Candice Bergen: More Than Murphy Brown
In her irreverent new memoir, she talks about fading glamour, weight gain, becoming a polarizing single mom on TV, and the real joys of actual motherhood.
Candice Bergen’s latest memoir, A Fine Romance, is a many-faceted tale. The Emmy Award-winning actress best known for her role as the wisecracking TV journalist Murphy Brown has cobbled together a melange of stories, along with some loving—and some not so loving—memories, and then woven them into a narrative detailing the ups and downs of her privileged, peripatetic, and seemingly perfect life.
Her candid reflections might be labeled Chick Lit, not in any derogatory way but simply because her discussions of love, death, and marriage—and her fixation on the birth of her daughter, Chloe, when Candice was 39, an event which she calls “the beginning of my life”—will appeal to women in general and particularly to those of a certain age.
Approaching 69, the once whippet-thin model, a favorite of glitzy fashion magazines, is surprisingly upfront on the subject of aging and wistful about her fading glamour.
She readily admits to cosmetic procedures including an eye lift (no face-lift yet), and writes that she is heavy and basically doesn’t care: “I am fat. In the past fifteen years I have put on thirty pounds. I live to eat, none of this eat to live stuff for me. No carb is safe.”
A diet? Out of the question. Comparing herself to her rail-thin female friends, she claims they maintain their weight at a cost. “Vomiting after major meals of steak or filet of fish. I am incapable of this.”
The loss of hair is an additional dilemma: ”In my sixties I seem to have gotten someone else’s hair. I think Golda Meir’s.”
This confessional vein runs throughout the book, a follow-up to her previous best seller, Knock Wood, which covers her Hollywood years as the daughter of famed ventriloquist Edgar Bergen.
His ventriloquist dummy, the raffish Charlie McCarthy, now in the Smithsonian, was considered her brother. He lived in a room next door to hers and was treated as the prime member of the family. She loathed being referred to as his sister.
Candice was not mentioned in her father’s will, which did leave money for a Charlie McCarthy Fund to support ventriloquists. She expresses shock and writes, “I have been chasing my father’s approval all my life and here was proof. I never got it.”
A Fine Romance begins with Bergen’s heady courtship with noted New Wave French film director Louis Malle. Six months after their first date, they were married at Malle’s French country estate.
She was 34, he was 47. It was her first marriage. They traveled the world, juggling careers, dividing their time between France, New York, and Los Angeles. There were frequent absences. Malle, who was prone to black moods, despair, and great creativity, wrote her passionate love notes until his untimely death from a brain disease in 1999.
By that time Murphy Brown, which debuted 30 years ago and ran for a decade, had made her the richest person on TV.
Almost overnight Bergen turned into a superstar. Murphy, whom Bergen labels “Mike Wallace in a skirt,” was feisty, single, bawdy, and brassy with an affinity for alcohol, yet irresistible. Although nervous about playing comedy, Bergen says the part fit her like a glove.
In Episode 101, which became a cultural touchstone, the fictional—and unmarried—newscaster had a baby on TV.
The repercussions were instant. Dan Quayle, then the nation’s vice president (who was subsequently called “the Sarah Palin of his time without the wit”) made the mistake of blaming the fall of Western civilization on Murphy’s single motherhood.
His remarks went viral and for months Quayle was the butt of endless jokes. (On the darker side, the cast received death threats.) The series went on, more popular than ever. At the end Bergen was offered a correspondent’s job on 60 Minutes. She turned it down.
Instead, 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt set her up on a blind date with one of New York’s most eligible widowers, real estate tycoon Marshall Rose. Bergen was smitten and decided to trap him, but found she had to get in line. The wealthy philanthropist was a hot item and every unattached female in Manhattan had same idea.
“I found it terrifying.These woman were hard core take no prisoners types. They were playing for keeps. It was a business,”she says. In the end, Bergen got her man and wryly describes the pitfalls and problems of a mid-life second marriage.
In 2004, she returned to television as the bitchy lawyer Shirley Schmidt on Boston Legal. James Spader and William Shatner were her co-stars. The script was loaded with quirky one-liners and sexy innuendo. Bergen relished her job and was twice nominated for an Emmy for supporting actress.
A Fine Romance revolves around her last 35 years: her two marriages, her devotion to her daughter, and underlying themes of change and loss.
Looking back, she reflects, “This year I did a few days on a movie … with Warren Beatty. He and I sat in a corner on the set and talked about being beautiful. There was no one more gorgeous than he. It gives you total access, Warren said, and I agree. What you do with it is up to you. It’s an all-access backstage pass.”