Polly Bergen dead: Desperate Housewives and The Sopranos actress passes away

The star of screen and stage also ran a multi-million dollar cosmetics company

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The Independent Online

Emmy award winner Polly Bergen, whose glittering career as a television, cinema and stage actress spanned six decades, has died in her Connecticut home aged 84.

Bergen, who played the terrorised wife in the original Cape Fear and the first woman president in Kisses for My President, died on Saturday from natural causes, according to her publicist Judy Katz.

In recent years, she played Felicity Huffman's mother on Desperate Housewives and the past mistress of Tony Soprano's late father on The Sopranos

A brunette beauty with a warm, sultry singing voice, Bergen was a household name from her 20s onward. She made albums and played leading roles in films, stage musicals and TV dramas. She also hosted her own variety series, was a popular game show panelist, and founded a thriving beauty products company that bore her name.

Bergen won an Emmy in 1958 portraying the tragic singer Helen Morgan on the famed anthology series Playhouse 90. She was nominated for another Emmy in 1989 for best supporting actress in a miniseries War and Remembrance.

Talking to a women in business group in 1968, she said her definition of success was “when you feel what you've done fulfills yourself, makes you happy and makes people around you happy.”

Bergen was 20 and already an established singer when she starred with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in her first film, At War With the Army. She joined them in two more comedies, That's My Boy and The Stooge.

In 1953, she made her Broadway debut with Harry Belafonte in the revue John Murray Anderson's Almanac.

Bergen published the first of three advice books, “The Polly Bergen Book of Beauty, Fashion and Charm” in 1962 which led to the creation of her own cosmetics company, earning her millions.

In 1964's Kisses for My President, Bergen was cast as the first female U.S. president, with Fred MacMurray as First Gentleman. (In the end, the president quits when she gets pregnant.) When Geena Davis portrayed a first woman president in the 2005 TV drama Commander in Chief, Bergen was cast as her mother.

Bergen employed the same zeal in reviving her performing career after a series of personal setbacks in the 1990s. She played successful dates at cabarets in New York and Beverly Hills.

“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.”

She is survived by her children Peter Fields, Kathy Lander and Pamela Fields and three grandchildren.

Additional reporting by AP