A COMPLICATED GIFT
A Spotlite on Author and Actress SUSAN BERNARD
By David Crotty
Susan Bernard–author, actress, and so much more–received “a complicated gift” by being born to famed Hollywood glamour photographer Bruno Bernard. I sat down with her to talk about her life as author, actress, playmate, model, and daughter of the great “Bernard of Hollywood.”
David Crotty: Your father, “Bernard of Hollywood”, was one of just a handful of people who had a close lasting relationship with Marilyn Monroe. Do you have any memories of her, and was there anything in particular your father shared with you about his friendship with her?
Susan Bernard: Researching my recent book, Marilyn: Intimate Exposures, was an arduous experience, as I had to read trunkfuls of notes, letters, and recall all the stories my father told me about Norma Jean, who became Marilyn as we know her now. I found myself reliving their lives, which were full of joy and sadness. What I always remember is how very strong she was as a woman, unlike the impression most of the public has of her. My father felt she was super-human, in so many ways, considering she was someone who had no foundation to lean upon. I had met her when I was just a little girl, bouncing around in my father”s station wagon while he took her on a photo shoot. She was very sweet and seemed to have a fondness for children, which I now learn was the one great regret she had in her life–never being able to have any. My father felt that if she had, it might have saved her marriages and her life.
DC: What was it like growing up behind the scenes of one of the greatest glamour photographer”s in Hollywood?
SB: Amy Arbus, Diane Arbus”s daughter once asked me, “Susan, is it a blessing or a curse?” I responded, “For me, it”s a complicated gift.”
DC: As a young actress, you starred in the Russ Meyer cult classic film Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill. Was that a difficult film to make, given the location and theme of the film?
SB: Absolutely. I was only 16, it was 110 degrees in the desert, and it was my first film. I was petrified of the three women, who were like menacing Amazon giants to me. I always thought Tura Satana would come into the hotel where I stayed with my Mom in the middle of the night and karate chop me. Of course that was my method acting that bordered on reality. My mother made the fried chicken in the film.
DC: Tura Satana played the lead villainess in Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill. What was it like to work with her?
SB: When we were off the set, she ignored me and gave me the evil eye. I don”t think she really meant it, she was just in character 24 hours a day, and Russ was just a pussycat.
DC: You were the first teenage Jewish Playmate in Playboy Magazine. Was there any fallout from this, or was it just a natural part of your career as a model?
SB: I was also a virgin at the time. So to me, it was just about the art, and empowering myself by being liberated, and being part of the sexual revolution of my generation. I also posed in front of a Christmas tree instead of a menorah. As Miss December, being pinned up in barracks during Christmas in Vietnam was my way of giving the soldiers a reason to come home to the girl next door.
DC: Today you are the author of seven books, and have dedicated much of your time to preserving your father”s legacy and photography. Two of your recent books that stand out are Bernard of Hollywood: The Ultimate Pin-Up Book (Taschen) and Marilyn: Intimate Exposures. These two books are amazing because they go into so much depth, and contain many photographs that have never been previously published. I can imagine that the archive of Bernard of Hollywood photography is quite large. Is there a path you are following with the Bernard of Hollywood archive?
SB: My father”s collection is one of the most diverse of any photographer, as he had studios in Hollywood, Palm Springs, Las Vegas, and later in Majorca, Spain in the “70s. Every few years, I share with a new generation unpublished images that represent his remarkable journey. In development is a book called Bernard of Hollywood”s Vegas, covering the “50s in Las Vegas, the most controversial headliners of the time, and the most beautiful showgirls in the world. Uncensored 60s and 70s is an unpublished work that covers his journey living in Palma Majorca, Spain where at Casa Bernard he flew in the most famous international models for European covers and fashion campaigns.
DC: In addition to the books about Bernard of Hollywood, are there other subjects you”re writing about?
SB: Yes, I am presently involved with an untold epic love story about Joe and Marilyn and a literary memoir that is long overdue.
Susan Bernard is an author, actress, playmate, and model.
Written by David Crotty
Photography by David Crotty
Design by Francesca Rimi
Susan Bernard, Photography by David Crotty