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Polly Bergen Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (3) | Trivia (34) | Personal Quotes (3)

Overview (4)

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA
Died in Southbury, Connecticut, USA  (natural causes)
Birth NameNellie Paulina Burgin
Height 5' 5" (1.65 m)

Mini Bio (1)

In a six-decade-plus career (she started out as a radio performer at age 14), there are very few facets of entertainment that lovely singer/actress Polly Bergen has not conquered or, at the very least, touched upon. A nightclub and Columbia recording artist of the 50s and 60s, she is just as well known for her film and Emmy-winning dramatic performances as she is for her wry comedic gifts. In the leaner times, she has maintained quite well with her various businesses. Truly one for the ages, Polly has, at age 70+, nabbed a Tony nomination for her gutsy "I'm Still Here" entertainer Carlotta in Stephen Sondheim's "Follies", and is still dishing out the barbs as she recently demonstrated as Felicity Huffman's earthy mom on Desperate Housewives (2004).

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee as Nellie Burgin on July 14, 1930, her family, which included father William, mother Lucy and sister Barbra, eventually moved to Los Angeles. By the time she was 14, Polly was singing professionally on radio and managed to scrape up singing gigs with smaller bands around and about the Southern California area. She attended Compton Junior College before Paramount mogul Hal B. Wallis caught sight of her and signed her up with his studio. Having made an isolated film debut (as Polly Burgin) a year earlier in the Monogram western Across the Rio Grande (1949), Wallis showcased her as a decorative love interest in the slapstick vehicles of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, the (then) hottest comedy team in Hollywood. But At War with the Army (1950), That's My Boy (1951) and The Stooge (1951) did little for Polly although she presented herself well. MGM and Universal had the idea to cast her in a more serious vein with co-starring roles in their dramas Escape from Fort Bravo (1953), Arena (1953) and Cry of the Hunted (1953), but again she was overlooked. Disasppointed, she decided to abandon her lucrative film contract and seek work elsewhere.

That "elsewhere" came in the form of 1950s TV. Focusing on her singing, she promoted her many albums for Columbia by guest-starring on all the top variety shows of the times. This culminated in her own variety program, The Polly Bergen Show (1957). The song "The Party's Over" became her traditional show-closer and signature tune. Polly also showed some marquee mettle on the cabaret and nightclub circuits, performing at many of the top hotels and showrooms throughout the country. She made her Broadway debut along with Harry Belafonte in "John Murray Anderson's Almanac" in 1953, and went on to appear in such stage shows as "Top Man" and "Champagne Complex". A delightfully engaging game show panelist to boot, she took a regular seat on the To Tell the Truth (1956) panel for five seasons.

Polly tended to display a looser, down-to-earth personality to induce laughs but she was also was formidable dramatic player and fashion plate quite capable of radiating great charm, poise and elegance. For her role as alcoholic torch singer Helen Morgan in the special TV showcase "The Helen Morgan Story", she took home the Emmy award. Unfortunately for Polly, Ann Blyth took on the role of the tragic singer in the film version (with Gogi Grant providing the vocals), in what could have been a significant return to films for her.

Instead, Polly had to wait another five years for that to happen. As the wife of Gregory Peck and designated victim of revengeful psychopath Robert Mitchum in the taut movie thriller Cape Fear (1962), her film career reignited. Other opportunities came in the form of her distraught mental patient in The Caretakers (1963), which found her at odds with nurse Joan Crawford and doctor Robert Stack; the sparkling comedy Move Over, Darling (1963), which placed her in a comedy triangle with "other wife" Doris Day and husband James Garner; and as the first woman Chief Executive of the White House in the frothy comedy tidbit Kisses for My President (1964) opposite bemused "First Gentleman" Fred MacMurray. In what was to be a tinge of deja vu, Polly again saw her movie career dissipate after only a couple of vehicles. True to form, the indomitable Polly rebounded on TV.

