Book Review: ‘Famous Father Girl’

Tracee M. Herbaugh
The Associated Press

Private schools, a New England country home and socializing with the likes of President John F. Kennedy and family — this is what it’s like to grow up as the child of famed composer and musician Leonard Bernstein.

The maestro’s eldest daughter, Jamie Bernstein, has written a new memoir about her experience coming of age with her arguably eccentric and wealthy parents. The book, “Famous Father Girl,” is a name Jamie was given by a private school classmate.

“Back in second grade, it hadn’t bothered me too much,” Bernstein writes. “But now, in fifth grade, I became self-conscious about my famous father. I didn’t want to be singled out; I just wanted to be normal.”

Readers are taken behind the scenes into what most would consider a fantasy life. There were vacations, Beatles concerts, luxury apartments and dinner parties with famous guests. There were weekends spent with Jacqueline Kennedy and her children after President Kennedy was assassinated. Bernstein’s children attended Harvard, where he was schooled.

To many readers, Jamie Bernstein’s childhood will seem charmed. And charmed is to be expected when the protagonist is a progeny of the man who composed music for “West Side Story,” among many other hit musicals, orchestras and so forth.

Alas, the family has its issues.

“Both our parents were dyed-in-the-wool confrontation avoiders; they loathed and feared melodrama,” Bernstein writes. “We offspring grew up avoiding confrontation, as well. So, as long as our mother pretended all was normal, that gave the rest of us permission to play along.”

Jamie Bernstein grew up to be a filmmaker and writer in her own right. Readers may find interesting the (largely) bygone era of extravagance, and tales of a quirky, yet average American family who got to experience the extraordinary.