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Harry Bernsen - Producer

Born in 1925, Harry Bernsen, at age 13, followed in his father and grandfather's footsteps into the Chicago theater.

Raised in the Christian Science religion, Bernsen, in 1943, joined the Marine Corp and served in World War II. "I was the first one to land in Nagasaki after the atomic bomb."

In 1953, Bernsen met and married actress Jeanne Cooper. They had their son Corbin on September 7, 1954. Next came Collin and daughter Caren (in 1960).

Cooper starred in the CBS soap opera "The Young and the Restless" for more than two decades.

During the 1960s, Bernsen produced plays in Europe and the US. In the early 1970s, he produced several black exploitation films including Three The Hard Way (1974) and Take A Hard Ride (1975).

Bernsen helped produce the 1978 seven-hour NBC miniseries "The Awakening Land" starring a young Jane Seymore.

In 1980, Bernsen and Cooper divorced though they remain "good friends."

"This may fall apart," Bernsen tells me on a summer day in 1996. "I created this thing for television called 'Two Women Abroad.' A big name American woman spends two weeks with a major foreign woman like Raisa Gorbachev in Russia or [the widow of Sadat] in Egypt or Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. I may be partners with Barbara Streisand's company.

"I want to do 13 one-hour TV specials a year. Barbara's company wants to do four to six a year.

"This would be one of the things closest to my heart. Because again, I adore women. It's all women. I have a Greek woman and a Danish woman who helped me develop the concept."

Harry adores several women in our cafe.

"It's everything about women. We would give [American actress] Susan Sarandon a list of 50 women around the world and ask her who would you like to spend two weeks with and talk about politics, birth, sexuality, food, clothes, everything. Not just talk, they go. Sophia Loren wants to start hers out with Italian cooking and then go through everything. [Unintelligible] wants to talk about the sexuality of the French man and then go through everything. Raisa Gorbachev wants to talk about the loneliness of politics in Russia. [Sadat's widow] wants to talk about the psyche of the Egyptian male and how they relate to women. Princess Diana wants to do England."

Harry says he only wants to work on projects "for the betterment of mankind. Also, I love to have women involved. I'm working with a woman director [Deborah Chaymes?] in Sausalito right now. She makes sensually erotic films for women. She also has an educational film company that is very good. She's coming down next week.

"Now let me get to your list of questions. Do you remember what they are?"

Luke: "Ummm."

Harry: "I do."

He draws the list of questions out of his pocket.

Luke: "Great."

First question - what inspired you to devote your life to this?

Harry: "My family. And I fell in love with an actress (Dolores Hart born 10/20/38) while I was married. She was my client. She's going to be the next Grace Kelly. She came to Rome while I was living there (in the early 1960s). She was a converted Catholic. We spent a lot of time in Rome together. No sexuality just the relationship was great. My wife always sort of resented it.

"Dolores left Rome and came back here. She got engaged. She was under contract to Hal Wallis, one of the major producers in the world. Hal threw a party for her [in 1963] and gave her a beautiful mink coat for her engagement. And she threw up all over the mink coat and packed out. She called Maria Cooper, Gary Cooper's daughter, and joined the Abbey of Regina Laudes in Bethlehem, Connecticutt as a cloistered nun.

"I got very angry with her. I told her, 'You've got the ability to reach millions of people, why are you going in this abbey with 45 nuns?' She's been there for 33 years. Left there two or three times. 'You should be out telling the things you think about and all.'

"I used to go up there two or three times a year. We'd have dinner under a thing because she was cloistered. I ended up with a ridge under my nose because I kissed her through the lattice work. I said to her, if you have the ability as a communicator, you better use that ability.

"That idea drove me. I want to get out certain ideas that I have. And they're becoming better and better. I'm a very religious person. I go to church every Sunday. I go to a lot of churches. I mainly go to the Encino Community Church. This girl I go with, we went to a black gospel church in Pasadena. We went to a Latvian church. I have this great relationship with this Latvian Lutheran minister. I read the Bible every day. And I base my whole life [on this].

