This Day In History: March 14

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In a burst of caustic, moralistic grandstanding, U.S. Senator Edwin C. “Big Ed” Johnson of Colorado launches a verbal attack on Swedish movie star Ingrid Bergman for her extramarital affair with Italian film director Roberto Rossellini. The fiery senator also calls for the licensing of performers and filmmakers, so that they can lose their license for scandalous personal behavior. (His proposal didn’t pass.)

In 1950, Bergman was at the height of her career, having headlined Casblanca in 1942, won an Oscar for Gaslight in 1944 and starred in three Alfred Hitchcock thrillers over the previous decade. Johnson, of Colorado, called her “one of the most powerful women on Earth—I regret to say, a powerful influence for evil.” He went on to colorfully describe her and fellow actress Rita Hayworth, who was also engaged in a public extramarital affair, as “apostles of degradation.”

“Out of the ashes of Ingrid Bergman will grow a better Hollywood,” the senator said.

Bergman had become involved with Rossellini while making his movie Stromboli. Both were married to other people at the time, and Bergman had Rossellini’s baby—a boy named Roberto—days before finalizing her divorce from her husband, neurosurgeon Petter Lindström. Bergman and Rossellini soon married, but the scandal damaged her reputation and discouraged her from returning to America for nine years, she told The New York Times.

On her return, she would go on to win two more Oscars.

Congress issued a mea culpa 22 years later. Bergman told The New York Times that she received a copy of an apology that Sen. Charles N. Percy of Illinois entered into the Congressional Record on April 19, 1972. In his remarks, Percy said Bergman was “one of the world’s loveliest, most gracious and most talented women,” and that she was “the victim of bitter attack in this chamber 22 years ago.”

Millions of Americans, Percy wrote, “would wish to join me in expressing their regrets for the personal and professional persecution that caused Ingrid Bergman to leave this country and the height of her career.”