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Forward 50 2018

Jamie Bernstein

Reflecting On Dad, His Legacy, Eccentricities And How He Lives On

Growing up with Leonard Bernstein wasn’t always easy. The conductor and composer was brilliant and loving, but also controlling, inappropriate and so much larger than life that his presence could be suffocating.

Jamie Bernstein, 66, his eldest daughter, gave powerful voice to the experience of having such a remarkable, temperamental father in her memoir “Famous Father Girl,” released this past June. “Sometimes it was purely great to have Leonard Bernstein for a father,” she wrote in an excerpt of the book published in the Forward, remembering the time that Bernstein introduced her to the Beatles. Other times, he was critical and narcissistic. “The hardest feat in the world to pull off was to have a little one-on-one time with Daddy,” she wrote.

In Leonard Bernstein’s centenary year, his daughter’s take on his legacy — affectionate, but upfront about his flaws — added essential depth to global celebrations. She traveled to some of those celebrations, alongside her siblings Alexander and Nina. It was a time that her father would have enjoyed.

“[Those were] some of the best times of our lives,” she said, “going on the road with our dad.”

— Talya Zax

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