The challenges of living with a flamboyant, self-centered, and brilliant father.
Making her literary debut, broadcaster and filmmaker Bernstein offers an intimate, gossipy, and candid memoir of growing up the eldest child of renowned conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). When a second-grade classmate called her “famous father girl,” Jamie did not yet feel the impact of her father’s fame; but within a few years, she began to realize what it meant. The “endless parade of triumphs and that blazing energy that overtook every situation could be exhausting to live with,” she recalls. LB, as he was known, “was a daredevil; he loved roller coasters, fast boats, vertiginous ski slopes,” and the author yearned to be just like him rather than like her mother, “the family policeman and Lenny stabilizer.” Family life buzzed with activity and famous visitors: Stephen Sondheim, for one, who started them playing fiercely competitive “cutthroat” anagrams; and the “notoriously imperious” Lauren Bacall, who was their neighbor at the Dakota. Her father’s fame had benefits: With LB, Jamie got to go backstage to meet the Beatles, making her the envy of her friends; and through his connections, she got various jobs and eventually pursued her dream of becoming a rock musician. One summer, working at Tanglewood, where LB had been in the festival’s first conducting class, she heard rumors of his “wild youth,” which included “amorous escapades with other men.” When she confronted LB, he denied the rumors, claiming that “wicked stories” were made up by envious detractors. But a few years later, he fell in love with an assistant, an affair that led to his leaving his wife; “acting exuberantly gay,” he embarked on a new life. Although her mother had known of LB’s homosexuality when they married, this new turn incited grief and depression. Jamie reflects sensitively about her mother, who died of cancer in 1978, and the particular challenges faced by her brother and sister.
A cleareyed portrait of a spirited, and troubled, family.