Some of My Lives: A Scrapbook Memoir

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Press: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition, edition (October 11, 2011)
Publication Date:2011-10
Author Name:Bernier, Rosamond


Rosamond Bernier has lived an unusually full life―remarkable for its vividness and diversity of experience―and she has known many (one is tempted to say all) of the greatest artists and composers of the twentieth century.In Some of My Lives, Bernier has made a kind of literary scrapbook from an extraordinary array of writings, ranging from diary entries to her many contributions to the art journal L'OEIL, which she cofounded in 1955. 
The result is a multifaceted self-portrait of a life informed and surrounded by the arts.Through the stories of her encounters with some of the twentieth century's great artists and composers―including Pablo Picasso, Leonard Bernstein, Max Ernst, Aaron Copeland, Malcolm Lowry, and Karl Lagerfeld―we come to understand the sheer richness of Bernier's experiences, interactions, and memories.
The result is pithy, hilarious, and wise―a richly rewarding chronicle of many lives fully lived.

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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Some of My Lives


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Comment List (Total:15)

  •     Very interesting memoir. Rosamund Bernier lived an extraordinary life and associated with many interesting and successful people.
  •     Bernier leads one of those charmed lives in which so many doors open to her, that it's an embarrassment of riches. She knew just about every great creative artist in the latter half of the 20th Century. Granted, some of them were on their last bows, but some of them were up and coming, and some she actually helped to become celebrated. Her anecdotes about Giacometti, Picasso, Miro, Stokowski, Copland, Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein are not deep meditations on their work. They are little throw-away day-to-day observations, taken from life, as to how it was to work around them. As such, the book is a sequence of bon-bons, and can be picked up and read from any point. In fact, the book is so episodic (it is called "a scrapbook memoir"), that to actually read it cover to cover is probably the wrong way to do it, as there is no real thread of action. Rather in the same vein as Frank Langella's latest memoir, it isn't meant to have that kind of thread. But when she is late to see Chagall, we are late too, and her narrative can be thrilling and anxiety-inducing at the same time. Also, Bernier was in a good position to see the people who lived around the greater names; the Alice B. Toklas, Giacometti's brother, Diego; Picasso's housekeeper. Some of those anecdotes are worth the price of admission.
  •     A well written account of her life. I enjoy reading biographies of people living in Europe just after the war. Her 100 years was full.
  •     She is the book, she is phenomenal. Her story is absolutely enthralling.
  •     Wife, who is a genealogist, says it is very good.
  •     This reads morelike a diary than a book. Unless you like to read diary type books I do not recommend this, would not buy again and I hope this helps someone.
  •     She had an amazing life.
  •     She's incredible and the stories are fascinating. I have her CD's on art and I love them!
  •     Few people can look back on a life as rich as Rosamond Bernier’s. Published to coincide with her 95th birthday last October, Some of My Lives, A Scrapbook Memoir, gives us tantalizing glimpses into the many fascinating personalities Bernier has known in the course of her long life. Artists, musicians and fashion designers whose names are household words populate this witty, charming book. Leonard Bernstein, Coco Chanel, Aaron Copland, Madame Gres, Alberto Giacometti, Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein...ctically the whole pantheon of the arts in the 20th century makes an appearance in its pages.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 [...]).
  •     A fascinating life revealed through short essays. She also illuminates the lives of the artists (composers, painters, architects, writers, designers) she knew.
  •     An extraordinary life!
  •     This book is the next best thing to hearing Rosamond Bernier lecture. I've heard her speak--and she is enormously entertaining. In both her lectures and in this book, she imparts a great deal of art history while 'gossiping' breezily about her friends--many of the most important modern artists of the mid-20th century. However, her gossip isn't malicious or salacious, but instead makes the artists' personalities and their work come alive.
  •     terrific book...couldn't put it down...totally interesting life...amazing how one person could gain the respect and get alongspectacularly with so many different personalities...there can't be many people who can talk freely about their life experienceswith so many important, creative people at that important period in art history...excellent writer...she had the capability ofcapturing 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 wasthe executive head of the Philadelphia Orchestra..through a quirky Pennsylvania law that didn't allow businesses to be openon Sundays musicians had no where to relax on Sundays so they ended up at Rosamond's family's home with her father'sinvitation...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!
  •     Enjoying not only the book but available cd's of the lectures by Rosamund Bernier made me want to share with others interested in the lives of the artists as she experienced in her friendship with so many such as Matisse and Picasso, herself a fascinating a woman. .Her life in Paris, interviewing first for Vogue magazine and becoming friends with many artists in the 1920s is interesting and one comes away having learned more about Ms. Bernier herself as she writes openly about her personal life, marriages and more.Louise A. Marasso, A.S.I.D., Realtor, Sotheby's International Realty
  •     Truly interesting!

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