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Polly Bergen has died at 84; star of 'Winds of War'

Actress Polly Bergen, in a 2012 photo. She

(Credit: Getty Images / Larry Busacca)

Polly Bergen, an incandescent talent of stage, screen and TV, has died. Reports say she was 84 and had been living at her home in Southbury, Ct. Natural causes were cited.

While she began as a popular singer, became a studio contract player, worked alongside Martin and Lewis in a few films, and had considerable success on Broadway over a few decades - "Love Letters," Cabaret," Sondheim's "Follies," "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" - she discovered TV in the mid-fifties (or TV discovered her) and the association continued for fifty-plus years.

Fans of "Desperate Housewives" will certainly recall her multi-season run, as Stella Wingfield, Lynette's mom who - to put it delicately - was not dedicated to the idea of going quietly into dignified old age... (Check out her defiant rendition of "I'm Still Here," below.) 

But as far as TV is concerned - and there many TV movies throughout the '70s, which the obits indicate were ways to keep her bank account healthy while she pursued her many other activities, including a line of cosmetics - she is best known for "Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance." Both were hugely popular mini series for ABC, and if not quite the stature of "Roots" in terms ratings or cultural impact, Herman Wouk's sprawling cycle on WW2 were nonetheless among the biggest successes of the entire '80s. As Rhoda Henry, she was Pug Henry's - Robert Mitchum (both had co-starred in "Cape Fear") - wife and clan patriarch who eventually divorced him and spent a good chunk of the mini in the bottle.

Bergen was ambivalent about the role. She spoke to Patricia Brennan of the Washington Post in 1988 about this TV role of a lifetime. Here's an outtake from Brennan's profile:

After an acting career that dated back to 1950, she had put her craft aside for several years to run her cosmetics business -- she sold it in 1976 -- and her fashion accessories firm, which she still heads. Then came the role of Capt. Pug Henry's wife Rhoda in "The Winds of War," ABC's 1983 miniseries based on Herman Wouk's novel, and its sequel, which she termed "a masterpiece. "I am astonished and dismayed by the ratings because I feel that what that did was ruin any chance of doing something really extraordinary in the future. Had that paid off, then the networks would have been forced to do it."

She was particularly concerned that young viewers had not watched, and hoped that they might look for cassettes of the miniseries due to be available this week. "Acting is foremost in my life now, but it has not been in the past 15 years," she acknowledged.

"I have primarily been running companies. It's my money invested in these companies, which adds up to millions of dollars. Ultimately the product must reflect me and my tastes ... It's a matter of dedication, being involved in the day-to-day running of the companies. Now I direct my energies to the creative aspects -- my sense of where fashion is going, what the color trends are. I choose textures and materials, and everybody else does the day to day legwork I used to do and the trips. "I really want to be an accessory company. Ready-to-wear is something that I don't have any feelings about. What I prefer to do is to change accessories. I am also very affronted by the concept that women have to buy a complete new wardrobe every season. That has nothing to do with what our lives are about. Shoes, handbags, belts, jewelry, shawls, umbrellas -- that's always been more exciting to me than designing clothing."

Bergen as actress and fashion arbiter, author and businesswoman, has come a long way from the bluegrass country of Tennessee. "Most people think I was born in a rich Long Island family," she said. But her father, William Burgin, was a construction worker who couldn't read; her mother, Lucy, never went beyond third grade.

"We were a Southern Baptist family, very poor, from time to time on welfare. My father spent a lot of time flat on his back with a broken back. But my father always believed that you worked for a living, so I worked from the time that I was a kid. I took care of the house and I did all the cooking and washing and cleaning. Both my mom and dad were very musical -- my father was quite a guitar player." In later years, he was a regular guest on "The Polly Bergen Show.'...

E!'s 'Fashion Police' to return in 2015; Friday special to celebrate Rivers

Joan Rivers and daughter Melissa Rivers attend the

(Credit: AP / Evan Agostini)

E! says the show will go on: "Fashion Police" will return in 2015. Meanwhile,  the series Friday will celebrate the one woman who so commandingly dominated this show — and in the process wrote another chapter in a long career full of new chapters, left turns, right turns and any other metaphor you can think of that designates "reinvention." Yes, Joan Rivers reinvented often, and "Fashion Police"...

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Billy Crystal on 'Tonight Show' recalls Robin Williams

Billy Crystal, left, with Robin Williams prior to

(Credit: AP / Alex Brandon)

Billy Crystal -- who gave a reasonably perfect tribute to his friend Robin Wiliams during the 66th Annual Primetime Emmys telecast -- spoke Thursday to Jimmy Fallon during "The Tonight Show" about his own feelings during and before the speech.

