Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Fun Finds: Polly's Principles, 1974

When I tell people I love to troll through thrift stores, flea markets and so on, they usually give me a look as if they are primates and I am the large, black obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969.) But it is because of the chance for a fun find like the one featured today that I will never cease to hunt these places. Polly's Principles, an autobiographical beauty book (published in 1974) by film, television and stage actress Polly Bergen cost me the whopping sum of $0.99!

In it, as described on this back cover, she promises - at forty-three - to share all of her lifestyle and beauty secrets, various tips and treasures from her vault of knowledge on the subject. Though it's been more than forty years since its publication, perhaps some of the information found within can still be of use to some ladies. Some of it may also prove amusing for a few gents. However, we're principally zeroing in on the photos. (This is, after all, a large hardbound BOOK, not some flimsy pamphlet or soft-cover sell-out.)

Bergen was born on July 14th, 1930 in Maryville, Tennessee. As it was the Depression and her father was a construction engineer, she spent her early years traveling all over Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and so on - wherever he found work. She claims to have once attended ten different grade schools in a twelve-month period of time! She was an only child until she was nine and a baby sister was born.

Admittedly spoiled by her doting mother and dressed as closely to what Shirley Temple wore as their limited budget would allow, she began singing at age two and grew to love performing right away. The audience reaction made up for the lack of friends in her life, having moved around so much in her adolescence.

By age thirteen, she had measurements of 40" - 24" - 40" and was ridiculed by quite a few underdeveloped classmates. At fourteen, though, she began to embrace her womanly figure and began singing professionally... and smoking. It was rare to see her backstage or offstage without a cigarette.

Her father was eventually able to successfully support his family, but Bergen wanted to work. She would sing in nightclubs (lying that she was twenty-one) with her mother in tow.

At seventeen, she was spotted by a Goldwyn Studios talent scout and put through her paces with singing and dancing lessons, all in preparation for a movie that ultimately did not come to fruition.

By the time she was eighteen, she was singing on a local TV show, cut a novelty record called "Honky-Tonkin'" and was called in to see Hal Wallis, a prominent producer at Paramount Studios. This meeting led to a screen test and ultimately a $600.00/week contract, quite a pretty penny in the late-1940s!
On the lot she met a 6'4" cutie (she wrote 6'7"!) named Jerome Courtland who she wed only six months after she finished high school. He was a wealthy young man who'd been discovered at seventeen during one of his parents' fancy cocktail parties. His acting career didn't wind up amounting to much, but he later became a reliable TV director, particularly for Aaron Spelling shows like Hotel and Dynasty as well as Knots Landing and Falcon Crest. (This photo is not from the book. Just here as a reference.)

Bergen's first movies (apart from some appearances as a singer) were with Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis and included At War with the Army (1950), That's My Boy (1951) and The Stooge (1951.) Not so surprisingly, she adored Dean, but found Jerry to be insufferably rude and vulgar.

She soon left and, after getting some attention with nightclub engagements in New York, landed at MGM where she made several low-budget films like Cry of the Hunted, Fast Company and Arena (all 1953.) She was set to play the lead in Escape from Fort Bravo (1953) when the powers that be opted to use an established star (Eleanor Parker) instead, dropping Bergen to a minor supporting role.

With that, she fled to NYC again and began appearing in Broadway musical revues and making TV appearances. One of her (then rare) dramatic TV roles was as singer Helen Morgan in a Playhouse 90 episode and for this she won an Emmy. (When the show was remade as a feature - The Helen Morgan Story, 1957 - Bergen was dismayed to find that Ann Blyth was hired for the part.)

She had other fish to fry, however. Beginning in 1956, she was a regular panelist on the hit television game show To Tell the Truth. She would remain on the series for five years, trying to guess which of three contestants was, in fact, the person they claimed to be while the other two were imposters. To tell my own truth, I have found that a little of Polly Bergen goes a pretty long way on these episodes. She affected a highly coy, woe-is-me, spoiled child sort of demeanor that some people enjoyed more than others, though she has even now an undeniable following.

Also from 1957-1958 she had eighteen episodes of her own variety series, The Polly Bergen Show. She scored a hit with her rendition of the song "The Party's Over," which became a closing theme on the show. This was all apart from multitudinous appearances on all the other hit shows of that ilk during the 1950s. She also became "The Pepsi-Cola Girl" thanks to a series of TV commercials she did for the soft drink.

Within a year of her first divorce, she'd married "super agent" Freddie Fields and they adopted two children in addition to one daughter he already had from a previous marriage. She converted from Southern Baptist to Judaism (!) in order to wed him. In this book, she notes a series of devastating tubular pregnancies, which led to the adoptions. Years later, she went public about an illegal abortion she'd undergone at age seventeen which robbed her of her ability to carry children thereafter.

