On becoming a Leonard Bernstein enthusiast

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Until recently, I was a complete ignoramus when it came to Leonard Bernstein. I blame myself and Tom Wolfe for his classic 1970 New York magazine cover story Radical Chic, about the party for Black Panthers at the Bernstein’s Park Avenue apartment, which I read in college.

One brilliant riff always stuck with me. It wasn’t the delicious descriptions of the “very tasty” and “very subtle” hors d’oeuvres served at the party, the “little Roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts,” the “asparagus tips in mayonnaise dabs,” the “meatballs petites au Coq Hardi … all of which are at this very moment being offered to them on gadrooned silver platters by maids in black uniforms with hand- ironed white aprons…”

Leonard Bernstein and his wife, Felicia Montealegre, with Black Panthers Field Marshal Donald L. Cox, at a fundraiser for the Black Panthers in January 1970 at the Bernsteins’ apartment on Park Avenue in New York City. The photo appeared in the New York magazine article that spawned the term “radical chic.”

No, it was a passage that made Leonard Bernstein seem like someone to avoid at all costs: “Anyone who has spent a three day weekend with Lenny in the country … knows that feeling — the alternating spells of adrenal stimulation and insulin coma, as the Great Interrupter, the Village Explainer, the champion of Mental Jotto, the Free Analyst, Mr. Let’s Find Out, leads the troops on a seventy-two hour forced march through the lateral geniculate and the pyramids of Betz, no breathers allowed, until every human brain is reduced finally to a clump of dried seaweed inside a burnt-out husk and collapses, implodes, in one last crunch of terminal boredom.”

With that, it was an easy decision to take a pass on ever learning more about Leonard Bernstein. I wrote him off, cancelled him. Unless I was rereading one of my two copies of Radical Chic, a paperback and a hardcover first edition, there was no more room in my brain for Bernstein. I slammed that door.

Well, 34 years later, I am now a major Leonard Bernstein enthusiast. The Bradley Cooper movie Maestro started things off. Another entry point was a 2013 book by Jonathan Cott called Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein. But seeing Douglas Tirola’s new documentary Bernstein’s Wall was a revelation. The film premiered at the Tribeca film festival in 2021, and was shown at the festivals in Telluride and the Hamptons.

On Wednesday, May 29th, there was a screening in midtown at the newly restored Dolby 88 hosted by Peggy Siegal, which was followed by a dinner at the new hot and happening Jean-Georges restaurant, Four Twenty Five, located inside 425 Park Avenue.

Chris DiLella, Frank DiLella, Gavin Creel, Alex Ward
Chris DiLella, Frank DiLella, Gavin Creel, and Alex Ward.
Suzanne Vega, Linda Saffire, Claudia Raschke
Suzanne Vega, Linda Saffire, and Claudia Raschke.
Jill and Mark Goodman; John Patrick Shanley and Celia Costas.
L. to r.: Jill and Mark Goodman; John Patrick Shanley and Celia Costas.
Max von Essen, Christopher Hanke, and Charlie Ward.
Alice Hope, Peggy Siegal, Adam Green
Alice Hope, Peggy Siegal, and Adam Green.
Cooper Tirola- son of director Douglas Tirola, Jeremy Leaf, Ben Seideman
Cooper Tirola, Jeremy Leaf, and Ben Seideman.

Peggy has been championing the film for the past two years when she first hosted a screening/dinner at the SoHo House attended by Woody Allen, Mercedes Bass, Clive Davis, Clive Gillinson (the artistic director of Carnegie Hall), Peter Duchin, Michael Feinstein, Karen LeFrak, and Martha Stewart.

