"Mother," Ingrid Bergman's son Robertino asked her a few years before her death, "do you realize that when you are dead many people will throw themselves on your life story taking information from gossip columns, rumors and interviews? We, your children, can never defend you because we don't know the truth. I wish you'd put it down." And she did, in the very personal "My Story," written candidly and gracefully with Alan Burgess.
What made "My Story" a superior book was the sense of Bergman's presence throughout. Despite numerous interviews with his subject's family, lovers and ex-husbands, Laurence Leamer in "As Time Goes By" never brings the woman into full focus. What he adds to the Bergman story is not insight or depth or, for that matter, anything of a revisionist nature, but a subtext that insinuates when it should illuminate.
Ingrid Bergman's traumatic childhood could have been the basis of a film made by her compatriot Ingmar Bergman. Death and alienation were at the center of it. Her German mother died when the girl was 3, her artist father when she was 11. She was shunted off to live with an aunt and her five children.
Ingrid Bergman grew to be a shy, nervous young woman, awkwardly tall and unsure of herself. She was, however, able to overcome her sense of inadequacy in fantasy. At 18 she enrolled in Stolkholm's Royal Dramatic School. The same year she met a "morally virtuous" dentist, Petter Lindstrom, 8 1/2 years her senior, and became his "fastmo," which according to Leamer means: "steady girl-friend, but with at least some presumption of sexual intimacy." By the time they married, four years later, she had become a Swedish film star in Gustaf Molander's "Intermezzo," a performance that convinced David O. Selznick she could conquer American audiences as well.
Selznick chose an American version of "Intermezzo" for Bergman's U.S. debut. Her screen image, one of great moral strength and almost saintly incandescence, was set from this beginning, and the landmark films in her career ("Casablanca," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Gaslight," "Spellbound," "Notorious," "The Bells of St. Mary's" and "Joan of Arc") consolidated this image in the public's mind. But the celluloid Bergman was as removed from the real Bergman as the young girl had been from the world of her fantasies.
International fame did not alter the fact that she was married to a man who neither shared her world nor moved her. Extramarital affairs seemed to make up for that and hold her marriage together. In her autobiography Bergman freely, candidly and with great respect for her partners discussed those men whom she obviously considered important in her life. She also admitted that she fell in love to some degree with a fair number of her leading men, although she did not say whether she had affairs with any of them. Leamer has supplied the names Spencer Tracy and Gary Cooper, along with harmonica player Larry Adler. Whether a roll call of lovers can be deemed "revelatory" information is a moot point.
Surely, few people alive in 1950 did not know about Bergman's affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, which caused her to leave Lindstrom and their small daughter Pia. Or the fact that Bergman and Rossellini had a son out of wedlock. The subsequent marriage, the birth of twin girls, the disastrous films that the Rossellinis made together ("Stromboli," "Europa 51," etc.) and, finally, Rossellini's fathering a child by an Indian woman while wed to Bergman fed the paparazzi front-page material for the eight years of their liaison.
According to Leamer, Bergman was a passionless woman who made love because she thought it was "the polite thing to do." He presents her as wildly ambitious, egocentric, selfish and without very good motives or intelligence. Too often, her foibles are described in penny-dreadful prose ("woe betide the hapless student," "a slave to love," "the fragrant blossoms of celebrity" and -- on the very next page -- "the sweet nectar of celebrity"). Whenever the opportunity arises, Leamer has a way of placing Bergman in a bad light.
If Bergman was the shallow, passionless, self-absorbed woman of Leamer's book, perhaps she was not a worthy subject for reexamination or an "in-depth" biography (as his publishers claim this to be), for we are not told whether her performances or her life had any real value (I think both did). Ironically, except for the pages dealing with the last harrowing and courageous months before her death from cancer, "As Time Goes By" seems to be an autopsy rather than a life of Ingrid Bergman.