Ann Henning Jocelyn – Ingrid Bergman – A Good Friend

Swedish-born Ann Henning Jocelyn has lived most of her life in the West of Ireland. After taking a degree in Drama and two years at drama school in London, she worked with legendary director Charles Marowitz. Naturally bi-lingual, she has translated leading English and Scandinavian authors of fiction and drama. Among her eight books to date are the best-selling Connemara Whirlwind Trilogy and the inspirational Keylines and Keylines for Living, which have been published all over the world. Lately, her stage plays Doonregan and Only  Our Own have been performed widely in Ireland and the UK, including London’s West. To mark the upcoming centenary of  Ingrid Bergman’s birth on August 29th 2015, Ann’s Swedish version of the film star’s autobiography My Life is being republished, including the following Epilogue, portraying Ingrid as a friend.


By Ann Henning Jocelyn

In London, winter is lingering. A mean wind is blowing from the Thames, and in flower beds along Cheyne Walk, tender crocus are flattened by sleet. In a side street, Cheyne Gardens, fruit-trees point their bare branches towards a gunmetal sky. From a handsome Victorian red-brick terrace, three dark windows look gloomily down at me, curtains drawn suggesting an absentee resident..
How different from my first visit to this Chelsea street! On that occasion the fruit-trees were in blossom, a southerly breeze played softly over the river, and curtains billowed around the three windows, left wide open to let in sunshine and warm spring air. I was filled with happy anticipation, for I was on my way to my first ever meeting with film star Ingrid Bergman. On my way to the start of a treasured friendship that was tragically cut short.
The year was 1980. By then I had already spent six months working on the Swedish version of Ingrid’s autobiography My Life. Initially, the plan had been for her to use a ghost-writer, and her choice had fallen on a good friend, Alan Burgess, author of, amongst other things, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. But when he listened to recordings of his interviews with Ingrid talking about her life, he concluded that her engaging way of telling her own story would make for a better book than anything he could come up with. Therefore, he contented himself compiling and bridging the material she provided.
In terms of translating, I had been presented with a major challenge: of reproducing the vernacular of a person speaking in her own mother tongue – without ever having met her or heard her speak Swedish. I had also been given the task of examining all the Swedish source material, reporting on it to Alan Burgess and translating whatever we agreed might be of use. Many weeks were spent perusing Ingrid’s diaries and her Swedish correspondence of the past fifty years. She was a prolific letter-writer and had saved, not only all the letters she had received but also copies of those she wrote herself. The material bore witness to a remarkable frankness, in regard to both herself and others.
I was the first person to read the text – in order to publish the book simultaneously in the U.K. and Sweden, I had been translating as Alan Burgess compiled the first draft. And that spring day in 1980, as I entered Ingrid’s large sunny sitting-room, somewhat dazzled by the gleaming Oscars on her bookcase, she came towards me, her arms open and wearing the famous smile that has enchanted generations of cinema-goers. “How very odd, she said, “to meet a complete stranger who knows me inside out!”
She couldn’t have put it better. After reading her diaries and all her correspondence as well as the English draft of the autobiography, I felt I knew her as well as I’d ever known anyone.
Apparently, two things instantly endeared me to her: Firstly, as we spoke Swedish, my native Gothenburg accent, similar to that of her beloved third husband, Lars Schmidt. Secondly, the nostalgia we both felt for Fjällbacka, a small fishing village on the Swedish west coast. Generations of my family had spent summers there, and Ingrid had blissful memories of times with Lars Schmidt on his private island just off the coast. As a child I had seen her coming in to Fjällbacka by boat to do her shopping. It may also have helped that I was the same age as her Rossellini children.
On leaving, I handed over my Swedish translation for her to go through and edit with a view to matching it to her own voice. A few days later, she rang me up – at eight o’clock in the morning, her normal telephone time.
”And you call yourself a translator!” she began, forthright as ever. ”You can’t even spell!”
”What?” I cried, dismayed. My spelling had never been a problem.
”Well, you have spelt Rossellini with one ’l’ throughout. It should be two. And you’ve made Petter Lindström too informal. He was a well brought-up man, and when we met in the Thirties, he addressed me as ‘Miss Bergman’. As in ‘Your hair is beautiful, Miss Bergman.’ That was his first line to me.”
I noted with amusement that she thought in terms of ‘lines’, as in the theatre.
“I’m sorry about that,” I mumbled. “It will be easy enough to correct.”. Expecting further criticism but hearing nothing, I added in some trepidation:
”What else did you have?”
”I don’t think there’s anything else,” Ingrid replied. ”The rest is fine. You’ve done a good job.”
Six hundred pages getting her seal of approval! I heaved a sigh of relief.
