I received a call late last night from Steve Jaffe in LA who told me that Jay Bernstein, the legendary publicist, died on Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles, after a massive stroke. He was 69. Jay Bernstein was the flamboyant Hollywood personal manager, best known as the “star maker” who launched Farrah Fawcett and Suzanne Somers to fame in the 1970s. When I was in LA, Steve Jaffe managed to persuade Jay to spend some time with me to help with research for my book project. A one hour session turned into three in his wonderful house in Beverly Hills. Jay was fantastically candid about his career and was extremely generous with his hospitality. I was lucky enough to hear mesmeric stories as well as see some extraordinary personal trophies. I suggested that his memorabilia would make a brilliant museum.
At one point he asked me what I thought about the movie Brokeback Mountain and I told him I had not seen it. Jay, who knew both Glen Ford and The Duke- John Wayne, pondered on what the great film cowboy legends would have made of the script if it had been sent to them to consider. As a publicist in the ’60s and early ’70s, his many clients included Sammy Davis Jr., Sally Field, William Holden and Burt Lancaster. He recalled many of his tricks; paying a women to throw hotel room keys at singer Tom Jones, rounding up the press in the winter to see Susanne Somers at the Central Park skating rink clad in high heels, a mink and a bikini; and insuring “Entertainment Tonight” anchor Mary’s legs with Lloyd’s of London for $1 million each.
Jay showed me his collection of walking sticks; he was known for carrying jewelled walking sticks as well as packing a loaded handgun. He was a big-game hunter and a scuba diver and downstairs in his house he had an astonishing collection of stuffed animals from his various big game hunting trips. When he married the model Cabrina Finn in 1993, he sold the occasion to network TV, staging the ceremony underwater. The hoopla was broadcast for “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” And the memory of the PR stunt lasted longer than the marriage. They were divorced two years later. The entertainment world is today emptier without this extraordinary show man.