Polly Bergen


Actor
Polly Bergen

About

Also Known As
Nellie Paulina Burgin, Polly Burgin
Birth Place
Knoxville, Tennessee, USA
Born
July 14, 1930
Died
September 20, 2014

Biography

One of the most diversely talented of American performers, Polly Bergen was an Emmy-winning actress, singer and entrepreneur who found success in nearly every medium over the course of a half-century in show business. A professional singer while still in her teens, she transitioned from nightclub chanteuse to film actress in the 1950s, but found her early roles lacking. She returned to s...

Family & Companions

Jerome Courtland
Husband
Actor. Divorced.
Freddie Fields
Husband
Agent, later film executive, later producer. Married in 1957; divorced in 1975.
Jeff Endervelt
Husband
Married c. 1982, Bergen filed for divorce April 1990 due to irreconcilable differences; divorced 1991.

Bibliography

"I'd Love To, But What'll I Wear?"
Polly Bergen, Wyden Books (1977)
"Polly's Principles: Polly Bergen Tells You How You Can Feel and Look As Young As She Does"
Polly Bergen, Peter H Wyden (1974)
"The Polly Bergen Book of Beauty, Fashion and Charm"
Polly Bergen, Prentice-Hall (1962)

Notes

Bergen is on the board of advocates of Planned Parenthood. Her humanitarian works have been legendary. At the Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine in Denver, CO, one can find the Polly Bergen Cardio-Pulmonary Laboratory.

Polly Bergen was the first woman every elected to the board of directors of The Singer Company.

Biography

One of the most diversely talented of American performers, Polly Bergen was an Emmy-winning actress, singer and entrepreneur who found success in nearly every medium over the course of a half-century in show business. A professional singer while still in her teens, she transitioned from nightclub chanteuse to film actress in the 1950s, but found her early roles lacking. She returned to singing while keeping a hand in acting via television and Broadway. The former proved to be Bergen's best showcase, and an Emmy win in 1957 led to her own variety series, "The Polly Bergen Show" (NBC, 1957-58). It also improved the quality of her film choices, which by the 1960s included an acclaimed turn in "Cape Fear" (1962). In the late 1960s and 1970s, she shifted her interest to the business world, where she founded her own fashion lines. Emmy-nominated turns in the epic miniseries "The Winds of War" (ABC, 1983) and its sequel "The Winds of Remembrance" (ABC, 1988) revived her profile in the 1980s, and she was an active and vibrant presence on countless television series - most notably "Desperate Housewives" (ABC, 2004-2012). Her Emmy nomination for an appearance on the latter series was a clear indication that an actress with a breadth of talent like Bergen would never go out of style. Her death at the age of 84 on September 20, 2014 saddened friends and fans alike.

Born Nellie Paulina Burgin on July 14, 1930 in Knoxville, TN, she was the daughter of construction engineer William Burgin and his wife, Lucy. The family, which included Bergen's sister Barbara, moved to Los Angeles in the 1940s, where Bergen began her singing career with stints on the radio and with local bands. Producer Hal B. Wallis got wind of her while she was attending Compton Junior College, and signed her to a contract at Paramount Studios. After making her debut as a saloon singer in the Western "Across the Rio Grande" (1949), she was cast as the pretty and likable - if thoroughly colorless female lead - in several action pictures and comedies. Three turns opposite then box-office champs Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis - in "At War with the Army" (1950), "That's My Boy" (1951), and "The Stooge" (1952) - gave her acting career a boost, but playing second banana to the comedy team was not what Bergen had envisioned. After Paramount failed to renew her contract, she signed with MGM, which placed her in more dramatic fare, but again, none of the pictures did much by way of business or for Bergen as a singular talent. She abandoned her MGM contract in 1953, focusing her interests on her singing career, as well as on the burgeoning new medium of television.

Bergen recorded 10 albums of jazz standards and pop tunes for the Jubilee and Columbia labels, beginning in 1955 with Little Girl Blue. She wisely used the vast array of variety programs on television during the period to promote her records, and her bright personality and lovely voice helped make her a favored guest on game shows and anthology series. She made her dramatic TV debut on "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars" (CBS, 1951-59) in 1952, and quickly accumulated an array of fine performances, culminating in an Emmy win for her portrayal of Helen Morgan on "Playhouse 90" in 1957. The award earned her a TV series of her own, "The Polly Bergen Show," which showcased her singing talents, as well as those of her father, who also became a regular on the series. The pair later recorded an album of duets, Polly and Her Pop, in 1958.

