Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman made her English language debut in Intermezzo in 1939, the American remake of a Swedish film she had already starred in three years earlier. Renowned roles in Casablanca, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious all followed, while an Oscar-winning performance in Gaslight in 1944 (the first of her three Academy Awards) soon established Bergman as one of the greatest stars of the Golden Age.
At the height of her fame, in the 1940s, Bergman was widely viewed as an antidote to some of the increasingly wild and sexualized stars of the day. Her icy charm, intelligence, and beauty saw her famously labeled “the ideal of American womanhood,” while her classical training and impeccable professionalism impressed all those who worked with her; the legendary producer David O Selznick once called her “the most completely conscientious actress” he had ever worked with.
In 1949, however, Bergman’s reputation took a devastating hit. By then, she had been married to her husband—Swedish neurosurgeon Dr. Petter Lindström—for over 13 years, and they had an 11-year-old daughter, Pia.
But while in Italy filming the drama Stromboli for RKO in 1949, Bergman fell into a torrid affair with the movie’s director, Roberto Rossellini, which led to the collapse of her marriage to Lindström back in the USA. Just a matter of days after their divorce was finalized, moreover—and in the same month that Stromboli was released to theaters—Bergman gave birth to Rossellini’s son, Robin. The entire affair scandalized America.
Conservative and religious groups were outraged. In New Mexico, one such group accused Bergman of the “glamorizing and sensationalizing of adultery.”
In Alabama, moves were made to ban not only her and Rossellini’s newest picture but all of her previous movies from public presentation. Similar bans were reported in Tennessee, Indiana, and Texas. Despite being lauded in Europe, Stromboli was lambasted by American critics and bombed at the box office, leaving RKO some $200,000 out of pocket.
In the aftermath of the affair, Bergman remained for a time in Europe. She married Rossellini in May 1950 and gave birth to twin daughters—Isotta and Isabella, herself an actress—in 1952.
Thankfully, her career in America later recovered with a second Oscar-winning performance in Anastasia in 1956, and eventually, the fallout from her and Rossellini’s affair disappeared into cinema history.