Saturday, August 25, was the optimal day for “Lenny weather.”
As per tradition, the skies cleared and the lawn was packed at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts — where composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein was a member of the first class of fellows, and the place where his daughter, Jamie, would celebrate his centennial, life and legacy, surrounded by hundreds of his fans, listening to a tribute by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
“Tanglewood was his happy place,” Bernstein said of her father. “It was the perfect place for us to be on his 100thbirthday, because that’s ground zero for Bernstein love.”
This past year has been what Bernstein can only describe as a “gigantic worldwide celebration,” totaling more than 3,400 centennial-related events across the globe, she said.
“My brother, sister and I were really hoping for a big celebration, but holy cow,” she said. “We never dreamed it would be like this.”
Joining in on the festivities is the “Artists Love Movies” film series, which will conclude with Susan Lacy’s 1998 documentary “Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note” on Sunday, September 16, at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor, to benefit the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center.
“I was a huge Leonard Bernstein fan. I grew up on him. My parents loved him; he was a hero. He and Franklin Roosevelt were the heroes of my childhood home,” Lacy said. “The idea of being able to make a film about him, oh my God, it was like a dream come true. He was larger than life. He was brilliant. He was quixotic. He was handsome. He was everything you imagined a maestro to be. And he was also a genius. Why not want to make that movie?”
At first, the Bernstein family was hesitant, the eldest daughter explained.
“We knew it would be, to some degree, intrusive and, at some times, uncomfortable, but we all felt that if anybody could do it the right way and with the minimum of discomfort, it would be Susan — because we all knew she was a stand-up person, and also very good at her job,” Bernstein said. “And that turned out to be true. She did such a beautiful job on that film.”
Bernstein and her two siblings each took a turn with Lacy, reliving their childhood growing up on the West Side, catty-corner to Carnegie Hall — their father’s place of work.
“He was in and out of there, and our house was constantly filled with grownups who were lively and funny and energetic and smart, and all the grownups would carry on together,” Bernstein recalled. “We could hear them from our beds when we went to sleep at night. There they were, downstairs, laughing and playing word games and roaring around the piano, and drinking and smoking and telling jokes.”
It was a magical time, she said. With nothing else to compare it to, this was their everyday norm, and she assumed all adults were just like them. She couldn’t wait to be one herself, she said.
“Really, the first 10 years of my life had very few shadows,” she said. “When I look back on my childhood, I always think that it was really November 22, 1963, that was the line of demarcation between that first impression I had of grownups, and then a later, more evolving impression. That was the first day I ever saw parents and grownups cry — on the day that Kennedy was assassinated.”
It was her first brush with adulthood, she said, and she would come to know how real life could feel, especially while grappling with her place in the music world, and making peace with it — a theme she explores in her recently released book, “Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein.”
“I was in such knots about making music myself. I knew I was musical, but I was always so conflicted about making music with my own body, and comparisons are odious,” she said. “I always felt like, ‘Oh, who am I kidding. I’ll never get there, I’ll never be any good, I’ll never be as good as …” and, yet, I just kept smashing my head up against that wall for years. It was sort of driving me crazy.”
It wouldn’t be until age 50 that Bernstein found her own calling, and a relationship with music outside of her father.
“It turned out that it’s working out very well for me to talk about music and write about music, and narrate concerts and explain about the music,” she said. “I can do that quite comfortably and still be in the world of music and be surrounded by musicians and be in that environment, and do something useful in that environment — just not making the actual music myself with my own body. That’s turned out to be a pretty good compromise.”
Lacy, who has known Bernstein since the 1970s, said she watched her friend come into her own, following her career from afar. Her own path took a turn when she moved from “American Masters” — a series she started at PBS — to HBO, which will air her most recent effort, “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” on Monday, September 24, after a sneak peak screening on Saturday, September 22, at Guild Hall in East Hampton.
“I always wanted to make a film about her,” Lacy said of Fonda. “I read her book when it first came out about 17 years ago. It resonated on very deep levels with me. There wasn’t a part of her story that didn’t fascinate me.”
Organized into “five acts,” the film explores what drove Fonda in each chapter — “Her life was dominated by four men, and then Jane finally finds Jane,” Lacy explained — allowing herself to discover how to live her last act.
“Whether you’ve had a difficulty in a relationship with a child, or a difficulty in a parental relationship, or body image issues, insecurity issues, unfaithful husbands, there are parts of her story that I think almost everyone can relate to,” Lacy said. “And I did, too.”
“Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note” will screen on Sunday, September 16, at 4 p.m. at the Pierson High School auditorium, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor, as the final film in the “Artists Love Movies” series. A Q&A with Jamie Bernstein will follow. Tickets are $10, or $150 to include a benefit reception for the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center at the Sag Harbor home of director Susan Lacy. For more information, visit sagharborcinema.org/artistslovemovies.
The Hamptons International Film Festival will present “Jane Fonda in Five Acts” on Saturday, September 22, at 6 p.m. at Guild Hall, located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton. A Q&A with Susan Lacy, moderated by Alec Baldwin, will follow. Tickets range from $25 to $100. For more information, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.