Tag Archives: ingrid bergman

The Friendship of Ingrid Bergman and Ruth Roberts


Ingrid Bergman with Ruth Roberts, to her left, and other crew on the set of Gaslight (1944)

During this COVID-19 crisis, I’m finding daily routine to be a key factor in maintaining some semblance of normalcy. For me, this means daily classic movies at set times of the day. Movies keep me calm, and bring comfort in a world that seems to be crumbling further every day. If you derive comfort from film the way I do, and you haven’t discovered the Criterion Collection yet, I’m finding it to be a godsend in this regard, a movie lover’s dream. Having finished the delightful Jean Arthur collection, I’m now working my way through the “Ingrid Bergman in Europe” collection, a diverse group of films from Ingrid Bergman’s pre-Hollywood days in Sweden, and her work in Europe following her troubles in Hollywood.

I have always found Ingrid Bergman a fascinating personality and from childhood, have been riveted by her comforting, Swedish-accented voice, distinctive beauty, magnificent acting and personal strength of character. Her onscreen portrayals reflect her offscreen strength, as she frequently played independent and strong women, including the likes of Joan of Arc and Golda Meir. The difficulties she faced in Hollywood (she fell in love with Roberto Rossellini and gave birth to their son, Roberto, out of wedlock in 1949) were excruciatingly painful. While she suffered immensely at having been rejected by Hollywood, she held her chin high and continued working–albeit in Europe for the next 7 years rather than in the United States where she had effectively been ostracized.


Ingrid Bergman before coming to Hollywood.

Bergman was a gifted linguist and polyglot–brought up in Stockholm bilingual in Swedish and German, she loved language for its own sake and was able to adjust quickly to life and work in Europe. However, when she came to the United States to work on the English version of Intermezzo for David O. Selznick in 1939, it was a different story. Her knowledge of English was rudimentary at best, and Selznick was worried about how she would sound onscreen. On her first day at the studio, she was introduced to a woman named Ruth Roberts, who was to be her English language and dialogue coach.

Ruth Roberts was the sister of director George Seaton, and came from a Swedish immigrant family herself. Ruth spoke fluent Swedish due to her family background, and later served as Loretta Young’s Swedish dialect coach on The Farmer’s Daughter. But she made the decision not to divulge her bilingualism to Ingrid.

In order to familiarize Ingrid with English, of which she knew just a smattering (she speaks a few lines of simple, broken English in the Swedish film Dollar, which is interesting to hear), Selznick demanded that she spend day and night with Roberts. At first, Ingrid balked at this order–but ultimately accepted. After a few mere hours with Ruth Roberts, Ingrid realized that she had been wrong to resist. She had found a kindred spirit, a woman who would become her best friend and one of the great influences of her life.

The two did, indeed, spend all their time together, speaking nothing but English–and Ingrid found that despite her initial hesitancy at having her freedom curtailed, she adored Ruth and enjoyed spending time with her. In her autobiography, My Story, Ingrid recalled that one day when Ruth was coaching her on the set, there was a word whose pronunciation Ingrid was struggling with. “If only you could give me one Swedish word…” Ingrid said sadly, knowing she could get the pronunciation if she only knew how to form her mouth correctly. Ruth looked her right in the eye and gave her a Swedish word with the same sound.

“You speak Swedish?” Ingrid asked incredulously.

“I am Swedish.”

“Then why–”

“Because, Ingrid dear, if I’d told you earlier you’d be jabbering away in Swedish and my job is to get your English right.”

From the American version of Intermezzo, Ingrid Bergman’s first English language film.

The revelation of Ruth’s bilingualism deepened their friendship further, and their shared connection to Sweden helped Ingrid acclimate and learn quickly. It was thanks to her friendship with Ruth Roberts that her English improved so rapidly. Ruth remained Ingrid’s dialect coach throughout her career, even when Ingrid spoke perfect English and had established her “voice” in Hollywood. Ingrid’s autobiography is filled with correspondence with Ruth Roberts, in both English and Swedish, and stories of Ruth’s emotional support during Ingrid’s ostracization from Hollywood and her connection to Ingrid’s children. Their friendship was lifelong, and though Ruth was 16 years older, the two died only 3 months apart in 1982.

The gift that this friendship gave Ingrid is immeasurable. Though she did have a gift for languages, eventually learning 2 more in addition to English, her personal and professional connection to Ruth Roberts provided her with the foundation and confidence to not only work in a foreign language, but to win 3 Oscars in it. This was not lost on Ingrid, who treasured their friendship and remained grateful to Ruth for the rest of her life.