Last year Peggy did it again at the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach. The event was underwritten by billionaire John Paulson, owner of Steinway and Sons, and among the 125 guests were Mr. Paulson’s girlfriend Alina de Almeida, Oliver Stone, Tommy and Dee Hilfiger, Kathy Rayner, Deborah Norville, Hilary Geary and Wilbur Ross, Priscilla Rattazzi, Blaine Trump, Judy Taubman, Ghislain d’Humieres and Nicolas Raubertas, Douglas Tirola, Bruce Weber and Nan Bush, Tom Ford, and Jane Holzer (many of whom were at Peggy’s recent screening in Palm Beach of the new Tom Wolfe documentary Radical Wolfe.)

During the Palm Beach screening there was a sudden torrential downpour which made the planned outdoor seated dinner at Pizza al Fresco impossible. “You needed Noah’s Ark to get to this dinner,” Peggy recalled. She and my mother, Katherine Bryan, found shelter in the Everglades Club, on the floor of the ladies room, where they reseated the dinner inside the restaurant. Then the moon came out, it stopped raining and for three hours everyone talked about little besides Leonard Bernstein.

Before showtime, Peggy introduced the host of NY-1’s show, On Stage, Frank DiLella who introduced the film’s director, Douglas Tirola, and asked why he wanted to make it.

Tirola said he was introduced to Bernstein by his mother, who worked for a wealthy woman with season tickets to the Philharmonic. He didn’t have all his albums growing up but he liked Leonard Bernstein. Not long after finishing his 2015 documentary National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, Tirola was planning to make a movie about New York in the 1980s, inspired by E.B. White’s essay “Here is New York,” when he came across a video of “the top ten biggest moments in music in the 1980s.” One was Bernstein’s Ode to Freedom Concert in East Berlin after the fall of Berlin Wall.

Intrigued, Tirola did a deep dive, found a fascinating oral essay Bernstein made called “This I Believe,” then called his producing partner and said, “I want to make a movie about Leonard Bernstein!” Susan Bedusa replied, “I’ve never heard you mention him, and I’ve known you for 20 years.”

“But Bernstein said all these things that I want to say now!” Tirola recalled telling her.

Bernstein’s Wall begins with his trip to East Berlin in 1961 with a hundred New Yorkers. For the next two hours I sat there riveted, moving only to remove my jacket and shake my head in amazement. My eyes darted around so I wouldn’t miss anything happening on the screen.

Leonard Bernstein at the Berlin Wall, 1989, Photo by Andreas Meyer-Schwickerath

On a solo walk to the dinner, I thought about the film’s even-handed inquiry into the Bernsteins’ Black Panther party debacle and saw it in a different light. I wondered if Tom Wolfe targeted the wrong person and if I’d been poisoned by “Radical Chic.” I felt weird somehow. Guilty. Ignorant.

Eager to redeem myself and hungry to know more about Bernstein, I was among the first to arrive at Four Twenty Five, located inside 425 Park Avenue.

Inside Jean-Georges’ Four Twenty Five.

I looked at the menu. Sliced Kampachi with aji amarillo, lime, cilantro, and crushed corn nuts caught my attention as did the seared Wagyu beef tenderloin, broccoli roasted with pistachio crumbs, aromatic beef jus, aged balsamic vinegar.

The Kona Kampachi with red onion, cucumber, cilantro, aji amarillo and grated corn nuts at Four Twenty Five.

I introduced myself to Warren Carlyle, a Tony-award winning director who said he got to experience the music and genius of Bernstein up close and personal when he choreographed a revival of On the Town a few years ago. He first became aware of Bernstein around age 10.

WC: I’m a huge West Side Story fan. Huge. Huge. Any one of those notes or those chords conjures immediate tears for me. Immediate tears, immediate emotional connection.

GG: Did you learn anything new from Bernstein’s Wall?

WC: I knew quite a lot of it. It was interesting to be reminded how eloquent he is, how beautifully he speaks! I mean, what a great elder statesman, and not just about music, about politics, about humanity. He was really, really beautiful. I can’t think of anyone then or in the arts today …. And having all those very strong opinions socially and politically without any fear, just expressing himself, marching or turning up — or that speech in Times Square. It was amazing.

