11 July 2024

Candice Bergen

American actress Candice Bergen (1946) was poised for elegant 'ice princess' stardom when she debuted on the screen in the 1960s. She gradually reshaped that image in the 1970s, both on- and off-camera. An outspoken feminist with a decisive edge, she went on to take a sizable portion of those contradicting qualities to film and, most particularly, to late 1980s TV. For her role in the sitcom Murphy Brown (1988-1998), she won five Emmy Awards, two Golden Globes and an American Comedy Award.

Candice Bergen
American postcard by Fotofolio, NY, NY, no. VS5. Photo: Victor Skrebneski. Caption: Candice Bergen, 1971.

Candice Bergen in The Day the Fish Came Out (1967)
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin. This is not Austrian actress Senta Berger (1941) but Candice Bergen in The Day the Fish Came Out (Michael Cacoyannis, 1967).

Presented as the new Grace Kelly

Candice Patricia Bergen was born in 1946 in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. She was the daughter of famous ventriloquist Edgar Bergen who created the talking puppet ‘Charlie McCarthy’, for which he received an honorary (wooden) Oscar in 1938 and former actress and 'Chesterfield Girl' model Frances Bergen (née Westerman). At six, she made her radio debut on her father's show. She attended Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles, the Cathedral School in Washington D.C. and then went abroad to the Montesano (finishing) School in Switzerland.

Although she began taking art history and creative drawing at the University of Pennsylvania, she did not complete her studies. In between she worked as a Ford model to buy cameras for her new passion, photography. Gary Brumburgh at IMDb: 'Her Grace Kelly-like glacial beauty deemed her an ideal candidate for Ivy League patrician roles'.

Still a college student, she portrayed the Vassar-styled lesbian member of Sidney Lumet's The Group (1966) in an ensemble that also included the debuts of Joan Hackett and Joanna Pettet. Her first successful film was the drama The Sand Pebbles (Robert Wise, 1966) starring Steve McQueen, and she was presented as the new Grace Kelly. Film offers started coming her way in Hollywood and Europe, spurred by her love for travel.

Most of her next films were dismissible and unworthy of her talents, including the campus comedy Getting Straight (Richard Rush, 1970) opposite Elliott Gould, the violent Western Soldier Blue (Ralph Nelson, 1970) and the Harold Robbins adaptation The Adventurers (Lewis Gilbert, 1970). She played a top-notch role as the co-ed who comes between Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel in Carnal Knowledge (Mike Nichols, 1971). She was also fine as a prim American widow kidnapped by Berber chieftain Sean Connery in The Wind and the Lion (John Milius, 1975).

But later films such as the Western Bite the Bullet (Richard Brooks, 1975) with Gene Hackman, the thriller The Domino Principle (Stanley Kramer, 1977), and Oliver's Story (John Korty, 1978), the inferior sequel to the box-office hit Love Story (Arthur Hiller, 1970), disappointed. She also starred in Lina Wertmüller's drama La fine del mondo nel nostro solito letto in una notte piena di pioggia/A Night Full of Rain (1978) which was not a success. She found a passionate second career as a photographer and photojournalist during this period. A number of her works went on to appear in magazines such as Life, Playboy and Esquire.

Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen in Rich and Famous (1981)
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin. Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset in Rich and Famous (George Cukor, 1981).

Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen in Rich and Famous (1981)
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. c-de 43 139. Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen in Rich and Famous (George Cukor, 1981).

The first female guest host of Saturday Night Live

The seemingly humourless Candice Bergen made a clever swipe at comedy. She made history as the first female guest host of Saturday Night Live (1975) and then showed an equally amusing side of her in the dramedy Starting Over (Alan J. Pakula, 1979) as Burt Reynolds' tone-deaf ex-wife. She received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role. In 1980 Candice married Louis Malle, the older (by 14 years) French director. They had one child, Chloe.

Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset worked well as a team in the comedy Rich and Famous (George Cukor, 1981), in which her mother Frances could be glimpsed in a Malibu party scene. Candice Bergen was nominated for the BAFTA Award (the British Oscar) for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Gandhi (Richard Attenborough, 1982). In 1985, Bergen made her Broadway debut replacing Sigourney Weaver in David Rabe's black comedy 'Hurlyburly'.

In the late 1980s, Candice hit a new career plateau on comedy television as the spiky title role on Murphy Brown (1988-1998). Murphy Brown was the cynical and competitive star reporter and anchorwoman at the fictional TV magazine show FYI. With a superior supporting cast around her, the sitcom continued for ten seasons and earned Bergen five Emmys and two Golden Globe awards. As a result, TV-movie roles came her way with colourful roles ranging from the evil Arthurian temptress Morgan Le Fey to an elite, high-classed madam - all many moons away from her initial white-gloved debs of the late 1960s. Louis Malle's illness and subsequent death from cancer in 1995 resulted in Candice maintaining a low profile for an extended period.

In 2000, she married Manhattan real estate developer Marshall Rose and returned to acting with renewed vigour. Many of her characters were enjoyable extensions of her sardonic Murphy Brown character. As for TV, she played a brash, no-nonsense lawyer in Boston Legal (2005) opposite William Shatner, and earned an Emmy nomination. In 2018, she revisited her Murphy Brown character in a revised series form with many of the cast back on board, but the show was cancelled after one season. In the cinema, she played crisp confidantes and sometimes a villain in romantic comedies such as Miss Congeniality (Donald Petrie, 2000) starring Sandra Bullock, Sweet Home Alabama (Andy Tennant, 2002) with Reese Witherspoon, the film version of Sex and the City (Michael Patrick King, 2008), the remake The Women (Diane English, 2008), Bride Wars (Gary Winick, 2009), Home Again (Hallie Meyers-Shyer, 2017) and Book Club (Bill Holderman, 2018) with Diane Keaton and Jane Fonda.

On stage, she starred in the revivals of 'The Best Man' (2012) and 'Love Letters' (2014). Her father Edgar Bergen died in 1978. Candice Bergen mentions in her memoir 'A Fine Romance' that she was left out of his will, while he bequeathed $10,000 to his dummy, Charlie McCarthy, adding that she felt her father had a stronger bond with Charlie than with her. She later said: 'His death left a space for me [...] I was able much more to live according to my own expectations. I always felt my fame was ill-gotten, sort of borrowed from his, and that perhaps I tried to keep some kind of rein on it. Even when he was in retirement I felt I was poaching on his territory. He'd joke and say he was 'the father of Candice Bergen,' and that was only partially a joke. It was very hard on him.'

Candice Bergen
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Candice Bergen
American postcard by Coral-Lee, Rancho Cordova, CA, no. CL/Personality #43 (C32886), 1979. Photo: Dirck Halstead / Contact.

Sources: Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Wikipedia (Dutch, German and English) and IMDb.

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