The Grand Sur­prise: The Jour­nals of Leo Lerman

Stephen Pas­cal, ed.
  • Review
By – March 23, 2012

The glam­orous life of New York writer, edi­tor, and crit­ic Leo Ler­man — pop­u­lat­ed by artists, fash­ion design­ers, and celebri­ties— is com­pre­hen­sive­ly recalled in this fas­ci­nat­ing compilation. 

In the years fol­low­ing World War II, Man­hat­tan was a hotbed of cul­ture and social upheaval. Lerman’s open­ly homo­sex­u­al lifestyle was accept­ed by his fam­i­ly, Jew­ish immi­grants from East­ern Europe, which gave him a sense of secu­ri­ty from an ear­ly age. Though he held many fond mem­o­ries of his youth, he roman­ti­cized his imme­di­ate and extend­ed fam­i­ly, asso­ci­at­ing with them a lost, old world nos­tal­gia, while he moved fur­ther and fur­ther away from his reli­gion and back­ground, see­ing him­self as more Yid­dish than Jewish.” 

Ler­man attend­ed act­ing school and stage-man­aged in the Catskills at the start of his career, but with his gre­gar­i­ous per­son­al­i­ty, cul­ti­vat­ing friend­ships became his main art form. He befriend­ed Imo­gene Coca and Tru­man Capote ear­ly on, and every­one from Mar­lene Diet­rich, Noel Cow­ard, and Maria Callas to Leonard Bern­stein, William Faulkn­er, and Jacque­line Kennedy Onas­sis could be found at his famous soirees. 

Lerman’s keen obser­va­tions and wit­ty tongue led to his writ­ing fea­tures for such mag­a­zines as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Glam­our, and to the cen­ter of the avant garde He attend­ed seem­ing­ly every gallery open­ing, con­cert, the­atre pro­duc­tion, and film open­ing about town. He served as edi­to­r­i­al advi­sor to Conde Nast Pub­li­ca­tions until his death in 1994

Lerman’s let­ters and jour­nals, painstak­ing­ly and lov­ing­ly assem­bled and edit­ed by writer and Ler­man assis­tant, Stephen Pas­cal, read as per­son­al dia­logues and wist­ful rem­i­nis­cences inter­twined with a who’s who of cul­tur­al scene mak­ers. Set in a defin­ing time and place, they serve as an engag­ing descrip­tion and doc­u­men­ta­tion of New York’s gold­en age.

Mol­ly Beth Dubin received an M.A. in art his­to­ry and muse­um stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Den­ver. She is cul­tur­al arts direc­tor for the Har­ry & Rose Sam­son Fam­i­ly Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter of Milwaukee.

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