Inside Leonard Bernstein’s ‘slow creep toward overt gayness’

Inside Leonard Bernstein’s ‘slow creep toward overt gayness’

To all we learn about Leonard Bernstein, add this: Not solely did the “West Facet Story” composer kiss everybody on the lips, however he used his tongue, too — even on his daughter.

“It was a form of litmus take a look at he appreciated to spring on folks,” writes Jamie Bernstein, essentially the most vocal and (one suspects) most French-kissed of the late maestro’s three youngsters. “My dismay was tempered by understanding he did it to so many others. The intrusion of Daddy’s tongue was an event much less for revulsion and extra for weary eye-rolling.”

This 12 months, the centennial of the beloved New York Philharmonic chief’s delivery, has unleashed a tsunami of tributes, books, live shows and the prospect of two upcoming biopics — one with Bradley Cooper, the opposite with Jake Gyllenhaal. However in case you actually wish to know what that messy, mercurial genius was like, you must learn Jamie Bernstein’s “Well-known Father Woman: A Memoir of Rising Up Bernstein” (Harper Collins), out Tuesday.

Lenny, as most New Yorkers knew him, emerges as a person who, up till his loss of life in 1990, at 72, lived massive and passionately. His daughter’s vivid, witty account sometimes veers into TMI territory, describing because it does these slobbery kisses; the nicotine haze that perfumed him and the tablets, uppers and downers, that propelled him.

After which there have been what Jamie calls “Daddy’s sexual complexities” — that’s, his affairs with younger males. These homosexual romances had been significantly onerous on his spouse, Felicia Montealegre, a Chilean actress of Jackie Kennedy-esque class. An artist in her personal proper — actress, pianist, painter — Felicia knew what she was entering into once they married however, helpless in her adoration, went forward anyway.

Dad Leonard and a pregnant Jamie evaluate huge bellies.“You’re a gay and should by no means change,” she wrote him the 12 months they wed, in a letter her youngsters discovered after her loss of life. “I’m keen to just accept you as you’re …” And so she did, so long as Bernstein saved his dalliances discreet.

Alas, he didn’t all the time. After he left her to run off with a younger male lover, Jamie Bernstein tells us, her mom cursed him: “Could you die a lonely previous queen.” However he returned to Felicia quickly after, nursing her via her remaining battle with most cancers.

When she died, he was demolished. Step by step, his libido recovered — and with gusto, as he started what his daughter calls a “gradual creep towards overt gayness.”

Then once more, Bernstein was nothing if not overt. He had an virtually erotic maintain on each orchestra he carried out, which made the music that rather more thrilling. His exuberance, on the rostrum and off, was exhilarating … and exhausting.

And he had no filter.

Jamie Bernstein remembers his assembly with a closely made-up Michael Jackson. “What’s all this in your face?” her father requested. (Meekly, Jackson instructed him he was attempting to cowl up a pimple.)

One evening he left his children to make small discuss with Woody Allen and Mia Farrow for an hour on the dinner desk whereas a barber reduce his hair within the lavatory. (Awkward!) Mercifully, the Holocaust opera they had been to collaborate on by no means took off. And for a person of such impeccable musicianship, Bernstein was amazingly tone-deaf: For a 1984 recording of “West Facet Story,” he solid Jamie’s brother and sister because the lovers. Granted, they had been aspiring actors on the time, however, as Jamie tells it, they may by no means hear themselves recite these oaths with out wincing. In the meantime, Jamie, attempting to make her personal profession in music, couldn’t escape her father’s formidable shadow.

After which there have been the perks. Not many dads might get you into Studio 54 and onto the duvet of The Submit, as Bernstein did. Nor might they go backstage at “The Ed Sullivan Present” to allow you to meet the Beatles — whose songs he adored, and which he utilized in his Younger Folks’s Live shows to hook a era on classical music.

Whereas different Park Avenue households had nannies, cooks and chauffeurs, few took Stephen Sondheim alongside on trip or had dinner at Mike Nichols’ home or cocktails with the Kennedys, because the Bernsteins did. Even the youngsters’s godparents had been well-known, for higher or worse: Poor Nina, the youngest Bernstein, had Lillian Hellman.

“That’s proper, child,” the famously cranky author croaked. “When the aircraft goes down, I getcha.” (“Think about Nina’s alarm,” Jamie Bernstein writes.)

When all was stated and sung, Leonard Bernstein was, his daughter assures us, man. Nearly each piece he wrote — whether or not for Broadway, opera homes or live performance halls — expressed a eager for peace: “Lenny may very well have believed that if he simply wrote the suitable mixture of notes, he might unlock the key to saving the planet.”

No quantity of notes might do this. However once you take heed to Bernstein’s music, the world is, for a time, a greater place.

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