Seducing Ingrid Bergman: A Novel

Seducing Ingrid Bergman: A Novel

by Chris Greenhalgh


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June 1945. When Ingrid Bergman walks into the lobby of the Ritz hotel in Paris, Capa is enchanted. From the moment he slips a mischievous invitation to dinner under her door, the two find themselves helplessly attracted. Played out against the cafés and nightclubs of Paris and the parties and studios of Hollywood, they pursue an intense and increasingly reckless affair.

But the light-hearted Capa, who likes nothing more than to spend his mornings reading in the tub and his afternoons at the racetrack, is not all that he seems. And Ingrid offers the promise of salvation to a man haunted by the horrors of war, his father's suicide, and the death of a former lover for which he blames himself. Addicted to risk, Capa must wrestle his devils, including gambling and drink, and resist an impulse to go off and photograph yet another war.

Meanwhile, Ingrid, trapped in a passionless marriage and with a seven-year-old daughter to bring up, must court scandal and risk compromising her Hollywood career and saintly reputation if their love is to survive. With their happiness and identities at stake, both Capa and Ingrid are presented with terrible choices.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250062277
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 02/03/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.61(d)

About the Author

CHRIS GREENHALGH is the prize-winning author of three volumes of poetry, a novel, and wrote the screenplay for Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, which occupied the prestigious closing slot at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. He lives with his wife and two sons in Sevenoaks, Kent, England.

Read an Excerpt

A moment of trust. The green light flashes. There’s no time to
think, and I don’t need to jump – the blast from the propellers
just sucks me out of the hatch. Straightaway I’m falling with a
splayed flailing of arms and legs, the roar of the transport lost in
the swirling clouds above me.
     I have a shovel in my backpack, a camera strapped to each
of my legs and a flask in my breast pocket. Buffeted by crosswinds,
my jacket puffs up. My cheeks feel as if they’ve been
slapped and my hands smart from the cold. The air feels squeezed
out of my lungs.
     I’m hurled upside down, tumbled like a bird in a storm. My
bowels turn watery. The contents of my stomach slide into my
mouth – a nauseous mixture of coffee and whisky and scrambled
eggs. My eyes prickle with tears. I manage to right myself. I count
one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, and pull the cord.
The parachute shuffles out of its pack and unfurls in an instant,
blossoming into a silken basilica over my head. The plummeting
sensation ends, and I’m conscious of a sudden weightlessness,
swaying, my hands fastened to the straps.
     A bent-winged gull hangs motionless, not caring that this is
Germany or that we have crossed the Rhine. And for an instant
it seems as if I’m not falling at all. Instead, I feel buoyed up, held
steady by forces unseen. Purged of fear and boosted by a new
energy, I seem – yes – I seem to be flying, flung upwards like a
     The ground spreads out like a map below: rectangles of newly
ploughed land neatly organized in furrows, a few farmhouses
and outbuildings, the fuzzy stuff of trees. I unstrap my Contax
and take a few shots. No time for tricks, I just keep clicking. All
around me, the men of the 17th Airborne Division twirl like
seeds, their heads rubbing up against the webbing of
their helmets and their last letters home. I feel a few drops of
what I presume must be rain. But it’s not rain. Vapour condenses
on the canopy and drips down onto my bare hands and face. The
sensation is cold, my fingers numb. I’m careful not to let any
moisture smear the lens.
     Within seconds, everything changes. Bullets zing like hornets
past my head. One punches a hole in my chute. I hear the snap of
it against the fabric. I press my helmet down towards my chest,
try to make myself small. I keep the Contax close to my face, still
clicking. A chill spreads damply across my back.
It seems to take an age to reach the ground, though in reality
it must be less than a minute. I think about a lot of things in quick
succession – about the women I have loved and lost, about my
mother having escaped the Fascists in Budapest, and about the
fact that I am desperate to pee.
     The paratroopers glide in slow diagonals. Most seem fine,
but one is not so lucky. I can see from the trajectory that he’s
