Out in the star-strewn night a lion roared. In the total darkness of the boma shelter, alone with a steaming crowd of goats and Masai, a beautiful white woman lay stiffly on her back and wondered if she had been wise after all to travel through the back country of Kenya without the protection of an organized safari. A moment later doubt vanished. Her Masai guide, a half-wild tribesman who wore trousers as a status symbol, came creeping toward her across the cowhide that served as her bed. Then she heard the sound of a sliding zipper.
Most movie actresses play such scenes on camera only; Candice Bergen has an Amazonian appetite for facing life, with reality rolling, and no director around to holler “Cut!” She also has a lot of luck. That night in the bush, for instance, she was spared by a rapid exit. She slept outside on the bare ground, calculating correctly that the guide’s fear of lions was greater than his appetite for Candy. And the next morning it wasn’t a lion that woke her—it was a hungry calf that moseyed up and started licking her face.
For almost a decade, while alternately pursuing and ignoring screen success, the striking Viking daughter of Edgar Bergen has charged around the world in search of adventure—often with typewriter and still camera in hand and a letter of assignment from a major magazine. Now, in a rush, Candy’s careers as actress and journalist have reached a simultaneous climax.
She made a worldwide splash when President Ford invited her to spend four days in his company, and the Ladies’ Home Journal printed her exclusive pictures of the First Family along with a nonpolitical but perceptive impression of the visit. (She now privately likens the President to her father’s friend John Wayne.) Shortly thereafter, she played Barbara Walters’ rival for a week on ABC’s A.M. America and was uncommonly poised for a first-timer. Meanwhile, two new Bergen movies, The Wind and the Lion and Bite the Bullet, opened one after the other in New York’s Radio City Music Hall. In both Candice reflects on film what she has, at 29, become in fact: a spirited young woman with the face of a Greco-Swedish goddess, a mind like an IBM 360 and the wild blue-gray eyes of an ice bear that has just decided to charge.
“I’m more serious than I’ve ever been about a career in pictures,” she has decided, but adds, “There are a lot more interesting things to do than play straight woman for Woody Allen.” So early this month, after visiting friends in London and Paris, Candy journeyed to Morocco for some “serious cake and ice cream” at King Hassan’s birthday party. Next she was off to Athens, before flying back to California to pick up her 13-year-old brother, Kris, for three weeks in Africa—all expenses paid by ABC, whose crews will film the Bergen expedition.
Life for Candy wasn’t always so dandy. She started out in Beverly Hills as a poor little rich girl with a busy, inhibited father and a beautiful, frustrated mother who might have been a famous singer if she hadn’t married radio’s star ventriloquist so young. And then there were Candy’s sibling rivals, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. Charlie eerily had six heads, more clothes than Candy and a bigger bedroom. Growing up in a tense household, Candy “went into shock” when strangers appeared, perhaps partly because they usually made the same joke, “You’re no dummy are you?” Candy had playmates like Liza Minnelli and Jimmy Stewart’s two little boys—but her closest friends were pets. At 10 she developed “a classical female horse transference.”
Beauty arrived in Candy’s life like a snake at a garden party. One day when she was 14 she woke up with skin an ant would skid on, hair like captured sunlight and lips that drove the hummingbirds wild. When she took a stroll in downtown Beverly Hills, tongues fell out and Cadillacs climbed curbs. But Candy is philosophical about those looks. “People who don’t have it think beauty is a blessing. Actually, it’s a kind of sentence, a confinement. It sets you apart. People see you as an object, not as a person, and they project a set of expectations into that object. When I was younger, I tried to fulfill them, if only as a vendetta. Most men are such jerks about beautiful women, it’s hard not to despise them.
“Commercially, of course, beauty gets you through the door,” she adds, and at 19, bored with college after two years at the University of Pennsylvania and rebelling against her parents’ middle-class values, she agreed to play a lesbian in the adaptation of Mary McCarthy’s The Group. She couldn’t act, but with that face she didn’t have to. Contemptuous of her easy success, Candy got involved with some cinematic bombs just because they took her to exotic locations, and she barely bothered to read her scripts before playing them. Critics were contemptuous too, suggesting that her expression was carved from the same tree as Charlie McCarthy’s. Piqued, Candy finally sought better parts (in Carnal Knowledge, for example) and played them with growing intelligence. Then in 1971 she found a new interest so compelling that for more than two years she abandoned films.
Bert Schneider was not the first man in Candy’s life. Movie moguls, international bankers, oil sheikhs and Greek billionaires had pelted her with propositions—and proposals. Except for one heavy affair with Terry Melcher, a record producer who is also Doris Day’s son, she had kept her fancy free. Tall, lean, Lincolnesque and leftist, Schneider is a daringly creative film producer (Easy Rider, The Last Picture Show), with a complex charm that Candy found irresistible. “I fell terribly, absolutely in love,” she says, and Bert did too. “There had never been anyone like him in my life, and I can’t imagine there ever will be. But it was hell as well as heaven. We tortured each other. Men say they love independence in their women, but they don’t waste a second demolishing it brick by brick. We broke up last year. I want very much to get together again, but so far whenever we’ve seen each other the agony starts all over.”
Schneider plunged into radical politics, Candy went off to Africa to look for “something like rebirth.” She found it at anthropologist Jane Goodall’s research station on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. “Jane lacks the dependent-female defects,” Candy discovered. “She has no fear, no need to be fulfilled by other people. She is full of joy.” Once returned to what she smilingly calls “civilization,” Candy found herself “rejuvenated.” “I’m not directly involved in women’s lib,” she says, “but I understand that women need each other and have to stand together. I’m coming to myself. I’m not getting by anymore on a grown-up pass. As I get older, every year gets easier. But it’s fun to have a past.”
What next? “I want to write fiction. I need to build discipline, but now that we’re 29 we’re working on that. I don’t yell and scream at directors anymore. I’m learning to be serene. I need adventures, but the adventures are really a way of searching for peace. I need peace inside. That’s why I’ll never be a great actress. You’ve got to be a little mad to be a great actress, and I just don’t want the madness.”