“On the other hand,” Ingrid went on, ”seeing my own words in Swedish, there is a lot that I’m unhappy with. It all needs revising – in Swedish this time. Perhaps you’d be able to help?”
That signalled the start of an unforgettable time in my life. Throughout the spring and summer of 1980, I spent countless hours with Ingrid working on her script. We sat in the sun on her roof terrace, edged with luxurious shrubs to protect her from being overlooked. Ingrid approached the task with great commitment, in a buoyant mood, and with a delightful sense of humour, giving us many good laughs. Long working hours were made lighter by tasty lunches sent up from the local delicatessen and cosy tea-breaks. When darkness fell, we continued indoors, often late into the night.
I remember one occasion when we realized, around midnight, that we had forgotten all about eating. Ingrid suggested that we went out for a meal, at a late-open restaurant in Fulham Road, where actors liked to go after performances. We had just ordered our meal, when a man entered and, seeing, Ingrid, headed straight for our table. He kissed her hand and told her she looked more beautiful than ever, and Ingrid, used as she was to these accolades, smiled gracefully but did not respond further. As he lingered, I was expecting her to invite the admirer to join us, and I had a feeling he was expecting the same, but she didn’t, and in the end he went off to sit at a table on his own. Ingrid turned to me and said in Swedish, under her breath: “Who on earth was that?” I replied: “Peter O’Toole.” At the time he was playing Macbeth at the National Theatre.
Ingrid was unfailingly frank and outspoken, and rather than seeing this as a challenge, I found it a source of security. Knowing that everything she said was sincere and that nothing was ever withheld, I felt totally at ease in her company. Any expression of approval I knew I could trust, and in return, she inspired the same honesty in me. This openness allowed for a warm and heartfelt friendship, and I remember thinking to myself, if only all relationships could work like this.
Spending so much time with Ingrid, I also got to meet a number of her friends, and it seemed to me that she possessed a fine ability to form warm and genuine friendships. In me she inspired a loyalty that could have made me go through fire for her sake, and I was touched by her kindness and consideration for everyone in her circle – including me. She also had a wonderful tendency to raise the morale of others. Each time she laughed gaily at something I told her, I felt myself growing in stature. When someone else joined our company, she would urge to me to entertain them, too. “Tell them that lovely story, give us all a good laugh!” I obeyed like a trained monkey, making an extra effort for her sake, for the pleasure of hearing her laugh, even louder than she had before.
Before I knew Ingrid, I was aware of her charm, charisma and strong personality. But I hadn’t expected such a high level of wit and intellect. As a linguist, I was particularly fascinated by her intelligent way of handling the written word. For a person without any academic training, she had a surprisingly profound understanding of language per se. Not for nothing had she performed in six different languages. Perhaps this talent was intuitive rather than theoretical. In any case it must have been of great asset in her acting career.
Another thing that impressed me was Ingrid’s professionalism. During the months that we worked together, our project was given priority over everything else in her life. Her time, her mind, her attention – all were devoted, unchallenged, to the book. Each time we met she had some new idea to contribute. I was often greeted with the words: ”I thought of something this morning!” – usually a fresh angle or an episode long forgotten but poignantly relevant.
The same dedication I imagine she applied to her acting, devoting herself whole-heartedly to a film or a play while it was in production, allowing nothing to come in the way of the quality of the end product. This may have been the key to her greatness: the total zeal with which she approached each task – not to mention the positive effect her example must have had on everyone else involved. I didn’t hesitate for a moment sacrificing weekends and nights for months on end, working on her book to meet the publishing deadline. A lot of extra work was involved, as her first husband, Petter Lindström, kept rejecting the scripts that were sent to him for approval. Ingrid was not going to risk any litigation from his side. ”Though it’s near enough impossible,” she sighed, ”to make this guy appear sympathetic.”
In spite of my youth, I’d had enough experience of the world of film and theatre to realize that the friendship and mutual understanding enjoyed by Ingrid and myself was a product of our joint immersion in the project at hand. Once it came to an end, we would see little of each other. Also, Ingrid’s life was past the stage when you keep adding new friends to your circle. Her spare time belonged to her family and her dearest friends of long standing.
Only one aspect of Ingrid’s life she preferred to keep to herself: her state of health. She was anxious to appear healthy, and nothing annoyed her more than spiteful, exaggerated reports in the tabloids about her invasive cancer. “They won’t give up until they see me carried out on a stretcher,” she muttered, seeing paparazzi lurking in the bushes around her flat. Her health didn’t seem to bother her while we were working together – if anything, her stamina was greater than mine. Only on one occasion, towards the end of our work, did she admit her problems to me. We sat chatting over a cup of tea, when she suddenly looked me straight in the eye and said: “I’m in terrible pain.” She said it with the artless simplicity that I’d come to expect from her, and I remember being deeply moved. I know from then on, that her illness was much more serious than she wanted anyone to know, that she was well aware of the fact and that she had been prepared to share it with me.
