FAMOUS FATHER GIRL — A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein


In a deeply intimate and broadly evocative memoir, the eldest daughter of revered composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein offers a rare look at her father on the centennial of his birth.

The composer of On the Town and West Side Story, chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic, television star, humanitarian, friend of the powerful and influential, and the life of every party, Leonard Bernstein was an enormous celebrity during one of the headiest periods of American cultural life, as well as the most protean musician in twentieth century America. 

But to his eldest daughter, Jamie, he was above all the man in the scratchy brown bathrobe who smelled of cigarettes; the jokester and compulsive teacher who enthused about Beethoven and the Beatles; the insomniac whose 4 a.m. composing breaks involved spooning baby food out of the jar. He taught his daughter to love the world in all its beauty and complexity. In public and private, Lenny was larger than life.

In Famous Father Girl, Bernstein mines the emotional depths of her childhood and invites us into her family’s private world. A fantastic set of characters populates the Bernsteins’ lives, including: the Kennedys, Mike Nichols, John Lennon, Richard Avedon, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins, and Betty (Lauren) Bacall.

An intoxicating tale, Famous Father Girl is an intimate meditation on a complex and sometimes troubled man, the family he raised, and the music he composed that became the soundtrack to their entwined lives. Deeply moving and often hilarious, Bernstein’s beautifully written memoir is a great American story about one of the greatest Americans of the modern age.

Praise for Famous Father Girl

“Jamie Bernstein has taken on perhaps the hardest task in literature, writing a memoir about a famous parent which manages to be both honest and tender. Semi-miraculously, she’s pulled it off, and Famous Father Girl both paints a winning picture of the Bernstein family, especially her parents, the much celebrated Lenny and the much-loved Felicia, and offers a poignant take on the complexities of growing up as the child of a legend—or, for that matter, as anybody’s child.”

—Adam Gopnik


“Jamie Bernstein’s compulsively readable adventure tale, Famous Father Girl, tells of her growing up under the seductive spell of her father, the composer, the conductor, the true legend who needed the sustenance of a bourgeois life, upholstered with adoring wife and three perfect kids, as much as he needed the untrammeled chaos his genius compelled him to pursue. For Leonard Bernstein, the chaos won. Bernstein’s jaw-dropping honesty and humor gives us the best example of the ‘growing up famous’ genre since Brooke Hayward’s classic, Haywire.”

—John Guare


“You think you had a complicated father? In this wry and clear-eyed, ardent, and altogether terrific memoir, Jamie Bernstein lets us in on what it’s like to have a childhood as fraught as it was charmed. Plus, great gossip! (I’ve run out of friends to share the Michael Jackson anecdote with—so I’m going to meet more people.)”

—Patty Marx


“Jamie Bernstein's book about her fabled father not only takes us closer to Leonard Bernstein than anything yet published but stands by itself as a beautifully written and unflinchingly courageous expression of love, exasperation, amazement and forgiveness.”

—Tim Page


“Growing up in the presence of a superfamous parent is no easy thing. Jamie Bernstein presents an undisguised and understanding picture of her father, family, and friends. She chronicles her emergence as a partisan of ideals in which they believed. The book is full of inside stories and personal perspectives on the inspiring, spontaneous, and often no-holds-barred challenges of Bernstein’s multiple worlds.”

—Michael Tilson Thomas


“Film documentarian Bernstein (Crescendo! The Power of Music), the oldest of three children of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, presents an in-depth, intimate view of her father, juxtaposed with her own upbringing in his shadow... Bernstein paints a fascinating picture of the dizzying magic that Leonard Bernstein brought to his music—and the complexity to his home life.”

—Publisher’s Weekly