"When I graduated [eighth grade] in 1937, the teacher gave me a little thing called 'The greatest thing in the world.' It's based on First Corinthians 13. 'Though I speak with the tongue of men and angels, and have not love...' I send everybody copies of that. I base everything I do around that word 'love.' And I don't mean sexual love, though that is part of it.

"I feel that two things are happening right now. There's a lot of love in the world. I don't dig what's happening now with Atlanta and TWA 800 [terrorism]. And we're facing a millenium in four years. We better shift the course of humanity. I like to incorporate that stuff into what I do.

"I don't believe in evil. I don't believe in death. I don't believe in sickness. It's nothing to me. Say a friend of yours died. A lot of people say that's the end of it. His ashes are in Forest Lawn. But if you go to the ocean, and you see somebody sailing until he goes over the horizon and you don't see him anymore, he's still sailing.

"If you see an ambulance going down the street, what do you think?"

Luke: "That somebody's hurt."

Harry: "I always think, somebody's giving birth. My kids think the same thing."

Luke: "How do you look at the TWA explosion?"

Harry: "That's a good one. I'll have to give it a little thought. I just have this philosophy about everything. It may be simplistic. It may be wrong. I'm 71 years old. I work out three days a week with a trainer. I lost 30 pounds in the last four months and I want to live another 30 years. I want to have babies with this woman [Harry's girlfriend] and to be fair to her, I want to live another 30 years.

"We're close to doing a picture right now on Dietrich Bonhoeffer [German Protestant theologian who tried to kill Hitler]. His father was one of the main psychiatrists in Germany. His wife's son is the director of the Cleveland Symphony. They almost had Hitler declared insane before the war. A lot of German generals and admirals joined Bonhoeffer and 80% of the German church joined Hitler. And Bonhoeffer's father wouldn't declare Hitler insane without seeing him in person. And his father backed away.

"There were other assasination attempts on Hitler. The last two years of Bonhoeffer's life he was in a prison called Flossenberg. Just as the Russians were coming in from the East and the Allies from the West, Bonhoeffer could hear the bombs, Hitler, in one of his final commands was that Bonhoeffer must die. He was hung by piano wire eight days before Hitler killed himself.

"Bonhoeffer said if I see a mad man driving down, do I console the people he hit or do I stop the mad man? Martin Luther King said that if your enemy has a conscience, you act like Gandhi. If your adversary has no conscience, like Hitler, you act like Bonhoeffer.

"I've been at this project for 20 years but it feels like it is coming together now. I'm waiting for a call today from William Hurt's agent at William Morris. I have a German partner who's bringing in 70% of the financing. We brought Hugh Hudson, who directed Chariots of Fire, to direct. He became a pain in the ass. Unbeknownst to me, he and Hurt had a run-in two years ago in Wales.

"Hurt looks like Bonhoeffer. Hurt was a theologian before he became an actor."

In the year 2000, the independent movie arrived as "Bonhoeffer & Canaris - Enemies of the State."

Harry: "I spent time with the Dalai Llama last week. I believe in everything. I love the entertainment business. The excitement. What it has the ability to do to people - how they talk, make love, think.

"I can say anything to anybody. How do you think I could talk to this girl [in our cafe] like that? Could you have done that? Give her your card..."

Luke: "I could but I almost never would."

Harry: "I do it because... I don't want to take her to bed. I just want to love her."

Luke: "I want to take her to bed."

Harry: "I'm strange that way. I'm very much in love. I'm finally with a woman that I don't want to screw around on. I just think you can influence people and show them how to love. Isn't that true?"

Harry speaks to the attractive girl.

Harry: "See, she agrees.

"There are a few things that I'm doing that I have a hard time justifying why I'm doing them. But there's a lot of money involved. I try to find a reason. As a producer, you get the shit kicked out of you every day. You're rejected.