Bergen was also active on stage during the 1950s. She made her Broadway debut opposite Harry Belafonte in 1953's "John Murray Anderson's Almanac," and subsequently appeared in several noted productions, including "Champagne Complex" in 1953 and "First Impressions" in 1959. Working on "Almanac" strained her voice, which forced her to undergo a difficult throat operation; she later suffered a tremendous physical and emotional setback in 1959 after complications from an ectopic pregnancy nearly ended her life. Bergen also took a professional blow when Ann Blyth was selected to play Helen Morgan in the film version of "The Helen Morgan Story" in 1957.

But Bergen's film career rebounded in the early sixties with a string of solid performances in features, starting in 1962 with Lee J. Thompson's harrowing thriller "Cape Fear." Bergen played the wife of attorney Gregory Peck, who was hounded by the despicable Robert Mitchum after putting him behind bars for sexual offenses. The picture, which afforded Bergen a heart-stopping showcase in which she was cornered by Mitchum in a houseboat, was quickly followed by another critically praised turn as a mental patient in "The Caretakers" (1963). Bergen was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, which generated more high-profile features like the Doris Day-James Garner romantic comedy "Move Over, Darling" (1963) and "Kisses for My President" (1964), a light comedy in which she was top-billed as the first female president. Bergen wisely used her new-found clout to form her own company, which sold jewelry, shoes and cosmetics. She eventually sold the successful venture to Faberge in 1973.

Health issues forced Bergen to abandon her nightclub performances at the tail end of the 1960s, so she divided her time between TV-movies and her business ventures, which grew to include several best-selling books on beauty and fashion, as well as Polly's Principles, a book of memoirs in 1974. "The Winds of War," based on the wartime novel by Herman Wouk, gave her one of her best roles in decades as Rhoda Kirby, wife of the miniseries' hero, Pug Kirby (Robert Mitchum), whose absence due to World War II drives her into the arms of another man (Peter Graves) and eventually into an alcoholic spiral. Bergen was nominated for an Emmy for her performance, and repeated the honor with its sequel, 1988's "The Winds of Remembrance." Her particular blend of elegance and hidden grit was soon in demand for all manner of projects, including the much-maligned "talking baby" sitcom "Baby Talk" (ABC, 1991-92). She also showed considerable good humor as a stuffy society matron who was charmed by Johnny Depp's rockabilly pals in John Waters' musical "Cry-Baby" (1990). Bergen also served as co-producer in addition to appearing in the 1994 TV-movie, "Leave of Absence."

Bergen ended a three-decade absence from singing by reviving her nightclub act in 1999. Though her tone was huskier than in her '60s heyday, she still possessed remarkable delivery, and her return to Broadway in a 2001 revival of "Follies" earned her a Tony nomination. In 2002, she joined the Broadway cast of "Cabaret," and returned to the Great White Way in 2007 for "Camille Claudel." Unfortunately, she was forced to depart the show due to minor surgery. In 2004, she gave a formidable performance on "The Sopranos" as the former lover of both Tony Soprano's mobster dad and John F. Kennedy. She followed this with a recurring turn on "Commander in Chief" (ABC, 2005-06), which brought her career full circle by playing the mother of the first female President of the United States - an office she had filled some three decades prior in "Kisses for My President." And in 2007, she made the first of several appearances on "Desperate Housewives" as Stella Wingfield, the sympathy-abusing mother to Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman). Bergen received an Emmy nomination for her turn in 2008. That same year, she returned to the stage in Baltimore to receive rave reviews for "A Little Night Music." Bergen's final film role came in the indie comedy-drama "Struck By Lightning" (2012), written by and starring "Glee" (Fox 2009-2015) star Chris Colfer. Polly Bergen died at her Southbury, Connecticut home on September 20, 2014. She was 84 years old.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Struck by Lightning (2012)
Candles on Bay Street (2006)
A Very Serious Person (2006)
For Hope (1996)
In the Blink of an Eye (1996)
The Surrogate (1995)
Once Upon a Time... When We Were Colored (1995)
Miss Mabry
Dr. Jekyll and MS. Hyde (1995)
Leave of Absence (1994)
Perry Mason: Case of the Skin Deep Scandal (1993)
Lady Against the Odds (1992)
The Lightning Incident (1991)
Carol Bernard
Robert Mitchum: The Reluctant Star (1991)
Cry Baby (1990)
Mother, Mother (1989)
The Haunting of Sarah Hardy (1989)
My Brother's Wife (1989)
She Was Marked For Murder (1988)
Laura Lee Webster
Addicted to His Love (1988)
Making Mr. Right (1987)
Velvet (1984)
Mrs Vance
Born Beautiful (1982)
The Million Dollar Face (1981)
Jo Burns
How to Pick Up Girls (1978)
Dana Greenberg
Telethon (1977)
Murder on Flight 502 (1975)
Death Cruise (1974)
Sylvia Carter
A Guide for the Married Man (1967)
Kisses for My President (1964)
Leslie McCloud
The Caretakers (1963)
Lorna Melford
Move Over, Darling (1963)
Bianca Steele Arden
Belle Sommers (1962)
Belle Sommers
Cape Fear (1962)
Peggy Bowden
Arena (1953)
Ruth Danvers
Escape from Fort Bravo (1953)
Alice Owens
Cry of the Hunted (1953)
Janet Tunner
Fast Company (1953)
Carol Maldon
Half a Hero (1953)
The Stooge (1953)
Mary Turner
At War with the Army (1951)
Helen
That's My Boy (1951)
Betty ["Babs"] Hunter
Warpath (1951)
Molly Quade
The Men (1950)
Nightclub singer, off screen
Champion (1949)
Singer on radio and juke box
Across the Rio Grande (1949)
Cantina singer

