Swedish Film Star Ingrid Bergman Has a Child Out of Wedlock

Swedish film star Ingrid Bergman had an impeccable moral and professional reputation when she left the United States for Italy to make a film with director Roberto Rossellini. Bergman and Rossellini shocked many when they started a love affair while both were still married to others. Before they married each other, Bergman gave birth to their first child, an even more shocking event at the time.

Summary of Event

At the end of the 1940’s, Ingrid Bergman was arguably the world’s most famous film actor. Though her career had started in her native Sweden—and she had even worked in Nazi Germany—it was in Hollywood that her career had flourished. Gossip columnists practically canonized her as a person who could do no wrong, praising her naturalness, absence of cosmetic enhancement, and family life. [kw]Film Star Ingrid Bergman Has a Child Out of Wedlock, Swedish (Feb. 7, 1950)
[kw]Bergman Has a Child Out of Wedlock, Swedish Film Star Ingrid (Feb. 7, 1950)
[kw]Wedlock, Swedish Film Star Ingrid Bergman Has a Child Out of (Feb. 7, 1950)
Bergman, Ingrid
Rossellini, Roberto
Marriage;Ingrid Bergman[Bergman]
Marriage;Roberto Rossellini[Rossellini]
Bergman, Ingrid
Rossellini, Roberto
Marriage;Ingrid Bergman[Bergman]
Marriage;Roberto Rossellini[Rossellini]
[g]Europe;Feb. 7, 1950: Swedish Film Star Ingrid Bergman Has a Child Out of Wedlock[00870]
[g]Italy;Feb. 7, 1950: Swedish Film Star Ingrid Bergman Has a Child Out of Wedlock[00870]
[g]Sweden;Feb. 7, 1950: Swedish Film Star Ingrid Bergman Has a Child Out of Wedlock[00870]
[c]Public morals;Feb. 7, 1950: Swedish Film Star Ingrid Bergman Has a Child Out of Wedlock[00870]
[c]Families and children;Feb. 7, 1950: Swedish Film Star Ingrid Bergman Has a Child Out of Wedlock[00870]
[c]Sex;Feb. 7, 1950: Swedish Film Star Ingrid Bergman Has a Child Out of Wedlock[00870]
Rossellini, Roberto Ingmar
Lindstrom, Petter
Lindstrom, Pia

Roberto Rosselini and Ingrid Bergman in London in 1956.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Family values were stressed in postwar America, and fan magazines featured smiling pictures of film stars at home with their children. Bergman was married to a distinguished physician and the mother of a ten-year-old daughter. She was also a serious performer who did not pose for cheesecake photos, sought to make serious films, and was best known for her roles as an innocent wife in Gaslight (1944), a sacrificing wife in Casablanca (1942), and a long-suffering nun in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945). She had just finished a well-publicized film portrayal of her childhood idol, Joan of Arc, when the scandal broke.

Robert Capa, a war photographer, took Bergman to view the innovative Italian film Roma, Citta Operta (1945; Rome, open city). This powerful story of Italian resistance, with its gritty scenes of devastation, came as a revelation to Bergman. Her Hollywood films, in all their glitter, seemed trivial in relation to such work. She was informed that Roberto Rossellini, the director of the film, worked only in Italy, cared only about truth, and made films in a documentary style. She wrote him a charming, slightly flirtatious letter expressing her admiration and her desire to work with him, though admitting that the only Italian words she knew were ti amo (I love you).

For all his artistic loftiness, Rossellini was flattered that a famous Hollywood celebrity would pursue him. He made a trip to the United States, stayed at the home of Bergman and her husband (Petter Lindstrom), and persuaded Bergman to make a film with him in Italy. Bergman later admitted in her memoir that her marriage to Lindstrom had become meaningless by the time of Rossellini’s visit, and she had only been waiting for someone to liberate her. Meanwhile, Rossellini, though still married as well, was living separately from his wife with the tempestuous actor Anna Magnani, who performed magnificently in his films. When Bergman left the United States, she told Pia, her daughter, “goodbye,” not realizing that it would be several years before she saw her child again. The guilt of this separation from her daughter, at such a critical age, would remain with Bergman for the rest of her life.

On the island of Stromboli, where Rossellini decided to make his film, living conditions were primitive. Instead of professional actors, Rossellini used local fishermen. There was no set story line, and no real dialogue for Bergman to learn. She had no wardrobe mistress, and, without a double, was forced to climb the volcanic mountain, which erupted while they were filming. Unused to Rossellini’s methods, she found the work hard, but she easily responded to the ardent demonstrative Italian, who now vowed to possess her as both performer and woman.