And also the way he collaborated, like with Jerome Robbins … The way they just worked hand in glove and the way the dance fit the music and the music fit the dance and fit the story. He was just a remarkable fellow and what a remarkable documentary that is. It was news to me that West Side Story was originally about a Jewish kid and a Catholic girl, and they changed that premise six years later when Bernstein ran into Arthur Laurents–how wild is that? That I really didn’t know. How they were reading the newspaper in L.A. about a gang war, and that was what unlocked it for them? That was just fantastic. I loved that.

Director Paul Schrader.
Director Paul Schrader.

Filmmaker Paul Schrader was at the next table. Decades ago I irritated him by writing about some of his Bernstein-like excesses in the past but luckily he didn’t remember me. I said I’d been enjoying his social media posts. The day before Mr. Schrader coined a word “ironicana” to describe a style in filmmaking that he thought began with Pulp Fiction.

PS: Nothing is serious. So that whole tongue-in-cheek movement where whether you’re a good guy or a bad guy doesn’t matter. Everything in life is in quotation marks.

Mr. Schrader said he saw Bernstein perform a few times in Los Angeles, in Manhattan and up in Tanglewood. If you had a ticket, he said, you’d go see Bernstein like you would if you had a ticket to see Springsteen or Dylan. He liked how the documentary presented the intimate letters between Leonard and his wife Felicia and Aaron Copland, and couldn’t get over all the smoking in the film.

A photographer wanted a picture with us. After I jumped out of the way, saying “I’m only a journalist!” Mr. Schrader drifted away.

I did better with Christine Ebersole, a Tony-award winning actress and singer who never met Bernstein but after seeing the doc she now felt as if she’d always known him.

Christine Ebersole and Julie Taymor.

CE: It’s just the kind of person he was. Just such a deep, caring soul. I’d love to see [Bernstein’s Wall] again. Words really can’t describe the experience. You have to just experience it! How can we get this documentary to be required viewing by every school in the nation? It feels like there’s been a tremendous amount of dumbing down. Watching this, just the way he spoke, and the music! The questions that he asked and the things that he observed and pointed out to people, those young people.

GG: Who were all well-dressed, paying attention, not on their phones?

CE: Yes, there weren’t any back then. It was a different time. It just feels like it’s hidden, waiting to be experienced again. I hope so. In a way, seeing that documentary, didn’t it feel like it gave you hope? It gave you hope in humanity. It’s so beautifully done, so beautifully edited, so beautifully constructed. Whoa! Words cannot express. I really think you have to just experience it. It should be required viewing. It should be in all the schools.

Everyone sat down to dinner. On my left was journalist Patrick Pacheo who co-wrote Chita Rivera’s 2023 memoir (Chita) which goes into West Side Story since she was the original “Anita” in the theater production.

PP: So I spent a lot of time talking about Leonard Bernstein with Chita, who of course knew him very, very well, found him fabulously attractive, fabulously sexy, a great artist, and a very generous man. So she had nothing but really wonderful things to say. What was fascinating about the film was just the ubiquity of cigarettes.

GG: What did you think of the part about Tom Wolfe and Radical Chic?

Abby Siegel, Kristen Tirola, and Patrick Pacheco.

PP: I thought the documentary handled it beautifully because it kind of enlightened me about the blowback, the criticism, the condescension, the patronizing, and it lent itself to satire, these rich white people, and reminded me of the film Network. Over the top, exaggerated, yes, and it’s kind of come true. I was thinking about doing a little research in terms of just how relevant Tom Wolfe is now. Has Tom Wolfe kind of been put out to pasture? Do people read Tom Wolfe? Is he held in esteem? Can I give you some salad?”

I accepted some of the Green Market Lettuce with fried artichoke, radish, Parmigiano Reggiano, macadamia nut, fragrant lemon vinaigrette but passed on the ravioli bigusto. Mr. Pacheo asked if I’d read Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers, co-written by Jesse Green.

