21 January 2014

Photographing Miss Bergman

David O. Selznick's production of "Intermezzo" was released in 1939, starring Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman in her Hollywood debut and her first English-speaking role. One of the best things about this film is the beautiful black-and-white cinematography and the way Bergman is photographed. The man responsible for the cinematography was Gregg Toland, who received an Oscar nomination for his work.

When production of "Intermezzo" was nearing its final phase, David Selznick wanted Toland to make more beautiful close-ups of Ingrid Bergman. For that purpose, Selznick sent the following, interesting memo to production manager Ray Klune, director Gregory Ratoff and editor Hal Kern, in which he also mentioned the close-ups cinematographer James Wong Howe made of Hedy Lamarr in "Algiers" (1938) which he felt were the sole reason for Lamarr's success. Selznick said that the success of "Intermezzo" depended on similar close-ups of Miss Bergman, and that they would eventually lead to higher revenues.


Messrs. Klune, Ratoff, and Kern


7/11/39 (Dictated 7/10/39)

As I have said so often, I think the success of "Intermezzo" is to an unusual extent dependent upon how beautifully we can photograph Miss Bergman. If we can get the public talking about her to an extent comparable to that in which they talked about Miss Lamar in "Algiers", we will have added a great deal to the gross of our picture, as well as increasing the possibility of our having a new star. Bear in mind that Miss Lamar did not give a performance that anybody could estimate and to this day it is not known whether or not she is an actress; and that her success is traceable entirely to half a dozen or a dozen close-ups that Jimmy Howe made of her.

I think we should spare no trouble to get comparable close-ups of Miss Bergman. Every beautiful shot we get of her is a great deal of money added to the returns on the picture and I urge that Mr. Kern and Mr. Ratoff start to work on a list of where re-take close-ups might be made. I don't even care if the photography is acceptable or very good in the shot we have presently. If an important close-up can be made, it should be made. It might even be possible to pick these up at odd times but if a whole day or two days or even three days were involved in making them, I would still want to make them.

I suggest that Mr. Kern and Mr. Ratoff talk this over with Mr. Toland after Mr. Kern has spotted various places in the cut material where we might insert these. I would like, if possible, to pick up some of them even in advance of our first preview as I think even the first preview reaction on the picture is going to be to a large extent dependent upon whether we achieve an outstanding result photographically with Miss Bergman.


Source: harry ransom center (click here for the original image)

Left: Ingrid Bergman and David Selznick. Middle: Selznick. Right: Cinematographer Gregg Toland


  1. I often wonder why Selznick didn't direct - that way he'd have to memo himself!
    Sorry if that seems disrespectful. He was an amazing producer and to read the book Memo From Selznick is such a pleasure and tells us so much about the workings of Hollywood.

    1. Haven't read the book yet. Should be quite interesting!