Candice Bergen: The early career of the model, actress, daughter of Edgar Bergen & sister to a famous puppet

Young Candice Bergen early career actress

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Before “Murphy Brown” actress Candice Bergen was a star in her own right, she was best known as the daughter of the famous ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, and, later, as a popular model.

Take a peek back in time to see a young Candice — then often called Candy — and how her career began.

Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy with young Candice Bergen
Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy with young Candice Bergen

Candice Bergen’s mom talks about her daughter: Sweet success for Candy (1966)

From The The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) March 27, 1966

Hollywood — “For years,” said Mrs. Edgar Bergen, “I was the ventriloquist’s wife, Charlie McCarthy’s stepmother.

“Now I have a new career. I’m Candy’s mother.”

Vivacious Francis Bergen spoke with humor rather than rancor — very much the proud mother as she talked of the rocket-like rise of her daughter, Candice Bergen, to movie fame at 19.

“Oh, wait until I tell her’ Mrs. Bergen said. “When my husband and I saw ‘The Group,’ Candy’s first picture, the other night, James Bond (Sean Connery) was in the audience.

“Later, someone introduced Mr. Connery, and he said, ‘Oh, I say, you’re Candice’s mother.’ I got it even from him.”

Reacted to Offer

Mrs. Bergen, a slim blonde with a warm, friendly manner, admitted she reacted rather strongly when her daughter was offered the role of Lakey, a lesbian, in “The Group.”

Vintage 60s Candice Bergen in The Group movie

“I made sounds like a mid-Victorian mother,” she said. “But my husband, in his calm, Swedish way, made me think about it.

“I’ll admit we had mixed emotions about it. Candy — Candice, I’m supposed to call her Candice now — had a small part, and she has been embarrassed by the publicity she has gotten.

“But for what she had to do and for what she did, her father and I thought she did quite well.”

Candy’s famed father, Edgar Bergen, has been touched by her success also. He stuck his well-known face into the comfortable living room of their Beverly Hills home to tell his wife this:

“I came home from the office to get away from the phone, and it’s no better here. MGM just called and said, ‘We’d like to talk to you about a picture’. I said, ‘You’ll find me very reasonable.’ And the man said, ‘Well, no, I mean a picture for your daughter.'”

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Movie offers have been rolling in for Candy since she was 12, Mrs. Bergen said.

“Every time we’d get an offer, we’d be very honest with her and talk it over. Then we wouldn’t sleep all night for fear she’d want to do it. We felt acting would be there a few more years.

“The next morning she’d wake up talking about something else.

“She did tell me once she thought she might be an actress except for two things: ‘I might not be a good actress, and because I’m afraid of what it might do to me as a human being.'”

Frances Bergen admits she has a few qualms about the suddenness of Candy’s fame.

“People come up to her and say, ‘Ooh, you’re so beautiful,'” she said. “There’s so much attention and adulation at once.”

Francis Bergen in 1966

Earned It on Her Own

“But Candy has a very good head on her shoulders — she’s so much like her father. I think she has the ability to know where she’s going and to take things in her stride — without taking them for granted.”

Mrs. Bergen made it clear that Candy earned her movie offer on her own, not because of her father.

“Sidney Lumet (director of ‘The Group’) saw her in a restaurant in New York. He had no idea who she was, but without a test or anything, he said, ‘that girl is Lakey.'”

Candice Bergen on the cover of vintage '60s Ladies Home Journal (1964)
Candice Bergen on the cover of vintage ’60s Ladies Home Journal (1964)

The part interrupted Candy’s studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where she apparently developed her first interest in acting.

“She had never had drama lessons,” Mrs. Bergen said, “In fact, she hadn’t even belonged to the drama club at Westlake School. But she joined the University of Pennsylvania players, and she had the lead in ‘Summer and Smoke.’ Nothing like cutting your teeth on Tennessee Williams.”

Previously, Candy had been a model here and in New York.

“After her freshman year in college,” Mrs. Bergen said, “she wanted to stay in New York for the summer and model. She wanted to get an apartment, but I said, ‘over mother’s dead body. You’ll stay at the Barbizon for women. If it was good enough for your mother and Princess Grace Kelly, it’s good enough for you.'”

Mrs. Bergen, who said she had wanted to be a model “the way some girls want to be actresses,” admitted modeling didn’t hold much appeal for her daughter.

“It didn’t really satisfy Candy,” she said. “It’s too much facade, and she couldn’t sit still long enough. She’d rather be on the other side of the camera.