Writer (Feature Film)

Leave of Absence (1994)
From Story

Producer (Feature Film)

Leave of Absence (1994)
Co-Executive Producer

Make-Up (Feature Film)

Count Your Bullets (1974)
Cosmetics
A Touch Of Class (1973)
Makeup

Cast (Special)

Arly Hanks Mysteries (1994)
Steel Magnolias (1990)
An Echo of Theresa (1973)
Suzy Hunter
Yves Montand on Broadway (1962)
Guest
Just Polly and Me (1960)
Host
The Rosalind Russell Show (1959)
Guest
Spring Holiday (1956)
Guest

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

War and Remembrance (1988)
The Winds of War (1983)
Harold Robbins' "79 Park Avenue" (1977)

Life Events

1944

Made professional singing debut

1950

Made film debut in "At War With the Army"

1950

Regularly sang on "The Alan Young Show"

1951

Recorded first album, "Little Girl Blue"

1952

Made dramatic TV debut in an episode of "Schlitz Playhouse" (CBS)

1953

Made stage debut on Broadway in "John Murray Anderson's Almanac"

1954

Hosted "The Best in Mystery"; sang on "The Blue Angel" series

1955

Hosted "The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse" (ABC)

1956

Was panelist on "To Tell The Truth" (CBS)

1957

Starred in NBC variety series "The Polly Bergen Show"

1962

Appeared in the original "Cape Fear" opposite Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum

1963

Won plaudits for dramatic turn in "The Caretakers"

1965

Formed the Polly Bergen Co., creating and selling cosmetics

1974

Made TV-movie debut, "Death Cruise"

1977

Starred in TV miniseries "79 Park Avenue"

1983

Earned an Emmy nomination for her role as Rhoda Henry in the ABC miniseries, "The Winds of War"

1988

Reprised role of Rhoda Henry in "War and Remembrance" (ABC)

1990

Co-starred in John Waters' "Cry-Baby"

1991

Regular cast member of "Baby Talk"

1994

Produced "Leave of Absence" for NBC

2000

Resumed singing career and began making nightclub appearances

2001

Returned to Broadway to play Carlotta Campion in the Broadway revival of "Follies"; earned Tony nomination

2001

Appeared in the Off-Broadway run of "The Vagina Monologues"

2002

Joined cast of the hit revival of "Cabaret" as Frau Schneider

2005

Played a recurring role on ABC's "Commander in Chief," as the mother of the US President played by Geena Davis

2007

Had a role on ABC's "Desperate Housewives" as Lynette Scavo's (Felicity Huffman) mother; earned an Emmy nomination in 2008 for Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

Photo Collections

Cape Fear - Pressbook
Here is the original campaign book (pressbook) for Cape Fear (1962). Pressbooks were sent to exhibitors and theater owners to aid them in publicizing the film's run in their theater.
Cry of the Hunted - Pressbook
Here is the original campaign book (pressbook) for Cry of the Hunted. Pressbooks were sent to exhibitors and theater owners to aid them in publicizing the film's run in their theater.

