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Candice Bergen On Marriage, Death And Murphy Brown's Demons


Many people fell in love with Candice Bergen's wit, her smarts and sassy attitude in the hit TV show "Murphy Brown."


CANDICE BERGEN: (As Murphy Brown) I've got a bulletin for you, McGovern, being in your 20s is not a major achievement. Oh, yeah, there are some good things about it. I could hold my liquor and run up two flights of stairs without getting winded. But on the other hand, I never had a decent orgasm.


MARTIN: In her latest memoir, "A Fine Romance," Candice Bergen touches on those "Murphy Brown" days. But as the title suggests, the focus of the book is more personal. She calls it a love letter to her daughter Chloe. But the story begins with the romance between Bergen and her longtime husband French filmmaker Louis Malle. She met Malle when she was in her mid-30s, and she just knew.

BERGEN: When you're advanced in life, you - your antenna go up very quickly when you think you have met someone where there will be a deep connection. And that happened with both of us. He was a very brilliant man. He could be incredibly charming, as only a Frenchman can be. I was just fascinated by him and trusted him.

MARTIN: Can you talk about how "Murphy Brown" came into your life?

BERGEN: Well, that was a fluke and just a huge blessing. I had done many films, and I'd never done television before. But where I felt comfortable was in comedy. And nobody ever thought to put me in comedy because I looked like a Viking queen, I guess. And nobody wanted me to do "Murphy Brown" except for Diane English, who had written it and was producing it. The network wanted to use Heather Locklear. They wanted Murphy not to be 40. They wanted her to be 30. And they wanted her to not be in the pilot coming back from a month at Betty Ford. They said, couldn't she be coming back from a week at a spa? And couldn't she be 30? And so of course, they wanted to defang Murphy totally. And Diane English, to her credit, said no, the whole point of her is that she's a woman of a certain age at the peak of her career who's dealing with demons. She was at Betty Ford for alcoholism. And she, not only could drink any man under the table, but she could write with the best of them. And she was just a fantastic character to play.

MARTIN: You embrace that part of her. You fought really hard to make sure that she had redeemed herself by the end of each episode.

BERGEN: Yep. That was my mission. I didn't want her to go out on a sour, calloused note on any show. I wanted her to redeem herself by the end. And I think, in large part, she always did.

MARTIN: Can you talk about how you and Louis navigated your marriage during those years because it was long-distance for much of it?

BERGEN: It was very hard on our marriage. It's one of those times where life gets messy, and there is not much to do. So I would fly Chloe to New York a week a month to be with my husband. And the idea was he would be in LA for a week, and I would be in New York for a week. And for two weeks, we would be separate. But of course, being in the film business or television and film, is very hard when both people are in that business.

MARTIN: That pattern of flying back and forth to visit one another, you made it work, but it did come to a screeching halt when Louis was diagnosed with what became a terminal disease - lymphoma. You describe in the book that caring for him and all that that required pushed you into what you called a black anger.

BERGEN: It's like your life as you know it - and I'm only talking about myself because let's not forget, this happened to my husband, who was the most dynamic man I'd ever met. He had endless reserves of energy. So to - I've been struck by a disease that incapacitated him, eventually totally - was incredibly cruel. Dealing with that for anyone in our household was like our life was hijacked overnight. And the priority becomes the person who is stricken. And because it's a catastrophic disease, it is very dramatic, and it is very painful to watch someone that you care about that deeply be struck down.

MARTIN: You write in the book that in all of that darkness of his sickness and caring for him and the burden of that, you got to watch a new chapter unfold in the relationship between Chloe and Louis.

BERGEN: Yeah. Chloe really established a relationship with her father, which she hadn't had before because of the separations that we just couldn't avoid. They just were built in, and they came home to roost once Chloe was of a certain age. And she knew that what she should do is to take care of her father. She did it on her own. And she did it beautifully and brilliantly. And she did it with courage and with humor. She, for example, went to Disneyland one day, and she brought him back Goofy slippers that were big, padded Goofy slippers that he wore and was buried in because he just loved them and would never take them off. And she would read to him every night. It's very hard, very hard on a child.

MARTIN: You, at the beginning of our conversation, said that this was a love letter to Chloe. Is there something you can point to in particular that you hadn't shared with her that she learned by reading this book?

BERGEN: You know, I don't know that. When I - we were in more house in East Hampton when I gave her the manuscript when I had just finished it to read. And she went into the barn to read it. And she came out a few hours later. And she was very moved. And she got onto the sofa with me and curled up in my lap. And she was - she said I'm so happy to have something like this. Thank you.

MARTIN: Candice Bergen. Her new memoir is called "A Fine Romance." She joined us from our studios in New York. Thank you so much for taking the time.

BERGEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.