Ingrid Bergman

I just read in the Stabroek News that the 68th Cannes Film Festival unveiled its official poster featuring legendary actress Ingrid Bergman in a tribute to what would have been her 100th birthday this year.  I think that’s wonderful.  She was an actress I truly admired and appreciated.  She had gentle beauty and an air of quiet refinement.  She was very classy.  I remember her in films like Casablanca, Gaslight, Anastasia and For Whom the Bells Toll.  She acted with some of Hollywood’s A list male stars–Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper.  It would have been interesting to see her star opposite Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Burt Lancaster.

Acting was something Ingrid always knew she wanted to become.  Her father, a Swedish artist and photographer wanted her to become an opera star and had her take voice lessons for three years.  She wore her mother’s clothes and staged plays in her father’s empty studio.  He documented all of her birthdays with a borrowed camera.  He died when she was thirteen.  Her German mother had died when she was two years old.

After her father’s death, Ingrid was sent to live with an aunt who died just six months later from a heart disease.  She moved in with another aunt and uncle who had five children.  Her aunt Elsa was the first one who told Ingrid when she was 11 years old that her mother may have “some Jewish blood”, and that her father was aware of this long before they got married.  Her aunt cautioned her about telling others about her possible ancestry as “there might be some difficult times coming.”  This reminds me of Queen Esther who was intially cautioned by her uncle not to let anyone know that she was a Jew.

In 1932 when she was 17, Ingrid had only one opportunity to become an actress by entering an acting competition with the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.  For Ingrid it was a terrible moment.  She recalled:  As I walked off the stage, I was in mourning.  I was at a funeral.  My own.  It was the death of my creative self.  My heart had truly broken…they didn’t think I was even worth listening to, or watching.”

This couldn’t have be further from the truth as she soon learned after meeting one of the judges who told her, “We loved your security and your impertinance.  We loved you and told each other that there was no reason to waste time as there were dozens of other entrants still to come.  We didn’t need to waste any time with you.  We knew you were a natural and great.  Your future as an actress was settled.”  What a thrill and relief that must have been for the aspiring actress.  She received a scholarship to the state-sponsored Royal Dramatic Theatre School where Greta Garbo had earned a similar scholarship just years earlier.

Ingrid’s dream was now a reality.  She was given a part in a new play and over the summer break, she was hired by a Swedish film studio which led to her departure from the Royal Dramatic Theatre a year later to work full-time in films.  She starred in a dozen films in Sweden, including En kvinnas ansikte which was later remade as A Woman’s Face, starring Joan Crawford.  Ingrid made one film in Germany in 1938.

Then it was off to Hollywood…Thanks to David O. Selznick, she starred in Intermezzo:  A Love Story, her first acting role in the United States.  It was a remake of her 1935 Swedish film, Intermezzo.  Ingrid didn’t plan to stay in Hollywood.  She thought she would complete this film and return home to Sweden to be with her husband, Dr. Peter Lindstrom and their daughter, Pia.

Selznick had concerns about Ingrid.  “She didn’t speak English, she was too tall, her name sounded too German, and her eyebrows were too thick.”  However, Ingrid was accepted without having to modify her looks.  Selznick let her have her way because he understood her fear of Hollywood makeup artists who might turn her into someone she wouldn’t recognize.  He told them to back off.  Besides, he believe that her natural good looks would compete successfully with Hollywood’s “synthetic razzle-dazzle.”

Selznick, who was filming Gone With the Wind at the same time, shared his early impressions of Ingrid in a letter to William Hebert, his publicity director :

Miss Bergman is the most completely conscientious actress with whom I have ever worked, in that she thinks of absolutely nothing but her work before and during the time she is doing a picture … She practically never leaves the studio, and even suggested that her dressing room be equipped so that she could live here during the picture. She never for a minute suggests quitting at six o’clock or anything of the kind … Because of having four stars acting in Gone with the Wind, our star dressing-room suites were all occupied and we had to assign her a smaller suite. She went into ecstasies over it and said she had never had such a suite in her life … All of this is completely unaffected and completely unique and I should think would make a grand angle of approach to her publicity … so that her natural sweetness and consideration and conscientiousness become something of a legend … and is completely in keeping with the fresh and pure personality and appearance which caused me to sign her.

Not surprisingly, Intermezzo was a huge success and resulted in Ingrid becoming a star.  She left quite an impression on Hollywood.  And Selznick’s appreciation of her uniqueness made he and his wife Irene remain important friends to Ingrid throughout her career.

