Childhood & Early Life
Polly Bergen was born Nellie Paulina Burgin on July 14, 1930, in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, to William Hugh Burgin and Lucy. She grew up alongside her sister Barbra in Knoxville before moving to Los Angeles with her family. She then attended ‘Compton Junior College’ in California.
Bergen started singing at a young age. By the time she was 14, she had started singing for shows hosted on the radio and bands in and around Southern California. She was eventually spotted by film producer Hal B. Wallis who signed her up with the popular film studio ‘Paramount Pictures Corporation.’
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Polly Bergen started her film career in 1949 when she played a singer in the Mark Robson-directed award-winning film ‘Champion.’ After signing with ‘Paramount Pictures,’ she was cast to play Helen Palmer in the 1950 musical comedy film ‘At War with the Army.’ She landed the leading role of Carol Maldon in the 1953 comedy film ‘Fast Company.’ She also made her Broadway debut in 1953, starring alongside Harry Belafonte in Murray Anderson’s musical revue ‘Almanac.’
From 1954 to 1955, she hosted a dramatic anthology series titled ‘The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse’ on ‘ABC’ television network. In 1955, she released her debut music album ‘Little Girl Blue’ and followed it up with another album titled ‘The Girls’ in 1956. In the same year, she was chosen as one of the panelists for the popular television panel game show ‘To Tell the Truth.’ She held the role of a panelist from 1956 to 1961, appearing in 165 episodes.
Meanwhile, she was cast to play the alcoholic torch singer Helen Morgan in one of the episodes of ‘Playhouse 90’ which was aired in 1957. In the same year, she started hosting her own variety show ‘The Polly Bergen Show’ which was aired on ‘NBC.’ She hosted the show from 1957 to 1958, appearing in 18 episodes. In 1957, she also released a couple of music albums, namely ‘Bergen Sings Morgan’ and ‘The Party's Over’ which peaked on ‘Billboard 200’ at number 10 and number 20 respectively.
In 1959, she released three albums, namely ‘My Heart Sings,’ ‘All Alone by the Telephone,’ and ‘First Impressions.’ In 1962, she played the title role in a television movie titled ‘Belle Sommers.’ In the same year, she returned to play film roles after a gap of eight years. In 1963, she played Lorna Melford in the drama film ‘The Caretakers’ for which she received a ‘Golden Globe Award’ nomination for ‘Best Actress.’ After appearing in the 1967 film ‘A Guide for the Married Man,’ she once again took a break from acting in feature films.
From 1974 to 1982, she acted in seven television films, namely ‘Death Cruise,’ ‘Murder on Flight 502,’ ‘79 Park Avenue,’ ‘Telethon,’ ‘The Million Dollar Face,’ ‘Born Beautiful,’ and ‘How to Pick Up Girls!’ In 1983, she played Rhoda Henry in a miniseries titled ‘The Winds of War.’ Her performance in the television miniseries earned her ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ nomination for ‘Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries.’
In 1984, she was seen in a feature film after a gap of 20 years when she played Estelle Stone in the Susan Seidelman-directed science fiction romantic comedy film ‘Making Mr. Right.’ She continued playing television and film roles throughout the 80s. From 1991 to 1992, she played Doris Campbell in 23 episodes of ‘ABC’ network’s sitcom ‘Baby Talk.’ From 1992 to 1996, she appeared in five television movies, namely ‘Lady Against the Odds,’ ‘Arly Hanks,’ ‘The Surrogate,’ ‘In the Blink of an Eye,’ and ‘For Hope.’
In 2001, she played an important role in the Broadway revival of ‘Follies’ at the ‘Belasco Theater.’ She received ‘Tony Award’ nomination for ‘Best Featured Actress in a Musical’ for her performance in ‘Follies.’ In 2003, she played a prominent role opposite Mark Hamill in Richard Alfieri’s play ‘Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks’ at ‘Belasco Theater.’
From 2005 to 2006, she played Kate Allen in 10 episodes of a drama TV series titled ‘Commander in Chief.’ She played her last TV role in the popular comedy-drama series ‘Desperate Housewives’ for which she was nominated for ‘Satellite Award’ for ‘Best Supporting Actress’ and ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ for ‘Outstanding Guest Actress.’ She played her last film role in the 2012 Brian Dannelly-directed comedy-drama film ‘Struck by Lightning.’
Polly Bergen wrote three best-selling books on fashion and beauty. She also founded a cosmetics line in 1965 and later sold her company to ‘Faberge.’ She also came up with a shoe and jewelry line in the late 1960s.
Family & Personal Life
She married actor, director, and producer Jerome Courtland in 1950 and divorced him five years later. In 1957, she married Freddie Fields with whom she adopted two children, namely Peter William Fields and Pamela Kerry Fields. Upon marrying Fields, she became the stepmother of Kathy Fields who was born from Fields’ marriage with Edith Fellows.
She divorced Freddie Fields in 1975 and then married an entrepreneur named Jeffrey Endervelt in 1982. However, this marriage too ended in divorce in 1990. Polly Bergen died on September 20, 2014, in Southbury, Connecticut. She was surrounded by her family members and friends at the time of her death.