"I loved Independance Day. The idea of a Jew and a black guy saving the world, I loved it. A person who was a wimp became a hero. The world got together to fight a common enemy. I want the world to get together to find a common good - angels. That's a script I'm working on.

"I'm working on a picture with this director in Sausalito about Edna St. Vincent Millay, the American poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner. Have you heard of the expression "burning a candle at both ends"? That's one of her poems. She was a forerunner of sexuality, bisexuality, drugs, dope. She was one of the great American poets who died in 1953.

"There was a terrorist conference in Egypt four months ago. There were 29 world leaders there and only one was a woman - Mary Robinson of Ireland. If there had been 29 women there, it would've been a better place."

Luke: "Do you think women are ethically superior to men?"

Harry: "That's a good question. I don't think they're jaded. I think they're compassionate and nurturing.

"I saw this mother of a Muslim terrorist on TV talking about now her son is dead, he can have all the beautiful things in the world. Seventy virgins... I don't believe in that. This is where the beauty is. Like that woman there. I don't believe in death."

Luke: "People die. My mother died when I was four. My family has never been the same."

In a 1970s interview, Harry praised Idi Amin, the former Ugandan dictator who killed about 500,000 of his own people.

"I was praising Idi Amin. I'm a DeGaullist. I believe that France is for France and the world is for the world. I agreed with a lot of the things that Idi Amin was saying at the time. He wanted the teachers to be Ugandans. I believed in that. Of course I was proved wrong.

I found Harry Bernsen's name on the front page of SexVigor.com in an ad for a videotape entitled "Secrets of History's Greatest Lovers."

"What women have wanted us to know, but we were afraid to ask"-Harry Bernsen, Film producer

From People magazine 12/5/88:

The bride wore blue, the ink on her divorce was barely dry, she was five months pregnant and the ceremony took place on a restaurant patio. Not your traditional wedding arrangement, perhaps, but in Hollywood, anything goes.

And so, while a guitarist played in the background, British-born actress Amanda Pays, 29, and L.A. Law's Corbin Bernsen, 34, were united in holy matrimony. The thoroughly modern couple read their own vows during the nondenominational service while everyone got properly choked up. ''It was very romantic,'' said Bernsen's sister Caren. ''Every time I thought I was going to start crying, I'd turn my head.''

The 6 P.M. ceremony was short and sweet. ''It was very contemporary,'' says Harry Bernsen, who recommended his own minister, Philip Nicola, from the Unity by the Sea Church in Santa Monica. ''((It)) was about joy, peace, harmony and love.''

From People magazine 9/16/91

Cooper claims she never pushed either child into acting. While raising them in Beverly Hills, she says, she encouraged their independence... Cooper lives alone, a one-minute drive away from the Hollywood Hills house Corbin shares with wife Amanda (The Flash) Pays and their son, Oliver, 2. Collin and his wife, Cheryl Horton, and son Weston, 1, are also nearby. (Their second child is due this month.)

Though the grandchildren come over often to splash in her pool, ''I told my kids I'm not the unofficial baby-sitter,'' Cooper says. But unofficial adviser -- well, what's a mother for?

She says that Corbin, who has at times railed against and retreated from the media for perceived slights, ''needs to become more thick-skinned so he isn't wounded as quickly. This whole thing about being private -- if you're too private, you won't be in this business long.''

On the set, mother and son cope quite differently with the demands of celebrity. When Bernsen is asked for his autograph, he balks, complaining that if he grants one such request, he'll have to grant them all. Finally he relents and scribbles his name.

Meanwhile a fan cautiously approaches his mom. ''Hi, dear, how are you?'' Cooper responds warmly, signing the profferred slip of paper and giving the woman a hug. As more admirers step up, she chats with each one and even follows one man to his truck to call his father, a fervent Cooper fan.

When a publicist suggests she retreat to her trailer, Cooper shakes her head. Then, as she has for 18 years, she graciously turns her attention to her audience.