PP: So much of it is about how she married gay men. She had a penchant for marrying gay men and dating gay men and at one point, after she had married a gay man and divorced him and dated another gay man and didn’t go anywhere with that, she was about to entertain marrying Marshall Barer with whom she wrote Once Upon a Mattress, and she went to her father, Richard Rodgers, and said, ‘Daddy, I’m thinking of marrying Marshall Barer,’ who was not only gay, but also totally crazy. And Mr. Rodgers said to her, ‘Mary, why don’t you just go ahead and marry Truman Capote and be done with it?’

She did not marry Marshall Barer but she had a trial marriage with Stephen Sondheim, in which they just lay in bed totally frozen without touching each other. And Mary finally said to Stephen Sondheim, ‘It’s not working.’”

Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein at the opening night party at Sardi's for the stage production West Side Story. Friedman-Abeles, 1957, courtesy of the NYPL The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.] See less
Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein at the opening night party at Sardi’s for the stage production West Side Story. Friedman-Abeles, 1957, courtesy of the NYPL The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

On Mr. Pacheo’s left was Simone Levinson whose husband David Levinson built 425 Park Avenue (designed by Lord Norman Foster) and owns the restaurant. On my right was journalist Adam Green, the son of Adolph Green and Phyllis Newman. I let it be known that I was both nervous about my Bernstein ignorance and talking to someone who knew him well. Mr. Green said he’d been there and was happy to help.

Simone Levinson and Peggy Siegal
Simone Levinson and Peggy Siegal.

GG: I think I was poisoned by “Radical Chic” when I was in college.

AG: That article is a brilliant conceit and it’s brilliantly written and scathing, and when you read it, you feel like, oh, that’s right. But it was a beautifully constructed cheap shot.

GG: What did you think of the doc?

AG: I think he did a very good job in a different way. Similar to the way I thought that Bradley Cooper’s movie really captured him very well, but in a different way really captured his spirit. It captured the utter sincerity and love he had for people and music and the excess — it was also over the top. But that’s who he was, he was not somebody who did things by half measures. He was Rabelaisian in his appetites, food and drink and sex … I think he was a genius — a word that gets used a lot but really should be reserved for a few people — and his excesses were the excesses of genius. I was aware of that as a kid: This is a genius. This was not, Oh, another one of my parents’ friends.

GG: Any Bernstein memories?

Hampton artist Alice Hope and Adam Green, son of composer Adolph Green and Phyllis Newman. Bernstein was the Godfather to Adam.

AG: Once I was at a party at his apartment and I was 17 or so, and we’d got into this long discussion about Nabokov and Lolita for about an hour and I remember looking around nervously because there were a lot of people who really wanted to talk to him, but he wanted to have this conversation. And then at some point my parents signaled that ‘we’ve got to go’ and I said to him, ‘Okay, I’ve got to go, my parents’ — and he smacked me across the face and said, ‘Fuck you, we were really talking!’

GG: Any more insights or more about the documentary. Why is it a must see? How is it relevant today?

AG: Certainly the dire state of the world is no less dire now than it was then. I mean, we don’t feel like on the brink of nuclear annihilation, although we may be, but we are certainly at a dire moment in our politics here and in the rise of authoritarianism around the world. How moved he was seeing Jews and Arab together in Jerusalem at the time. Obviously, I think it was a triumphal moment for Jews and the Israelis, less so for Arabs … the end of the war, and I think he was genuinely excited about peace  … it wasn’t bullshit. Those were his genuine beliefs. It was over the top. That was all real.

GG: He seemed very cool, hip, charismatic, not neurotic …

AG: I would not say he was un-neurotic. He suffered a lot. People around him suffered a lot because of the things he did. He used himself up. He used all of himself. I think he was 72 when he died and he didn’t take care of himself.

GG: So he was a genius, a great man and a good man?

AG: Yeah. A contradictory man, but somehow large enough to contain all those kinds of things.

Peggy introduced me to Elliot Goldenthal, a composer of contemporary classical music and Oscar and Tony winner for film and theater scores. Mr. Goldenthal said Aaron Copland was one of the two teachers in his life.

Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein Photo courtesy of the Milken Archive of Jewish Music

EG: I had an ample opportunity to experience Lenny in a different way because he so honored and admired Aaron, to be around that. I had also an opportunity to write a symphonic piece commissioned by ASCAP for Lenny’s 70th birthday. And when we did Juan Darien: A Carnival’s Mask at Lincoln Center and another work called The Transposed Heads at Lincoln Center, Lenny came for the shows and he was so good about meeting every musician backstage.

GG: When did you first encounter him?

EG: Of course, in the Young Peoples’ Concerts. He was a part of my musical gestalt since the 1960s, and I met him before I met Aaron, when I was studying at Tanglewood in 1972. He asked me my name and I said, ‘Elliot Goldenthal, I’m a student of John Corigliano’ — my other teacher — whom he knew very well because they worked together. John wrote scripts for the Young People’s Concerts.

Next time I saw him was 1978. We were in a group of people. He turns around to people and he says, ‘This is Mr. Goldenthal, Elliot Goldenthal.’ I wasn’t known and he remembered my name after all those years. How was it possible that person could have a photographic memory or retention like that?

Elliot Goldenthal channeling Lenny.

GG: Do you have a favorite Bernstein story?

EG: I do. I remember he was conducting Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland and Rite of Spring by Stravinsky and it was an exhausting concert. I want to say 1984. And afterwards he saw anyone who wanted to have the program signed. He was very generous with his time. Afterwards, he invited Aaron and myself to his apartment at the Dakota to listen to more music, to have a couple of drinks and unwind. This is midnight now. So when I got to his house, he said, ‘Wait a second, Elliot. I want you to hear the performance I just did in Vienna, a Wagner performance.’

So he took out a DAT. It was a digital format, it had no hissing on it, no distortion, and he was very proud of it. So he decided to conduct this Wagner opera in front of me. It was just ME because Aaron fell asleep and I was sitting at his desk. He was in front of his desk conducting a tape! A Wagner symphony! After an hour and a half, he looked at me — we had a connection — and I’d listened to what he did musically and I said, ‘Oh, that’s great, Lenny.’ And he looked at me again. He said, ‘You just interrupted me, didn’t you?’ He said, ‘Now I have to start all over again.’

He put the tape back in, started Parsifal the opera from the beginning and after three and a half hours — it was already six o’clock in the morning — he said, ‘Now we can talk.’

GG: Was it riveting? You weren’t like, I gotta go to bed?

EG: No, it was riveting. He was singing the German through the whole thing. I was just sitting there. It was just him, and myself. I felt that there was a different level of attention span. When you compare it to how people drift in and out because of social media and cell phones, constantly going from one thing to another and rapid eye movements and to have him conduct Rite of Spring, Appalachian Spring, meet all his fans, come back to his house and conduct a Wagner opera — complete CONCENTRATION. It’s a new meaning of attention span. And I understand that as a budding composer in my late twenties and being with him. He was teaching [me] by his interpretation and he was trying to communicate with me how beautiful the score of Wagner’s opera was through gesture, through a deep, deep concentration, as if I was a whole orchestra, as a 28-year-old sitting there understanding that.

GG: So what happened at six in the morning? A conversation?

EG: Yes!

GG: Incredible. I can’t imagine having an experience like that. Music is different. You can do something with communication through music on a higher level?

EG: Not to mention the fact that he was constantly smoking and drinking and I was also drinking a few. So when six in the morning rolled around, I realized I had to perform the next day of my musical work before a team of collaborators. And I had to go in ‘deep concentration’ and feeling overwhelmed with the majesty of his generosity and also feeling … how do I fight off all those rounds of drinks that I had the night before?

Across the table was Mr. Goldenthal’s longtime partner and collaborator, Julie Taymor, the theater, film, and opera writer-director (The Lion King, Frida, Across the Universe). She called the documentary brilliant.