headed straight for the powerlines. He must see it, too, as he
drifts with dreamlike slowness, unable to change tack, prey to
the direction of the wind. I want to shout out but there’s no way
he can hear me, and nothing he can do. His body looks tiny. His
legs wriggle in an attempt to veer off course, his arms yank at the
straps, and at the last his mouth opens in a soundless cry as if this
might lift him the extra few inches he needs to clear the wires.
There’s a terrible inevitability about his path. He slides right into
the dark lines, his parachute crumpling over the wires. He writhes
frantically for several seconds, but strung like a puppet he proves
an easy kill for the machine gunners. And he’s not the only one.
Several others swing, stricken, fifty feet up in the leafless trees,
their bodies dangling from their canopies, shrivelled pieces of
     Is there a lonelier way to die?
     Before I know it, the landscape enlarges, and there’s a high
whistling noise. The wind stirs the tops of the trees. The ground
seems to leap towards me. I realize that the small dark spot
that has been bobbing about beneath me is my shadow and I
rush towards it. I remember to keep my legs together. The
bites into the top of my thighs. I hold on tight to the
Contax and slam down into the earth. I feel the thud inside my
lungs. Ngh.
     I lie face down for several seconds, checking myself for injuries,
registering a remote ache in my ankle, a jarring pain in my knee.
I must have fallen awkwardly, but nothing is broken.
The earth is hard despite the thaw. A few scraps of ice still lie
in patches, exposing the colour of my fatigues. I get up, my legs
wobbly, and roll up the chute like a skin sloughed off. Immediately
I look for cover. To my left lies open country. The nearest
building, with snipers inside, is five hundred yards ahead. A stand
of birches is about half that distance to my right. I suck air into
my lungs and run – a zigzagging path, my shovel waggling in my
knapsack, the camera banging against my chest.
     I choose the thickest trunk I can find, check the focus on my
Contax, crouch down and listen. The sound of rifle fire, flattened
by the landscape, ricochets off the trees, so that at first I’m looking
in the wrong direction. Dozens of crows explode upwards.
Rounds of shelling shake the earth beneath my feet.
     The light is ghostly between dark branches as I frame the shot,
the sky thick with transport planes and parachutes still gliding
like giant spores to the ground. My fingers are freezing, but my
legs and back are slick with sweat. I’m thirsty, my throat parched,
and now I feel really desperate to pee – partly from the cold, but
also a sense of fear. My knee still hurts. A taste of metal enters
my mouth, making me swallow.
     Dead cattle and horses lie frozen in odd postures across the
fields. The stench touches my nostrils, adds to the feeling of
The sun is unlocatable behind the clouds. I finish one
film, seal it in a canister, clip another one in, wind it on, snap the
back of the camera shut, and start clicking again.
     The resistance is fierce but limited, confined to half a dozen
farm buildings and an outhouse. The artillery does its job. The
buildings burn. The first prisoners are smoked out, hands on
heads, the barns mostly destroyed. The inner walls are exposed
so that it’s hard to believe there were people in there just a
few minutes ago, and odd to see how small a space the rooms
once occupied. The farmers are the last to flee – an old man
with expressionless eyes, his headscarved wife rescuing what
possessions she can, and their grandchildren, a boy and a girl,
too paralysed with fear to cry.
     By 11 a.m. I have several rolls of film, including shots of parachutes
slung over wires like stockings over a bedpost, medics
tending to the wounded, and a transport plane bulking large and
coming in low over the trees. I write March 1945 on the canister.
A good morning’s work. Time for a cigarette and a hit of whisky
from the flask.
     And only now does it seem safe to pee. I dream of trees in leaf,
fields ripe with wheat, an eight-page spread in Life, my pictures
showing the world what happened here near Wesel. As the
beatific vision continues, I imagine myself in the arms of a good
woman, who strokes my hair and covers my face with lipsticked
kisses, making everything all right.
     The reverie doesn’t last long. The tree I relieve myself against
has only just started to darken when I see the sign: ACHTUNG!
     I spend the next four hours until the disposal team arrives
standing motionless, smoking cigarettes, checking the focus on
my cameras, doing my best to look unconcerned.

