When Ingrid Bergman met Howard Hughes

FIRST ENCOUNTERS : SOREL AND SOREL : Illustration by Edward Sorel Text by Nancy Caldwell Sorel Next week: Charles Stewart Rolls and Henry Royce
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Howard Hughes was used to getting what he wanted and about 1948, he decided he wanted Ingrid Bergman. His days as a dare-devil flyer and independent movie producer were over; his millions would always be there. But a beautiful and talented married woman, a symbol of virtue - that was a challenge.

Cary Grant and Irene Selznick arranged an evening when they were all in New York; it ended with dancing at El Morocco. It was very pleasant and civilised, except that Hughes, in his low, clipped Texas voice, kept complaining that he had no friends. Bergman laughed that one off. He could always go out and look for friends, she said. "Anyway... you're not lonely tonight, are you?"

That moment of sympathy proved misguided. The phone calls multiplied, to no avail; the lady was not interested. But when she prepared to return to Hollywood, Hughes saw his chance. He bought up all available tickets on every plane to California that day, Bergman recalled, and then offered his services. Their flight had its positive side - Hughes had arranged it so that they would hit the Grand Canyon at dawn, and he gave her a guided tour at rim level. That was marvellous, Bergman said. Thank you. Good-bye.

Hughes got one more chance. He phoned one day to inform Bergman that he had just bought RKO - a present for her. She laughed that one off, too - until she wanted to do Stromboli with Roberto Rossellini and could not find backing. This time she called him. He was there in 15 minutes. No, he didn't want to hear the story, he didn't care about the story. Would she be beautiful in it? Would she wear beautiful clothes? She would be playing a refugee in a displaced-persons camp? Ah, too bad - but OK, he would do it anyway.

Whatever Hughes had hoped for didn't happen. What did was the lovely Ingrid's fall from grace in the eyes of her American public. He wrote to her just after little Robertini was born, but she stashed the letter away unanswered. When she found it 25 years later, she was awed by its sweetness

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