LEONARD BERNSTEIN PENCIL AUTOGRAPH, NOVEMBER 1945. AUTHENTICATED. IN PRIVATE COLLECTION.
How much money in the bank? I couldn’t say. My friend from college, Marcia A. (now Marcia C.), is renting a safe deposit box solely to preserve for her descendants a typed communication she received from one J. Salinger after she wrote him a sort of fan letter in 1950. She’s in Israel now and therefore the safe-deposit-protected Salinger reply is in Israel too. But I suppose its location doesn’t really matter unless Hamas makes good on its threat to wipe Israel from the map. In which case I will be more concerned about Marcia C. than her Salinger letter.
However, assuming this doesn’t happen in our lifetimes, you may want to know Salinger typed his letter to Marcia before he became really famous. Does this lessen its value? Also, does it matter whether he signed it J.D. Salinger, Jerome Salinger, or even (gasp!) Jerry? Quien sabe? She was nineteen at the time, and he was thirty-three, and nothing ever came of it, except the safe deposit box in Israel. A more pertinent question — at least for purposes of this blog post — is whether a Bernstein autograph in pencil (but authenticated) will bring more from a willing buyer than a Salinger one. Lenny or Jerry: Which fella will remain a Wikipedia entry longer? Why should I care? Because, dear reader, the private collection in which the Bernstein pencil autograph reposes is mine.
[Just in case anyone out there is wondering just who this Bernstein guy is, I won’t tell you asked. Eyeball the following, and you’ll be up to speed. Wikipedia cautions it may have been written from a fan’s point of view, but so what?
:Leonard Bernstein (/ˈbɜrnstaɪn/; August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim. According to music critic Donal Henahan, he was “one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history.”
His fame derived from his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, from his conducting of concerts with most of the world’s leading orchestras, and from his music for West Side Story, Peter Pan, Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town and his own Mass.
Bernstein was the first conductor to give numerous television lectures on classical music, starting in 1954 and continuing until his death. He was a skilled pianist, often conducting piano concertos from the keyboard.
As a composer he wrote in many styles encompassing symphonic and orchestral music, ballet, film and theatre music, choral works, opera, chamber music and pieces for the piano. Many of his works are regularly performed around the world….]
The authentication of the November 1945 Bernstein autograph privately collected by me resides in a contemporaneous diary handwritten by one N. Raginsky. Not so coincidentally, this diary is also in my private collection. Miss Raginsky bequeathed it to me when she grew up to be me. (Accordingly, there are no chain of custody questions to impeach the validity of the authentication.) Several days after obtaining the autograph, she recorded in touching — and possibly excessive — detail the circumstances under which she extracted it from Mr. Bernstein. These may be worth transcribing here, if only as an aid to sleep if they do not sufficiently amuse.
For ten months, Miss Raginsky, who had just turned fourteen, had been deeply in love with dark and handsome Mr. Bernstein, then aged twenty-seven, despite his never having laid eyes on her — ever since finding a long article about him, with accompanying dreamy full page photograph, in the Times Sunday Magazine section. As she had earlier shamelessly put it on January 27, 1945:
Isn’t it funny that he is twice as old as am. 26:13. When he was my age, I was born. Now he is a man and I am a comparative child and the difference is great. Yet when I am 21, he will be 34 and then the difference [will be] small. I will be a woman, and for a man he will be young still.
This reasoning is getting me nowhere so I will stop it, but I think it is rather obvious what I am driving at so I needn’t put it down in blue and white. [She wrote in blue ink.] This is quite enough on the subject, which even in a diary is a little embarrassing ….
[Miss Raginsky had already several times read with wildly beating heart her mother’s copy of Van de Velde’s “Ideal Marriage” — including its instructions for maidenhead penetration.]
We take up the diary again on November 30, 1945. Miss Raginsky and her friend from high school, Jeannette H., had purchased second-row orchestra tickets to a 6 p.m. concert conducted by Mr. Bernstein in his capacity as director of the New York City Center Symphony. (This was before his renowned tenure with the New York Philharmonic.) Miss Raginsky candidly admitted she was there not so much for the music, as to worship. She and her friend had an early supper of leathery liver and pickled beets at a convenient Automat and arrived at the City Center half an hour early:
…We found our seats, dived for the ladies’ room to primp some more (why I don’t know, since it was for his edification and he certainly wasn’t going to notice us from the stage). Then, having connived two programs from the ushers (they are conserving paper; you have to share your programs, so we pretended we didn’t know each other), we snooped around the stage doors so that we’d know where to scurry after the performance. We returned to our seats, regarded the audience with interest, and then looked at all the pretty women musicians who were already assembling with considerable jealousy, and finally settled down as the lights went out.