JT: I thought it was the movie I was hoping to be able to see about Leonard Bernstein and it crossed all of the territories that are important. First and foremost, the artistry, the musicianship and the ecstasy. The ecstasy of the man. They say Dionysus but that’s always sort of sexual. It’s the love of humanity and life and the positive [cultural] part of the human expression and experience that he kept striving for, but he was also able to go into the darkest planes because humans are dark and evil and he knows that, watching this man balance his love life with his artistic life and his passion for teaching, I think it crossed all the bases. I enjoyed Maestro, but Maestro only touched one little thing, and I think this is the one that people need to see.

Elliot Goldenthal and Julie Taymor.

JT: I think it’s genius. It was entertaining and it got me, I was weeping watching the real man and watching him go through all this trauma. The part about the Black Panthers, I never understood that. Now I do. The part about being a teacher, the rabbinical part, how he was able to connect to young people, to bring in something that people think is so abstract, but to say no it’s not. Listen to this, understand it … I just thought it was a packed, deep, respectful, inspiring movie.

Ms. Taymor knew Bernstein through her husband but didn’t feel like busting out an anecdote. I brought up the “Radical Chic” article again.

JT: It was poisonous. It was like ‘woke.’ It’s like when people say, Oh the woke agenda. ‘Radical Chic’ was the same as that …. This man lived IN THE WORLD. But he was brought up in very difficult circumstances, so with the cigarettes it looks like he’s lounging in rich Connecticut but that’s not where he came from. It doesn’t matter anyway where he came from. This is where people don’t get it. Their identity is not where they come from or the color of the skin or the religion or the gender. That’s not identity. Identity is where they LIVE in their heart and soul. That man is a man of the world, that’s where he comes from. He comes from being able to appreciate music, art, culture from any part of the planet.

GG: Why is Bernstein relevant now?

JT: First of all, the music is so spectacular. The fact that people don’t even know what classical music is, is ridiculous, number one. And number two is because he takes something that seems alien or too elitist or this and that and makes it accessible.

GG: Was he ahead of his time?

JT: No, he just is who he is at his time. He was a product of his time. He didn’t speak much about his mother except that she was abused. But his father came from a shtetl in Ukraine, and he was a product of his limitations. But raising this young boy in America was the perfect time, the Thirties, to be raised where the possibilities to be an American are huge. He WAS a product of his time where he could actually say, No you know what? I’m keeping my name Bernstein. Now? You say he was ahead of his time? Now keep your name Bernstein and see if you can get a job. I mean, seriously. Look at what he was saying about Jerusalem, where you had Arabs and Israelis, Jews and Arabs altogether and CRY because where are we now?

Director Doug Tirola with Julie Taymor and Elliot Goldenthal.

It was time for dessert and another Q&A. Frank DiLella asked Mr. Tirola to talk about getting to know Bernstein better while putting the film together. The director mentioned Edward R. Murrow’s radio program “This I Believe” and the short personal essay Bernstein wrote and read on the air.

DT: The only story I really knew about Bernstein in advance was the Black Panther party, and It’s obviously much more complex. I think time has caught up with it, if you think about where we are now. The first time I met with Jamie Bernstein, his daughter, I think she said that episode was [partly responsible] for her mom’s death, and that everybody just shunned them for that …

But Bernstein was a believer. I know it’s easy to make some fun of somebody like that: oh he’s a bleeding heart. But to me it just seemed more sincere. And I hope everybody sees it as a call to action. When Sue [Bedusa] and I started pitching the movie, we were like, he’s speaking about NOW …

FD: He was so ahead his time and it feels very much a moment or a film of Now.

DT: The one thing I would say is this. To me, life never gets that far from the politics and the dynamics of a high school cafeteria, like right here. The idea is to be an individual who can sit at each one of those tables and feel comfortable …. And that’s Bernstein’s thing throughout the movie. It’s everybody. It is an Us, it’s a We. In [the 1995 documentary] When We Were Kings, George Plimpton quotes from a speech Muhammad Ali gave at Harvard, and he said, ‘Me? We.’ And that’s Bernstein’s message, that we’re all alike on some level …”

Applause. Tirola said he hoped to get his film released by the end of the year. More applause.

