Polly Bergen, the award winning actress whose career went from Martin & Lewis to The Sopranos and beyond, ended a remarkable life at age 84 on Saturday according to her publicist. The multi-talented performer worked in show business for over six decades with her first gig being on the radio at the age of 14. Bergen died in her home surrounded by those she was close to, her friends, family and manager.
In the 1950s and ’60s Bergen was a singer and entertainer who worked nightclubs and who made records while working on stage and screen. The performer was a talented actress who worked with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis no less than three times. At War with the Army in 1950, That’s My Boy in 1951 and in 1952 she was elevated to love interest in The Stooge.
Bergen worked well as the “straight-man” in comedy films. She played the new wife in Move Over Darling with Doris Day and James Garner which was a reworking of the Dean Martin/Marilyn Monroe film Something’s Got to Give. Before she made the romantic comedy, which was a remake of a remake, Polly worked with Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck in the iconic thriller Cape Fear.
The actress would work with Mitchum again on the 1983 miniseries The Winds of War. Where Bergen’s character was threatened by Max Cady (Mitchum) in the 1962 film, in the series she played the wife of Mitchum’s character. Polly Bergen went from humble beginnings in the world of film and television with Martin & Lewis and later in her life, and career, she worked on The Sopranos proving that in the last of the 1990s she still had some remarkable chops.
For twenty years, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Bergen worked on some of the most iconic television shows in what could termed the halcyon days of TV broadcasting. Shows that produced and employed many of the biggest stars in Hollywood allowed the actress to perfect her trade on many programs that were live and not taped.
Playhouse 90, General Electric Theatre, The United States Steel Hour, Lux Playhouse and The Polly Bergen Show, the latter being her own, were just some of the programs where she polished her craft and worked with the cream of the crop in terms of acting talent.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s Bergen worked steadily guesting on both popular television shows as well as TV movies. She worked on the lightweight comedy series The Love Boat, three times; the quirky and wish fulfilling Fantasy Island and was a guest on the short-lived Jim Hutton series Ellery Queen to name but a miniscule amount of programs that she worked on throughout her career at that time.
In 1988 she reprised her role as Pug Henry’s wife (playing opposite her old pal Robert Mitchum again) Rhonda Henry in the miniseries War and Remembrance. She worked on the show Baby Talk in 1991-92 where she appeared in 23 episodes of the series. Television was Ms. Bergen’s speciality in the world of acting and she continued to guest on shows right up until 2011. The last project the actress worked on was the 2012 feature film Struck by Lightning.
From getting her start in Martin & Lewis films (three in total) to a performance in the mob drama The Sopranos, Polly Bergen led a remarkable life on film via her characters. This talented woman continued to awe television audiences and critics, even in her 70s as was evidenced by her nomination for an Emmy award for her role as Stella Wingfield in Desperate Housewives in 2008. She was an award winning actress who worked in many mediums and was a shining light in them all.
By Michael Smith