Oct 11, 2007

Candid Candice

When you hear the name Candice Bergen, what do you think of?

Murphy Brown
? Boston Legal? That one lady from Miss Congeniality?

For most - us classic film connoisseurs included - these are legitimate, and accurate, references, so entrenched in recent pop culture is this brazen blonde with an ample arsenal of witty banter and a stunning ability to articulate it for comedic effect. But Bergen's sphere of relevance spans far beyond groundbreaking television and cameos in feature films, as proven by her 1984 autobiography, the aptly-titled Knock Wood.

While her contribution to classic film is somewhat underwhelming, it is her personal history and frame of reference that prove relevant to one interested in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Born in 1946 to famed ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wife, model and actress Frances Westerman, Candice was blessed from the start: before the age of five, she attended parties at Walt Disney's house, made friends of celebrity offspring like Vicki Milland and Cheryl Crane (daughters of Ray Milland and Lana Turner, respectively) and dressed up in studio-gifted reproduction dresses during afternoons at pal Liza Minnelli's house. But the intelligent child was soon aware of the singular elements of her upbringing that, she felt, contributed to the ease with which she acquired elite privileges like private education, extensive travel, popularity, social prestige, and opportunity - namely, her wealth, influence, and beauty. The unrest accompanied her into young adulthood, and amongst European boarding schools, modeling contracts, college courses and the inevitable movie career, Bergen strove to seek out diversity, to estrange herself from the conservative politics and principles of her parents, to establish herself as a photographic and literary talent, and to familiarize herself with the struggles of others, all the while feeling that she could never fully extricate herself from the position of privilege she was born into, nor did she deserve it. Her struggles to find herself worthy of such entitlements speak to her depth and character and give a dimension to her words that is almost completely anachronistic in the genre of celebrity autobiography; additionally, she writes of her extended eschewing of adult responsibility, her long and isolated travels across the globe, her obstinance in personal relationships, and her continued seeking of her father's approval, traits at total contradiction with her public bubbly, California-girl, movie-star persona.

In essence, Knock Wood has a savory dichotomy in its every page: the adventures of a young woman coming of age in the turbulent 1960's and who strives to find balance, relevance, and fulfillment in the decades that followed, and the dealings of the entertainment business, the demise of the studio era, and the complete lack of acknowledgment of once-beloved entertainers of her father's WWII generation (Bergen's father, dejected at the idea of having faded into relative obscurity, died while on a farewell tour in Las Vegas in the late 1970s).

Pick up Knock Wood for an exceptionally honest, expertly-crafted, personalized view of life in Hollywood, looking out with dazzling deprecation over the manicured hedges of a swank Bel-Air mansion and set amongst the larger-than-life personalities of those who populated Tinseltown in our favorite era. After Charlie McCarthy and before Murphy Brown there was just Candice, and her story as a woman is well worth a read.


Knock Wood is out-of-print, but I recommend buying a used copy from Betterworld.com. You'll pay only a few dollars, skip the shipping fees, and help fund local, national, and global charities with your online purchase.

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