Ben Mason's Reviews > Notorious: The Life of Ingrid Bergman

Notorious by Donald Spoto
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's review
Mar 25, 2011

Read from March 21 to 25, 2011

I have seen some of the other reviews, which criticize Mr. Spoto for putting together a book that is too much hagiography rather than biography. After reading it, I see what they are getting at, but I disagree for a few reasons. First, I doubt that it will ever be possible for a biographer to deal with a genuinely nice, polite, considerate human being without critics alleging that the book is “hagiography”. “Real” does not automatically mean “nasty and brutish”—we are not all Thomas Hobbes. Frankly, someone who does believe that is revealing far more about their own life and upbringing than about the subject.

Second, when Spoto gives context for the bad things that Bergman does, he does not explain away the bad conduct—at least, it seemed to me that he did not. He was merely providing the context for her behavior. It was “this is why she did this”, not “this is why it is okay that she did this.” The first is essential, in my mind, for a good biography. Even good people, and certainly the kind of person whose life makes a good subject for a biography, will have actions that are odd, or stupid, or wrong, etc. Like that Texas kid who took the timeout yesterday, I was thinking “what are you doing?!?! Why would you do that?” So too it is with Bergman’s life. For example, Roberto Rossellini was a fat, balding, volcanic-tempered, lazy, good-for-nothing flake of a person. He was as selfish a human being as you are likely to find, and he did not even have the saving grace of being good-looking. So why was she sufficiently attracted to him to leave her controlling, coldfish of a husband? That’s what I wanted to know, and Spoto provided the info.

So far, Petter Lindstrom is a cold, bitter prick, who does not mind scarring his daughter for life, if he can wound his wife/ex-wife while doing so. He is a self-centered chauvanist, and I think I hate him. She left him for Roberto Rossellini, who was worse. She certainly had shitty taste in husbands. Her last husband, Lars Schmidt, seemed to finally be the best friend she’d wished she’d had her whole life. I think it is fascinating to see how much unmarried sex these movie stars had, even back then. I mean, obviously, that’s the reason she was denounced on the floor of the Senate, and her pictures were banned from theaters across America (mostly in the South). But it ain’t like she was a lot worse than the other movie stars of the day—she wasn’t. She just had a “saint” image that made people feel more betrayed when she was found to be just like everyone else.

I think it did make fairly clear the difficulty in life when you place your priorities upon your career and you make a conscious decision to subordinate your relationships, both with your children and your husband(s), to that career. Sure, it was more public because her career was a public one, but I'm sure there are tons of people out there who had a similar life arch to Ingrid Bergman because they put their job first their whole life.

Personally, I only work so I have money to pay for food and heat. If I were rich, I'd spend all my time with my wife and kids.

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