As expected, I saw much less of her once the script had been delivered, though we did keep in touch and met up now and then. One occasion was the cocktail-party to launch her book. Having been sent gold-embossed invitation, I duly turned up at the celebrated Garrick Club in London’s West End. The place was full of champagne-sipping people from the world of theatre and publishing – some of them I had met before but no one seemed to have the slightest interest in exchanging a few words with me. For an event like this you really needed to bring your own company, I reflected, as I did my best to draw out another lonesome fish seemingly out of water.
Then I saw through a window how a limousine drove up. Ingrid stepped out in a shower of camera flashes. Once she set foot inside, guests flocked around her, kissing and hugging and fussing, jostling to get close enough to pose with her in front of a press photographer. I withdrew into a dark corner. I didn’t want Ingrid to think that I, too, had come to bask in her reflected glory. But suddenly I saw her fighting her way out of the crowd surrounding her, and making straight for me. The next moment, turning her back on all the rest, she gave me a warm embrace. “I’m so glad you’re here!” she exclaimed. “Let’s get out of this circus as soon as we possibly can and join up with some of my other friends for a meal in a good restaurant.”
It ended up as a very happy evening.
A few months later, Ingrid had promised to open the Easter Bazaar in the Swedish seamen’s church in the East London docks and sell signed copies of her book to benefit the church. On the day, she found herself with a bad cold, but not wanting to let the church down, she came along in spite of a sore throat, dripping nose and slight fever. Her contribution was greatly appreciated – she added some four thousand pounds to the church coffers. But it upset me to see some of those present watching her like hyenas, telling each other how awfully sick she looked! I made a point of informing them that Ingrid suffered from nothing worse than a common cold and that she ought to be applauded for not staying at home in bed.
As she was introduced to the church Chaplain, Ingrid congratulated him on the bazaar and inquired what he got otherwise in the way of houses. He looked at her perplexed, wondering what she was talking about.
The last time I saw Ingrid was in the spring of 1982. She had been recently discharged after a spell in hospital, and I was invited for afternoon tea. I brought with me a box of Swedish delicatessen that I knew she would appreciate; caviar, herrings, meatballs and gingerbread. Apart from that, her taste in food was quite unusual, favouring things like liver, kidneys and sweetbread.
The house in Cheyne Gardens was surrounded by photographers – because of her hospitalisation, there was a new rumour that she was at death’s door. I glared angrily at them – I had just talked to her on the phone and she sounded perfectly all right.
But the minute I entered the flat, I could tell that things were not all right. The woman coming towards me was not the strong, resolute Ingrid who had given me so many good laughs on the sun-drenched terrace two years before. The change was partly physical – she had lost weight and looked older – but more obvious to me was a change that had taken place within her. The smile was the same, as was the warmth of her embrace, but in her eyes I saw a vital ingredient missing. I can only think of it as her zest for life. She appeared to be enclosed in a shimmering soap bubble, present and yet beyond reach, not exactly unhappy, but resigned. She knew, and accepted, that the journey she was on was without return.
The intimacy of our joint project had brought me very close to her, and maybe this helped me pick up at an early stage just what she was going through. For days and nights I suffered on her behalf, protesting against the injustice and cruelty of the world being robbed prematurely of a person who still had so much to offer. Then I discovered a photograph of Ingrid in the Evening Standard, posing happily in the spring sunshine, telling the journalist that rumours of her imminent death were greatly exaggerated. Knowing what I did, I admired this brave attempt to maintain her dignity in the face of an inevitable fate.
I didn’t contact Ingrid again. I knew she would be aware that my silence was a token of my respect and affection for her. She needed to be left in peace and give the time she had left to those closest to her heart.
The summer of that year I spent in a remote homestead in Connemara, which was to become, and is to this day, my home. One night I had a strange dream of a battle-field, where people were being cruelly wounded, maimed, killed. I watched in horror, powerless to do anything to help. Suddenly a bell tolled, and a mist descended over the field. The horrific vision vanished. Then a rainbow rose and the mist dispersed, revealing a lush, sunlit meadow, with a host of wild flowers and white little lambs grazing peacefully.
The following morning I heard on the radio that Ingrid had died that night. The message tied in perfectly with my dream: no matter what cruel suffering life contains, there are compensations: the bright outlook promised by a rainbow, the comfort of pastures green.
It took the edge off my sadness. I had already mourned Ingrid’s fate, and it was a relief to think that her suffering had now come to an end. I was left with a feeling of deep gratitude for having known her, having had the joy of her brief, late friendship. Friendship at its best, friendship as it should be. The ideal has stayed with me and, I like to think, continues to be of benefit – not only to me, but also to those I’m lucky enough to call my friends.

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