Henry Bernstein Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Henry-Léon-Gustave-Charles Bernstein would have been quite familiar with the social milieu that appears in his plays. Like most of his characters, Bernstein was well off. His father was a banker of Polish-Jewish origin; his mother was American, the daughter of another banker, William Seligman. Therefore, Henry was heir to a family fortune, and he added to that fortune himself.

Although he was born in Paris, Bernstein received his higher education at Cambridge, where he spent two years. In 1899, in order to avoid the last four months of his year of compulsory military service (he claimed he was a pacifist), he fled to Brussels. He was, however, pardoned for this offense.

As a writer, Bernstein took no grandiose posture. He evidently admitted that he wrote to make money. He was beyond a doubt financially successful: He made some eight million dollars during his career of writing and producing drama and selling film rights to his plays. At least a dozen of his plays were made into films. In addition, by 1900 when his first play was staged, Bernstein had acquired a reputation as a gambler and boulevardier.

A factor that would have made Bernstein something of an outsider in Parisian high society was his Jewish ancestry (he was only five years younger than the great Marcel Proust, another French—and Jewish—writer of the day). In Bernstein’s early years, he, like other writers and intellectuals, came to the defense of Alfred...

(The entire section is 523 words.)