Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant: An “Indiscreet” Friendship

“A kiss could last three seconds. We just kissed each other and talked, leaned away and kissed each other again. Then the telephone came between us, then we moved to the other side of the telephone. So it was a kiss which opened and closed; but the censors couldn’t and didn’t cut the scene because we never at any one point kissed for more than three seconds. We did other things: we nibbled on each other’s ears, and kissed a cheek, so that it looked endless, and became sensational in Hollywood.” —Ingrid Bergman, recalling The Kiss That Launched A Thousand Antacids in the Hays Office.

In a way, that Notorious kiss mirrored Bergman’s lifelong friendship with Cary Grant: an effortless intimacy, never really separated even when apart—and always finding their way back to each other.

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They first met briefly in 1938, at a party David O. Selznick threw to welcome Bergman to Hollywood and promote Intermezzo. But they didn’t spend any real time together until Alfred Hitchcock teamed them up eight years later. Bergman had just painfully parted from war photographer Robert Capa, whom she’d met and fallen in love with while entertaining the troops in Europe. Grant was in the midst of a divorce from heiress Barbara Hutton. Orphans of the storm, they found safe harbor with each other.

Usually friendly but reserved toward his co-stars, Grant immediately sensed Bergman’s deep unhappiness and unease. Though she’d worked with Hitchcock before, on Spellbound, the part of Alicia Huberman called for her to be far more vulnerable and much less in control—emotions uncomfortably close to her real life at the time. Grant instinctively took her under his wing, protecting her from the rigors of a role that frayed every raw nerve.

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The two grew close as they worked through their intimate scenes between takes, and often talked late into the night—sometimes about their director, who once called Grant “the only actor I ever loved” but was, at times, his usual autocratic self with Bergman, perhaps to mask his growing feelings for her.

“Ingrid took acting so seriously—she was a splendid, splendid performer but she wasn’t very relaxed in front of the camera,” Grant recalled years later. “She spoke English beautifully, of course, but she would occasionally have problems with some of its nuances.

“One morning, she had difficulty with her lines,” he went on. “She had to say her lines a certain way so I could imitate her readings. We worked on the scene for a couple of hours. Hitch never said anything. He just sat next to the camera, puffing on his cigar.”

Fearing he might be making her even more self-conscious, Grant stepped away from the set. “Later, when I was making my way back, I heard her say her lines perfectly,” he said. “At which point Hitch said ‘Cut!’ Followed by ‘Good morning, Ingrid.'”

After filming one of the most famous scenes—where the camera swoops down the spiral staircase to zero in on the key in Bergman’s hand—Grant did something he’d almost never felt compelled to do on a set before or since: he kept a souvenir. More on that later…

As the summer of ’46 wore on, the Notorious set became more relaxed. Bergman and Hitchcock had become such friends that he even allowed her to—gasp!—make suggestions about certain scenes. And she and Grant, it was clear, would remain close, regardless of where life or movies took them. A few months later, at the 1947 Academy Awards, Grant declared, “I think the Academy ought to set aside a special award for Bergman every year whether she makes a picture or not!”

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When the movie wrapped in August 1946, Grant made the unlikely segue into The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, while Bergman headed to New York to star in Maxwell Anderson’s Joan of Lorraine. Wandering along Broadway one day, she ducked into a theatre to see Roberto Rossellini’s Open City and was powerfully struck by its rawness and lack of artifice. After seeing a second film by the director, she wrote to him with an unusual offer:

“Dear Mr. Rossellini, I saw your films, Paisan and Open City, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not yet very understandable in French, and who, in Italian, knows only ‘ti amo,’ I am ready to come and make a film with you.” 

He accepted.

After shooting Under Capricorn, her final film for Hitchcock, as well as Joan of Arc, based on the Anderson play, Bergman headed to Italy. Not long after, in April 1949, news of the married mother’s affair with her Italian director became public. The following February, while in the midst of a divorce and ugly custody battle, she gave birth to their son, Robertino. She and Rossellini married in May 1950.

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Bergman was excoriated by preachers, politicians and pundits; she was even denounced from the floor of the US Senate, as if she belonged in the same company as Hitler and Mussolini. American studios slammed their doors, many colleagues turned their backs, and disillusioned moviegoers took to their fainting couches. “People saw me as Joan of Arc and declared me a saint,” she recalled later. “I’m not. I’m just a woman, another human being.”

The list of those who didn’t condemn Bergman was considerably shorter—and at the head of it was Cary Grant. He stood by her and defended her, staying in close touch through all her years in Italy.