Before making Casablanca, Ingrid made one last film in Sweden and appearing in three moderately successful films, Adam Had Four Sons, Rage in Heaven and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  According to her biographer, she felt guilty that she had misjudged the situation in Germany.  She had dismissed the Nazis as a “temporary aberration, ‘too foolish to be taken seriously.’ She didn’t believe that Germany start a war because the good people of the country would not allow it.  Sadly, she was wrong.  She felt guilty for the rest of her life and when she was in Germany at the end of the war, she had been afraid to go with the others to witness the atrocitites of the Nazi extermination camps.

In 1942, she starred opposite Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, a movie famous for its wonderul lines and the famous song, “As Time Goes By”.  I was surprised to read that Ingrid did not consider it to be one of her favorite performances.  She said, “I made so many films which were more important, but the only one people ever want to talk about is that one with Bogart.”  I thought she and Bogart were great together.

I think I only saw For Whom the Bell Tolls once but really liked it.  My sister and I liked how she looked with her short, blond, curly hair and a “sun-kissed complexion”.  I read that Ernest Hemmingway wanted her to play the part of Maria.  When he met her, after studying her, he exclaimed, “You are Maria!”  When Ernest told Ingrid that she would have to cut her hair to play the part, she was quick to respond, “To get that part, I’d cut my head off!”

For Whom the Bell Tolls, was the film that saved the song, “As Time Goes By” from being removed from Casablanca.  Warner Brothers wanted to substitute the song and planned to re-shoot some scenes with Ingrid but thanks to her hair-cut, they had to drop the idea as there would be a problem with continuity even if she wore a wig.

A year later, Ingrid won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Gaslight.  It was a gripping and suspenseful movie of a wife being driven to madness by her husband, masterfully played by Charles Boyer.  She next starred as a nun in The Bells of St. Mary opposite Bing Cosby, garnering her third consecutive nomination for Best Actress.   She came in a succession of Alfred Hitchock movies, Spellbound, Notorious and Under Capricorn (I never heard of this one).

During her marriage to Lindstrom, Ingrid had a brief affair with Gregory Peck.  This affair was kept private until five years after Ingrid’s death, when Gregory revealed in an interview with Brad Darrach of People, “All I can say is that I had a real love for her (Bergman), and I think that’s where I ought to stop…. I was young. She was young. We were involved for weeks in close and intense work.”

Unlike her affair with Gregory Peck, the one with the Italian film director, Roberto Rossellini was a very public one.   Although Ingrid received another Best Actress nomination for Joan of Arc in 1948, the film was not a hit, partly because news of her affair with Rossellini broke while the movie was still in theatres.  It was her admiration for Rossellini which had led Ingrid to write him a letter, expressing her admiration and suggesting that she make a film with him.  She was cast in his film, Stromboli and during production, she fell in love with him and they began an affair.  She became pregnant with their son, Bergman became pregnant with their son, Renato Roberto Ranaldo Giusto Giuseppe (“Robin”) Rossellini and this affair caused a huge scandal in the United States.  She was denounced on the floor of the United States senate and Ed Sullivan chose not to have her appear on his show despite a poll showing that the public wanted her there.  However, Steve Allen had her on his equally popular show, noting, “the danger of trying to judge artistic activity through the prism of one’s personal life.” 

The scandal drove Ingrid back to Italy, leaving her husband and daughter.  She went through a very public divorce and custody battle for their daughter.  She and Lindstrom divorced a week after her son was born and she married Rossellini in Mexico.  In 1952, Ingrid gave birth to twin daughters Isotta Ingrid Rossellini and Isabella Rossellini.  Five years later she divorced their father and the following year she married Lars Schmidt, a theatrical entrepreneur from a wealthy Swedish shipping family.  That marriage lasted until 1975 when they divorced.

In 1956, Ingrid starred in the movie, Anatasia. It was her return to the American screen and her second Academy Award for Best Actress which her best friend Cary Grant accepted for her.  She made her first appearance in Hollywood since the scandal when she was the presenter of the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 1956 Academy Awards.  She received a standing ovation after being introduced by Cary Grant.  In 1969, she starred opposite Walter Matthau and Goldie Hawn in the hilarious and delightful movie, Cactus Flower.  It was nice seeing Ingrid take a turn in a light romantic comedy.