Fields moved to Hollywood, with Bergen in tow, of course, and she began to win film roles in movies like the classic thriller Cape Fear (1962) as Gregory Peck's wife menaced by an intimidating Robert Mitchum.

She also starred in one of our own personal faves, The Caretakers (1963), in which she played a highly distraught mental patient in a hospital with nurses overseen by a commandeering Joan Crawford.

Joan surely approved of Bergen as a costar what with Bergen's prior association with Pepsi and Joan's then well-publicized place on the company's board of directors. The soft drink popped up in many of Crawford's films of this era. (And what a hooty photo, with Constance Ford looking fraught with worry, Crawford at her most steely and Bergen still loonily in character?)

When "Something's Got to Give" went unfinished in 1962 following Marilyn Monroe's death, the project was reworked with Doris Day in the lead and James Garner in for Dean Martin. The result was Move Over Darling (1963) in which the presumed dead Day came back just as Garner has married a second wife, Polly Bergen.

While Bergen likely acted the role better, I have to say that I preferred the original star Cyd Charisse's look, with a series of chic, attractive get-ups and a very stylish hairdo. (As much as I like big hair, I prefer it piled up in curls and swoops versus an overgrown, vertical shrub of fuzzy locks...)
By the way, years later, Bergen met up with the initial star Charisse and her husband Tony Martin. These smiles might seem just the slightest bit forced? Certainly, the issues with the two films had nothing to do with either lady, however.

Incidentally, I also preferred the original hunk that the presumed-dead wife was stranded with on a deserted island. Chuck Conners inherited the part in Darling that was initially that of Tom Tryon's in "Something's Got to Give." You can compare the men in this old post of mine on swimsuits. 

After Kisses for My President (1964), in which she played the first female Commander in Chief with Fred MacMurray as her husband, Bergen began to scale down her acting gigs and instead focused on raising her children as well as business ventures which came to include cosmetic, jewelry and shoe lines bearing her name. Her Oil of the Turtle beauty line was ultimately bought up by Fabergé, who had a hand in this book as well, though she remained involved with it.
In Polly's Principles, Bergen shares anecdotes about how the studio stylists did her over without any regard for her own personal attributes (or defects), causing no small amount of insecurity and frustration on her part. She also takes some of her fellow Hollywood stars to task for hanging on to beauty details too long, such as Marlo Thomas' eyelashes and Ann Miller's, er, everything!

Since this chapter has to do with her assessing her nude self in the mirror (!), I scanned much of it for your reading horror pleasure...
But here is where the fun kicks in. She devotes a chapter entirely to her sex life and its various secrets, tips, etc... I daresay this was probably pretty forthright for a celebrity to do in 1974, even with the sexual revolution, women's lib and so on...! You don't want to miss her diatribes on "crotch deodorant," "sex talk" and the "no underclothes" method. All kidding aside, I commend her for her startling frankness in this chapter.
I also scanned in this Do & Don't section for the skin as well as the subsequent text on smoking and sunbathing. I myself quit smoking in 1997 and have close to zero tolerance for it now (typical! - I think my body just wants to make sure I never do it again...) but I am a sun baby. I have to confess guilt on that score, though I do try to protect my face and shoulders from getting too much. I think I always felt that fat looks better tan. LOL
Bergen's marriage fell apart and by 1975 they were divorced (though separated for quite a while prior.) And she never did quit smoking. In fact, she experienced some significant vocal issues as a result. From 1969 to 1999 she hardly sang a note. Throughout this book, she refers to her performing career in the past tense, though there was still quite a bit to come.

She probably had no inkling when she was writing this tome that the year after she'd be joining an "illustrious" group of actors including Danny Bonaduce and Sonny Bono in the TV-movie opus Murder on Flight 502 (1975)! What a cast, though, all arranged on set as if they're in a remake of Airport (1970.)

She continued to act in TV-movies as well as hit miniseries such as Harold Robbins' 79 Park Avenue (1977) and The Winds of War (1983), which reunited her with her old Cape Fear costar Robert Mitchum. They played the heads of a troubled family during WWII, revisiting the parts once more in the sequel War and Remembrance (1988.) Both of the latter miniseries scored Emmy nominations for her though she lost to Jean Simmons in The Thorn Birds and Colleen Dewhurst in Those She Left Behind. Bergen also reappeared occasionally in 1990 on a new, brief incarnation of To Tell the Truth.
In 2001, after years of not singing, she went to a vocal coach and eventually lent her now-smoky pipes to the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, playing Carlotta and performing the durable anthem "I'm Still Here." She was nominated for both a Drama Desk and a Tony Award. (Cady Huffman won both for playing Ulla in The Producers.) She went on to play Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret and then the non-musical Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks opposite Mark Hamill.