But after almost eight years and six films together, Rossellini and Bergman parted in 1956—and by then, Hollywood was ready to “forgive” the actress. She returned to the States to take the lead in Anastasia, and promptly picked up an Oscar nod. The night of the ceremony, she was in Paris starring in Tea and Sympathy. In the event she won, there was only one person she wanted to accept the award on her behalf.

And she won. And he did.

Not long after, Grant teamed with director Stanley Donen to produce Indiscreet, and both dearly hoped that Bergman would sign on. Donen arrived in Paris to make a personal pitch—but, having already learned of Grant’s involvement, though nothing else, she was one step ahead of the director. Before he could even settle into the sofa, she said, “I want to put you at ease—I’m going to do the picture.” Then she asked him what, exactly, the picture was.

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She would later learn that Grant—who knew her years in Italy had not been lucrative—was making sure she got a percentage of the gross receipts in addition to her fee. Oh and he had authorized a fabulous wardrobe for her, enlisting the aid of a fellow named Christian Dior.

By the time London location shooting began in 1957, Bergman and Rossellini had legally separated. Touching down at Heathrow Airport for a pre-film press conference, Bergman braced herself for the media jackals. She needn’t have worried. Grant was right there waiting.

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“I was taken into the transit lounge for the press conference, and there was Cary Grant sitting up on the table,” Bergman later recalled. “He shouted across the heads of the journalists ‘Ingrid, wait till you hear my problems!’”

But the Fleet Street hounds weren’t taking the bait; they continued to howl at Bergman about her impending divorce. “Come on fellas! You can’t ask a lady that!” Grant gallantly quipped. “Ask me the same question and I´ll give you an answer. So you´re not interested in my life? It’s twice as colorful as Ingrid’s!”

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Once the rescue mission was complete, filming could commence. In Indiscreet, a romantic comedy based on Norman Krasna’s Kind Sir, Bergman plays Anna Kalman, a glamorous and accomplished actress who falls for Philip Adams (Grant), a world-renowned economist trapped in a loveless marriage with no hope of escape. At least that’s the tragic tale he’s woven for her. In reality, as we learn early on, it’s just an elaborate ruse to avoid serious involvement.

Their chemistry practically pours off the screen, whether they’re nuzzling in the drawing room or sharing the details of their day, split-screen, on the phone. She’s warm, he’s cool. She’s discreet, he’s direct. “Cary was always quick off the trigger,” director Stanley Donen remembered. “Bang—it was there. That was delightful. Ingrid just had a slower tempo. But it wasn’t a problem—they were magic together.”

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The whole film feels like a dance of sorts, but there’s also an actual dance scene, which is beyond fabulous. Anna’s discovered the truth about Philip and is seriously pissed. (“How dare he make love to me and not be married!”) But, never one to ruffle an elegant evening, she lets him lead her to the floor anyway. Oh and watch for the moment when Grant bursts into a fabulous, loose-legged jig:

When shooting wrapped, Bergman found a small, neatly wrapped package in her dressing room. Tucked inside was the key to the wine cellar, from Notorious, which Grant had slipped into his pocket as a keepsake years earlier, when they first became friends. With it was a note urging Bergman to keep the key for good luck.

Their last public appearance together was in 1979, when Bergman, looking luminous in royal blue, hosted the American Film Institute’s tribute to Hitchcock:

In the glorious closing scene of Notorious, the desperately ill Alicia clings to Devlin and whispers, with all the strength that’s left in her, “Oh you love me, you love me…” And he assures her, “Long ago, all the time, since the beginning…” And so it was with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

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8 Comments

  1. What a fabulous post! Absolutely love those two actors and love reading about their life-long friendship.

    • Thank you so much, Linda! I love them too, and I love their story together. I was so happy to share it!!

  2. Lovey post on Bergman and Grant. How great to have such a staunch and reliable friend. Indiscreet itself is such a marvelous film, about mature romance, and they both positively glow in it.

  3. El artículo me parece muy bonito e inspirador, muy atinado ahora que se aproxima el día de la amistad. Yo amo la película y a estos dos grandes actores…
    Muchas gracias por escribirlo y compartirlo con los lectores; es muy refrescante poder comprobar que todavía existen personas que ensalzan las cualidades de los seres humanos.

  4. kyin ko

    Thank you so much for this lovely and revealing piece

    • You’re more than welcome! Thank you for your kind words!! ❤

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  1. The Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon Is Here! | The Wonderful World of Cinema

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