Here's Looking at You, Kid: Ingrid Bergman's Daughter Isabella May Be the Next Star in the Family
It was through Ingrid that Isabella got her first acting job, in the 1976 stinkeroo A Matter of Time. Two years later Isabella landed her first starring role—and rave notices—in an otherwise undistinguished Italian art film, II Prato (The Meadow). "The film's one reason for being is Miss Rossellini," wrote New York Times critic Vincent Canby. "The camera finds the same sort of beauty, mystery and grace in her that it sees in her mother."
Away from the sound stage, Isabella is also burning up the fashion scene as a model for New York's CLICK Agency. By September her classic features will have been splashed aross the covers of 11 magazines, including Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. "The first time I shot her," gushes fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo, "was like ascending to heaven."
Of Ingrid Bergman's four children, Isabella is the most likely candidate for stardom. Her half sister, Pia Lindstrom, 43, has appeared in front of a camera but mostly as a TV newscaster in New York City. Isabella's shy twin, Ingrid, has a degree in sociology from the University of Rome and is busy raising her son Tommaso, 2½. And 32-year-old Robertino, a bachelor and sometime escort of Princess Caroline, sells real estate in Monaco.
As a small child, Isabella was unaware of the scandal that had engulfed her mother in the late 1940s when Bergman left her first husband, Dr. Petter Lindstrom, for Rossellini. The affair made international headlines, and after the out-of-wedlock birth of Robertino in 1950, Bergman was even condemned on the floor of the U.S. Senate. "My father always had a very strong hatred of Hollywood," says Isabella. "Mother had no hostility, but she was terribly hurt. She still is."
After eight years of marriage, Ingrid and Roberto divorced in 1958, and she begrudgingly acceded to Rossellini's willful demand for custody of the children. He installed them with a maid and a nanny in an apartment minutes away from the house where he lived with his new love, Indian beauty Sonali Das Gupta, her son and their daughter.
During a routine physical examination at school when Isabella was 11, a doctor discovered she was suffering from scoliosis—curvature of the spine. Before undergoing a risky operation in Florence, she submitted to three excruciatingly painful stretchings to prepare her back for surgery. "They stretched me on a 'torture bed,' " she recalls, "until I fainted." The seven-hour operation was successful, but during the next six months Isabella lay in bed in a head-to-toe body cast—a "plaster prison," her mother called it.
After graduating from Rome's Academy of Fashion and Costume in 1971, Isabella assisted her father as a costume designer on two of his films. At 23, she decided to become a reporter for Italian television. She also did interviews for L'Altra Domenica (The Other Sunday), a popular Italian equivalent of Saturday Night Live. But because of Rossellini's opposition, she did not consider acting. "In this one area, my father was very repressive," explains Isabella. "All the hostility the film industry showed him made him afraid we would be as hurt as he was." Then in 1977 Rossellini died suddenly of a heart attack at 71.
Isabella met Scorsese in 1978 when she interviewed him for Italian TV about his film The Last Waltz, and they married the next year. "I think it is very hard to be with a person who is completely dedicated to his work," muses Isabella. She insists the divorce is "loving. When the horrible stuff was about to start—neurosis and insecurity—we just split. If it gets dazzling again," she allows, "we'll just remarry."
During her mother's illness (Ingrid had a mastectomy in 1974 and another in 1979), Isabella frequently flew to London to visit her. Nowadays neither is reluctant to discuss Bergman's bout with cancer. "It took my mother five years to talk about it," Isabella points out. "She was so scared and awfully ashamed. Cancer is not an exulting experience. It's hell. But now Mother is very spirited and very serene."
Isabella shares her rented loft in Manhattan's trendy Tribeca district with her twin, Ingrid (who is also going through a divorce from her Italian husband), and nephew. When Isabella explains she is still jittery about an acting career, she flashes a luminous smile that evokes the 27-year-old Bergman of For Whom the Bell Tolls. But Rossellini's shadow still hangs over Isabella. She pores over films made by the cinematic genius who was also her father. Europa '51, the film Rossellini made with Bergman the year before she was born, is a favorite. "Every time I see the movie it makes me cry," says Isabella. "It reminds me of my mother and father—and the time they were together."