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Century Spotlight: Ingrid Bergman

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Century Spotlight: Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman was one of the most beloved actresses in cinema history. Born Aug. 29, 1915, in Stockholm, Sweden, she charmed fans all over the world as she starred in dozens of films in Hollywood as well as in her home country and her temporary home of Italy. She survived a scandalous affair – more than survived it; she emerged triumphantly, still beloved by her many fans, after taking a judicious few years out of the spotlight. She is one of an elite group of actors who won three Academy awards – only Katharine Hepburn has one more, with four – and just the mention of her name is enough to make many a movie lover feel a little misty and nostalgic for the talent and beauty we lost when she died on her 67th birthday, Aug. 29, 1982.

What makes Bergman one of the greatest legends of Hollywood, all these years later? Here are a few of the things that make us love her:

1. Her natural ease in front of the camera.

Bergman dreamed from a young age of being an actress, even though her father wanted her to sing opera. She took voice lessons as he wished, but at home, she dressed up and staged plays. When she had the chance for her first theatrical audition at 17, the judges quickly rushed her off the stage – not because she was bad, but because she was so immediately, obviously good that they didn't need to see any more to know she was hired. That quickly evident naturalness continued to impress as she went to Hollywood. Her early producers thought she might be too tall and too Germanic to fit in with the other young starlets of the late 1930s and early 1940s, but once they watched her act, all their concerns fell away.

Her Hollywood debut, Intermezzo: A Love Story:

2. Her fresh-faced beauty.

When Bergman came to Hollywood, the standard for young actresses was plenty of heavy makeup, often along with dyed or bleached hair. Bergman, in contrast, was stunning without makeup, and she was able to take that look to the big screen, appearing naturally lovely rather than painted and fake. American audiences were impressed with the breath of fresh air she brought to Hollywood with her lack of makeup and unfussy beauty. She remained simply beautiful all her life, barely showing her age even into her 60s.

Ernest Hemingway hand-picked Bergman to star in the adaptation of his For Whom the Bell Tolls, and when he met her soon afterward, he said, "You are Maria!"

3. Her total commitment to each role.

Even as her star rose, Bergman was no diva, expecting special treatment as a reward for her talent and beauty. Instead, those with whom she worked reported that she was humbly delighted by her chance to act in her movies, and she was all business when it came to filming. She was open to new challenges as an actress, as when Sidney Lumet suggested he film her long monologue in Murder on the Orient Express in a single take and she readily agreed. By all accounts, she was nothing short of gracious and professional at almost all times.

In this interview, Bergman discusses her craft:

4. Casablanca.

Of course, one of the biggest reasons we love Ingrid Bergman is her movies, and perhaps none of her films is as enduringly beloved as Casablanca. One of her earliest U.S. films, it was only a moderate box-office hit upon its wartime release, but its legend grew over the years until it came to top many lists of all-time best films, cementing Bergman's star power along the way. The consensus is that while Orson Welles' Citizen Kane may be history's best-made film, Casablanca is the best-loved. Humphrey Bogart, Bergman and all of its stars contributed to that status, and it's made us remember them – perhaps Bogie and Bergman most of all – with special fondness.

                Play it, Sam:

Want to learn more about Ingrid Bergman? Click here to view clips from her Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning movies.