Polly Bergen is an award-winning actress, singer, and entrepreneur. She began her career singing nightclub shows and Columbia recording artists before going on to appear on Playhouse 90 television program.
She earned two Supporting Emmy nominations for her performances in TV miniseries Cape Fear and War and Remembrance; as well as films such as The Caretakers and Commander in Chief.
Early Life and Education
Polly Bergen was born Nellie Paulina Burgin and raised by welfare families. Initially she began singing on radio shows before moving onto films with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis; moreover she also featured on To Tell the Truth TV game show as well as making appearances on Broadway.
She earned an EMMY nomination for her work in Dan Curtis Productions’ ABC Television “War and Remembrance”, playing Rhoda Kirby – wife of Navy officer Pug Henry played by Robert Mitchum – as an entrepreneur producing beauty products, clothing, shoes, as well as writing books about style and elegance.
Bergen was twice married: first to actor Jerome Courtland from 1950 to 1955 and later, Hollywood super-agent Freddie Fields between 1957 and 1975; they divorced later that year and she sealed a deal with entrepreneur Jeffrey Endervelt in the 1980s.
Bergen was one of the most versatile entertainers of her time, winning an Emmy and amassing immense wealth as a nightclub singer, film actress, Broadway star and cosmetics entrepreneur. Additionally, she wrote three advice books and had her own successful line of beauty products bearing her name.
Bergen was an incredible actress for five decades and still made headlines as late as 2001, when she graced Broadway as Carlotta in Sondheim’s Follies revival – garnering her a Tony nomination and becoming an inspiring example for other aging stars.
She became a familiar face on television shows such as To Tell the Truth and The Sopranos, as well as Commander-in-Chief and Desperate Housewives. Personally, she married three times before divorcing twice; with first husband Jerome Courtland followed by talent agent Freddie Fields (after she converted to Judaism).
Achievement and Honors
Bergen enjoyed an award-winning career that spanned over 50 years. As an actress on film, television, and the stage; and also as an accomplished singer/performer/entrepreneur through her cosmetics/fragrance line launched under her name; Bergen garnered widespread acclaim.
Bergen earned both an Emmy Award and Tony nomination for her portrayal of Helen Morgan on Playhouse 90 during its 1950s TV run and as Carlotta Campion in Stephen Sondheim’s 2001 Broadway musical Follies. Additionally, she appeared regularly as Lynette Scavo’s mother Stella Wingfield on Desperate Housewives from 2007 until her death; both roles she had become passionate advocates of Planned Parenthood while being active Democrats who advocated on women’s issues such as Equal Rights Amendment.
Polly Bergen had an astounding career spanning more than six decades in showbiz. She excelled at nightclub and Columbia recording star of the 50s; an Emmy Award-winning dramatic actress on TV’s Playhouse 90; Tony-nominated singer/actor performance as Carlotta Campion from Follies musical; founding her own mail order cosmetics business (which she later sold to Faberge); as well as business acumen – starting a mail-order cosmetics company which later sold off.
Nellie Paulina Burgin, better known by her professional name Polly Bergen, was born July 14, 1930 in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA and died September 20, 2014. Born to financially struggling parents, Bergen worked as a waitress to pay for her education before converting to Judaism in 1956 and enjoying a successful career as an actress, entrepreneur and singer.
Polly Bergen was an incredible six-decade talent who excelled in many areas. As a nightclub singer, entrepreneur, Columbia recording artist, television game show panelist and fashion plate she displayed an astounding range of talent that would earn her numerous honors over her long and distinguished career in show business – earning herself an Emmy award as best actress for portraying Helen Morgan on CBS Mark Goodson and Bill Todman produced television anthology series Playhouse 90 in 1957.
Bergen was not well received in her debut Hollywood feature film, At War With the Army (1950). One critic wrote of her: “Miss Bergen looks pretty, but doesn’t know how to face a camera.” Yet she persisted; eventually becoming an Oscar nominee at age 70 for her gutsy performance as Carlotta in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies revival on Broadway.