- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (October 11, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780374266615
- ISBN-13: 978-0374266615
- ASIN: 0374266611
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 33 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #482,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Some of My Lives: A Scrapbook Memoir Hardcover – October 11, 2011
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“In Paris, she had Picasso's ear, and Matisse's, too. Back when blue laws shut Philadelphia down on Sundays, Stokowski came over to her house for dinner. Her long marriage to the art critic John Russell counts as one of the great love stories of our era. Rosamond Bernier, storyteller extraordinaire, friend and confidante to countless of the twentieth century's cultural icons, has written a remarkable memoir of a remarkable life. Intimate, winning, sunny, and smart, Some of My Lives has a voice not unlike the one in Diana Vreeland's autobiography--only here, all of it is true.” ―Michael Kimmelman
“Wonders never cease in the life of Rosamond Bernier. As the Paris-based European editor of Vogue, she saw the world through the chiffon trenches of haute couture. As the cofounding editor of L'OEIL, the most influential art magazine of her time, she befriended artists like Picasso, Miró, and Matisse (who suggested she wear a yellow scarf with her orange Balenciaga coat). Some of My Lives is a delicious mosaic of a life elegantly, enchantingly lived.” ―André Leon Talley
“Rosamond Bernier's new memoir moves with the unflagging brio, wit, and style of her public lectures and her private conversation. The effect is pure pleasure--a brilliant life, beautifully evoked.” ―Calvin Tomkins
“Rosamond Bernier's gorgeous ‘scrapbook' of a memoir is an exhilarating hopscotch through twentieth-century art that had me careening from the middle to the beginning to the back, delighting in her encounters with everyone who mattered. Bernier makes me believe in string theory. She just might be the unifying force behind everything.” ―John Guare
About the Author
Rosamond Bernier was born in Philadelphia and was educated in France, England, and America. In 1955, she cofounded the influential art magazine L'OEIL, which featured the works of the masters of the School of Paris. A renowned lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rosamond Bernier was named for life to the International Best-Dressed List.
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spectacularly with so many different personalities...there can't be many people who can talk freely about their life experiences
with so many important, creative people at that important period in art history...excellent writer...she had the capability of
capturing a time in the world that we may not otherwise know about from a "citizen's" perspective...informative for artist's today...
...she had connections that not many people could get through her charm, her wits and her background, i.e. her father was
the executive head of the Philadelphia Orchestra..through a quirky Pennsylvania law that didn't allow businesses to be open
on Sundays musicians had no where to relax on Sundays so they ended up at Rosamond's family's home with her father's
invitation...there is no one who can say they stayed at Frieda Kahlo's home, was best friends with Bernstein,
was able to see Picasso's works that the rest of the world had not seen,and had Aaron Copland walk her down the aisle for her wedding...
she created her own imaginative magazine about the art world in the 50s, 60s, etc. She met and befriended people of all walks of life...
a one of a kind personality!
Ms. Bernier was born in 1916 in Philadelphia to an English mother and an American father who was a successful lawyer and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Samuel Rosenbaum’s Hungarian Jewish parents “said the Kadish over him” when he married an Episcopalian, and Rosamond was brought up like a wealthy English girl, with riding lessons, a French governess, and frequent visits to England on luxury ships.
When Rosamond was eight years old her mother died. Two years later, when she was not quite ten, her governess fell ill and her father put her on a ship by herself to return to her English boarding school. Every evening aboard, Bernier would change into a party dress, go down to the dining room for her favorite dish of cold smoked tongue, then proceed to the smoking room for gambling. “I had spectacular luck,” Bernier writes. Her good fortune seems to have held remarkably well through most of her life.
During a childhood steeped in music, Bernier played the harp and came to know many legendary personalities such as Otto Klemperer, Eugene Ormandy, Leopold Stokowski, Walter Gieseking, Sergei Rachmaninov, and Jose Iturbi. She was most impressed by Klemperer, “not only because he was enormously tall, way over six feet, but also because of the jocular way he threw butterballs at his wife at table.” Stokowski “had a seductive, caressing accent, entirely self-invented. He was born in London.” Ormandy “was not given to understatement.” Asked by Bernier’s father how things had gone after a conducting tour, Ormandy would invariably reply, “I was a zenzation.”
Bernier attended Sarah Lawrence College and, during a holiday after her sophomore year, went on holiday to Mexico and met Aaron Copland, who was “very hard up” and told her he missed marmalade with his breakfast. The nest day Bernier “enlisted an obliging boyfriend” to deliver a whole carton of marmalade to Copland, starting a life-long friendship. Bernier returned to college but left without graduating to marry the young man who had driven her to deliver the marmalade. The wedding took place in Bernier’s family’s home in Philadelphia, and Aaron Copland attended bearing as a gift the orchestration he had written of Rosamond’s favorite song.
