Book Review: Ingrid Bergman My Story

Book Review: Ingrid Bergman My Story

Author: Ingrid Bergman with Alan Burgess

Date: 1980

Publisher: Delacorte

ISBN: none, but click here to see it on Amazon

Length: 477 pages plus index

Illustrations: black-and-white photo inserts

Quote: “I will go on acting…After all, they always need an old witch in some production or other.”

Once upon a time there was a shy little Swedish orphan who had embarrassed her parents, while they were living, by “always being something else; a bird, or a lamppost…I remember the day I decided to be a small dog. I was quite disconcerted when my father refused absolutely to put a leash around my neck…I still trotted at his heels woofing.” This love of play-acting stayed with little Ingrid as she grew up.In some small way, acting helped her endure the loss of her parents, the aunt who adopted her, and finally her home country.

Bergman was a successful actress in Sweden, married to Petter Lindstrom, in 1937. By 1938, “if you were anybody at all in films,you had to be a member of the Nazi Party,” and “If you get an invitation from Dr. Josef Goebbels to tea—and you’re pretty certain to get one—you just say ‘Yes.’ You don’t argue or have a headache. You go! He likes young actresses.” The manner in which the devoted bride reports hearing this advice could have been calculated to turn any woman against Goebbels.

So she decided she wanted to come to America, with or without Lindstrom, but she encountered more subtle kinds of censorship here. “It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t have a child, or that it would interfere with my career…that everybody should be shocked that I had had a baby…‘And please, please don’t have any photographs taken with your child’…The movie stars of Hollywood adopted children if they wanted them.” In Berlin Bergman had refused to learn the Nazi salute; in Hollywood she gave an interview to a representative of David Selznick during which she knitted baby clothes. In her first few films she also refused to wear makeup, although she came to agree that the filming process made makeup necessary.

American audiences, of course, loved her anyway. In some ways it was mutual. “Americans laugh because the joke is against them. And they have nothing against success.” In other ways she clung to Swedish customs. In her early theatre training “You played old people, young people, nasty people, good people, but you rarely played what you looked like or what you were. You got inside somebody else’s skin.” She refused to play “Hollywood peaches-and-cream-girl” parts unless she could alternate them with more challenging parts: barmaids, hags, martyred saints, anything but pretty young girls. She played a Protestant missionary lady who was not a romantic heroine but an action hero. She played a nun. Audiences were delighted.

Then, as Bergman approached age thirty, Snow White drifted. She and Lindstrom quarrelled; she left him for Roberto Rossellini. It couldn’t have been his looks, it seems unlikely to have been his manners, it probably was’t money, and if it was a publicity stunt it wasn’t a helpful one…but the relationship didn’t last long. Rossellini’s next companion was also divorced, and before that divorce was final Bergman had found her third husband…and this book tells us more about the soap opera of all those family-blendings than I for one was interested in knowing.

Anyway, here are lots of memoirs and pictures from one of Hollywood’s greatest actresses. Movie buffs should enjoy this book.

Ingrid Bergman didn’t outlive this book by long, so it’s not a Fair Trade Book. To buy it here, send $5 per copy + $5 per package to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen.

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Book Review: Barbie

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Barbie: Four Decades of Fashion, Fantasy, and Fun

Author: Marco Tosa

Author’s publicity page: (he’s also on Linked In and E-Bay)

Translator: Linda M. Eklund

Date: 1997 (Italian), 1998 (English)

Publisher: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore (Italian), Harry N. Abrams (U.S.)

ISBN: 0-8109-4008-6 (English)

Length: 152 pages

Illustrations: lots of color photos

Quote: “Barbie lovers…do not judge her for disappointing their fantasies, but rather cling to the pleasant illusoriness of her trademark shocking pink world.”

Nothing quite like the American Barbie dolls existed before 1959. However, “fashion dolls”–patterns of fashionable clothes with stuffed forms underneath–existed before the realistic “baby dolls” of the early twentieth century. Many of these dolls were hardly built to survive being played with, but Tosa supplies a photo of a jointed, adult-proportioned doll buried with a little girl in a Roman tomb.

Barbie dolls got much of their distinctive look from a novelty action-figure doll, “Lilli,” based on a German cartoon character. The cartoon was not meant to entertain children. During the postwar years when many people in Europe were skinny, Lilli was distinctly plump, because she had a lot of boyfriends. It remained for an American tourist, Ruth Handler, to think of marketing dolls as curvaceous and sophisticated as Lilli to little girls. Her husband Elliot Handler, and his partner Harold Mattson, formed the Mattel toy company, and the busty but wholesome teen fashion model became their best-selling toy.

The collection Tosa photographed for this book features mostly early Barbie dolls, whose resemblance to Lilli was strong. Definitely more sexy than pretty, these dolls had “flirty eyes” that glanced off to the side when the dolls were locked into display stands. Like real models, they were supposed to be wearing flesh-colored body stockings (which, in real life, protect a model’s clothes from contact with sweaty skin), so anatomical features, including toes, were always covered even when the dolls weren’t dressed.

