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Polly Bergen

Updated on June 2, 2016
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I'm a fan of classic TV shows and films. My articles focus on the character actors and actress who usually played supporting roles.

Bio Stats

Born: 14 July 1930 (Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)

Died: 20 September 2014 (Southbury, Connecticut, USA)

Cause of Death: Natural causes

Film and TV Appearances: 84+

Award Nominations: 10 (1 win)

Years Active: 1949 - 2012

Publicity photo from 1953
Publicity photo from 1953

Born Nellie Paulina Burgin in 1930 she started life in Knoxville, Tennessee but her family eventually moved to Los Angeles. She began her career when she was a teenager singing hillbilly songs on the radio with her singer/guitarist father Bill Bergen (William Hugh Burgin) and attended Compton Junior College.

At the age of 17, she had an illegal abortion which resulted in her being unable to have children and which lead her to become an activist for women's rights especially in the area of reproduction rights.

In 1950, after an inauspicious film debut, she was discovered by producer Hal B. Wallis who signed her to a contract at Paramount. After a number of film roles at Paramount, MGM and Universal she became disappointed with the parts she was getting and decided to look for something else.

I was fanatically ambitious. All I ever wanted was to be a star. I didn't want to be a singer. I didn't want to be an actress. I wanted to be a star.

— Polly Bergen

Film

Bergen's film career began in 1949 with an uncredited voice role in the film Champion. She followed this up with her first on-screen role in the film Across the Rio Grande (1949).

Films she appeared in were At War with the Army (1950); That's My Boy (1951); Warpath (1951); The Stooge (1951); Cry of the Hunted (1953); Fast Company (1953); Arena (1953); Escape from Fort Bravo (1953); Cape Fear (1962); Borderlines (1963); Move Over, Darling (1963); Kisses for My President (1964); A Guide for the Married Man (1967); Making Mr. Right (1987); Cry-Baby (1990); Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde (1995); Once Upon a Time... When We Were Colored (1995); Paradise, Texas (2005); A Very Serious Person (2006); and Struck by Lightning (2012).

Ellery Queen (1976)

as Dina Carroll-Winer in the episode "The Adventure of the Tyrant of Tin Pan Alley"
as Dina Carroll-Winer in the episode "The Adventure of the Tyrant of Tin Pan Alley"

Television

The bulk of Bergen's on-screen appearances were on television. Along with appearing on numerous variety and game shows she hosted her own variety show for one season - The Polly Bergen Show (1957-1958). She made her TV debut in 1950 on The Alan Young Show.

Some of the TV films she appeared on were Belle Sommers (1962); Death Cruise (1974); Murder on Flight 502 (1975); Harold Robbins' 79 Park Avenue (1977); Li'l Abner in the Dogpatch Today (1978); The Million Dollar Face (1981); Born Beautiful (1982); Velvet (1984); Addicted to His Love (1988); The Haunting of Sarah Hardy (1989); Steel Magnolias (1990); Lightning Field (1991); Lady Against the Odds (1992); Arly Hanks (1993); Leave of Absence (1994); The Surrogate (1995); For Hope (1996); Early Bird (2005); and Candles on Bay Street (2006).

Bergen also had regular roles on a number of TV series...

  • The Winds of War (1983) and War and Remembrance (1988-1989) as Rhoda Henry
  • Baby Talk (1991-1992) as Doris Campbell
  • Commander in Chief (2005-2006) as Kate Allen in 10 episodes
  • Desperate Housewives (2004-2012) as Stella Wingfield in 10 episodes between 2007 and 2011

Some of the TV shows she guest starred on were Schlitz Playhouse; The Elgin Hour; Star Stage; Dr. Kildare; The Red Skelton Hour; The Love Boat; Fantasy Island; Murder, She Wrote; My Two Dads; Jake and the Fatman; and Twice in a Lifetime.

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.

— Polly Bergen

Singing Career

During the 1950s, Bergen signed a recording contract with Columbia Records and over the years made a number of records including Bergen Sings Morgan (1957); Polly and her Pop (1958); All Alone By the Telephone (1959); and Four Seasons of Love (1960). Other albums she recorded included Little Girl Blue (1955); Sings the Hit Songs from Do-Re-Mi and Annie Get Your Gun (1961); and Act One, Sing Too (1963).

In 1958, she recorded her only song to make it to the Billboard Hot 100 - Come Prima (67).

On Broadway, Bergen performed and sang in a few plays and musicals - John Murray Anderson's Almanac (1953-1954); Champagne Complex (1955); First Impressions (1959); Love Letters (1989-1990); Cabaret (2002); Follies (2001); and Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks (2003).

Drama Desk Awards Ceremony 2001

Awards

During her lifetime, Polly Bergen was nominated for many awards but only won once...

  • Primetime Emmy Awards (1958): Winner - Actress - Best Single Performance - Lead or Support - Playhouse 90 (1956) for the episode "The Helen Morgan Story".
  • Laurel Awards (1964): Nominated - Top Female Dramatic Performance
  • Golden Globes (1964): Nominated - Best Actress - Drama
  • Primetime Emmy Awards (1983): Nominated - Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special
  • Primetime Emmy Awards (1989): Nominated - Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Special
  • Drama Desk Award (2001): Nominated - Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
  • Tony Award (2001): Nominated - Featured Actress in a Musical
  • Online Film and Television Association (2004): Nominated - Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series
  • Satellite Awards (2007): Nominated - Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
  • Primetime Emmy Awards (2008): Nominated - Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

It suddenly struck me - I'm 70 years old. I wonder if I could possibly end my life the way I started it: doing the most joyful thing I ever did, which is to sing.

— Polly Bergen

As well as being an actress and singer, Bergen was also a writer and business woman. She wrote three books...

  • The Polly Bergen Book of Beauty, Fashion, and Charm (1962)
  • Polly's Principles (1974)
  • I'd Love to, but What will I Wear (1977)

She also ran three businesses during her life...

  • Polly Bergen Cosmetics which she started in 1966 and sold to Faberge in 1973.
  • Polly Bergen Jewelry
  • Polly Bergen Shoes

Married three times, she adopted two children (a daughter and son) and had one step-child (Kathy Fields, daughter of her second husband, Freddie Fields). In her later years, she battled emphysema and other ailments due to a 50-year smoking habit.

Polly Bergen died from natural causes on 20 September 2014.

Move Over, Darling

Move Over Darling
Move Over Darling

Polly Bergen co-stars in this movie as Bianca Steele Arden

 

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