A mild string of TV-movies came her way as she matured into the 1970s and 1980s, most notably the acclaimed miniseries The Winds of War (1983), which reunited her with Robert Mitchum, this time as his unhappy, alcoholic wife. This, along with her participation in the sequel, War and Remembrance (1988), earned Polly supporting Emmy nominations. In the years to come, she would find herself still in demand displaying her trademark comic grit in such shows as The Sopranos (1999), Commander in Chief (2005) and Desperate Housewives (2004).

Polly returned to singing in 1999 after nearly a three-decade absence (due to health and vocal issues). Quite huskier in tone, she went on to delight the New York musical stage with stand-out performances in "Follies" (2001), "Cabaret" (2002) and "Camille Claudel" (2007). Polly still makes nitery appearances and has even put together singing concert tours on occasion.

Polly has authored three best-selling beauty books outside the acting arena and has demonstrated a marked level of acumen in the business world. Founding a mail-order cosmetics business in 1965, she sold it to Faberge eight years later. She also developed her own shoe and jewelry lines.

Married (1950-1955) to MGM actor Jerome Courtland during her first movie career peak, she later wed topflight agent/producer Freddie Fields in 1957, a union that lasted 18 years and produced two adopted children, Pamela and Peter. A third marriage in the 1980s also ended in divorce. An assertive voice when it comes to women's rights and issues, her memoir "Polly's Principles" came out in 1974.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (3)

Jeffrey Endervelt (25 June 1982 - 16 April 1990) (divorced)
Freddie Fields (13 February 1956 - 1975) (divorced) (2 children)
Jerome Courtland (15 April 1950 - 18 February 1955) (divorced)

Trivia (34)