Although Barbie’s waist and thighs were always thin, she was never meant to model anorexia. She was meant to be displayed in elaborate costumes, often many-layered costumes. When clothes were layered around her tapered waist, she acquired the proportions of a large, well-fed woman. Early Barbie outfits were often inspired by European haute couture, and often featured realistically detailed rolled waistbands, belts, and pockets, which added width and depth to Barbie’s figure.

Tosa includes many sketches from the 1960 and 1961 Barbie costume catalogues, often shown in contrast with photos of what the costumes really looked like. In the catalogue Barbie often looked slim, sometimes like a girl with a 34” rather than a 42” bust measurement; sometimes she wore glasses, and her shoes were often sketched as fashionable “flats.” In the round she was top-heavy at best, and her feet were made to lock into high-heeled shoes.

Noting Barbie’s resemblance to pleasingly plump Marilyn Monroe, Tosa empathizes, “It wasn’t easy to dress such an explosive body.” Somehow, on those lipsticked, flirty-eyed Barbies, sweater-and-skirt, blouse-and-jumper school outfits, or the “Barbie-Q” dress with the chef’s hat and apron, just didn’t look the same. Tosa discusses two major commercial influences on Barbie’s wardrobe; her nice-girl looks were inspired by the costumes of Doris Day and June Allyson, while her “evening” fashions showed the European influences of Dior, Givenchy, Chanel, Courreges, Pucci, and Balenciaga.

Barbie has had lots of different jobs. Modelling was clearly only student labor for the world’s busiest doll. Between 1959 and 1997 Barbie had been a registered nurse (before self-demoting to a “Candy Striper” volunteer, to accompany a novel), astronaut, surgeon, Olympic athlete, veterinarian, teacher, rock star, Army officer, police officer, pediatrician, dentist, scuba diver, firefighter, paleontologist, and baseball player. She also ran for President—in 1992, when she probably collected a few write-in votes against Bill Clinton. Barbie has served in every branch of the U.S. military service, has been a stewardess on two airlines, and performed on several TV shows. Tosa doesn’t even count the movie roles on her impossible résumé (Barbie played both Dorothy and Glinda in The Wizard of Oz). In educationese, it’s all meant to help kids act out any and all of their “career” fantasies. In more practical terms, it sells a lot of doll outfits.

Barbie is also a world traveller who collects period costumes from many countries. Unlike most travellers, she changes her face and complexion to suit the country she visits. Japanese Barbie had slightly almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones, and a tan, and learned to smile with her mouth closed. Indian and Malaysian Barbie had big round brown eyes. Jamaican Barbie had a dark-chocolate complexion and a huge puff of curly hair.

Lilli was, of course, blonde. Marilyn Monroe was blonde. It’s hard to think of Barbie as anything but blonde, but in fact Barbie has had every color and texture of hair that could be imagined. Even in 1959 there were dark-haired Barbies. In the 1960s there were red- and brown-haired Barbies, and Barbies with brown or tan skin tones. There was a grey-haired “Barbie’s Mother” (I owned one). By the 1980s Barbie even had feminist cousins who wore low-heeled or flat shoes.

Tosa doesn’t discuss the mechanical innovations built into more recent Barbie bodies. He cites M.G. Lord’s Forever Barbie, which does. Some Barbies “talk” when a string is pulled, some raise their arms or step forward when a panel is pressed…and then there was the tasteless “Growing Up Skipper.” Tosa gets some points, from me, for not confusing these mechanical effects built into a toy with any statement about actual living women—nobody has reported that any child seriously tried to help a twelve-year-old girl grow faster by twisting her arm, or punch their mother’s back in to help her walk.

Adults conjecture that little girls think they’re supposed to grow up to look like Barbie. I suspect that more little girls think they’re supposed to look like some unlikely but not impossible living woman, of whom they recognize Barbie as a caricature. The party line that shrills that Barbie’s tapered waist made some N.O.W. members insecure, and therefore must have been among the influences that made their daughters insecure, does not give an accurate picture of all the possible ways little girls relate to dolls.

Little girls’ imaginations are less limited by visual effects than some adults think. If I wanted to play mother or teacher, I had no trouble casting my Barbie dolls as children (including the grey-haired one–she was the daring teenager who’d had her hair highlighted with silver, and was likely to do just about anything). More often, during the years when I played with dolls, I used them as action figures… and in fact some of my dolls can’t be passed on to the next generation because they were too badly damaged while living in real tree houses and swimming in real streams. The ones that survived that phase became the human figures in a world of miniature models, eventually dressmaking dummies with heads. A book about Barbie that recognized all these possibilities would be an interesting novelty. Tosa, unfortunately, did not write that book.

The book he’s written basically says “Look at my collection.” He’s a collector; his most active web site is E-Bay. Nevertheless, if you enjoyed playing with Barbie, if images from 1960s Barbie-clothes catalogues would be a nostalgia trip for you, Tosa’s Barbie will take you on that trip. Recommended to all who collect, repair, or dress dolls.