A few nights ago, I went to my local movie theater in Berkeley to see a movie I had been looking forward to ever since I heard that it was part of the Cannes Film Festival last year. Entitled Ingrid Bergman-In Her Own Words, this beautiful documentary based on the diaries of Ingrid Bergman and supplemented by interviews with her children, was something I couldn’t miss.

I fell in love with Ingrid Bergman before I had even reached my junior high years. The first time I saw Casablanca was at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, when I was 11 years old. I knew I was watching something special–not just because the theater was packed to the gills and the line stretched around the block to get in, but because once the movie started, I couldn’t take my eyes off the unusually beautiful woman on the screen. I loved her mysterious accent, those expressive eyes, and the comforting timbre of her voice. She was unlike anything I had seen before in my 11 years, and it was right then and there that I experienced the appeal and charm of Ingrid Bergman.

By the age of 13, I had read all the biographies, seen her complete filmography, and had become fascinated by a woman who not only exuded one of the gentlest, most alluring personalities on the screen (and who I found much warmer and more comforting than Greta Garbo), but who, I found, lived her personal life her own way, beholden to no one.

For me as an Ingrid Bergman devotee and aficionado, the documentary was beautifully done. Woven together with excerpts from her own diary, letters to friends and interviews with her family members, it was a loving tribute to a charming, complex woman who valued her freedom above all else. From her early childhood in Sweden to her Hollywood years, her relationships with her children, and her final years and death, it helped to fill in gaps in my understanding of Ingrid Bergman as a human being, and to better understand her reasons for many of her life choices.


One of the most interesting aspects of Ingrid Bergman’s life, to me, has always been the tragic nature of her childhood, and how, in spite of losing her entire family by the time she was 14, she was able to overcome the immense obstacles of her life and fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming an actress. I came away from the movie with a new perspective on Ingrid Bergman’s childhood. It was not in spite of these obstacles, I found, that she was able to become as successful and brilliant an actress as she became. It was because of them. Entries from her childhood diary outline how she never felt at home unless she was acting, as it took her away from her grim reality of her surroundings. Another aspect of Ingrid Bergman’s life that the documentary highlighted was Ingrid’s penchant for carrying a camera onto her sets and filming 16mm home movies. We often see photos of Ingrid behind a camera, shooting scenes from her sets or home movies of her children. Cinema was Ingrid’s life, and whether behind or in front of the camera, she was most comfortable when enmeshed in that world.


Before leaving for Hollywood, Ingrid married brain surgeon Petter Lindstrom, and their daughter Pia was born in 1938. Ingrid was a loving mother, if not always a present one, to Pia when she was young, and interviews with Pia for the documentary are strikingly different from those with her other three children. Pia’s interviews are more analytical, less sugar-coated than her siblings’, and while she clearly loved her mother, Pia does not make any excuses for Ingrid’s frequent absences and prioritizing her career and romantic life over her children. The interviews with her siblings, all carrying the surname “Rossellini,” are warm, understanding, and loving in contrast.

While filming Stromboli in Italy in 1949, Ingrid Bergman fell in love with Roberto Rossellini, whom she had admired for many years and to whom she had written to ask for a role in one of his films. Ingrid’s status as a married woman with a pre-teen daughter complicated their relationship, and the scandal with Rossellini shocked the world when it was revealed that Ingrid had become pregnant with Rossellini’s child. The two married several months after the birth of their son, Roberto Jr., and a few years later Ingrid gave birth to a pair of twins, Isotta Ingrid (known now simply as “Ingrid”) and Isabella. Following the scandal with Rossellini, Ingrid Bergman was blacklisted from movies both in the United States and her native Sweden, labeled a “blot on the Swedish flag” and unfit to make movies in the United States due to morality concerns. She didn’t make another movie in either country until 1956, but when she did, it was a smash–Ingrid’s American comeback in Anastasia garnered her her third Oscar.


The documentary touches on this part of Ingrid’s life with sensitivity and grace, and the perspectives of her children on the aspects of her personality that may have contributed to it were very insightful. The lasting impression that one gets from the documentary is that Ingrid Bergman was a woman who could not be tied down, a fascinating and complicated woman ahead of her time.

Because of my longstanding love for Ingrid Bergman, it is difficult for me to know how the general public might feel about this documentary. The documentary assumes some basic knowledge about Ingrid Bergman and classic Hollywood in general, and when several members of the audience walked out of the movie, I hypothesized that they likely lacked the background needed to fully appreciate its message. I would absolutely recommend it to someone with a passing knowledge of classic Hollywood. To someone who does not have that background, I might suggest reading a Bergman biography and watching a few of her movies before watching this documentary.

But for those of us fully converted to Bergman-ism, it is pure joy.