Was nominated for Broadway's 2001 Tony Award as Best Actress (Featured Role - Musical) for a revival of "Follies."
She began her career at age 14 as a radio performer.
Played the first woman president in the movie Kisses for My President (1964) and played the mother of the first woman president on the TV show Commander in Chief (2005)
Over the last 40 years, she has undertaken successful business ventures as Polly Bergen Cosmetics, Polly Bergen Jewelry, and Polly Bergen Shoes. She has also been active as part-owner of and pitch person for Oil-of-the-Turtle cosmetics.
Ex-sister-in-law of Shep Fields.
Children with Freddie Fields: Pamela Fields and Peter Fields.
Copping an Emmy Award for playing torch singer Helen Morgan on TV in 1957, she subsequently recorded an album of Morgan's popular songs.
Converted from Southern Baptist (her grandfather was a minister) to Judaism after marrying Hollywood talent agent Freddie Fields, by whom she had one biological child and two adopted children.
For 30 years, from 1969 to 1999, the husky-voiced Bergen did a lot of showing up for work without singing a note. Excessive smoking and respiratory problems were the primary causes.
Had to leave the 2007 musical "Camille Claudel" (due) following minor surgery. She was replaced by Joan Copeland.
Grandmother of actress Natalie Lander.
Aunt of Wendy Riche.
Mother-in-law of David L. Lander.
Ex-stepmother of Kathy Fields.
Was a Girl Scout.
Release of her memoirs, "Polly's Principles". [1974]
As of March, 2002, Ms. Bergen is playing Fraulein Schneider in the long running Broadway Revival of "Cabaret" at Studio 54 in New York City.
Joined the cast of Commander in Chief (2005) as the President's mother. [November 2005]
Guest starring as "Lynette Scavo"'s mother (Felicity Huffman's character) in the season finale of Desperate Housewives (2004). [May 2007]
In the spring of 2008, she played the role of "Madame Armfeldt" in Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" at Baltimore's Center Stage -- to standing ovations. [April 2008]
When not working, she lives quietly amongst her Hollywood pals in the hills of Litchfield County, Connecticut. [October 2006]
The memorial service (though not the funeral service) for Brandon Lee was held at her home.
Polly Bergen's survivors include daughter P.K. Fields and son Peter Fields, the children she adopted with her second husband; stepdaughter Kathy Fields Lander; and three grandchildren.
Bergen's personal life, over the years, was not as smooth as her career. Her four-year marriage to actor Jerome Courtland ended in an acrimonious divorce in 1955. Her second marriage was to super-agent and producer Freddie Fields -- they divorced in 1975 after 18 years. In 1982 she married entrepreneur Jeff Endervelt. She co-signed his loans and gave him millions to invest from her beauty company profits. She said in a 2001 New York Times interview: "He would come home and say, 'Honey, sign this.' I wouldn't even look at it. Because you trust your husband." The stock market crash of the 1980s wiped out the investments. She divorced him in 1991, and she said he left her with so many debts she had to sell her New York apartment and other belongings to avoid bankruptcy.
Bergen also was an ardent feminist, campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment and women's reproductive rights. She spoke publicly about having had an illegal abortion when she was a 17 year-old band singer -- a procedure that she said prevented her from bearing children for the rest of her life.
In the early 1960s, Bergen formed a cosmetics firm that marketed beauty preparations made from "the oil of the turtle." In 1973, Bergen sold the cosmetic company to Fabérge.
Rex Reed, film and theater critic for the New York Observer and a close friend of Bergen's for over 50 years, called Bergen a legendary "A-list, New York Oscar party host." In an interview, he recalled watching the Oscar show while sitting on Bergen's Park Avenue apartment's bed between Paul Newman and Lucille Ball.
Pollly Bergen, an outspoken actress who also gained acclaim as a nightclub singer, a cosmetics entrepreneur and a ubiquitous quiz-show panelist, did not start out as an overnight smash. Bergen was 20 and already an established singer when she starred in her first Hollywood feature film -- a Dean Martin-and-Jerry Lewis comedy called "At War With the Army" -- that was released by Paramount Pictures in 1951. Los Angeles Times reviewer Philip K. Scheuer allowed that there might be hope for the attractive but inexperienced newcomer. "Miss Bergen looks like a nice person and her voice is pretty good, but she doesn't know how to face a camera," Scheuer wrote. "Give her time. She's new." She joined Martin and Lewis in two more Paramount film comedies, "That's My Boy" and "The Stooge." In 1953, she made her Broadway debut with Harry Belafonte in the revue "John Murray Anderson's Almanac." From 1956-1961 she became a regular panelist on the popular New York based CBS Mark Goodson - Bill Todman produced television game show "To Tell the Truth" with Bud Collyer, Kitty Carlisle and Tom Poston. In 1958, seven years after her first Hollywood feature film with Martin and Lewis, Bergen won a best-actress EMMY for her compelling CBS' William S. Paley's Television anthology series "Playhouse 90" in her portrayal of Helen Morgan, the troubled torch singer of the 1920s and '30s. In 1964's "Kisses for My President," Bergen was cast as the first female U.S. President, with Fred MacMurray as First Gentleman. In the end, the president quits when she gets pregnant. Most importantly in the Dan Curtis Productions' ABC Television 1983 seven episodic mini-series "The Winds of War," and the 1988 sequel, Bergen was nominated for another EMMY in 1989 for best supporting actress in a network television mini-series or special for Dan Curtis Productions' ABC Television "War and Remembrance." She appeared as the troubled wife of high-ranking Navy officer Pug Henry, played by Robert Mitchum. Mitchum also had the key role in the original 1962 landmark Universal-MCA feature suspense film, "Cape Fear," as the sadistic ex-convict who terrorizes a lawyer (Gregory Peck) and his wife (Bergen) and daughter because he blames Peck for sending him to prison.