Although this is a big, glossy, expensive-looking sort of book, thanks to Amazon we can offer it for the standard $5 per book + $5 per package, and you could probably fit at least one other book into the package. Out of this total of $10 we’ll send Tosa or a charity of his choice $1 per book if you buy this book from this site.

Ativa at Morguefile contributed this photo of a Barbie doll of the vintage in which Tosa specializes:


Book Review: Ginnie and the Mystery Doll

Title: Ginnie and the Mystery Doll

Author: Catherine Woolley

Date: 1960 (Morrow), 1965 (Scholastic)

Publisher: Morrow (hardcover), Scholastic (paperback)

ISBN: none, but click here to see it on Amazon

Length: 156 pages

Illustrations: line drawings

Quote: “In your mother’s old diary she says something about a doll that her Uncle Frank brought her from Paris. Is that the doll in the parlor?”

From the years when the commercial media were hard-selling “femininity” comes what must be the ultimate girly-girl mystery novel. Two middle-school girls spending the summer on Cape Cod help a nice old lady who needs extra money find the family treasure in her heirloom doll collection. There are moments of suspense—fear that the treasure has been lost. There is no sex (a few male relatives get speaking parts, but the girls solve the mystery without any “help” from boys), no violence, no danger of anyone’s being hurt. The only danger is that the girls will be embarrassed by failing to solve the mystery, and you know that won’t happen.

(Per the recent discussion of G.K. Chesterton’s almost-all-male fictional world…I wouldn’t put Catherine Woolley’s novels in the same class with Chesterton’s, either.)

Woolley wrote a whole series about Ginnie in the 1950s and 1960s. They were nice, wholesome stories about nice, wholesome little girls who never got into any trouble or danger. They helped nice, wholesome little girls relieve the boredom of long bus rides to consolidated schools, rained-out recess periods, and spending days in bed with the “childhood diseases” against which vaccines hadn’t been invented yet. They don’t seem to have been anyone’s favorite books. They weren’t endlessly reprinted, as the wholesome adventures of Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, the Melendy Family, Beany Malone, or the Boxcar Children were reprinted; Ginnie may never have become any child’s best imaginary friend, as the characters in the more popular series did. Nevertheless, the books met a need, and they can still meet that need for any child who still has it.

According to the mass media, the need that used to be met by trivial storybooks like the Ginnie stories is now being met by electronic gadgets. I’m not sure that this is true. Books are cheaper than the “plug-in drugs” we’re told that today’s children crave. Keeping and rereading old books is better for the environment than plugging a TV or computer into the wall. Recycling electronic devices is mostly done overseas, so few Americans have noticed yet, but the recycling process for old TVs, computers, batteries, etc., is even more toxic than producing and recycling paper. Books are easier on the nerves of parents, teachers, and classmates than noisy electronic gadgets. And, given the choice, some children actually prefer to use their imagination to read, reread, and rewrite stories rather than passively watching TV. Parents should not be too hasty to overlook light reading as entertainment for today’s children.

What do you do if a child hasn’t discovered the pleasure of books yet? First of all, if the child is under age ten, I recommend backing off. Some kids (usually boys) are slightly farsighted at this age; their eyes can focus on the page long enough that they learn how to read, but their eyes quickly grow tired of holding this close focus, so they minimize the amount of time they spend reading. This is natural and normal and has nothing to do with the child’s intelligence…if the child is allowed to outgrow it in peace. If mental blocks are set up, or glasses are forced on the child, then not having been an early reader may do permanent harm. Data about the possible damage done by exposure to blinking electronic boxes may still be questionable or inconclusive, but TV, computers, and video games definitely are not good for children’s eyes (or even adults’ eyes)—the question is how much harm they do.

If I knew that a child was able to enjoy reading, I might try a very soft sell of the idea of sharing a book an older relative used to enjoy. Instead of being afraid that the child would be reading about a time, place, or lifestyle different from her or his own, I’d encourage that. It builds the child’s imagination, helps the child understand the differences among people in the real world, gives the child a sense of history, and may even help the child understand the difference between desirable and undesirable “social change.”

However, I wouldn’t expect boys to like Ginnie and the Mystery Doll, and if a girl named this book as a favorite I might try to open a conversation about what she likes about it (the calmness, the serenity, the absence of boys) and whether overindulgence in a taste for calmness and serenity might be what causes the unfortunate old lady to become dependent on visiting children for financial help.

Maybe it’s because of its soft, serene, feminine atmosphere, too, that this book is becoming a bit of a collector’s item. Although Catherine Woolley (who also wrote as Jane Thayer) lived to the age of 100, she no longer needs a dollar…but in order to sell Ginnie and the Mystery Doll online I’d have to charge, currently, $10 per book + $5 per package. Other sellers may offer a better deal so, unless you want to tuck this one into a package with a Fair Trade Book, feel free to take advantage of their offer.

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