By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
SUSAN BERNARD, THE DAUGHTER OF BRUNO (BERNIE) BERNARD -- THE late Hollywood photographer who popularized Marilyn, blondes and the "elongated leg shot" -- is well over 5 feet 3 inches in certain shoes. She has a heap of tendrilous red hair, blood-red nails and toes, an enormous ruby on her left hand (a gift to her mother from a count), a carved red Bakelite bracelet, a snug red sweater with deep white-starched false French cuffs, and two red swaths of lipstick draped across her lips. Her nose is an acute triangle. When she says okay, it is usually followed by okay, okay, okay, oh-kay. When she says hello, it is as he-loow, and is followed by an unselfconscious, high-register laugh. She is the president of what she calls a "multimedia miniempire," a business that licenses and publishes her father's work. This company is housed in a 5,000-square-foot, 1920s Mediterranean-style Hancock Park mansion that smells faintly of orange peels. She lives there, too, among hundreds of her father's prints, including pictures of herself as a little girl with Ginger Rogers, and framed awards given to her late ex-husband, the playwright and actor Jason Miller. She rather hopes her neighbors don't know what's going on inside the house. "I will always be the girl next door," she says, smiling demurely and then going suddenly still, ". . . even if I am Bernard of Hollywood."
The original Bernard of Hollywood had a signature signature -- "he was a brand before there were brands," his daughter says -- a neat aerodynamic script that belongs on the grill of a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria. Susan Bernard has been practicing this signature in the garden (on stationery engraved with a cameo of her father holding a camera and staring intently at a subject, who is out of view) so that she can sign "Love, Susan Bernard of Hollywood" in copies of Bernard of Hollywood: The Ultimate Pin-up Book, a collection of her father's photographs that the publisher Taschen is just bringing out. The Ultimate Pin-upcontains more than 500 pictures -- Janet Leigh in gold lamé, Ann Melton as the "Coca-Coquette," Maila Nurmi (a.k.a. Vampira) with a black parasol at the beach -- most of them previously unpublished, from the 20,000 to 30,000 negatives in Bernie Bernard's precious "gold file." There is even one of a teenage Susan emerging ingenuously from a swimming pool; the back side is inscribed by her father to "the most capricious and dearest -- in terms of sentiment and money -- model I have ever worked with . . . for her 18th birthday . . . your harassed Dad."
When she was 17, Susan Bernard was photographed in the Playboy Mansion and became the magazine's first Jewish centerfold -- Miss December 1966 -- an experience she describes as "Hell on wheels. God, it was like, wow. Wow." The shoot took place when she was on a break in the filming of her first feature film, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, a Russ Meyer film in the high-camp dominatrix tradition. Years later, she encountered teenagers with the image of Linda, her innocent bikinied character, tattooed on their arms. Recently, when she was in New York and Faster Pussycat was playing at the Anjelica, she walked into a restaurant in the Village and someone put the theme song on. No longer 17 -- though spiritually, she says, she is in her early 20s -- Bernard will be back at the Mansion this October, for a book party that she is sure will be rather tame: "An after-noon re-cep-tion in the grot-to, all clothèd and serene."
Susan B. of H. has made a myth of her father, much the way he made a myth of, say, Jayne Mansfield in a leopard two-piece, or Marilyn on the subway grate. (He always shot with a Hässelblat, from below.) "My father wasn't the only photographer in Hollywood," she says. "But I made everyone believe he was." She has turned his photographs into calendars, refrigerator magnets -- blonde! brunette! redhead! -- and Avirex bomber jackets airbrushed with a naked-except-for-Indian-headdress Lili St. Cyr. She is designing a line of "intimate apparel" -- lingerie, negligee, fishnets -- also called "Bernard of Hollywood."
"I don't leave that name out of anything!" she says. "I sleep with it! I have it tattooed on my breast! It's in my cavity! I don't know!" Bernard of Hollywood will never be confused with Frederick, because, well, "We have taste. We're going to be a sophisticated pinup line."
In the end, Susan of Hollywood thinks she had a typical 1960s Southern California childhood -- bathing-suit shopping excursions with her father, bags and bags of colored bikinis, stacks of seminudie pictures around the house. "It wasn't till I was older that I realized that it was art. Like all little girls, I thought, There's a naked lady!" Her mother, an actress and model who met her husband in the studio, was a glamourpuss, yes, but not a blonde. This deficiency may have caused her to cultivate other parts of her personality. "Wives in the Hamptons get jealous," Susan says. "Women in Hollywood . . .," she pauses, "intellectualize it all."
Spirits in the Material World: Hungry Hearts
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