From ABCNews.com:

The first actress to kiss Elvis Presley on the screen and over six year, starred in films with Anthony Quinn, Robert Wagner, Jeff Chandler, and Montgomery Clift. She was the top-billing actress in MGM's highest grossing 1962 movie, "Where the Boys Are."

Today, Dolores Hart is Mother Dolores who lives at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in rural Connecticut, where she has been a cloistered nun for 37 years.

Dolores grew into a striking beauty and in 1957, at the age of 18, she signed a contract with famed movie producer Hal Wallis...

More than three years after the first of several visits to the convent, although engaged to be married Dolores did not become a wife, but dedicated herself to the Church and life at Regina Laudis. For California businessman Don Robinson, Dolores's fiancée the news was devastating. "I actually broke down and cried," he recalls. "I couldn't believe it."

Decades later, Robinson still lives in Los Angeles and has never married. He continues to visit the woman he now knows as Mother Dolores each year. He says their love has sustained itself — albeit in ways very different from what he'd imagined as a younger man. "We have grown together. Like we would have in our marriage," he says, "She's my life."

July 18, 2007

Click here for the video from my July 18, 2007 interview.

Harry was the first person I interviewed (in June 1996) for my book The Producers: Profiles In Frustration.

Bernsen (hbmasquerade@yahoo.com) is producing the musical "Love According To Me", which he hopes to bring to the Wilshire Theater.

"It played in London for a year," says Bernsen, "and I found in Rome."

"I have 18 projects in the works," says Harry.

His last project was producing a musical stage play (in Italy and France) of the movie Mrs. Doubtfire.

"I've got a girlfriend now. We've been together for 15 years. I'm close to my ex-wife [Jeanne Cooper, Wikipedia entry]. She's the only actress in Hollywood who's collected a paycheck every week for 35 years. [Harry's son] Corbin's career is going great."

"Everything in my life is fantastic except I'm dated."

"Let's talk about you. Are you married?"

Luke: "No."

Harry: "Do you live here?"

Luke: "Yeah."

Harry: "Are you happy with your life?"

I sigh.

Harry: "I looked you up too."

"For whatever reason, you are very important to me. I've got everything in good shape. Physically I'm good. I'm active. I've got several things working in India now. I've sidetracked everything except for my musical on Wilshire Blvd. The musical version of the show (Love According To Me) ran eight years in Madrid. It played Mexico City, Russia..."

The Temple of the Performing Arts owns the Wilshire Theater.

Harry: "I met with Rabbi David Baron. He loves the show. It's about a Catholic priest who gets a phone call from God, who says 'I don't like what is going on down there. Build an ark.'"

"Our society is gloomy. You hear God's voice throughout the show. God says, 'OK, you win.' A rainbow comes onstage. I want to turn the whole theater into a rainbow. The most enthusiastic reaction I got to the music was from the rabbi."

Harry wants to cast Ricky Martin as the priest. Ricky Martin wants to do it. I was a little against it because of the homosexuality but I got a bunch of calls that I was absolutely wrong about that. He plays a priest who falls in love with the girl."

"I don't know what Jewish Orthodoxy is... If Scientology works for Tom Cruise, great. It all comes down to one thing -- love according to me... I had a lawyer who wanted me to do some slasher pics. No. I only want to do things that benefit humanity."

At one point, Harry went around with Andy Griffith to raise money for "Love According To Me."

Then one day Andy said to Harry, "You're just using me to raise money."

Harry said of course and they went their separate ways.

Harry turns to me. "This is all great for me but what can I do for you. No, don't shake your head. What do you want out of life?"

I groan. "Let me finish this interview with you..."

"What was your role on the Mrs. Doubtfire musical?"

Harry: "Executive producer."

Luke: "What did that mean?"

Harry: "I collected the money every week."

"I've been reading the Bible. Every night I read a chapter or so. Thank God I finished Jeremiah. That's the worse. I go to Unity church. I went to one in Santa Monica. The minister and his wife had a falling out... I went to another Unity church. There are six, seven, eight people at a service."