In 1972, US Senator Charles H. Percy entered an apology in to the Congressional Record for Edwin C. Johnson’s attack on Ingrid 22 years ago.  In 1974 she won her third Oscar for Murder on the Orient Express, earning her the distinction of being one of the few actresses ever to receive three Oscars.  Her final role was as Golda Meir in A Woman Called Golda.   She was offered the part because, “People believe you and trust you, and this is what I want, because Golda Meir had the trust of the people.”  This interested Ingrid and the role was greatly significant for her because she still carried the guilt of misjudging the situation in Germany during World War II.  Ingrid was frequently ill during the film although she hardly showed it or complained.  She was a real trooper.  Four months after the film was completed, on her 67th birthday in London, Ingrid died of breast cancer.  Her daughter, Pia accepted her Emmy.

Ingrid was a  woman of grace, natural beauty who brought realism and dignity to her roles.  She was a star with no temperament, making her a delight to work with, unpretentious, unique, hard-working, “a great star” who “always strove to be a ‘true’ woman.”  She was not a saint but a woman with real emotions.   She was not afraid to speak out against racism.  During a press conference in Washington, D.C. where she was promoting, Joan of Lorraine, she protested against the racial segregation she witnessed firsthand at the theatre where she was performing.  This drew a lot of publicity and some hate mail.  In a news column in the Herald-Journal, she is reported as saying, “I deplore racial discrimination in any form.  To think it would be permitted in the nation’s capital of all places!  I really had not known that there were places in the United States–entertainment places which are for all the people–where everybody could not go.”

Notes to Women salute this remarkable woman and actress who won our hearts and deepest admiration with her grace and courage.  We celebrate one of the greatest leading ladies that ever graced the silver screen.  She once said, “I am an actress and I am interested in acting, not in making money.”  Dear Ingrid, we are so very thankful that you chose acting over opera.

I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have lived my life the way I did if I was going to worry about what people were going to say.

I can do everything with ease on the stage, whereas in real life I feel too big and clumsy. So I didn’t choose acting. It chose me.

I don’t think anyone has the right to intrude in your life, but they do. I would like people to separate the actress and the woman.

Time is shortening. But every day that I challenge this cancer and survive is a victory for me.

If you took acting away from me, I’d stop breathing.

ingrid-bergman

Sources:  Stabroek News ; Wikipedia; IMDB; Brainy Quotes; Herald-Journal

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Hattie McDaniel

I never knew about Hattie McDaniel until I saw her in Gone With the Wind.  She made history when she won an Oscar for playing Mammy in the Academy award winner for best picture.  She was the first African American to do so.  In her acceptance speech, she said, “I sincerely hope that I shall always be a credit to my race, and to the motion picture industry.”  Well, Ms. McDaniel, you are and will always be a credit to your race because you have opened doors for stars like Sidney Poitier, Whoopi Goldberg, Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Monique and most recently Octavia Spencer.

McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood: one for her contributions to radio at 6933 Hollywood Boulevard, and one for motion pictures at 1719 Vine Street. In 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and in 2006 became the first black Oscar winner honored with a US postage stamp.

In addition to having acted in many films, McDaniel was a professional singer-songwriter, comedian, stage actress, radio performer, and television star. Hattie McDaniel was in fact the first black woman to sing on the radio in America. Over the course of her career, McDaniel appeared in over 300 films, although she received screen credits for only about 80. She gained the respect of the African American show business community with her generosity, elegance, and charm.

Hattie McDaniel was born June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansas, to former slaves. She was the youngest of 13 children. Her father, Henry McDaniel, fought in the Civil War with the 122nd USCT and her mother, Susan Holbert, was a singer of religious music. In 1900, the family moved to Colorado, living first in Fort Collins and then in Denver, where Hattie graduated from Denver East High School. Her brother, Sam McDaniel (1886–1962), played the butler in the 1948 Three Stooges’ short film Heavenly Daze. Another acting sibling of Hattie and Sam was actress Etta McDaniel.

In McDaniel’s time, America was segregated in virtually every respect in terms of race. In the South, blacks were barred by law from attending school with whites and subjected to segregation in all other public places Even outside the South, many restaurants and hotels refused to accept black customers. Job opportunities were limited. Custom or restrictive covenants kept blacks from living in “white” neighborhoods. Marriage between blacks and whites was illegal in most states of the United States. The United States military required blacks to serve in all-black regiments. Black Americans also faced the terrorism of lynch mobs without the assurance of federal or state protection. Indeed, in 2005, the U.S. Congress issued an apology for the federal government’s failure to enact lynching legislation to protect blacks in that era.  I will never forget the scene in the movie about Dorothy Dandridge, starring Halle Berry, where the pool at the hotel where she was staying was drained because she dipped her foot in the water.  And insult to injury, African American men were the ones cleaning the pool.  How hurtful that must have been for Dorothy.

