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Candice Bergen Left Out of Dad's Will—But His Ventriloquist Dummy Got $10,000

The actor had a unique upbringing alongside a famous dummy named Charlie McCarthy.

A family estrangement leading to a child being left out of a will or one being favored over another is a fairly common occurrence. Actor Candice Bergen discovered that something much more unusual happened to her inheritance after father died. The Murphy Brown star is the daughter of professional ventriloquist and comedian Edgar Bergen, who did not bequeath her any money in his will. He did, however, order that $10,000 of his estate be passed to his ventriloquist dummy, Charlie McCarthy. Candice wrote about the hurt this caused in her 2015 memoir, A Fine Romance. Read on to find out what she had to say about the slight and how her father justified leaving money to a dummy instead.

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Edgar made a name for himself as a ventriloquist.

Candice Bergen, Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, and Frances Bergen circa 1950
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Before Candice ever came to fame as a model and actor, her father was a famous ventriloquist. He appeared on variety shows, including his own, The Charlie McCarthy Show, which was named after his dummy. Edgar was also an actor in movies beginning in the '30s, with and without Charlie McCarthy, including The Goldwyn Follies, Fun and Fancy Free, and The Muppet Movie. He died in 1978 at the age of 75.

Candice's mother, Frances Bergen, was also part of the entertainment industry, as both an actor and a model. She passed away at age 84 in 2006.

Candice was left out of Edgar's will—but Charlie wasn't.

Edgar and Candice Bergen with Charlie McCarthy and another ventriloquist dummy circa 1950
Archive Photos/Getty Images

In her 2015 memoir, Candice wrote about not being included in her father's final wishes.

"I'd chased my father's approval all my life and here was proof I'd never get it," she wrote (via Closer). "I was hurt, shocked when I discovered he had left me out of his will."

If you're wondering what a ventriloquist dummy would do with $10,000, Candice explained that it was meant to be reinvested to support future ventriloquist performances.

"I make this provision for sentimental reasons which to me are vital due to the association with Charlie McCarthy who has been my constant companion and who has taken on the character of a real person and from whom I have never been separated even for a day," Edgar's will read, according to Candice's book.

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Charlie was treated like Candice's sibling.

Edgar Bergen and Frances Bergen with baby Candice Bergen along with Charlie McCarthy in 1946
Bettmann / Getty Images

Candice shared in her book that she felt Edgar had a stronger relationship with Charlie than he did with her, and that he was treated like her sibling when she was growing up. Candice does have a real brother, Kris Edgar Bergen, but he was not born until she was 15 years old.

The actor wrote that when she was little, she pretended to be a dummy along with Charlie to please her father.

"A gentle squeeze on the back of my neck was my cue to open and shut my mouth so he could ventriloquize me," she wrote of her father (via the Daily Mail). "Charlie and I would chatter together silently, while behind us Dad would supply the snappy repartee for both of us."

She even said that "Charlie had his own bedroom next to [hers]—and his was bigger."

The Book Club star explained of her childhood, "Those were unique circumstances to grow up in. Sometimes I have to give myself credit for being a functional human being. I knew my father loved me, but with his Swedish reserve, it wasn't his nature to tell me."

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She said she "always came in a poor second" to Charlie.

Candice Bergen at a party in 1984
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In 1984, Bergen wrote her first book, Knock Wood, and the title was inspired by her dad's dummies. While speaking about the book with The New York Times, she looked back on her relationship to Charlie.

"It is a pretty quirky case of sibling rivalry," Bergen said. "There probably has never been a case like it in clinical history. I knew he was a dummy, yet he had his own radio show and he would come to life with my father. When I would be on the show, the script always had Charlie acting jealous toward me. Of course I could never equal him. I always came in a poor second."

She said that she had some Charlie-related memorabilia in her home following her dad's death, but that the dummy itself had been given to the Smithsonian Institute."I'm not that macabre," she said.

She felt more free to live her life after Edgar died.

Edgar and Candice Bergen standing behind a CBS microphone in 1952
Bettmann / Getty Images

In the same 1984 New York Times interview, Bergen said that her father's passing "left a space for [her]."

"I was able much more to live according to my own expectations," she explained. "I always felt my fame was ill-gotten, sort of borrowed from his, and that perhaps I tried to keep some kind of rein on it. Even when he was in retirement I felt I was poaching on his territory. He'd joke and say he was 'the father of Candice Bergen,' and that was only partially a joke. It was very hard on him."

Bergen said that while she felt her dad was an "emotional hermit," she grew to see him as "a loving and caring father" even if he didn't express it openly. She added, "Today, one of the most important things in my life is that my friends and family all tell each other regularly that we love each other."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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