Polly Bergen
Bergen in 1953
Nellie Paulina Burgin

(1930-07-14)July 14, 1930
DiedSeptember 20, 2014(2014-09-20) (aged 84)
  • Actress
  • singer
  • writer
Years active1949–2014
  • (m. 1950; div. 1955)
  • (m. 1957; div. 1975)
  • Jeffrey Endervelt
    (m. 1982; div. 1990)
Children3, including Kathy Fields (stepchild)

Polly Bergen (born Nellie Paulina Burgin; July 14, 1930 – September 20, 2014) was an American actress, singer, television host, writer and entrepreneur.

She won an Emmy Award in 1958 for her performance as Helen Morgan in Helen Morgan (Playhouse 90). For her stage work, she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance as Carlotta Campion in Follies in 2001. Her film work included Cape Fear (1962) and The Caretakers (1963), for which she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. She hosted her own weekly variety show for one season (The Polly Bergen Show), was a regular panelist on the TV game show To Tell the Truth, and later in life had roles in The Sopranos and Desperate Housewives. She wrote three books on beauty, fashion, and charm. She is also the inspiration behind Mother Goose in The Land of Stories.

Early life

Bergen was born in Knoxville, Tennessee to Lucy (née Lawhorne; 1909–1985) and William Hugh Burgin (1909–1982), a construction engineer.[1] Bill Bergen, as he was later known, had singing talent and appeared with his daughter in several episodes of her 18-episode comedy/variety show The Polly Bergen Show, which aired during the 1957–1958 television season to much fanfare. They released a duet Columbia LP, Polly and Her Pop.


Bergen at the 1989 Emmy Awards

Bergen appeared in many film roles, most notably in the original Cape Fear (1962) opposite Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. She had roles as the romantic interest in three Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy films in the early 1950s: At War with the Army, That's My Boy, and The Stooge. She was featured in a number of Westerns during the 1950s, including Warpath, Arena, and Escape from Fort Bravo. She starred in the horse racing comedy Fast Company; she starred as the first female commander-in-chief in Kisses for My President; and as the wife of James Garner in the romantic comedy Move Over, Darling, which also starred Doris Day. Bergen's later roles included Mrs. Vernon-Williams in Cry-Baby, a John Waters film.

Bergen received an Emmy Award for her portrayal of singer Helen Morgan in the episode The Helen Morgan Story of the 1950s television series Playhouse 90.[2] Signed to Columbia Records, she also enjoyed a successful recording career during this era. She recorded an album in 1957 titled, Bergen Sings Morgan, which included the song "Bill".

In the 1950s, she became known as "The Pepsi Cola Girl", having done a series of commercials for this product.[3]

She was a regular panelist on the game show To Tell the Truth during its original run. She was an occasional panelist and appeared three times as the mystery guest on What's My Line?. She appeared on the interview program Here's Hollywood. She earned two Emmy Award nominations for her role as Rhoda Henry, wife of Captain "Pug" Henry (played by Robert Mitchum), in two miniseries: The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance.

Bergen starred in a 2001 Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies at the Belasco Theater and received a Tony Award nomination as Best Featured Actress in a Musical.[4] In 2003, she starred at the same theatre in Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks opposite Mark Hamill in a role she took over from Rue McClanahan.[5][6]

In 2004, Bergen played Fran Felstein on HBO's The Sopranos, the former mistress of Johnny Soprano and John F. Kennedy. From 2007 to 2011, Bergen had a guest role in Desperate Housewives as Stella Wingfield, which earned her an Emmy Award nomination.[7]

She was a semi-regular cast member of Commander-in-Chief (2006) as the mother of Mackenzie Allen, the fictional president of the United States, played by Geena Davis. Bergen had once played the first female president of the United States in the movie Kisses for My President (1964). Another late appearance came in the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation Candles on Bay Street (2006), in which she played the assistant to a husband-and-wife team of veterinarians.

