Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Famous Father Girl

The following is an excerpt from “Famous Father Girl,” by Jamie Bernstein. Copyright © 2018 by Jamie Bernstein.

Eventually, word got back to John Lennon — or to his manager or press agent or somebody — that Leonard Bernstein was thinking about possibly setting some of the “In His Own Write” poems to music. This led to Daddy being invited to meet Lennon backstage during a dress rehearsal for “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It was by now the summer of 1965, and the Beatles were returning to the U.S. to make their highly anticipated second Ed Sullivan appearance. Naturally, our father asked if he could bring his two older children with him to the rehearsal.

We were going to meet the Beatles!!!

Daddy drove us into town from Fairfield. I was painfully conscious of the fact that I had braces and still didn’t shave my legs. What hope did I have of getting any Beatle to fall in love with me? Our father was summoned backstage first, while Alexander and I remained, perplexed and frustrated, in the theater seats watching a tedious rehearsal of a comedy duo who thought it was funny for one of them to wear a Beatles wig. Finally an usher came to escort us through the grimy backstage corridors of the theater until we were in front of a door with a star on it. The usher knocked.

No actual event in my life would ever be more exciting than the seconds containing that anticipatory knock, on that particular door, on that particular day.

The door opened and there they were: John, Paul, and George. But no Ringo. Why? Because the other three had been eating hamburgers with onions, and any Beatlemaniac worth her salt knew that the two things Ringo hated most were onions and Donald Duck, so of course he’d gone off to a less smelly room.

Alexander and I were introduced, and shown to chairs. I was seated next to Paul, who went to the trouble to be friendly and ask me some polite questions. (I have since heard many similar reports from people who met the Beatles; Paul was a gent.)

Daddy was sharing cigarettes with everyone and chatting away with them as if they were old friends. Maybe we sang them a round of “Moldy Man”? I don’t remember. I was in a coma of awe.

The three Beatles had an interesting argument about whether to put on their signature suits for the rehearsal. John and George didn’t want to. Paul said, “Come on, lads, it’s a dress rehearsal! We ought to be dressed, then!” (Once again, Paul was the one behaving like an adult.)

On our way out, the usher knocked on the adjoining dressing room door. We heard a muffled “Come in,” and when the door opened, we saw two feet in red socks on a cot; the head of the bed was obscured by a locker. But when the body wearing the socks sat up, it was a sleepy Ringo; we’d woken him up from a nap. Sorry, Ringo!

The next day, back at my day camp in Connecticut, there was all-out pandemonium when the girls found out where I’d been the day before. Sometimes it was purely great to have Leonard Bernstein for a father.

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