Oh! he was wonderful! I didn’t hear any of the music except at the end, but I was in ecstasy. He hadn’t lost his habit of dancing around [on the podium] unnecessarily (to put it mildly) and I loved him unashamedly. His coat was still too big, though it was another coat. [Ed. note: Miss Raginsky had apparently attended a previous concert at which Mr. Bernstein had worn another suit.] Still no baton, either. So adorable. I just had to draw a picture to remember him by. I groped for a pencil and my small art class sketchbook in my bag. Fortunately, we sat close enough to the stage for there to be enough light to see what I was doing.
We had made up our minds to go backstage after the performance, and we sat through the second half of the program clutching our coats and pencils. Then we ran. They kept us waiting outside his dressing room door for fifteen minutes, and as a large crowd assembled and noise and smoke emitted from the door we began to get cold feet and butterflies in our stomachs. To our dismay, we realized that everyone waiting to get in with us knew him personally. His sister came out (someone called her Shirley, so I knew), and then (we were the first in line) the dressing room door opened and we were face to face with a smoky room lined with mirrors.
We clutched each other (me and Jeannette I mean; to think of me clutching Lenny!) and our mouths went dry. That slight hesitation was enough! Swarms of people trampled over us and we were shoved into a corner by the hordes, where we stayed for some time, quivering. We had a good view, though, and it seemed we were in another world. Everyone was waving hands and screaming “Hello-oo there, Lenny! Remember me? We met at so-and-so.” Then He would say, “Oh yes. How are you?” The friend would then introduce a long line of relatives, from his wife to his cousin Mary’s grandmother ninth removed. They would all shake hands and a new voice would then greet the Great One. “Hell-oo-o-o-o! Lenny. I say, do you remember me?”
We couldn’t even get near him at first…. Finally, I worked up enough courage to push my way through, Jeannette just following me in a daze. I edged up to the One and feebly tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and I almost collapsed. I also realized I had dropped my program that I wanted him to sign. It was on the floor somewhere back there in a corner. My mind kept racing: Say something, this is your chance, say something. But I couldn’t think of anything. Finally, I dragged out a foolish little statement about us being the only ones who didn’t have business in his room. For the first time he really looked at me and said with an affable wave of the hand, “Why not? You belong here as much as anyone.” Cheeks hot with love, I pushed my pencil and the art notebook sketch at him. “Is this me?” he asked. I nodded, speechless. “Shall I sign it?” I nodded again.
He signed, and reached for Jeannette’s program. “Is that all?” I asked, looking at his signature. He took back the sketch and added, “Sincerely.” Nodding gratitude, I started to take my pencil away (Jeannette had one of her own) only he kept it. We had a momentary tug of war and our fingers touched. But I didn’t realize they had till it was over. Then he was patting each of us on the shoulder and moving on to the next group. Half in a coma, we stumbled out.
Miss Raginsky’s account of this momentous event continues for several more breathless and closely handwritten pages. But we’ve got the autograph authentication now, so we need not follow her and her friend into the street. I will append only her description of Mr. Bernstein’s person at twenty-seven:
He had blue-grey eyes (which I had expected to be brown), black hair, a prominent nose, skin very slightly pock-marked, an olive complexion. His voice was slightly nasal, no Boston accent. He was about two inches taller than I. (I had low heeled shoes on.) He had on an odd bow tie, blue merging into yellow….
Miss Raginsky went on loving Mr. Bernstein passionately for about another half a year, after which she finally realized it was hopeless and broke it off. Despite this rupture, she kept the Bernstein autograph on her drawing as a sentimental momento of her first Great Love. When many years later, I found it among her effects, I had it framed. I might add she was unsuccessful in persuading her mother to cut a square out of the shoulder of the coat he had touched in his dressing room after the concert, even when she finally outgrew it. But there’s almost certainly no residual market value in a square of wool tweed dating back to the late 1940’s, especially as the maestro’s fingertips left no impression in the wool. Her failure of persuasion is therefore no great loss to my estate.
The authenticated Bernstein autograph is not at present for sale. Interested persons may apply to my heirs when I am gone. What they are going to do with it, God knows. If it’s really big-time bankable by then, I hope they don’t fight over it. When they were small, I used to be able to resolve escalating aggression over cookies by dividing each disputed cookie evenly in half. Authenticated autograph? Not so easy. Maybe they should take a tip from Marcia C., lease a safe deposit box, and wait. Just not in Israel.