In 1965, Bergen created the Polly Bergen Company cosmetics line also known as Oil of the Turtle. She also created lines of jewelry and shoe brands, and wrote three books on beauty.[3] She had retail stores in Knoxville and Gatlinburg, Tenn., bearing her name.[8]

Personal life

Bergen was married to actor Jerome Courtland from 1950 to 1955. In 1957, she married Hollywood agent-producer Freddie Fields, with whom she had two adopted children, Pamela Kerry Fields and Peter William Fields, and stepdaughter, Kathy Fields. Bergen converted from Southern Baptist to Judaism upon marrying Fields.[9][10] The couple divorced in 1975. She was married to entrepreneur Jeffrey Endervelt in the 1980s.[9][11]

In 1991, Bergen spoke about having had an abortion, for inclusion in the book The Choices We Made: Twenty-Five Women and Men Speak Out About Abortion.[12]

On March 31, 1993, Brandon Lee died accidentally on the set of The Crow, and in early April, Bergen held a memorial at her home in Los Angeles with 200 of Lee's family, friends, and business associates attended.[13]

Bergen was a liberal-minded, politically active Democrat and feminist. She was an active advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment, women's education, and Planned Parenthood.[14][15] Bergen's niece is the television producer Wendy Riche.


Bergen died of natural causes on September 20, 2014 at her home in Southbury, Connecticut, surrounded by family and close friends. She had been diagnosed with emphysema and other ailments in the late 1990s.[11][16] Upon her death, she was cremated.[17]



Year Title Role Notes
1949 Champion Singer uncredited
1949 Across the Rio Grande Singer (as Polly Burgin)
1950 The Men Singer uncredited
1950 At War with the Army Helen Palmer a Martin & Lewis comedy
1951 That's My Boy Betty 'Babs' Hunter a Martin & Lewis comedy
1951 Warpath Molly Quade
1952 The Stooge Mary Turner a Martin & Lewis comedy
1953 Cry of the Hunted Janet Tunner
1953 Half a Hero herself-guest appearance
1953 Fast Company Carol Maldon
1953 Arena Ruth Danvers
1953 Escape from Fort Bravo Alice Owens
1954 The Blue Angel herself-host
1962 Cape Fear Peggy Bowden
1963 The Caretakers Lorna Melford nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1963 Move Over, Darling Bianca Steele
1964 Kisses for My President U.S. President Leslie Harrison McCloud
1967 A Guide for the Married Man Technical Adviser (Clara Brown)
1984 Velvet Mrs. Vance
1987 Making Mr. Right Estelle Stone
1989 Mother, Mother Barbara Cutler short film
1990 Cry-Baby Mrs. Vernon-Williams directed by John Waters
1995 Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde Mrs. Unterveldt
1995 Once Upon a Time... When We Were Colored Miss Maybry
2005 Paradise, Texas Beverly Cameron
2006 A Very Serious Person Mrs. A
2012 Struck by Lightning Grandma


Year Title Role Notes
1954, Oct 16 Your Hit Parade singing ‘Mountain Scenery’
1954–55 The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse herself/host
1956–61 To Tell the Truth herself 165 episodes
1957 Playhouse 90 Helen Morgan "The Helen Morgan Story" (episode 33)
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1957–58 The Polly Bergen Show herself 18 episodes
1960 The George Burns Show herself Guest
1961 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Crystal Coe episode: "You Can't Trust a Man"
1961 Wagon Train Kitty Allbright episode: "The Kitty Allbright Story"
1962 What's My Line herself episode: "January 28, 1962
1962 Belle Sommers Belle Sommers TV movie
1967 The Red Skelton Show Myrtle (Bolivar's Fiancee) season 17, episode 12, "Red's Relatives"
1973 Thriller Suzy Hunter season 1, episode 4 “An Echo of Theresa”
1974 Death Cruise Sylvia Carter TV movie
1975 Murder on Flight 502 Mona Briarly TV movie
1976 Ellery Queen Dina Carroll-Winer episode: "The Tyrant of Tin Pan Alley"
1977 79 Park Avenue Vera Keppler TV movie
1977 Telethon Dorothy Goodwin TV movie
1978 How to Pick Up Girls! Dana Greenberg TV movie
1981 The Million Dollar Face Jo Burns TV movie
1982 Born Beautiful Marion Carmody TV movie
1982 The Love Boat Dana Pierce 3 episodes
1983 The Winds of War Rhoda Henry miniseries (6 episodes)
nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1984 Fantasy Island Esther Brandell episode: "Lady of the House/Mrs. Brandell's Favorites"
1985 Hotel Elizabeth Hastings episode: "Images"
1985 Murder, She Wrote Dr. Jocelyn Laird episode: "School for Scandal"
1988 Addicted to His Love Vivien Langford TV movie
1988 She Was Marked for Murder Laura Lee Webster TV movie
1988–89 War and Remembrance Rhoda Henry miniseries (6 episodes)
nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1988 My Two Dads Evelyn Taylor episode: "Joey's Mother-in-Law"
1989 Jake and the Fatman Emma Julian episode: "By Myself"
1989 The Haunting of Sarah Hardy Emily Stepford TV movie
1989 My Brother's Wife Myra Gilbert TV movie
1990 Steel Magnolias Clairee Belcher unsold pilot
1991 Lightning Field Carol TV movie
1991–92 Baby Talk Doris Campbell 23 episodes
1992 Lady Against the Odds Cleo Storrs TV movie
1993 Arly Hanks Ruby Bee TV movie
1994 Burke's Law Rachel Doucet episode: "Who Killed the Starlet?"
1995 The Surrogate Sandy Gilman TV movie
1996 In the Blink of an Eye Murial TV movie
1996 For Hope Molly Altman TV movie
1998 Touched by an Angel Stella episode: "Deconstructing Harry"
2004 The Sopranos Fran Felstein episode: "In Camelot"
2005–06 Commander in Chief Kate Allen 10 episodes
2006 Candles on Bay Street Rosemary TV movie
2007–11 Desperate Housewives Stella Wingfield 10 episodes
nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film