She almost ceases breathing, pulls her stomach muscles in, resists
the impulse to fiddle with an earring. But she can’t stop her mind
racing or ignore the itch inside her, the little kick of ambition that
drives her on.
     Does she think she’ll win? She can’t think that far ahead. Does
she deserve to? That’s a different question.
     She tries to slow down the pounding of her heart, works to
control her breathing. Everything around her grows quiet. She
hears the nominations read out by last year’s winner, Jennifer
Jones – her own, followed by Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis,
Greer Garson, Barbara Stanwyck – each name announced with
the same crisp excitement that holds out the promise of brilliant
things. Like snow, she thinks.
     There’s a silence. An envelope is opened, its rustle amplified by
the microphone that stands like a sunflower in the middle of the
     She holds her husband’s hand to the left and feels the tightening
grip of her producer, David Selznick, to the right. The room
pitches. She finds it difficult in this instant to make connections
between things.
     When the four Scandinavian-sounding syllables of her name
are announced, they seem remote, oddly foreign, unrecognizable.
Applause fills the auditorium at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre,
quickening around her.
     ‘That’s you,’ Selznick says. ‘You’ve won. You’ve won!’
     ‘Go get it,’ Petter says.
     Ingrid stands and the seat tips behind her. Everything is confusion:
the sudden tumult of the music, the fan of lights, the fierce
clapping and chasing spotlights.
     She presses her neck forward, her senses alert, her eyes alive to
the male attention that swims around her. It is harder than she
imagines to walk in a straight line. Caught in a current of affection,
she feels tugged along, her insides filling with warmth. The
sensation enlarges. Her hands grow clammy and, as if she’s had a
glass of wine already, she feels the redness creep into her cheeks.
     Photographers jostle and flashbulbs explode, capturing the
evening in bright slices. Hatless, simply dressed, with a long
beaded necklace that hangs down to her waist, in flat shoes and
wearing minimal make-up, her effort at restrained elegance feels
inadequate set next to the dinky hats and spotted veils of her
fellow nominees. For a moment, she feels horribly exposed.
     Unknown in Hollywood just six years ago and speaking with
an accent that was mistaken for German as the war began, Ingrid
still feels an outsider. But she got lucky with Casablanca, made her
mark in For Whom the Bell Tolls, and here she is lauded for her performance
in Gaslight, with Saratoga Trunk and Spellbound about to
open in theatres across America, and shooting The Bells of St
Mary’s for a Christmas release.
     Later she will regret that the evening went so quickly, that the
moment like a dream was over so fast. Later she will feel cheated
by the experience, and long to relive it. But in this instant, she
almost runs onto the stage.
     She remembers thinking it important to keep her head still.
After that, everything is a blur. She remembers taking a breath to
steady herself. If she remembers hovering over the microphone,
it is only because of the lights splintering into a million filaments.
If she recalls being conscious of the audience, their faces grey
beyond the glare, it is only because of the collective hush.
     ‘I’d like to thank the Academy for honouring me with this
     The microphone picks up a slight tremor in her voice, but the
note is huskily feminine, not girlish, and noticeably lower than
that of Jennifer Jones.
     Her fingers play with the statuette, her palms mottled, her
hands surprised by how heavy it is. She feels the tug of it like a
gravitational force, clings to it, enjoying the sense of possession.
How she wishes her parents were alive to witness this. Or her
Aunt Mutti. Someone. She thinks of Pia, her six-year-old, at
home in bed, asleep. Will she understand what this means? Of
course not. She’s probably dreaming about riding her bike, the
wobbly first attempts just yesterday, leaving her mother running
to keep up, hands outstretched to prevent her falling. She feels a
need to reach out and grasp her now.
     As a young girl herself, Ingrid cultivated the shy habit of
upwards through her long and perfectly spaced lashes
and shooting a stare from under her fringe. It is the same look she
offers now as the lights spear into her eyes.
     Naturally she feels nervous, her heart racing, the words trying
to line up and stand to attention inside her mouth. But she feels
wonderful, too, and this slides into a sensation of calm that
extends slowly to her legs, her head, the words that she says and
that she hears herself utter as they are hurled by the sound system
beyond her over many hundreds of raked seats.
     Her face is lit, her eyes grow watery. She thinks she might cry,
but she doesn’t, not properly. This is what she’s worked for, prepared
for all her life, and she’s not going to spoil it. The quivering
that she experiences within her subsides.
     ‘I’ll do my best in the future to be worthy of it,’ she says.
     Applause, deep and appreciative this time, reverberates around
the theatre in a series of overlapping waves as she moves with
grace and without visible hurry from the stage, escorted by
Jennifer Jones.
     From the wings she watches Bing Crosby josh with Gary
Cooper, the pair of them clowning together on stage, enjoying
that male camaraderie and wisecracking energy she loves to be a
part of on the set.
     Afterwards, at the party hosted by David Selznick, when Ingrid
returns to her husband’s side, she notices how quiet and reserved
he is. Perhaps he’s having trouble absorbing the enormity of
what has happened. He tries to look pleased but, she observes,
something tugs at the corners of his mouth. It’s obvious that he
finds the adulation distasteful. He must resent the way everyone
wants to talk to her, the fawning attention of the press, the way
he is left alone at the table, working a toothpick at a stubborn bit
of meat between his teeth.
     She realizes he hasn’t enjoyed a moment alone with her since
she received the award. When eventually he manages to get near
her, it is to urge her to leave early. He smiles stiffly and touches
her hand just once as if in consolation for some great sorrow.
Later she won’t remember agreeing or making excuses, but she
does recall being driven home just minutes after midnight, Petter
stone-faced and silent next to her, their legs not touching in the
back of the car.
     ‘Aren’t you pleased?’
     ‘It’s nothing less than I expected.’
     A sourness revolves in her stomach. ‘You really thought I’d
     ‘They’d have me to contend with if you didn’t.’
     ‘You don’t seem happy.’
     She watches the tree-lined boulevards float by, with their manicured
lawns and hacienda-style houses. North Fairfax Avenue
dissolves into Sunset, which melts into West Sunset. She notices
how the reflections swarm, shaky as a back projection pouring
across the windows of the car.
     ‘You understand what this means?’
     The vibrations of the engine mingle with the smell of petrol
to make her feel queasy. The fragrance Petter wears next to her
becomes a part of that. ‘What does it mean?’
      He smiles, kisses her on the cheek. ‘Nothing.’
      The car pulls into Benedict Canyon. She realizes she’s hungry.
She’s always hungry. It hits her now like a light switched on inside
her head. They left before the dessert was served, before the dancing
began. And though she knows she shouldn’t, sitting here
with the gold statuette in her fingers and her name on everyone’s
lips, with the city lit and flickering like a train outside, she feels
more than a little flat.

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