Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book: "A Fine Romance" by Candice Bergen

When the paperback version finally came out in the late 1980s (early on in my marriage), I eagerly pounced on Candice Bergen's well-reviewed 1984 memoir, "Knock Wood." Back then, Bergen was best known -- to people of my generation, anyway -- as a stunning, cool blonde model and actress in movies such as "Starting Over" and "The Wind and the Lion."

But to my mother's generation, she was better known as the daughter of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen who, with his wisecracking dummy, Charlie McCarthy, was a major radio star (!). "Knock Wood" describes Bergen's somewhat bizarre Hollywood childhood, where she appeared on her dad's radio show and was known as "Charlie's little sister" (!).  Not surprisingly, she resented the dummy, who had a bigger bedroom and closer relationship with her emotionally distant dad than she did.  I thoroughly enjoyed "Knock Wood" -- Bergen can write as well as (perhaps even better) than she can act -- and I still think of it as one of the best celebrity memoirs I've ever read (and I've read a lot of them, lol).

Now, some 30 years later, Bergen has finally returned with a sequel.  "A Fine Romance" picks up where "Knock Wood" left off in the late 1970s/early 1980s, when Bergen meets and marries French film director Louis Malle.  They spent five mostly blissful years splitting their time between her Central Park apartment in New York and his country house in southern France before their relationship was interrupted by the arrival of two different women:  their daughter Chloe, and Murphy Brown.

Ambivalent about pregnancy right up until Chloe's arrival in 1985 (by C-section, three weeks overdue!), when she was 39, Bergen threw herself wholeheartedly into motherhood. (I'll admit there were parts of the book where she's in full-throttle mommy mode that I found difficult to read, even now, many years post-loss. Caveat emptor.)  The title of the book actually comes from the classic Jerome Kern song, which Bergen used to sing to Chloe -- who is now an editor at Vogue and getting married in France this summer.  

Much as Bergen loved being a mom, she recognized the role of Murphy Brown was just too great an opportunity to turn down. (Amazingly, the network wanted someone younger -- specifically, Heather Locklear (!!). Writer/producer Diane English insisted on Bergen for the part.)  As Murphy -- an abrasive investigative reporter on a "60 Minutes"-style news show, who belts out Motown anthems off key and can't keep a secretary (one of the series' best running gags, with some great guest stars filling in as Murphy's secretary of the week) -- Bergen became one of television's biggest stars between 1988 and 1998.  A journalism school graduate myself, I absolutely loved the show and Bergen's portrayal of such a strong female character, and I loved reading her behind-the-scenes stories about the show and the people who made it. (Curiously, I learned in an Entertainment Weekly interview Bergen did recently that "Murphy Brown" is very difficult to find these days -- it's not available on any streaming service, and only the first season is available on DVD. What a pity!!)   

If Bergen waxes on a little too much about motherhood for my liking, I forgive her, not only because she really has led an interesting life and writes about it so well, but also because she knows a little something about grief and loss and tragedy. Malle died in November 1995 at age 63, after being diagnosed earlier in the year with an incurable inflammation of the brain. It's hard to read about how this brilliant, cultured man, who sent Bergen such exquisite love letters throughout their relationship (some excerpted in the book), loses his ability to walk, speak and feed himself, and Bergen is frank about the toll his illness took on her and their daughter, who was just 9 when her father died. 

Bergen also admits that she has been extremely fortunate in her life. In 1998, she met Marshall Rose, a widowed, wealthy New York real estate developer, and married him in June 2000. I enjoyed reading about how she navigated midlife romance and remarriage to someone so completely different from her first husband:  she & Malle spent a lot of time apart during their 15-year marriage;  her new husband wanted to spend every waking moment together, which she found excessive and claustrophobic. Eventually, they both adapted.

She's also charmingly frank about aging (she will be 70 next year!), cosmetic surgery (she admits to having had some in the past, as well as botox & fillers) and the 30 extra pounds she's carrying these days. "Let me just come right out and say it: I am fat," is how Chapter 30 begins, probably the most-quoted line in the whole book.  

As you can probably tell, I hugely enjoyed this book. :)  It's a worthy successor to "Knock Wood."

It was book #8 that I've read so far in 2015.

1 comment:

  1. You are the master of biographies (and reviews), Loribeth! You've made me very interested in this though - I loved her in Murphy Brown, though wasn't really aware of her earlier other than ads for her perfume "Cee." I immediately wanted to look up to see if I could get any episodes of Murphy Brown, so it's sad to hear they aren't around these days.