Radio appearances

Year Title Episode Ref.
1952 Musical Comedy Theater "On an Island with You" [18]


Albums list adapted from AllMusic and Discogs.[19][20][21]





  1. ^ "Polly Bergen profile". filmreference.com. Archived from the original on February 5, 2010. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
  2. ^ "Emmy Awards Search – Polly Bergen". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Archived from the original on September 21, 2014. Retrieved September 21, 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Polly Bergen Dies at 84; Emmy-Winning Actress". The New York Times. September 20, 2014. Retrieved September 23, 2014.
  4. ^ "2001 Tony Award Nominations". Los Angeles Times. May 8, 2001. Archived from the original on September 21, 2014. Retrieved September 21, 2014.
  5. ^ Jones, Kenneth (June 27, 2003). "Rue McClanahan Bows Out of Bway's Six Dance Lessons; Hamill Ready to Dance". Playbill. Retrieved September 29, 2016.
  6. ^ Gans, Andrew (November 21, 2003). "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks to Close Nov. 23". Playbill. Retrieved September 29, 2016.
  7. ^ "Polly Bergen: Awards". IMDb.[better source needed]
  8. ^ "Gay Lyons' People & Parties: Polly Bergen recalls career, Knoxville connections".
  9. ^ a b "Polly Bergen Obituary". The Guardian. London. September 22, 2014. Archived from the original on October 20, 2014. Retrieved January 1, 2015.
  10. ^ Brennan, Patricia (December 18, 1988). "Acting, Just for The Fun of It". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 23, 2014. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
  11. ^ a b Pearson, Jake (September 20, 2014). "Polly Bergen, versatile actress, singer, dies at 84". KRIV News. Associated Press. Archived from the original on September 23, 2014. Retrieved September 22, 2014.
  12. ^ Flanagan, Caitlin (May 1, 2007). "The Sanguine Sex". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 27, 2019.
  13. ^ "Shooting of a star". The Observer. May 3, 1993. p. 26.[full citation needed]
  14. ^ Rowes, Barbara (October 6, 1980). "Polly Bergen (who Doesn't) Thinks E.r.a. Needs a Facelift". People. Archived from the original on March 30, 2011. Retrieved February 9, 2023.
  15. ^ "Polly Bergen, dead at 84, was strong women's rights activist". Los Angeles Times. September 20, 2014. Archived from the original on September 22, 2014. Retrieved September 21, 2014.
  16. ^ Chawkins, Steve (September 20, 2014). "Polly Bergen dies at 84; Emmy-winning actress, nightclub singer". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 24, 2014. Retrieved September 22, 2014.
  17. ^ Wilson, Scott (August 19, 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons (3d ed.). McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-2599-7 – via Google Books.
  18. ^ Kirby, Walter (March 16, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". Decatur Daily Review. p. 44. Retrieved May 23, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
  19. ^ "Polly Bergen - Discography". AllMusic. Archived from the original on March 11, 2014. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
  20. ^ "Polly Bergen - Discography". Discogs. Archived from the original on March 17, 2014. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  21. ^ "Polly Bergen - Billboard Charts". AllMusic. Archived from the original on March 11, 2014. Retrieved March 7, 2014.