In 1949 actor Ingrid Bergman was Hollywood’s sweetheart. She'd starred in classics such as Casablanca, Spellbound, Notorious, The Bells of St. Mary's, and Joan of Arc, plus she had an Oscar for Gaslight. The Swedish star was a hot property, and the only way was up. But after shooting Stromboli with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini, the star’s fortunes changed — and the scandal caused her to flee America.
Bergman was "the ideal of American womanhood"
Part of the problem was that Bergman had a squeaky-clean image on the screen. She played a nun in The Bells Of St Mary's, a wronged wife in Gaslight, and even had three separate goes at playing Joan of Arc.
Bergman was popular from the moment U.S. audiences laid eyes on her in the English-language remake of Intermezzo in 1939. Her popularity grew so much that people saw her as “the ideal of American womanhood,” according to the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture.
The making of a movie star
Mega-producer David O. Selznick put a lot of effort into making Bergman his new star player. For Intermezzo, for instance, he micro-managed the shooting to make sure the filmmakers caught her in exactly the right light.
In one eye-opening memo, Selznick warned the filmmakers, “I think the success of Intermezzo is to an unusual extent dependent upon how beautifully we can photograph Miss Bergman. Every beautiful shot of her is a great deal of money added to the returns on the picture.”
She had the perfect on-screen image
Fortunately for Selznick, Bergman’s astonishing beauty and obvious acting talent proved a combination that audiences simply couldn’t resist. The star’s traditional marriage to then-dentist Petter Lindström was also seen as a powerful beacon of female morality.
After all, honest, faithful wives and good mothers with upstanding values were the order of the day, and Bergman’s persona seemed to embody those attitudes. Bergman had just given birth to her daughter Pia when she arrived in Hollywood.
All was not what it seemed
By the time Bergman flew off to Italy to make Stromboli in 1949, she’d won over the American public and American critics. She already had that Oscar for Gaslight, but she also had three other Best Actress nominations to her name.
Notorious, The Bells of St. Mary's, and For Whom the Bell Tolls were pretty sizable hits at the box office as well. In short, it seemed that Bergman had everything going for her. But Bergman’s success belied the tragedy of her early life.