Ingrid Bergman — Scandinavian Charmer (1941) 🇺🇸
The fact that Ingrid Bergman has been awarded so tasty a screen prize as the role of the governess in "Legacy" means that within just a few months a great many things must have happened.
They began happening in a projection room in New York City in the Spring of 1938. Katharine Brown, Selznick's story editor, was watching the screening of "Intermezzo," a Swedish film starring Josepha Ekman, Inga Tidblad and Ingrid Bergman. Miss Brown was not unduly concerned with the story, nor with the histrionic talents of Mr. Ekman and Miss Tidblad. But this Ingrid Bergman — she was captivating.
Miss Brown's estimation of the Swedish star's gifts was immediately transmitted via long distance to Mr. Selznick in Hollywood, at about one dollar per glowing word. Mr. Selznick was interested and asked that a print of "Intermezzo" be shipped immediately to the West Coast.
In a few days Miss Brown received an order from her boss to buy the American rights to the film— but the film only, no Bergman. Miss Brown set about doing this with her customary alacrity, but to her it was like buying an automobile without an engine.
A less determined soul might have let the matter drop there, but when Miss Brown went on one of her regular scouting trips in England for David Selznick, she couldn't resist the opportunity of calling Stockholm and talking to this Ingrid Bergman. Perhaps the young actress could not speak English, which lack would make her useless as a Hollywood player. Perhaps she would not want to leave her native Sweden. Perhaps a lot of things. However, Miss Brown put through her call. There was a long wait, and then a man's voice boomed, "I'm sorry, but Miss Bergman cannot speak to you. She is very busy, right now."
Miss Brown returned to New York with little hope of ever seeing Ingrid Bergman on an American screen. However, a terse order from Mr. Selznick to return to Europe immediately and sign up the young Swedish star rekindled her enthusiasm.
A week later she was in Stockholm, where she was introduced for the first time to Ingrid Bergman, whose name in private life is Mrs. Peter Lindstrom. "On the screen she had looked rather like a femme fatale," recalls Miss Brown, "so you can imagine my amazement when this youngster, looking not more than sixteen, with apple-red cheeks, walked into the room. I thought I had made a mistake, that I was negotiating with the wrong actress."
"I am so sorry I was unable to speak with you that day on the telephone," Ingrid said quietly. "I was very busy. I was having my baby."
Katharine Brown learned that in Sweden Ingrid Bergman's professional reputation corresponded approximately to that of Bette Davis over here. Miss Bergman had been a film star for many years. She spoke, besides Swedish and an excellent English, fluent French and German. She had been a student for eleven years at the Stockholm Lyceum for Flickor, a smart school for young girls specializing in languages which, by the way, has nothing to do with "the flickers."
She also learned that Ingrid Bergman had, at the age of fifteen, written, produced, directed and even acted in a juvenile playlet that had brought her to the attention of the Royal Dramatic School in Stockholm. It was there that she was discovered by Svensk Filmindustri, Sweden's leading producing outfit, for an important part in a film called "Munkbrogreven." During the next five years she appeared in eleven pictures, and starred in the last three.
Her decision to leave an assured career as Sweden's leading actress was a daring one. The mere thought of Hollywood terrified her, but two things made her think that perhaps her decision was a wise one. First, she was familiar with the part she was to play in "Intermezzo," and second, she knew that a role in a picture starring Leslie Howard and co-produced by him was an exceptional opportunity. "Mr. Howard does not make bad films," is the way she puts it.
Ingrid Bergman's arrival on these shores in the early summer of 1939 was like that of any ordinary European visitor who steps off the gangplank for the first time. She was besieged by neither reporters nor photographers. She was, in fact, totally unknown and therefore totally unmolested. A fortnight in New York City did not mean lots of giddy night life or interminable press parties, but a continuous round of movies and plays. She did not miss a single matinee or night performance because, as she says, "that's a good way to learn the language."
In Hollywood she stayed with the Selznicks until she could find a small house. For the first three weeks after her arrival she was forced to undergo the rigorous regime of Hollywood prettifying with fittings, makeup, screen tests, rehearsals, speech classes.
Ingrid was given no build-up during the three months that "Intermezzo" was in production. Selznick wisely concluded that the American public likes to do its own discovering, and his new importation was not to be publicized at all. She was to play the part of Anita Hoffman in "Intermezzo, A Love Story"; the picture was to be released; and then the public could be advised of her past and her future.
She was industrious and co-operative on the set. Two incidents particularly are remembered by her co-workers with evident relish: The time she suggested to the wardrobe mistress that she, herself, repair a damaged gown; and the naive fury with which she tore down the "No Visitors" sign on her dressing-room door. "That is a rude thing to say," she explained. After work she was able, unlike other Hollywood personalities, to wander about the town as she pleased. No one knew her by sight, and a foreign accent in Hollywood is as a coal in Newcastle. Her desire to compare the New York Fair with the San Francisco Fair led her on a lone trek to the Golden Gate city where she was so delighted with the sights that she calmly overstayed her leave by one entire shooting day! The Selznick office, of course, was practically hysterical wondering what had happened to her!
At last "Intermezzo, A Love Story" was finished. Ingrid Bergman was invited by William Van Schmus of Radio City Music Hall, to be guest of honor at a preview attended by the Swedish, Danish and Finnish consuls and their staffs. It was a dignified and distinguished gathering, and Miss Bergman had her first taste of fame in America. This was followed almost immediately by the release of the picture in New York. There was some reservation on the part of the critics as to the greatness of the picture. Of Ingrid Bergman there was no reservation at all.
Walter Winchell reported: "New Yorchids. Ingrid Bergman, the Swedenchantress, in "Intermezzo." Oomf'ly good."
The New York Times said: "Miss Bergman's debut is one of the most delightful things of the season."
The New York Herald Tribune wrote: "Miss Bergman is the best acting find Hollywood has made in a dog's age."
The New York Post reported: "Not since Geraldine Fitzgerald debuted has anything as nice as Miss Ingrid Bergman happened."
The Daily Mirror said: "She is the finest thing that has come to Hollywood, from anywhere, in many a day."
And Ed Sullivan: "Unknown Ingrid Bergman ran away with the honors."
And Dixie Tighe: "Absolutely tops."
All America evidently agreed with these critics and columnists. Within six months an unknown actress had won the unqualified praise of press and public by a great display of intelligence and emotion on the screen. Off-screen she is a revelation as well. She is vigorous, robust, and responsive. She can sit on the coldest day before an open window without shivering. She is twenty-three years old, five feet nine inches tall, weighs 126 pounds and is vivid rather than pretty. Her complexion has been called "the most perfect," in Hollywood, and it is quite unnecessary for her to use makeup while appearing before the cameras.
Ingrid is quietly thrilled at her "great good luck." She has lost every bit of her fear of the Cinema City. As she puts it, "I like Hollywood. Here, you work hard, but it is fun. No one looks at you if you wear slacks and comfortable clothes. You can say what you please. Yes, I like it here."
Well, stick around, Ingrid, because Hollywood likes you too.
Collection: Modern Screen Magazine, February 1941