The battered fishing boat chugged steadily through the azure sea leaving the coast of Italy far behind. Slowly in front of them in the haze, a vast conical volcano reared 3,000ft out of the sea. On the deck of the San Lorenzo surrounded by luggage and film equipment, a small balding man and an elegant blonde stared silently at the black bulk of the mountain. "This is where our dreams will come true," said Roberto Rossellini. Ingrid Bergman smiled. "You have made my dreams come true already," she said.
In most people's eyes, Ingrid Bergman had forsaken her dreams for a nightmare. At 34, Hollywood's biggest money-making woman star had thrown up her career, deserted her husband Petter Lindstrom and 12-year-old daughter Pia, and run away with penniless Italian film-maker Roberto Rossellini to start a new life in the sun.
Which was why in April l949, she and Rossellini were travelling to the remote and barren volcanic island of Stromboli off the coast of Italy, where he was to make a movie starring his new lover. Now she was Hollywood's fallen woman and friends and foes turned on her in fury. She had taken a TWA flight to Europe early one morning using an assumed name, leaving her husband and daughter asleep in their Hollywood home.
The first thing Petter knew of his wife's desertion was when he found a letter by the bed reading: "I have gone and I believe this is the only way...
"Now you stand alone in the ruins and I am unable to help you..."
It had all happened so quickly. A month ago Roberto Rossellini was just the name of a little known director who was pioneering new-wave realism in the Italian cinema. Then she saw his movie Open City, was deeply impressed and wrote to Rossellini asking him to direct her in a movie. Ever the opportunist, Rossellini realised that with Bergman's help he could raise money for his movies from Hollywood studios. Within days he had arranged to stay with Ingrid and Petter at their home in Benedict Canyon.
He was mesmerised by Bergman and she with him. She had affairs before but had never felt like this. Secretly they laid their plans: they would run away together and make a movie on Stromboli.
In March 1949 when her plane landed at Rome airport, Roberto was there to meet her with an enormous bouquet of roses. A week later, still followed by a cavalcade of pressmen, reporting on what had now become the greatest scandal in post-war movie history, the couple set off for Stromboli. Soon the tiny harbour of the island was full of boats. The world was desperate for every detail of the affair.
The movie on Stromboli, financed by Hollywood's RKO studio, was a disaster. Rossellini had no script, no stars other than Bergman, and was now weeks behind schedule. In July RKO issued Rossellini with an ultimatum: stop filming immediately or be sued.
The film was hurriedly wrapped up and the lovers fled from Stromboli at the beginning of August. Now Ingrid Bergman was pregnant and a baby boy, Robertino, was born in February 1950 in a nursing home surrounded by over 100 reporters and photographers. After a hurried marriage, Ingrid tried to settle down to life as a Rome housewife.
Rossellini was rarely at home and Bergman was bored. "Most of the time I just stare out of the window and smoke," she wrote to a friend. Indeed the dazzle and glamour of the affair was fast evaporating. All Rossellini's movies were financial disasters and had been subsidised by nearly $1 million of his wife's money. Worse, friends were warning Bergman that he was on the prowl for new conquests. In 1955 while making a movie in India he became involved with script-writer Somala Das Gupta, whose pregnancy led to Rossellini being denounced by Indian Premier Nehru as "a scoundrel".
The marriage was annulled and Ingrid Bergman began to emulate Garbo. She never appeared in public, made no movies and was reported to be near bankrupt after paying Rossellini's enormous debts. In Hollywood, from which she had been banned for nearly ten years, a few friends, headed by Cary Grant and Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, urged the studios to end her exile. So it was that two years after leaving Rossellini and 20 years after her first arrival in the movie capital, Ingrid Bergman returned to Hollywood, the gossip and scandal of a decade earlier finally forgotten.
She married theatre producer Lars Schmidt, was reunited with her daughter Pia, and quickly re-established herself as a movie superstar. But she never forgot Roberto Rossellini and when he died in June 1977 leaving nothing but memories and $1 million of debts, Bergman sent the money to bury him.
"He was selfish and ruthless and calculating," she said shortly before her own death in 1982. "But when you were with him you felt so alive, I've never met anyone else who could do that..."