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Edgar Bergen

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Actor
Born:
February 16, 1903 in Chicago, IL
Death:
September 30, 1978 in Las Vegas, NV
Biography
Edgar Bergen was still in grammar school when he sent away for a 25-cent ventriloquism instruction book. By the time he was 11, Bergen was driving his family crazy with his prankish voice-throwing. While attending medical school at Northwestern University, Bergen paid his tuition by performing a small-time ventriloquist act; it wasn't long before he dropped out of college to hit the vaudeville and tent-show circuit. After a tour of Europe and South America, Bergen filmed a series of one-reel short subjects for Vitaphone between 1930 and 1935; even in these early efforts, top billing went not to Bergen but to his creation, the impish, top-hatted dummy Charlie McCarthy. From time-to-time Bergen would test out other wooden alter egos, including hayseed Mortimer Snerd and man-hungry Effie Clinker, but Charlie would remain his star attraction. After gaining nationwide fame through his appearances on Rudy Vallee's radio program, Bergen launched his own radio series, The Charlie McCarthy Show, a top-rated endeavor which ran from 1937 through 1955. Bergen and Charlie made their feature film debuts in The Goldwyn Follies (1938). They went on to appear together in eight more films between in 1938 and 1948; curiously, however, Charlie McCarthy came across better on radio than he did on screen--partly due to the inescapable fact that Bergen tended to move his lips while throwing his voice. At his peak, Bergen was pulling down $10,000 weekly from his radio series and an additional $100,000 from Charlie McCarthy toys and merchandise. He was also the recipient of the only wooden Academy Award in history, a special Oscar bestowed upon himself and the pine-headed Charlie. On his own, Bergen co-starred in I Remember Mama (1948) as the shy Norwegian suitor of spinster Ellen Corby; he also played supporting parts in Captain China (1949) and Don't Make Waves (1965). After the cancellation of their radio series, Bergen and Charlie played nightclubs, summer stock and state fairs. They also hosted the 1956 TV quiz show Do You Trust Your Wife?. Emerging from a long professional slump, Bergen made a triumphant Las Vegas comeback in 1978--the evening before his death at the age of 75. His last screen appearance was in Jim Henson's The Muppet Movie (1979), which was dedicated to his memory. Edgar Bergen was the husband of actress Frances Bergen, and the father of film and TV star Candice Bergen. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
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