Polly Bergen can be described in one word; resilient.
Ms. Bergen, 84, passed away at her home in Southbury, Connecticut, according to ABC News. Ms. Bergen’s publicist, Judy Katz, confirmed Ms. Bergen was surrounded by family and close friends when she passed away.
Ms. Bergen had established herself as a household name from her 20s and beyond. She also wore many different hats – singer; writer; entrepreneur; and more. She was born in Knoxville, TN as Nellie Paulina Bergen, but always called Polly. She began her career singing on the local radio after family had moved to California.
“I was fanatically ambitious,” she recalled in 2001. “All I ever wanted to be was a star. I didn’t want to be a singer. I didn’t want to be an actress. I wanted to be a star.”
At 20, she moved from singing to the movies, her first starring with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in At War With The Army. She did two more films with the comedic duo, That’s My Boy and The Stooge.
In 1953, Ms. Bergen and Harry Belafonte went to Broadway in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac. She also started on television in The Polly Bergen Show and as a regular on To Tell The Truth.
She continued her film career with such classics as Cape Fear, considered one of her greatest performances, and Kisses For My President, playing the first woman to be elected President.
Ms. Bergen then began to veer into writing. She wrote the first of three books: 1962’s The Polly Bergen Book of Beauty; Fashion and Charm, which would lead into a lucrative career into cosmetics, which she later sold to Faberge; fashion clothes; and shoes.
The New York Times reports as her empire grew, so did her interest in women’s rights, particularly reproductive rights.
Ms. Bergen was married three times. Her last husband, Jeffery K. Endervelt was a company investor. He would ask Ms. Bergen often for loans which she would give without question. Once married, that process continued until the stock market crash of 1987. The combination of the crash and her loaning to her husband eventually left her companies in debt. After her divorce in 1990 from Endervelt, Ms. Bergen worked on climbing back up again.
Ms. Bergen returned to television (1983’s Winds of War and 1988’s War and Remembrance), movies (1990’s Cry-Baby and 1996’s Once Upon a Time…When We Were Colored) and the theatre (Follies in 2000, Cabaret in 2002, and Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks in 2003). Though she did more performing, health issues began to take their toll, most of them arising from emphysema, and she started to cut back from performing, but secure that she worked her way out of debt.
Ms. Bergen is survived by two daughters, Kathy Lander and Pamela Fields; a son, Peter Fields; and three grandchildren.