Lewis A. Riley Jr. was a handsome and wealthy American living in Mexico where he was developing the coastal land around Acapulco. In the late 30s and early 40s, Mexico “was a place where you felt that everything could still be invented,” Bernier recalls. “It was extraordinarily vibrant—architecture was booming; there was wonderful folk art. And of course the colors and nature were wonderful.” There, Bernier learned to pilot a plane, witnessed the birth of a volcano, and assembled a menagerie that included an ocelot, an anteater, a marmoset, a kinkajou with a drinking problem, tropical birds and, most unusual of all, a small penguin from Antarctica who became a favorite swimming companion.
During her time in Mexico, Bernier became friends with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and hosted many colorful personalities, among them Jane and Paul Bowles, and a drunken gringo who had been thrown off a bus. He turned out to be Malcolm Lowry, the author of Under the Volcano.
After an amicable divorce, Bernier returned to the States for a visit and over the course of drinks at a friend met the full “high command” of Condé Nast. A few days later, with zero experience, Bernier had received not one, but three job offers at Vogue! Bernier laughed when Condé Nast’s CEO, Iva Patcevitch, proposed a starting salary of forty-five dollars a week. “Why, Mr. Patcevitch, my ignorance is worth more than that,” she told him. When the offer was raised to seventy-five dollars a week, she took the job and was dispatched to Paris to report on the reopening of the French fashion houses after the war. By 1947, she was Vogue’s first European features editor.
Bernier’s first important couture show in Paris was presented by the house of Lucien Lelong. The clothes were designed by “a shy, cherubic, unknown young man” who two years later would revolutionize the fashion landscape with the New Look. Of course, he was Christian Dior. Bernier soon got to know the top couturiers and “their kindnesses were extraordinary.” Often she was lent clothes, or was called up before a sale. At one point she had her own vendeuse at Balenciaga, the motherly Madame Maria, who once sent her to the Madrid branch to have outfits made at a fraction of the Paris price.
In the mid-1950s, Bernier left Vogue and founded the art magazine L’Oeil (The Eye) with her second husband (who is nowhere to be found in the book). Once again, luck compensated for lack of experience, as Picasso offered her “un regalo” and sent her to his sister’s house in Barcelona, where he had kept a large body of unpublished work. When the first issue of L’Oeil appeared, it caused a sensation. Over her years editing L’Oeil, Bernier wrote about – and became friends with – the likes of Matisse, Giacometti, Henry More, Joan Miro, Braque, Fernand Leger and just about every major name in 20th century art.
In 1970, after 20 years of marriage, Bernier found herself suddenly divorced and jobless (an event vaguely alluded to as a “period of personal upheaval”). She moved to New York, and agreed to give a few college lectures, which soon turned into a career as a “professional talker” (her words). Five years later, she married the British art critic John Russell in a lavish ceremony hosted by Philip Johnson in his famous Glass House in New Canaan (link), Connecticut. The all-star guest list included Aaron Copland, Pierra Matisse, Virgil Thomson, Andy Warhol, and Helen Frankenthaler, as well as Leonard Bernstein, who wrote the music for the occasion.
Bernier’s next chapter found her lecturing on 20th century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Speaking without notes and stunning in evening dress, Bernier’s lectures sold out months in advance. She stopped lecturing after some 250 performances in 2008, the year Russell died after 33 years of marriage. “They were wonderful years,” Bernier says. “I treasure every one of them. “ A year later Bernier began writing Some of my Lives.
Bernier's anecdotes keep you enthralled from page one without flagging. In one incident, all hotels are full and she ends up sleeping on Madame de Sévigné bed at a Museum – as seen in the cover of Some of My Lives. On another occasion, she arranged the shoot where Horst took a famous photo of Gertrude Stein at Pierre Balmain’s Paris salon. The much-reproduced image shows Stein, a “massive unmovable monument,” with her poodle Basket looking at a model in an evening gown. Bernier and Vogue illustrator Eric are the two small figures in the background.
Bernier’s encounter with Coco Chanel in 1954 is one of the most riveting chapters in the book. Bernier had come prepared with questions, but she did not get to ask any of them. Chanel kept talking for nearly two hours and her observations on how women are perceived, what they should wear and how they ought to behave, her own trajectory and philosophy of life, reveal a complex, brilliant woman. I was spellbound.
If the book leaves you a bit jealous, wondering what it would be like to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth and with the gift of seeming as effortlessly charming and chic as Bernier, it is also an inspiration. Bernier had a wonderful life, but her success owes as much to focus, determination, and hard work as it does to privilege and luck. Throughout, she shows an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time and to enchant everyone she meets. Although she reveals little about herself, it is possible to glimpse a woman of great resilience, optimism, generosity, and pluck. A most elegant woman, inside and out.
Note: This review appeared in the Winter issue of Swan Ways' Newsletter (see [...]).
Louise A. Marasso, A.S.I.D., Realtor, Sotheby's International Realty