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Candice Bergen: Young Cover Girl And 'Carnal Knowledge' Star, Then And Now

Entertainment | August 11, 2020

Candice Bergen in a Vogue photo shoot from 1967. Hair by Carrie White. (Photo by Fouli Elia/Conde Nast via Getty Images)

Candice Bergen's Hollywood journey from then to now began in Hollywood; included cover photo shoots for the likes of Vogue and Mademoiselle; films with Jack Nicholson, Steve McQueen, Sean Connery and Ben Kingsley; and culminated in network sitcom dominance with Murphy Brown. Gifted with an effortless yet regal beauty, Bergen was a pretty face who was destined to be more than a hobnobbing Tinseltown it-girl. As an actress, she has won Golden Globes and Emmys, and received an Oscar nomination; on the political front she participated in Yippie pranks with Abbie Hoffman in the '60s and drew the ire of the U.S. Vice President in the '80s.

Candice Bergen's Father Was The Famous Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen

Candice Bergen, born to be a star. Bergen graced the cover of many magazines with her jaw dropping beauty. (vintagenewsdaily)

The phrase ‘Hollywood royalty’ speaks to our fascination with families and individuals that grace the silver screen. One of the quintessential Hollywood princesses was Candice Bergen. Not only was she the daughter of famed ventriloquist Edgar Bergen but she also referred to Walt Disney as “Uncle Walt.” Born and raised in Beverly Hills, the Murphy Brown mega-star lived in more famous houses than British kings and queens, including what came to be known as “the Sharon Tate House.” Combine jaw-dropping beauty and a family that Bergen recalls “would have a party … I remember Rex Harrison singing at the piano, Fred Astaire dancing with all the ladies. The Reagans were very old and close friends.” It's no wonder that a lot of doors opened for Candice Bergen. 

Walt Disney Was 'Uncle Walt,' And The Reagans Were Family Friends

Rubbing elbow with Uncle Walt at an early age. (purpleclover.littlething)

Her first introduction to the public at large was on her father’s television show. People referred to her as the little sister of her father’s ventriloquist dummy, Charlie McCarthy. Naturally, she hated it. Despite all the inroads into Tinsel Town, Bergen first tried her hand at being a journalist and photographer. 

Candice Bergen Was A Successful Model In The '60s

Left: Bergen the fashion queen. Right: with her father Edgar Bergen. Sources: Pinterest; IMDB

That plan ran off the road when she flunked out of college. “College was in Philadelphia. I was in New York a lot. I managed to fail opera, and they said it couldn’t be done.” As a blossoming beauty, she began modeling and appeared on the cover of Vogue numerous times, as well as Mademoiselle, Life and Look

While Bergen's life story unfolded on screens large and small, her personal life was also notable. She became politically active in the '60s, at one point participating with Abbie Hoffman in a Yippie stunt that temporarily shut down the New York Stock Exchange. She dated Terry Melcher, a music producer who worked with The Byrds and The Beach Boys, and for a time lived with Melcher at 10050 Cielo Drive -- the home where Sharon Tate would later be murdered by followers of Charles Manson. From 1980-95, Bergen was married to French film director Louis Malle.

Jack Nicholson and Candice Bergen in 'Carnal Knowledge.' Source: IMDB

As she gained notoriety as a model, she also began acting. She gravitated toward great artists and roles that shocked the Groovy era. Her very first film was The Group, released in 1966 and directed by Sidney Lumet, a friend of the family, broached the topic of lesbianism in a way not seen before. Five years later, she played Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel off one another in Carnal Knowledge (1971). That film marked the first time a condom ever appeared on screen. Later that year she sank her teeth into T.R. Baskin, which inspired her to think differently about her roles. "That (movie) is really sort of a vehicle, where I have to act and not just be a sort of decoration. It was time for me to get serious about acting."

Bergen Was A Famous Actress In Search Of A Hit

Sean Connery and Candice Bergen in 'The Wind and The Lion' (1975). Source: IMDB

In the years following Carnal Knowledge, Bergen appeared with with some of Hollywood’s leading men in high-profile movies that tended to underperform. She did The Wind and the Lion with Sean Connery along with The Domino Killing and Bite The Bullet with Gene Hackman. She even appeared opposite Ryan O'Neal in Oliver's Story, the completely unnecessary sequel to Love Story.

Candice Bergen Found Her Groove In... Comedy?

Bergen with Burt Reynolds in 'Starting Over.' Source: IMDB

A very significant development occurred for Bergen in 1975 when she became the first woman to host Saturday Night Live, and then the first host to do it twice. She would go on to become the first woman in the Five-Timers Club. In 1979, she appeared alongside Burt Reynolds in the comedy Starting Over, which earned her an Oscar nomination. The serious beauty had blossomed into a comedic actress, and the change of genre brought more success. 

Another highlight undoubtedly included playing photographer Margaret Bourke-White in 1982's best picture Academy Award winner, Gandhi.

Breaking The Mold With Murphy Brown

Bergen looks great into her 70s despite by her own admission that “I am a champion eater. No carb is safe — no fat either.” (aarp.org)

At first, the studio resisted the casting of Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown at every turn. They wanted a younger actress and they didn’t want the character to be coming out of rehab. However, series creator Diane English knew what she wanted. “Nobody wanted me to do Murphy Brown except for Diane English," Bergen recalled. "The network wanted to use Heather Locklear. They wanted her to be 30. And they wanted her to not be coming back from a month at Betty Ford. And Diane English, to her credit, said no, the whole point is that she's a woman of a certain age at the peak of her career who's dealing with demons. And she was just a fantastic character to play.”

Bergen's portrayal of Murphy Brown, who was “Mike Wallace in a dress,” took a flame thrower to numerous female stereotypes. Vice President Dan Quayle weighed in on the show with one of all-time worst takes. According to Quayle, Murphy’s fictional pregnancy was “mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.” His insane opinion on working single mothers became a year-long storyline that coincided with the presidential election. 36 million people watched the episode in which Murphy responded to the Vice President’s moronic idea. Bergen thanked Quayle during her Emmy acceptance speech that year. 

Tags: Candice Bergen | Fashion In The 1960s | Ladies | Models | Sitcoms | Then And Now

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!