BERGEN, CANDICE (1946– ) Actress, Talk Show Host
After an early career in film, Candice Bergen created one of television’s most intriguing characters in Murphy Brown. Born May 6, 1946, Bergen is the daughter of radio and film comedian Edgar Bergen. At her birth, the press announced that Charlie McCarthy—the dummy Edgar used in his famed ventriloquist act—now had a sister. Candice indeed had an intense case of sibling rivalry with the wooden puppet. In her autobiography, Knock Wood (1984), she recalled the haunting memory of her father placing her on one knee and Charlie on the other, using his voice to speak for both of them.
Candice was raised in Beverly Hills, California, where most of her playmates were the children of Hollywood stars. Disturbed by the effect this pampered environment was having on their daughter, the Bergens sent Candice to a finishing school in Switzerland when she was 14. After a few months, Candice greeted her visiting parents, offering them one of her cigarettes and a drink. The Bergens immediately took her back to Beverly Hills for the rest of her high school education.
In 1963, Candice Bergen enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania to study art history. However, she was more interested in her burgeoning modeling career than in her studies. After fiunking out, Bergen moved to New York City, where she attracted the attention of the director Sidney Lumet. He cast her in The Group (1966), in the daring role of Lakey, a young lesbian. Now in demand for ingenue parts, Bergen appeared in a string of undistinguished films, including The Sand Pebbles (1966), T. R. Baskin (1971), and The Wind and the Lion (1975). Critics inevitably were awed by her beauty, though most shared Bergen’s own sense that her acting was stiff and stilted.
As an actress, Bergen had a breakthrough in Starting Over (1979), in which she had a small role as Burt Reynolds’s self-indulgent ex-wife. Not wanting to compete with her father, she had previously shied away from comedy. The film’s showcase of her comedic fiair, however, won her some of her best reviews as well as an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. She returned to comedy in 1981 in the critically disparaged Rich and Famous. In 1979 Bergen met French film director Louis Malle, whom she married the next year. The couple split their time between homes in Los Angeles, New York, and the countryside of France. Bergen gave birth to their daughter, Chloe, in 1985.
Bergen set off on still another career path in 1988, when she lobbied for the lead role on Murphy Brown, a television situation comedy about a straight-talking journalist working on a television news magazine. Contrasting Murphy’s professional success with her personal loneliness, the show’s cre ator, Diane English, called it “a sort of cautionary tale about getting what you wished for.” From the outset, the series was a hit, and earned Bergen five Emmy Awards. It also placed her at the center of a national controversy when Vice President Dan Quayle denounced as immoral a story line that had the pregnant and unmarried Murphy deciding to have her baby and raise him on her own. During the 10-year run of Murphy Brown, Malle fell ill. He died of cancer in 1995. Five years later, Bergen married real estate mogul Marshall Rose, a longtime friend. Also in 2000, Bergen began hosting Exhale, an hour-long talk show for the cable channel Oxygen. A fitting showcase for Bergen’s intelligence and charm, the show has featured such high-profile guests as JODIE FOSTER, Hillary Clinton, and Madeleine Albright. Bergen also returned to film acting in 2001 with a supporting role in the comedy Miss Congeniality.
Bergen, Candice. Knock Wood. New York: Linden Press, 1984.
Ehrman, Mark. “The US Interview: Candice Bergen.” US Weekly. April 24, 2000, pp. 54–61.
Stoddard, Maynard. “Candice Bergen: Sweet Success.” Saturday Evening Post. May/June 1992, pp. 38+.
Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Carnal Knowledge (1971). MGM/UA, DVD/VHS, 1999.
The Group (1966). MGM/UA, VHS, 1996.
Starting Over (1979). Paramount, VHS, 1993.