Among them: "I was afraid I wasn't going to get through it ..." In this clip, he and Fallon share memories of a bus trip to Washington, and Williams' comment to him during a speech by a former presidential candidate. (It's all very funny, but some of the language here is a little blue -- a warning to those who might be offended.) Readers on mobile devices can find the clip here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/689092

Review: 'Boardwalk Empire' episode 3, 'What Jesus Said'

Steve Buscemi in "Boardwalk Empire" season 5, episode

(Credit: HBO / Macall B. Polay)

Just eight episodes long and two episodes in, “Boardwalk Empire” has already made a compelling case for another Best Drama nod for this, its fifth and final season. Sunday's third episode — “What Jesus Said” — continues to make the case, only less slightly. All in all, this remains a particularly fine season so far. 

Quickly, an overview without spoilers: Chalky (Michael K. Williams)...

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Darrell Hammond named Don Pardo's replacement on 'Saturday Night Live'

Darrell Hammond appeared on "Saturday Night Live" from

(Credit: AP / Wilfredo Lee)

Darrell Hammond, the veteran "Saturday Night Live" cast member whose world famous impressions have ranged from Donald Trump to Bill Clinton, will soon fill one of TV's most iconic roles — as the man who will replace Don Pardo. 

The news broke earlier Thursday morning, on USA Today's website, and "The Today Show" just confirmed the appointment. Hammond, 58, will become the voice of "SNL" when the new season begins — a job that essentially means the recitation of cast members' names at the show's open, along with various other in-show announcements throughout. Pardo, who died recently at the age of 96, held the job of announcer for 39 seasons; the baton, so to speak, will be handed to Hammond for the 40th which begins Sept. 27.

Hammond's appointment was certainly expected — he's almost literally part of the set at Studio 8H: A nearly continual presence there for many years, and where he set the record for the longest tenure of any repertory player (14 seasons) when he left at the end of the 34th season. Hammond, arguably, was the best-known cast member of the '90s.

Bill Hader - maybe Stefon - back to 'SNL' Oct. 11

Bill Hader (2005-13): Notable characters include flamboyant "Weekend

(Credit: AP / Victoria Will)

Bill Hader - gone from "Saturday Night Live" since 2013, and yes, the absence has been keenly felt - is coming home, for a day.  He'll host the Oct. 11 edition of "Saturday Night Live," with Hozier as musical guest. Hader has had a successful post-"SNL" run, currently starring in the well-reviewed "The Skeleton Twins," with Kristen Wiig, Ty Burrell, and Luke Wilson. Will Stefon make an appearance on Oct. 11? (Please . . . do we really have to ask?) 

'Joan Day' celebrates Joan Rivers on E! Friday

E! will devote its entire schedule to Joan

E! will clear its decks Friday to devote a full day of programming to Joan Rivers, the network just announced. It's been dubbed "Joan Day," and the news release does indicate All-Joan-all-the-time. It starts at 7 a.m.

 To the news release: 

E!’s “Joan Day” programming will include an all-day marathon that showcases some of Joan’s best jokes from “Fashion Police” beginning at...

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Craig Ferguson to Seth Meyers: You will go 'crazy'

Craig Ferguson at the Cool Comedy's Hot Cuisine

(Credit: AP / Chris Pizzello)

Craig Ferguson exits "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" in early December, and so it is not too early to begin the eulogies: His has been one of the better runs in all of late-night TV history — which is something probably only truly ardent fans have come to appreciate.

Even CBS hasn't paid much attention to it, bestowing the occasional promotion to announce that it's even on the air (apparently...

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Key & Peele explain their name game on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live'

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, shown here portraying

(Credit: Ian White)

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele — among two of the funniest people on the planet (excepting their extended cameo on "Fargo") — were on Tuesday's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (the host of which is also funny) to answer various questions about their long and fruitful collaboration.

Among these questions: Where did the name bit come from, exactly? It's the famous and hugely popular sketch in which...

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'Royal Pains'' Mark Feuerstein joins 'Nurse Jackie's' final season

ROYAL PAINS -- "Lawson Translation" Episode 503 --

(Credit: Tim Whitby/USA Network USA Network)

Mark Feuerstein (you perhaps know him best as Hank Lawson of "Royal Pains") is joining the seventh and final season of "Nurse Jackie." And just to quickly clarify: He remains with "Pains" (a big hit for USA), while this role will essentially be confined to six episodes. Here's what Showtime is saying: 

"Feuerstein will play Barry Wolfe, a high-powered, cutthroat lawyer who will represent Jackie as she pieces her life back together following her arrest last season."  

Tony Shalhoub, as you may also know, has also joined "Jackie" -- currently in production -- so the final lap is looking more and more interesting. "Jackie," as you know, is chock full of terrific New York actors, of which Feuerstein is one.

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