“But it paid so well, and Candy has a great respect for the all-American buck.”

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Candy apparently has no steady boyfriend at the moment, Mrs. Bergen said — “unless there’s someone we don’t know.”

1960s Candice Bergen on McCalls magazine cover

Vintage Candice Bergen for Clairol Shampoo (1965)

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Vintage Candice Bergen for Clairol Shampoo (1965)

Actress Candice Bergen: Candy is a star, but knocks her star status (1968)

by Norma Lee Browning – Fort Lauderdale News (Florida) March 24, 1968

Hollywood, Calif — Somewhere between finishing school in Switzerland, partridge hunts in Spain, and her palatial parental pad in Beverly Hills, Edgar Bergen’s carefree kid, Candy, lost herself.

But here she is in a lonely cove on the lovely island of Majorca, rehearsing a scene with Michael Caine. 

“You’ve come! You’ve come!” she cries, leaping from the sea like a mermaid, an ethereal, leggy creature in a purple bathing suit, skinny as a stick, long blonde hair streaming down her back. They go into a clinch at the water’s edge.

“Cut… Once more… Cut… Once more…”

Endless takes until the Mediterranean sun finally conks out — in a darkly overcast sky.

Candice Bergen modeling for Vogue - long braids (1969)

A wardrobe woman wraps her in a lavender terrycloth robe; she sprints over to a clump of Mediterranean pines and collapses, shivering, in a chair marked Candice Bergen. (She hates the name Candy, but is rarely called Candice.)

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“Why do I do it? Why?” she says. “It’s not what I am or want to be. It’s so contrary to what makes me happy. And I honestly don’t know what I’m doing.

“I’m not an actress. I’m just a kid who goes out there and reads a line. I know what I want to do. The next thing is doing it. I would be very proud of myself if I could give up acting.”

With her fair skin, full mouth, and natural outdoorsy, white-gloved blonde good looks, she might be called a cross between Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman, who isn’t a bad cross to bear.

But there is no doubt Candice Bergen meant exactly what she said at the time she was saying it.

Life magazine - Activist actress Candice Bergen (July 24, 1970) (2)
In the bedroom of her new house, once the aviary of John Barrymore’s estate, Candy talks with a friend. She loved redecorating it but says, “Living in LA is not like having a date on Saturday night.” – From Life magazine

She seems distraught at being a genuine, certifiable movie star at 21, and doing the sort of thing most girls would give their eyeteeth to be doing — like rehearsing love scenes with a Caine or a McQueen. She seems anguished at her plight as a poor little rich girl.

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“I had a mink when I was 20. I hated it. But I wanted a warm coat. I had $20,000 worth of jewels. I gave them all to my mother.

“I traveled alone and went all over the world when I was 19. I wanted money because there were things I wanted to buy, like pretty clothes and a carousel horse. I’m out of that now, over all those frustrations.

“It was in Greece that I began to find myself. I dropped my mink and jewelry and found my equilibrium. I gave up my apartment in New York because the jet set and parties are not the kind of life I want. I read some books on self-realization.

“Maybe I haven’t found exactly what I do want, but I’ve found what I should want. Now the thing is to do it — it’s commitment.”

Life magazine - Activist actress Candice Bergen (July 24, 1970) (1)

Her commitment is uncertain

Commitment is the all-important thing to Candice Bergen at 21. But commitment to what?

There is something poignant, pathetic, and appealing in her candor — and in her confusion — as she talks of what it is like to be thrust into the life of a second-generation Hollywood movie star.

“I’m afraid my parents disapprove of most of the things I do and the way I live and think. I’m sure they must wonder where they’ve gone wrong with me,” she says quietly.

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So what’s wrong? 

In a teenage magazine poll, she has been voted the girl most girls would like to be. She has been called “another Ingrid Bergman” by one of Hollywood’s top directors, Robert Wise who directed her in “Sand Pebbles.”

“She has the combination of beauty and talent that we always seek and rarely find. If she wants it, Candy can be the biggest international star in the business,’ he says.

Candy keeps saying now, she doesn’t want it — but she’s still accepting star roles at $100,000 (and up) per picture, thereby winning no popularity contests with her colleagues who say, Nobody’s holding a gun in your back. If you don’t like it, don’t knock it.

Life magazine cover: Activist actress Candice Bergen (July 24, 1970)

Hollywood is a ‘plastic nightmare’

She doesn’t even pretend to like Hollywood. “A plastic nightmare,” she calls it. She says that most movies out of the film capital are “Hollywood garbage.”