Rumors from Stromboli reached the newspapers, and pictures of Bergman and Rossellini, hand in hand, walking through the rugged terrain of Stromboli, appeared in major magazines in Europe and the United States. Rossellini was able to annul his marriage and moved to separate himself from Magnani, who allegedly threw a bowl of hot spaghetti in his face. Lindstrom was more hesitant to give Bergman a divorce, hoping she would still return, and the custody of Pia was a major concern. Subsequent events, together with Bergman’s desertion of her family in the United States, settled the custody battle in Lindstrom’s favor. However, there was soon an added urgency in Bergman’s pleas for a divorce because she was pregnant, and Rossellini was the father.

Turmoil followed news of the impending birth. A public that had been sold the sanctified image of Bergman now felt betrayed. Hollywood studios feared that her movies would be banned in theaters throughout the United States. During the late 1940’s, a time in which attitudes about out-of-wedlock children could ruin a career, studio press agents covered up illicit affairs. Abortions were secret but common in Hollywood, and some actresses presented their illegitimate offspring as adopted.

Roberto Ingmar Rossellini was born February 7, 1950, in a Rome hospital. His birth was greeted with an international uproar. U.S. senator Edwin C. Johnson denounced Bergman on the floor of the U.S. Senate, calling her a disgrace to American womanhood (while acknowledging that she was not a U.S. citizen). Her native Sweden was even less sympathetic, as newspapers complained that she had disgraced her country of birth in front of the entire world. After many complications, Bergman and Rossellini were finally able to marry on May 24. Two years later, twin daughters, Isabella and Isotta, were born to them.

Despite the attractiveness of their growing family and the sacrifices they had made for each other, Bergman and Rossellini were not happy. Rossellini insisted that Bergman work only in his films and the stage plays he directed, and their collaboration did not flourish. Even more than Lindstrom before him, he dominated her life, and his tempestuous personality became difficult for the more placid Bergman. In her autobiography, she claimed that it was with more relief than sorrow that she agreed to their divorce in 1957, after he had left her for a woman he met in India. She later married a third time, to a fellow Swede, but was divorced after twelve years.


For a time Bergman’s career was suspended in the United States, while she performed in film and on stage in Europe, always under Rossellini’s direction. An especially tasteless manifestation of America’s rejection took place in July of 1956. Ed Sullivan, the humorless host of a popular television variety show, negotiated an interview with Bergman from London. Unsure, however, of audience acceptance, he asked viewers to vote by mail on whether or not she should appear. He reminded viewers that Bergman had had six years to do penance and that perhaps now she should be forgiven. When she heard of Sullivan’s remarks, Bergman understandably was outraged, declaring that she had enjoyed a good life, had not been doing penance, and would not appear on his show.

Bergman weathered the scandal and came back stronger as a result. After a few years in Europe, she had returned to American films with Anastasia (1956), a role for which she was considered too old and inhibited. Still, she won an Oscar for the performance. Americans embraced her with an enthusiasm that suggested the guilt had been theirs rather than hers; fans were now more tolerant. There also was a growing respect for film acting, and it was her work that had helped establish it as a recognized art. She continued making films in both the United States and Europe, even working with the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman (no relation), whose father had confirmed her in Lutheranism years before in Sweden. Her appearances on stage and television were successful. Her first devotion, as always, was to her acting, and she performed almost to the end of her life.

With the arrival of the 1960’s came a sexual revolution of sorts, which swept the United States and Europe, and earlier condemnations of Bergman now seemed quaint. She was respected for proudly giving birth to her son and avoiding the hypocrisy and subterfuges of others who had been less open in their relationships. The attitude toward the private lives of celebrities now turned from censure to prurient curiosity, and movies themselves became more honest. In films, honeymooning couples no longer had to sleep in separate twin beds, and the traditional Hollywood happy ending was far from imperative. Sweden
Bergman, Ingrid
Rossellini, Roberto
Marriage;Ingrid Bergman[Bergman]
Marriage;Roberto Rossellini[Rossellini]

Further Reading

  • Bergman, Ingrid, and Alan Burgess. Ingrid Bergman: My Story. New York: Delacourt Press, 1980. An authorized account, with parts written by Bergman herself. Insightful, though not all facts are accurate and interpretations are subjective.
  • Chandler, Charlotte. Ingrid: Ingrid Bergman, A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. A major biography, containing little new information but readable and admired by Bergman’s children.
  • Leamer, Laurence. As Time Goes By: The Life of Ingrid Bergman. New York: Harper & Row, 1986. A more critical look at Bergman’s art and life. Portions of the work published in slightly different form in People and other magazines.
  • Spoto, Donald. Notorious: The Life of Ingrid Bergman. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2001. A complete and balanced treatment of Bergman’s life and career, written by an informed admirer. Originally published in 1997, and still the standard.

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