on her feet and she indeed shows us that women, like men, can enjoy themselves and don’t have to be quiet and bored if they don’t feel like it.
Of course, there are many more roles that we could discuss such as Karen in Stromboli or Alicia in Notorious.
I do hope people will never cease to admire Ingrid Bergman for the wonderful woman she was. She makes us proud and is a powerful role model.
Be yourself, but be inspired (by Ingrid)!
To read the other entries for the blogathon, please click here. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did!
Thorpe, JR. “Old Hollywood Feminist Movie Stars Who Were Seriously Ahead Of Their Time.” Bustle. Jan 13, 2017. https://www.bustle.com/p/old-hollywood-feminist-movie-stars-who-were-seriously-ahead-of-their-time-29405. Accessed August 29, 2018.