Summer’s Five Best Celebrity Memoirs

By Julia Vitale - Vanity Fair
May 2018

Retta eats a cockroach, Leonard Bernstein’s daughter Jamie remembers her dad’s presence on President Nixon’s “enemies list,” David Lynch believes that artists should never get married, and more...

Famous Father Girl by Jamie Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein was not yet born when her father, Leonard Bernstein, debuted with the New York Philharmonic; and she was only five when West Side Story, for which Leonard produced the renowned score, opened on Broadway. Coming out in Leonard’s 100th-birthday year, Famous Father Girl (Harper) is an intimate look at the famous, and famously private, musician, whose 7 Emmys only begin to scratch the surface of his musical achievements. Jamie Bernstein remembers a world in which her father was the shining center: she grounds the pictures, news stories, and rumors that for years surrounded the late composer with detailed memories, offering stories about Francis Ford Coppola and Jackie Kennedy, her father’s presence on President Nixon’s “enemies list,” and the “FBI’s ever-thickening Leonard Bernstein file.” His dossier, it turned out, was 800 pages long: “J. Edgar Hoover had been obsessing on Leonard Bernstein since the 1940s,” Jamie writes, and Leonard eventually discovered such informants’ entries as “‘I know that Bernstein is a card-carrying Communist but I have no proof of it but I can tell by the way he walks.’” The memoir isn’t all gossip and glamour. Jamie doesn’t shy away from her parents’ fraught marriage, for instance, revealing what Felicia, her mother, wrote to Leonard in the year of their wedding: “‘You are a homosexual and may never change. . . . I am willing to accept you as you are, without being a martyr and sacrificing myself on the L.B. altar.’” Jamie continues with the sad outcome, years later: “[Felicia] believed she could handle it all . . . And she did handle it, for a long time. But then there was Tommy Cothran [Leonard’s lover]. And a mastectomy. And loneliness.” Jamie also delves into Leonard’s failed efforts to produce a musical success later in life and his increasing dependence on drugs and alcohol, as well as her own challenges in having Leonard Bernstein as a dad: “There was a subliminal discomfort in being perpetually brought to a state of ecstasy by one’s own father[’s music].” No wonder that it was only well after his death that Jamie found her true calling professionally: “I was the poster child for life beginning at fifty.”

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Jamie Bernstein