Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Ingrid Bergman Blogathon: When Ingrid Met Edith

By 1943, Edith Head was one of Hollywood's most prolific costume designers. She got where she was through energy, hard work, and her ability to forge personal relationships with the stars she dressed. She wanted them to relax and feel comfortable with her and with their clothes so they could concentrate on their performances, not their wardrobe. This approach had brought her much success with Mae West and (her favorite) Barbara Stanwyck. Now she was dressing Vera Zorina for Paramount's production of For Whom the Bell Tolls.

In 1943, Ingrid Bergman was Hollywood's It girl. Intermezzo, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and, of course, Casablanca had all been major hits. When Paramount execs decided that Zorina just wasn't believable as Maria, the influential and highly opinionated author of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway, strongly suggested that Bergman take her place.

As was her practice, Edith began the process of dressing Ingrid by just talking to her. It was Bergman's idea that Maria wear men's clothes. Since Ingrid was a "big girl" by Hollywood standards -- size 14 -- it was easy to find appropriate clothes in the men's wardrobe department. The two women were very happy with their off-the-rack discoveries, as was their director, Sam Wood. But Bergman was under personal contract to David O. Selznick, and he was aghast to learn that his actress was being dressed in wardrobe that had been previously worn onscreen by cowboy extras. So much to Edith and Ingrid's amusement, new clothes were purchased and time and expense taken to tailor them for Ingrid. Then they were bleached and dyed to look old and worn.

In 1945, Edith and Ingrid were happy to be reunited for The Bells of St. Mary's. But Edith found the film frustrating because there was so little for her to do. Once again she was presented with a graceful and beautiful leading lady to dress, and her job consisted mostly of making sure the Catholic Church would approve Ingrid's habit.

It wasn't until 1946, and Notorious, that Edith got to dress Ingrid the way she wanted to. This assignment was a far cry from the menswear and ecclesiastic garb of their previous collaborations. Finally Edith got to put her leading lady in street clothes, evening clothes and even bedclothes. The director, Alfred Hitchcock, was known to be very particular about how his films looked, but on Notorious, he limited his wardrobe input to broad stroke requirements of color and function. (For example, "In this scene, her skirt must be dark and full enough to brush against the desk.") Beyond that, he gave Edith and Ingrid free reign. And what fun they had!

Early in Notorious we see Ingrid in a racy, bare midriff blouse. The stark contrast of the black and white horizontal stripes make her the most conspicuous woman in the room. This is the "real" Alicia, sensual and brazen. For the rest of the movie, the clothes we see Alicia wearing are her wardrobe as an undercover agent. Now she's demure and covered up. After all, a spy must blend in, not stand out.

Ingrid was taller and more muscular than most of the actresses Edith dressed throughout her long Hollywood career. Ingrid was so naturally beautiful,and moved so well, that she was better served by skillful tailoring than glamorous flourishes. Edith took great satisfaction in using restraint to make her leading lady look "marvelous."

After doing three films together in rapid succession, Edith and Ingrid wouldn't work together again for decades, until 1965 when they made The Yellow Rolls Royce. I have not seen this film, but in publicity stills it appears that Edith still believed "less is more" when dressing Ingrid.

Interestingly, in interviews Edith gave at the time and in her memoirs, it was Shirley MacLaine she mentioned in connection with The Yellow Rolls Royce, not Ingrid Bergman. Throughout her career, Edith tried to stay relevant by concentrating on the trendy girl, Hollywood's girl of the moment, and by that time,  Shirley was in the spotlight.

I could find nothing about a falling out between Ingrid and Edith and I suspect there wasn't one. For while Bergman may have had fun playing clothes horse in the Hitchcock movie, she was really more interested in the script and character motivation than to her wardrobe, so I don't think she minded when she was no longer the focus of Edith's attention.

Want to read more about Ingrid Bergman's wonderful career? Check out the other posts in the Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon.


  1. Fantastic article dear! A very original subject and a worth reading text. :) Thanks again for taking part of the blogathon! You can visit the new page for the blogathon with all the entries.

  2. Fascinating post on "dressing" Ingrid Bergman. I always forget how much a wardrobe designer has to consider when dressing actors for films – body shape, personality type, type of film, the specific scene, etc. I've gained a whole new appreciation for the Bergman-Edith collaboration in these films. :)

  3. Great post. As a man I'm not that much into the wardrobes but my wife has this eye and always notice it for me. I like how the relationship between the designer and the actor is pictured here.

  4. Wow! Fascinating! And I'm amazed at how much Isabella Rossellini resembles her mother (especially in the Bells of St. Mary's photo)!

  5. Great idea for a post!!! Much easier than focusing on a single designer's entire body of work!! I may have to "steal" this idea ;)

    I love the hat Ingrid wears to the horse race in Notorious. She's magnificent in that scene :)

  6. Of course I also invite you to read my article for the blogathon, a tribute to Ingrid Bergman in honour of her 100th :)

  7. Edith Head's creative process is so fascinating it deserves a whole post! I may say Maria's clothes in From whom the bell tolls are worth noticing because of the Technicolor, but Ingrid has never dressed better than in Notorious.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  8. Anonymous8:10 AM

    Excellent entry on the wonderful Ingrid.

    I would also like to invite you to participate in my next blogathon in January. The link is below with more details