She next turned up on TV for ten episodes of the show Commander in Chief as President Geena Davis' mother. This was a neat nod to her own role in Kisses for My President. Then she popped up on Desperate Housewives as Felicity Huffman's mom for ten episodes. This garnered her one last Emmy nomination, though the award went to fellow Housewives performer Kathryn Joosten. One episode reunited her with Richard Chamberlain, on whose Dr. Kildare series she had once guest-starred.

One reason she was still working so much after having practically left acting to focus on business was because a third marriage in 1982 to an entrepreneur cost her most of her money and led her to near bankruptcy. She divorced in 1990, but was forced into selling her New York apartment in order to survive.

She passed away in 2014 at age eighty-four, having battled emphysema and circulatory issues for a time. Her quote in 2001 about cigarettes and their effects was: "I had a choice of quitting smoking or singing another chorus of 'Night and Day,' and I chose to continue smoking and quit singing... And it was a decision that I regretted from that day forward."
As the book only offers black and white photos of Bergen apart from the cover, I give you a couple of pics of her in color to round out this edition of Fun Finds.


Gingerguy said...

This took me right back to the fluorescent lit supermarkets of my childhood. I was glamour starved and would hover in the "ladies section" of the magazine/paperback rack while my Mother shopped. I distinctly remember that there were always Polly products, I think soft cover beauty books? She seemed to be a pioneer entrepreneurial celeb. Maybe a wig line too? or she just wore a lot of them. I recently found a feminist comedy book I used to peruse from this time called "Titters". Thank goodness for ebay.
Polly was a cute kid. I have her singing on a cd somewhere "What I Wouldn't Do For That Man" nice voice.
I think of her as so 1960's so it was very interesting to read how she started. BTW "Move Over Darling" has a killer theme song.
I have seen her President movie, and it's very cute.
Thank you for including the physical exam pages, hilarious. Especially the "matron's hump" which my Mom calls a "Dowager's hump" you don't see those so much anymore, thank goodness for advances in medicine, it must have been hell dressing around that.
The photos are great, though Princess Margaret looks very stuck up. What a glamour puss Polly was and she adjusted well to the dressed down 70's. A little butch actually.
This sure was a fun find and really took me back.

Forever1267 said...

I watched that "Murder on Flight" because of you, and I am so happy for it. Delicious 70's cheese!

I remember her mostly from "The Winds of War" which was appointment TV back in... 1981 or so. She wasn't the warmest of stars.

Scooter said...

Oil of the Turtle...seriously?!?

Poseidon3 said...

Hilarious remarks, Gingerguy...! I know you're a NYC boy now, but where did you grow up?!?! I was always at the comic book rack or the toy dept (probably perusing Barbies or paper dolls I couldn't have...! Ha ha!) On old "To Tell the Truth" episodes, Orson Bean (who's still alive, God love him!) mentions "Dowager's Hump" every so often.

Forever1267, isn't that one SCREAMER of a cast list?!?! I mean, the names just go on and on. And to see Brooke Adams (!) of all people in it when she later went on to some high profile film roles...

Scooter, she describes in the book how ancient people used natural oils to retain their beauty and apparently how Cleopatra used turtle oil. Polly didn't want to call her product Turtle Oil (and for the bikini area, try our new "Turtle WAX!" LOLOL) so she borrowed the phrasing from the hit Broadway comedy Voice of the Turtle and voila! Hilariously, her first attempt at print ads had her product in the PET section of the Los Angeles Times! It was - for a time - a really hot product and was allegedly the first (pink) foaming moisturizer because that absorbs quickly and she had eye allergy issues.

Gingerguy said...

Poseidon, thank you for calling me a boy! only at heart these days. I grew up in lovely central New Jersey. Piscataway, not be confused with Parsippany. You mention "armpit of the nation" occasionally and I must say that NJ has a copyright on that expression.

jobj69 said...

Hi! Love your blog...I was surprised you neglected to mention Polly's role as the socially uptight grandmother in John Waters' not-quite-classic film, Cry Baby!

Poseidon3 said...

jobj69, I probably could have/should have, but after the long-ish feature on her book, I just skimmed across the remainder of her life and career versus an in-depth tribute like I often do... Thanks for visiting and reading! Glad you like P.U. ;-)