The field of entertainment emerged as a profession in which blacks were allowed to reach white and black customers. Still, however, the success of black entertainers and their ability to rise into ownership and management was limited by racial restrictions. Often, many of the same places that allowed blacks to be on stage, did not allow them to sit in the audience as patrons.  State laws allowing discrimination and requiring segregation assured that black entertainers were not allowed the same benefits and opportunities as white ones. Black actors were cast repeatedly in menial roles and were consistently required to speak in contrived stereotypical “Negro dialects.” If black actors did not know how to speak that way, they had to learn to in order to succeed in Hollywood. Movie houses often hired white dialect coaches to teach the so-called “Negro dialect.” 

I hated the way the blacks talked in movies.  It degraded them and made them seem ignorant.  And they were always bowing and shuffling and their eyes wide open as if they were having a fright.  Here are a few examples of words considered “Negro dialect”: ah for I, poe for poor, hit for it, tuh for to, wuz for was, baid for bed, daid for dead, mah for my, ovah for over, wha for where, ifn for if, fiuh or fiah for fire, yo’ for you, cot for caught, kin’ for kind, cose for ’cause, and tho’t for thought.  What?!?

I learnt that the competition to play Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939) had been almost as stiff as that for Scarlett O’Hara. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to film producer David O. Selznick to ask that her own maid, Elizabeth McDuffie, be given the part.  McDaniel did not think she would be chosen, because she was known for being a comic actress. One source claims that Clark Gable recommended the role go to McDaniel; when she went to her audition dressed in an authentic maid’s uniform, she won the part.  Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel became very good friends.   When the date of the Atlanta premiere approached, all the black actors were barred from attending and excluded from being in the souvenir program as well as southern advertising for the film. David Selznick had attempted to bring Hattie McDaniel, but MGM advised him not to because of Georgia’s segregationist laws. Clark Gable angrily threatened to boycott the Atlanta premiere unless McDaniel was allowed to attend, but McDaniel convinced him to attend anyway.  Hattie and her escort were seated at a segregated table for two, apart from her Gone with the Wind colleagues and her colleagues in the motion picture industry, a painful reminder of how far the industry and the country had yet to go in overcoming racism.

The Twelfth Academy Awards took place at the Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It was preceded by a banquet in the same room. Louella Parsons, an American gossip columnist, wrote about Oscar night, February 29, 1940:

“Hattie McDaniel earned that gold Oscar, by her fine performance of “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. If you had seen her face when she walked up to the platform and took the gold trophy, you would have had the choke in your voice that all of us had when Hattie, hair trimmed with gardenias, face alight, and dress up to the queen’s taste, accepted the honor in one of the finest speeches ever given on the Academy floor. …

Hattie did look wonderful and she was deeply humbled.  She said, “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. ”

Hattie was also known for her community service work.  During World War II. She was appointed the Chair of the “Negro Division” of the Hollywood Victory Committee, providing entertainment for soldiers stationed at military bases. (The military was segregated and black entertainers were not allowed to serve on white entertainment committees.) She asked her friend actor Leigh Whipper and other well known black entertainers to join her Negro Division Victory committee. She also put in numerous personal appearances to hospitals, threw parties, performed at United Service Organizations (USO) shows and war bond rallies, to raise funds to support the war, on behalf of the Victory Committee.  Bette Davis also performed for black regiments as the only white member of an acting troupe formed by Hattie McDaniel, that also included Lena Horne and Ethel Waters.  She was also a member of American Women’s Voluntary Services.

She joined actor Clarence Muse, one of the earliest black members of the Screen Actors Guild, for an NBC radio broadcast to raise funds for Red Cross relief programs for Americans, who had been displaced by devastating floods. She gained a reputation for generous giving, often feeding and lending money to friends and stranger alike.

Hattie was married four times.  When she was married to James Lloyd Crawford, she happily informed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in 1945 that she was pregnant. McDaniel began buying baby clothes and setting up a nursery. Her plans were shattered when the doctor informed her she had a false pregnancy; McDaniel fell into a depression. She never had any children. She divorced Crawford in 1945, after four and a half years of marriage. She said he was jealous of her career and once threatened to kill her.  Hattie  befriended several of Hollywood’s most popular stars, including Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Shirley Temple, Henry Fonda, Ronald Reagan, Olivia de Havilland and Clark Gable (as I mentioned earlier).