Videos

Movie Clip

Move Over, Darling (1963) - I've Been There Before Nick (James Garner) with new wife (Polly Bergen) at the hotel where he honeymooned with presumed-dead Ellen (Doris Day), not knowing she's in the lobby, copying the elevator shot from My Favorite Wife, Fred Clark, Max Showalter and Eddie Quillan on staff, in the re-make Move Over, Darling, 1963.
Move Over, Darling (1963) - I'm Not Squirming! Having installed his believed-dead wife Ellen (Doris Day) in the next suite, Nick (James Garner) has to deal with his new-wife Bianca (Polly Bergen) on their wedding night, who’s both amorous and furious at his repeated departures, intending to tell her the news, in the re-make of My Favorite Wife, Move Over, Darling 1963.
Cape Fear (1962) - What He Might Do Following the poisoning of the family dog, daughter (Lori Martin) and mom (Polly Bergen) get the low down from lawyer, husband and dad Sam (Gregory Peck) about his enemy in town, in Cape Fear, 1962, from a John D. MacDonald novel.
Cape Fear (1962) - Fast On Your Feet Vengeful ex-con Cady (Robert Mitchum) toys with the bowling alley waitress (Joan Staley), while making a second unwelcome visit to lawyer Bowden (Gregory Peck), with wife (Polly Bergen) and daughter (Lori Martin), early in the original Cape Fear, 1962.
Stooge, The (1952) - Don't Cut You Throat Jerry Lewis is wannabe singer Ted, Percy Helton his fed-up agent Sam, Dean Martin as more-successful singer Bill, who’s been convinced he needs to hire a “stooge” to make him look good, and Polly Bergen is Dean’s frustrated wife, the first meeting of the principals, in The Stooge, 1952.
Stooge, The (1952) - See You In Church The opening to the the fifth Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis vehicle introduces only Dean, as singer Bill, on the phone with his bride-to-be Mary (Polly Bergen) herself a performer, with just a piece of a song by Harry Revel and mack Gordon, in The Stooge, 1952.
Kisses For My President (1964) - It Isn't Very Feminine After the inauguration, with jokes revealing that she, not he, is the new president, first husband Fred MacMurray and chief executive Polly Bergen moving in, Ronnie Dapo and Anna Capri their kids, in Kisses For My President, 1964, featuring Arlene Dahl and Eli Wallach.
Kisses For My President (1964) - As Virile As Ever Chasing his wife the president (Polly Bergen) and presaging the famous "walk and talk" shots from The West Wing, Mr. McCloud (Fred MacMurray) lights instead on luscious visiting old friend Doris (Arlene Dahl), in Kisses For My President, 1964.
Kisses For My President (1964) - I Never Heard Of Ethics Fred MacMurray as first-ever first-husband Thad McCloud, in a rare outing away from the Disney studio, Ronnie Dapo and Anna Capri as the children of himself and the president (Polly Bergen), early in Kisses For My President, 1964, the final film by producer and director Curtis Bernhardt.
Caretakers, The - Here To Help You The just-committed Lorna (Polly Bergen) gets her first visit from shrink MacLeod (Robert Stack), with aides Denning (Van Williams) and Horne (Diane McBain), in producer-director Hall Bartlett's The Caretakers, 1963.
Caretakers, The - Ready For Trouble From the opening credits, terrific freak-out by Polly Bergen (soon to be introduced as "Lorna Melford"), at a showing of West Side Story, opening producer-director Hall Bartlett's The Caretakers, 1963.

Trailer

Family

William Hugh Burgin
Father
Construction engineer.
Lucy Burgin
Mother
Barbra Burgin
Sister
Younger; suffers with schleroderma; born c. 1939.
Pamela K Fields
Daughter
Peter Fields
Son
Wendy Riche
Niece
Emmy-winning executive producer of "General Hospital".

Companions

Jerome Courtland
Husband
Actor. Divorced.
Freddie Fields
Husband
Agent, later film executive, later producer. Married in 1957; divorced in 1975.
Jeff Endervelt
Husband
Married c. 1982, Bergen filed for divorce April 1990 due to irreconcilable differences; divorced 1991.

Bibliography

"I'd Love To, But What'll I Wear?"
Polly Bergen, Wyden Books (1977)
"Polly's Principles: Polly Bergen Tells You How You Can Feel and Look As Young As She Does"
Polly Bergen, Peter H Wyden (1974)
"The Polly Bergen Book of Beauty, Fashion and Charm"
Polly Bergen, Prentice-Hall (1962)

Notes

Bergen is on the board of advocates of Planned Parenthood. Her humanitarian works have been legendary. At the Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine in Denver, CO, one can find the Polly Bergen Cardio-Pulmonary Laboratory.

Polly Bergen was the first woman every elected to the board of directors of The Singer Company.

"One thing I'd love to do that I've never done before is act in a horror film, a vampire film. I've loved them since I was a kid. I think I'd make a terrific vampire. They always look beautiful before the fangs appear and they all have very white skin, which I have, and they wear a lot of black. I look wonderful in black!" --Polly Bergen

"I'm normally asked to play a woman who is in control and looks perfect." --Polly Bergen