Hard-hit by the financial crisis of 1987, Bergen sold her 4,000-square-foot Park Avenue apartment, appeared in a few television movies, and moved to Montana for a few years. "I just couldn't bear the humiliation of what I was doing," she told the New York Times. "I just can't stand in these lines with 35 actresses who've each got 63 million miles of film, waiting to audition for some idiot who's 12 years old." Bergen later returned to singing, working with a vocal coach to freshen her skills. In 1999, Bergen performed at a Miami Beach benefit performance of Stephen Sondheim's "Company." The audience loved her. "They were like, 'Is she still alive?'" she said. "It felt like I'd never been gone, but I knew I could get better." At 70, Bergen was back on Broadway, nominated for a Tony award in Sondheim's "Follies." Her hit song was "I'm Still Here": Good times and bad times -- I've seen them all. And, my dear: I'm still here......
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee on July 14, 1930, Nellie Paulina Burgin remembered being wowed by the films of Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin -- especially one where Durbin shot to fame after a producer overheard her singing in her kitchen. "I would stand in my kitchen and sing my life out waiting for someone to show up -- if not today, then tomorrow," Bergin told the Hartford Courant in 2013. At 14, Berben played her first professional gig with her guitar-strumming father on a radio station in Richmond, Indinana. Early in her career, she tried hard to "discard the hillbilly label that had been attached to her," The Times said in 1952, noting her debut at "the plush Maisonette Room in the St. Regis Hotel, New York City, where the ring-side is a veritable sea of mink and ermine." In the 1950s, Bergen also was a regular in Las Vegas, singing standards like "The Party's Over" for as much as $50,000.00 a week to an audience of high rollers and what she called "mob guys." One mobster and his girl-friend befriended her, she later said, and made sure she sent most of her money home to her parents. "There was nobody in the world who knew good from bad better than they did," she explained. At around the same time, Bergen started a lengthy run on the quiz shows, primarily "To Tell the Truth." In her mid 30s, she started experiencing voice problems and for years abandoned singing.
Polly Bergen died at her home in Southbury, Connecticut at 84 years of age. Her death was from natural causes. Bergen had a history of emphysema and circulatory problems that she attributed to 50 years of smoking. "I had a choice of quitting smoking or singing another chorus of 'Night and Day,' and I chose to continue smoking and quit singing," she told Charles Osgood on CBS News in 2001. "And it was a decision that I regretted from that day forward." But she worked as a character actor well into her older years, appearing as the mistress of Tony Soprano's father on "The Sopranos" and as the mother of Felicity Huffman's character on "Desperate Housewives." "She was a great broad, as they said in the vernacular of her day, a wonderful actress and a lovely woman," Huffman related. "I will miss her fire, her courage and her irreverence". For a woman born in Tennessee and who grew up in Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere as her father traveled between low-paying construction jobs, Bergen radiated urban sophistication.
In 1964, Bergen starred with Fred MacMurray in "Kisses for My President," a film premised, incredibly for the first woman becoming president. It wasn't quite an anthem to feminism, though: "Is America prepared?" the posters asked. "What happens to her poor husband when he becomes the First Lady?". In 2008, Bergen campaigned door-to-door for Hilary Rodham Clinton, when the former first lady ran for president. "She always thought a woman president in real life was long overdue," said her longtime manager, Jan McCormack. When Geena Davis as MacKenzie Allen becomes the first woman American president after she ascends to the job following the death of president Teddy Bridges. portrayed a first woman president in the 2005-2006 ABC television drama series "Commander in Chief." Polly Bergen was cast as Geena Davis' MacKenzie Allen's mother.
The day after she appeared as the lead in the TV production of the Helen Morgan story, the headline of the TV review column in the NY Herald Tribune was "Pepsi girl takes up hard liquor".
She was, in her words, "a tremendous reader of science fiction".

Personal Quotes (3)

I'm one of those people who always needs a mountain to climb. When I get up a mountain as far as I think I'm going to get, I try to find another mountain.
I don't want to waste the rest of my life just earning a living. I want to do what's fulfilling for me. I want to play out my life doing what I enjoy, not just showing up for work.
On the loss of Elaine Kaufman: Every year, Elaine would come to my house for Thanksgiving as well as Christmas. She would stand in line with everyone else, because I always had so many people over. It was a great for me, as I got to feed her, because she was always the one feeding me.

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