Natalie Portman made history last Sunday as the first unmarried, pregnant individual to win the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as an unbalanced ballerina in Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller Black Swan.
Following her Oscar win, Portman, who is engaged to dancer/choreographer Benjamin Millepied, made headlines by dissociating herself from disgraced fashion designer John Galliano – caught on video as he vomited a whole slew of anti-Semitic tirades – and for being the object of former Arkansas governor, current Fox News commentator, and potential Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee's attack on single motherhood.
Politicians may not know how to spell the word “ethics,” but those on the Republican side of the fence tend to be seriously concerned with morals, i.e., other people's sex lives. In a radio interview, Huckabee expressed his dismay that Portman's condition glamorized out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
“One of the things that's troubling, is that people see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts of, 'Hey look, you know, we're having children, we're not married, but we're having these children, and they're doing just fine.' But there aren't really a lot of single moms out there who are making millions of dollars every year for being in a movie. And I think it gives a distorted image that yes, not everybody hires nannies, and caretakers, and nurses. Most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can't get a job, and if it weren't for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have health care. And that's the story that we're not seeing, and it's unfortunate that we glorify and glamorize the idea of out of children wedlock.”
What led to Huckabee's tirade was Portman's Oscar thank-you speech in which she acknowledged Millepied, “who choreographed the film, and has now given me my most important role of my life.”
Huckabee later said he was misquoted in the “Hollywood media.” He went on to praise Portman's acting abilities and declared his happiness that she is planning to marry the father of her child. Media Matters, the source for the Huckabee quotes found in this article, points out that as a Fox News commentator Huckabee is a News Corp. employee; the film that earned Portman her Best Actress Oscar, Black Swan, is a News Corp. release. In fact, Black Swan is News Corp.'s top 2010 release at the domestic box office. (Without any sort of studio – or conglomerate – backing, Ingrid Bergman had it much worse back in 1950.)
Now, the danger is that once Portman and Millepied glamorize the idea of marriage and parenthood, couples everywhere who earn $10k or $20k or $30k per year may well decide to emulate the millionaire “Hollywood starlet” and her French choreographer husband. As a result, they and their children will likely end up swelling the ranks of those living off of government assistance to the poor.
This New York Times article offers some interesting comparisons between out-of-wedlock birthrates in the United States (about 40 percent) and societies like Iceland (66 percent) and Sweden (55 percent), where it's not whether the parents are married or not that matter, but the sort of support and living (and living-wage) conditions offered to, say, Swedish or Icelandic men, women, and children.
Natalie Portman's winning a Best Actress while both pregnant and unmarried has irked Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. But Huckabee's criticism about the “glamorization” of Portman's out-of-wedlock pregnancy pales in comparison to the furor that greeted the announcement that Hollywood star Ingrid Bergman, then married to dentist Petter Lindström, was pregnant – and the father was Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini, internationally renowned for his neo-realist efforts Rome, Open City and Paisan, and married at the time to future film costume designer Marcella De Marchis.
By the time the scandal erupted, Ingrid Bergman had already won a Best Actress Oscar – for a not very good performance as a woman whose husband (Charles Boyer) tries to drive her nuts in George Cukor's 1944 noirish melodrama Gaslight. Bergman had also been nominated for her Spanish revolutionary Maria in Sam Wood's For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), for her lively nun in Leo McCarey's The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), and for playing the title role in Victor Fleming's Joan of Arc (1948).
Of course, the nun and the androgynous saint were asexual beings. Maria was an “innocent,” who knew about guns and fighting and death, but didn't know where the noses went when two people kissed in the mouth. (Gary Cooper's fuzzy idealist taught her where her nose should go.) Bergman's character in Gaslight was a desexualized victim. Her Ilsa Lund in Michael Curtiz's Casablanca, was a romantic, not a seductress. Her long-suffering spy in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) was no siren, either. Despite the film's sexual symbolisms, her Freudian psychiatrist in Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) was concerned with patient Gregory Peck's mental – not sexual – health.
Although she had played a prostitute in Fleming's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) and a woman of the world in Wood's poorly received (but highly successful) Saratoga Trunk (1946), the movies and characters mentioned in the previous paragraph are the ones that made Ingrid Bergman a major star.
So, how could the nun, the saint, the victim, the romantic turn out to be a sexual being – and an adulterous one at that?
Former Colorado governor and then Democratic senator Edwin C. Johnson, known by his admirers as “Big Ed,” was one who couldn't figure that one out.
Johnson was a Democrat with lots of Republican constituents. Thus, it's hardly surprising that despite his party affiliation he was an opponent of the New Deal. He was also an isolationist, supported the creation of internment camps for Japanese-Americans, and at one point had the National Guard sent out to prevent Mexican migrant laborers from entering Colorado.
Along with Mexicans laborers and Japanese-Americans, Ingrid Bergman found herself as one of Big Ed's political targets. On the congressional floor on March 14, 1950, he introduced legislation requiring that movie performers, directors, producers, and films be licensed according to their morality.
“Mr. President, now that the stupid film about a pregnant woman and a volcano [Rossellini's Stromboli] has exploited America with the usual finesse, to the mutual delight of [distributor] RKO and the debased Rossellini, are we merely to yawn wearily, greatly relieved that this hideous thing is finished and then forget it? I hope not. A way must be found to protect the people in the future against that sort of gyp.”
While on the floor, Big Ed referred to Bergman as “an apostle of degradation” and “a horrible example of womanhood and a powerful influence of evil,” and to Roberto Rossellini as “vile and unspeakable.” Sounding much like a modern-day Republican, Big Ed added, “Unconventional free-love conduct must be regarded for what it is – as an assault upon the institution of marriage.”
Despite being officially “forgiven” by Hollywood with a second Best Actress Oscar for Anatole Litvak's 1956 Anglo-American drama Anastasia, Ingrid Bergman wouldn't make another truly American production until Gene Saks' Cactus Flower in 1969.
Two years earlier, Senator Charles H. Percy, Republican of Illinois, had entered into the Congressional Record an apology for Johnson's attacks. Three years after Bergman had once again starred in a Hollywood movie, Percy stated that “Miss Bergman is not only welcome in America; we are deeply honored by her visits here.”
- Edwin Johnson's anti-Bergman rant: Colorado State Archives, and David Thomson and Lucy Gray's Ingrid Bergman
- Charles H. Percy quote found in Robert J. Bresler's Us vs. them: American political and cultural conflict from WW II to Watergate
- Ingrid Bergman obit in the New York Times.
Note: This post was updated – including the addition of Huckabee's quote – on March 5 '11.