It was a televised night to remember. Not a ship sinking, but a society listing heavily to port. Thursday, December 4. You could catch the traditional lighting of the nation’s Christmas Tree out on the ellipse in Washington, some good music from a Texas band, a service orchestra, brief remarks from the President, and “blam!” — the tree lights up and there is a little frisson of “yes, we are a nation of one will and mutual affection.”
Couple hours later, though, and we are reminded of the social malaise in which we are mired. Three daughters of the late actress Ingrid Bergman are being interviewed by Larry King. Two, Isabella and Ingrid, were fathered by Roberto Rossellini, with whom Bergman had an infamous affair in 1949. And the third was Pia Lindstrom, Ingrid’s daughter by the cuckolded husband (Pia’s description), Peter. The three seemed to get along famously. And they were there not just to talk about their late mother’s indiscretions, but also the inauguration on DVD of their mother’s most famous film, Casablanca.
The Rossellini reverberations in 1949-50 cannot even be imagined by generations of this day. The nation that cherished Casablanca, that could watch the movie and recite nearly every line as it came up, had loved the luminous Swede with the perfect face because with but one notable exception — the bad girl in Jeckyll and Hyde — she had always played the heroine-victim. Now, suddenly, in real life, she had victimized her husband and her public and done it while off making some explosive movie called Stromboli with some Italian director named Rossellini. She would bear a son, and then marry him. America was shocked, yes, even awed.
She was denounced on the U. S. Senate floor, Senator Edwin Johnson of Colorado declaring her a “powerful influence for evil.” For five years, Bergman made films with Rossellini in Italy. The ’50’s were changing America. There was no rock ‘n roll version of “As Time Goes By.” In 1956 Ingrid Bergman came back to the United States to make Anastasia, won another Oscar, and divorced Rossellini the next year.
The three daughters recalled the day their mother died. She was 67, succumbed on her birthday in London in 1982. None of them was there. But they had kept in touch.
The interview seemed to make clear that all was forgiven because the offense was so innocuous, like a Victorian forgetting that the kerchief must match the cravat, a minor slip of grace. And we should watch for the DVD.
Couple hours later our education is complete. After a few bawdy jokes, Jay Leno welcomes the willowy star of Shakespeare in Love.” Gwyneth Paltrow is pregnant, unmarried, but the companion of a frontman for a British rock group, Coldplay. Honest. (Had Leno better research, he could have had them in the aisles.) Miss Paltrow insists that she is a very private person. But she willingly discusses the fact of her pregnancy, reveals that for luck she sometimes pinches her amplifying stomach. And the fact that she is to bear a bastard child seems the only occasion for her Leno visit. The subject of marriage was never brought up. In our time, it would have been the only forbidden, uncomfortable question the host could have asked.
So, there we have it, in the space of hours as only television can compress time. Indiscretion, then and now. Once disgrace; now, in your face. But then, as the song goes, “The world will always welcome lovers, as time goes by.”