Hattie died at age 57 from breast cancer, in the hospital on the grounds of the Motion Picture House in Woodland Hills, on October 26, 1952. She was childless and was divorced from her fourth husband. She was survived by her brother, Sam McDaniel. Thousands of mourners turned out to remember her life and accomplishments. In her will, McDaniel wrote: “I desire a white casket and a white shroud; white gardenias in my hair and in my hands, together with a white gardenia blanket and a pillow of red roses. I also wish to be buried in the Hollywood Cemetery”. The Hollywood Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood was the resting place of movie stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, and others. Hollywood Cemetery refused to allow her to be buried there, because it, too, practiced racial segregation. It did not accept the bodies of black people. Her second choice was Rosedale Cemetery, where she lies today. 

Notes to Women celebrate and remembers this resilient woman, gifted actress and beacon of hope for other African Americans.  She left behind two legacies–her contributions to radio and the movie industry.   She was not opposed to playing menial roles.  She reportedly said,”Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I didn’t, I’d be making $7 a week being one.”  We thought it fitting to end Black History Month by celebrating the life and acchievements of this model of offscreen courage and great, show-stealing onscreen performances. 

A woman’s gifts will make room for her.

Faith is the black person’s federal reserve system.

I did my best, and God did the rest.

I don’t belong on this earth. I always feel out of place – like a visitor.

I am loathe to get married again. I’ve been married enough; I just prefer to forget it.What is the thing that Hollywood demands most? Sincerity. No place in the world will pay such a high price for this admirable trait.Hattie McDaniel
 

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hattie_McDanielhttp://www.imdb.com/name/nm0567408/biohttp://www.popmatters.com/tv/reviews/b/beyond-tara.htmlhttp://www.mahoganycafe.com/hattiemcdaniel.html; http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2010/01/harry_reid_could_use_a_lesson.html

Global Renaissance Woman

“I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone…”

Maya blamed herself for the death of the man who sexually abused and raped her when she was only eight years old.  For five years she remained mute until a teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, helped her to speak again.

In her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya touches on her childhood rape.  Rape is used as a metaphor for the suffering of her race. Another metaphor, that of a bird struggling to escape its cage, is a central image throughout the work, which consists of “a sequence of lessons about resisting racist oppression”.  Angelou’s treatment of racism delivers a thematic unity to the book. Literacy, and seizing the power of words, help young Maya cope with her bewildering world; books become her refuge as she works through her trauma.

 Caged Bird was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970 and remained on The New York Times paperback bestseller list for two years. It has been used in educational settings from high schools to universities, and the book has been celebrated for creating new literary avenues for the American memoir. However, the book’s graphic depiction of childhood rape, racism, and sexuality has caused it to be challenged or banned in some schools and libraries.

 The success of  I Know Why the Caged Bird sings hailed Maya as the as a new kind of memoirist and earned her the distinction of being the first African American women who was able to publicly discuss her personal life.  She became recognized and highly respected as a spokesperson for blacks and women. It made her “without a doubt, …America’s most visible black woman autobiographer”.  According to author Hilton Als, Maya made an important contribution to the increase of black feminist writings in the 1970s.  Her writings which were more about self-revelation than politics freed many other female writers to “open themselves up without the shame to the eyes of the world.”

 Angelou is one of the most honored writers of her generation. She has been honored by universities, literary organizations, government agencies, and special interest groups. Her honors include a National Book Award nomination for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her book of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, a Tony Award nomination for her role in the 1973 play Look Away, and three Grammys for her spoken word albums. 

 In 1995, Angelou’s publishing company, Bantam Books, recognized her for having the longest-running record (two years) on The New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List. In 1998, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She has served on two presidential committees, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Musician Ben Harper has honored Angelou with his song “I’ll Rise”, which includes words from her poem, “Still I Rise.” She has been awarded over thirty honorary degrees.

Maya is dubbed the “global renaissance woman”  She is hailed as one of the great voices of contemporary literature.  She travels and continues to captivate audiences with her words and lyrics.  She is a multifaceted woman–poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director and an inspiration for many of us.  Notes to Women salute this amazing woman who found her voice and is using it to spreading her legendary wisdom. 

 I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.

   

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Know_Why_the_Caged_Bird_Sings

http://mayaangelou.com/