But she wanted the role in her latest movie, “The Magus,” filmed in Majorca.

“It’s the only thing I’ve ever asked to do,” she says. “I felt a very strong kinship with Lily. I was offered the other part (that of an airline hostess, Anne, played by Anna Karina) but I held out.”

Lily is a confused, elusive character (known also as Julie) who makes a major project of being In Search of Herself.

While Candy’s roles have won her no Oscars they have a certain built-in shock value which the non-conformist actress delights in. She played a lesbian in ‘The Group,” a female Don Juan in “The Day the Fish Came Out,” and she explains Lily as a “schizophrenic nymphomaniac’ in a mysterious game of human chess.

‘How many such roles are there? But I got them! I’m just a lucky girl.” 

In the next breath, she declaims: “I think acting is very, very self-destructive, especially for a woman. Women are vain enough in the first place without destroying themselves with all this.”

Vintage Candy Bergen modeling photo from the 1960s

Beverly Hills is a ‘disaster area’

I first met Candice at a cocktail party in Madrid. It is impossible to catch up with her in Hollywood. She has never made a movie in a movie capital.

She breezes in and out to see her parents and her boyfriend, Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son, but by and large, she regards her birthplace, Beverly Hills, as a disaster area of affluent chaos.

She describes it as “a modest suburb of Bel Air with vinyl trees and artificial grass and no garbage cans on the street… where I spent my youth in candy-coated chiaroscuro.”

In Madrid she had just ended a grueling day of doing all the self-destructive things she loathed, being a Hollywood movie star, explaining in interviews. why 20th Century Fox had brought her to Spain. 

At the evenings’ cocktail party for the press, she wore a black and white mini-dress and drank orange juice.

She was tense and agitated. Studio publicists winced, writhed, and wriggled as she berated Hollywood and complained about script changes.

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She was the young sophisticate and the little girl lost, not a hippie, but both hip and square, woman and girl-child, but there’s one thing she was not, and that’s the girl next door. 

When we met the following morning to fly to Majorca, she was wearing a sunflower yellow long-sleeved shirt and beige hip-huggers. She spent most of the flight reading a book on Spanish architecture.

Her chauffeur and houseman, Juan, was at the airport to meet her with her dog, a Dandie Dinmont terrier (of English-Scottish breed) named Moose. She and Moore adore each other.

During the drive into town, Candy confessed her disappointment that the picture was being filmed here. “The Magus” was John Fowles’ novel about a young English teacher on a lonely Greek island, but Hollywood switched the locale to unlonely, tourist-infested Majorca.

Young Candice Bergen for Bonne Bell Ten-O-Six lotion (1965)

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She Adores Greece

Candy adores Greece. (That’s where she made ‘The Day the Fish Came Out” for Greek director Michael Cacoyannis. )

“I thought they were going to film this one in Greece. That’s one of the reasons I asked to do Lily. I read the book when it first came out and loved it; perhaps because I love Greece. And now here I am… here! … it’s so big I didn’t know islands were like this,” she says.

“I moved out of the hotel. I couldn’t bear it, taking a risk of being hit by a car every time you step out the door.”

Her co-stars — Caine, Anthony Quinn, and Anna Karina — all managed to endure the luxury of Majorca’s Nixie Palace hotel, but Candice fled to a California-Mediterranean villa in the country.

Owned by one of the richest doctors in Madrid, it is a split-level with balconies, barbecue pit (for American hot dogs), no telephone, only one maid (local Spanish), and a. winding path down to the beach. 

Candice hates cities, “But did you know there are same 13th-century farmhouses here?”

Britain’s famed clairvoyant, Maurice Woodruff, in Majorca as consultant on certain mystical aspects of “The Mages,” surreptitiously peered into Candy’s future and informed me: “She will marry within the year — this time. She is very naive, and has not the capacity to be continuously happy.'”

Candice with friend on Ladies Home Journal (1975)

With Jane Goodall in Africa — Candice Bergen’s own story of life among the chimps.

Vintage Candice Bergen on the cover of Ladies Home Journal (1975)

Candice Bergen on the cover of People (1975)

Candice Bergen; “Men are such jerks about beautiful women.”

Candice Bergen cover of People - July 28 1975

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One Response

  1. No matter what else Candice Bergen has done or will do in her career, the one thing I’ll always remember her for is that early SNL “dangerous toys” sketch with Dan Ackroyd featuring “Johnny Switchblade” and the “Bag-O-Glass.” They replay it every Christmas, and even though it’s nearly 50 years old, it still cracks me up.

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