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Leah Bernstein, who served as an executive secretary to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner producer-director Stanley Kramer on 28 films, has died. She was 99.
Bernstein died Thursday at the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, a spokeswoman for the MPTF announced. She lived at The Mary Pickford House on campus for two years and is the sixth resident to die of complications from the coronavirus.
“She was born in 1921, the same year as MPTF, and our care of her at the end of her life was emblematic of the vision of our founder Mary Pickford,” MPTF president and CEO Bob Beitcher said in a statement. “MPTF’s commitment is that ‘we take care of our own,’ and when Leah grew too frail, she reached out to us.
“Mary Pickford always knew that ‘our own’ wouldn’t only be the stars whose flame and fortunes had grown dimmer over the years and needed help, but also the rank-and-file on the set and in the studios who helped make the stars’ careers and run their lives.”
Bernstein also worked for Irving Fein, Jack Benny’s manager, and for animator Ralph Bakshi.
A native of Los Angeles, Bernstein studied typing, shorthand and bookkeeping at Fairfax High School and at age 16 landed a 5 p.m.-to-midnight gig working at MGM.
She assisted nine-time Oscar nominee and Thalberg recipient Kramer on 28 films and counted Sidney Poitier, Bobby Darin and Vivien Leigh among her friends. “I remember Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney playing outside the window, and Katharine Hepburn was always trying to get me to play tennis,” she recalled in a 2015 interview.
Kramer died at the Motion Picture Home in 2001.
In retirement, Bernstein volunteered for organizations such as Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Beverly Hills Public Library.
In 2007, she donated a collection of production materials from her time with Kramer to the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They spanned 1961-72, years that saw Kramer produce and direct such acclaimed films as Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967).
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