Wanting more, I talked to Frank DiLella who was “truly blown away” by the doc and moved to tears by how much of a humanitarian he was. Then he introduced me to actor Daniel Reichard who played Candide in a 2008 production of the Bernstein musical at Lincoln Center. I had another long chat about Bernstein with Regina Weinreich, a writer, professor, filmmaker (Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider), and Beat literature scholar who I met in 1997 at a William S. Burroughs symposium in Lawrence, Kansas. At one point my father and I were in a private room with Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, just the four of us. Burroughs and my dad, George Gurley Sr., talked about a William Blake line (“the cut worm forgives the plough”) and snakes while Ginsberg gave me a stern lecture about the CIA.

Daniel Reichard, Patrick McCollum, Frank DiLella, Christopher Hanke, and Rob Schmalo.

When the party ended at midnight I got into a SUV with two of Mr. Tirola’s friends and while he drove down Fifth, I praised Bernstein’s Wall and rattled off questions.

DT: I knew I wanted to tell this story and I wanted to tell it in this fashion of having him speak to the audience. He was sitting next to someone that he didn’t know in a restaurant or a bar or a student …. When we began the movie, Bernstein was coming up on his hundredth birthday. So there was a little bit resurgence, but when we made it, it wasn’t making something because it was in the public consciousness. (Ryan Werner, Doug’s longtime friend and publicist for his films, chimed in that Bernstein’s Wall premiered a year before Maestro came out).

Film producer Ted Hope, Bernstein’s publicist Ryan Werner, and Vanessa Hope.

Tirola described Bernstein as a rock star with a baton instead of an electric guitar, and a genius.

DT: I think he has many talents. If you hear the references, they’re from intellectual to everyday. What I think he has is empathy, an ability to put himself in other people’s positions so he can express himself and talk to people in a way where they’re able to hear what he’s actually saying because it doesn’t seem like he’s lecturing. It seems like he’s one of them, whether that’s in the most exclusive rooms in the world or at a diner or a school. But in my mind or my belief, people are not that different … people are pretty much the same. Meaning what they want, how they feel. Now how they deal with that, their choices in life can be different. I think the things that we focus on with Leonard Bernstein are those universal things that people have inside them. Does that make any sense?

GG: It seemed like everything Bernstein did was pretty natural and genuine.

DT: Have you ever seen somebody in a job that deals with people, like a bartender or a bank teller or a salesperson and the whole job is dealing with people? And you’re like, Oh my God, you should be a stenographer in a courtroom because you don’t like people. You have this job but you don’t like people. And I think part of it is he just liked people. He was curious, and it says that in the film, he had belief in people. So even though there was someone he didn’t maybe connect with immediately, he’s like, I can bring the good out of this person …

GG: So he was a great man and a good man?

DT: Yes. I think he was complicated, like everybody. I think he had a lot of contradictions, but his heart was in the right place. Jamie Bernstein wrote a memoir that came out while we were making this film called Famous Father Girl, and that really gave a lot of insights into who he was and filled in some pieces.

GG: Do you have a favorite story about him?

DT: I love the story where he gets his big break when he’s the stand-in essentially for the conductor, and nobody’s ever actually had to stand in, so he’s just out late one night and then the morning he gets that call and he puts it together. I love that.

I’ll tell you this story. It’s not in the film. He lived at the Dakota and Lauren Bacall lived above or below him, and he would come home from a show and he would stay up all night drinking and working and she would use what used to be, I guess, the servant’s entrance to come and wake him up around noon.

GG: Bernstein would have had fun tonight, don’t you think?

DT: I think he had fun wherever he was. I think if somebody came down and said, ‘This is the best place on the planet to be tonight,’ like a concert or a sporting event or an award show — I think he thought wherever he was was the best place to be.

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