The first initiative to document historic and cultural sites associated with the LGBT community in New York City, illustrating the richness of the city's history and the community's influence on America.
Leonard Bernstein, perhaps the most influential figure in American classical music during the post-war era, lived in the Osborne Apartments from 1951 until c. 1960. During this time he wrote the music for several seminal Broadway musicals, became a major symphonic conductor, and pioneered as a popular musical educator on television. Conveniently located across from Carnegie Hall and near other cultural venues, the Osborne has long been a popular home for people in the arts, including several other LGBT notables.
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), the great American composer of classical and Broadway music, conductor, and educator, was born to Jewish immigrant parents in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and grew up in Boston. While studying music at Harvard, he met three of the musical figures who would have a great influence on his work and career – conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos and composers Aaron Copland (a life-long friend) and Marc Blitzstein. Bernstein had brief affairs with both Mitropoulos and Copland. In 1943, Bernstein became the assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony. On November 14 of that year, he was asked, on short notice, to conduct a matinee in place of the ailing Bruno Walter. The concert, which was heard around the country on radio, was a huge success and Bernstein became an immediate musical sensation. The next year, Bernstein composed the music for Jerome Robbins’ ballet Fancy Free (1944), which he, Robbins, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green soon turned into the hit Broadway musical On the Town (1944).
In 1951, following a short affair with actor Farley Granger, Bernstein married Felicia Cohn Montealegre, who was aware of Bernstein’s homosexuality. Shortly after the wedding, she wrote to her husband, stating “you are a homosexual and may never change – you don’t admit to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your health, your whole nervous system depend on a certain sexual pattern what can you do?” It has been suggested that Mitropolous told Bernstein that if he wished to become the music director of a prestigious orchestra he should marry. Bernstein had a loving relationship with his wife and their three children, but continued to have affairs with young men. As playwright Arthur Laurents observed,
Shortly after their marriage, the Bernsteins moved into apartment 4B in the Osborne. Bernstein also rented a third-floor studio for his composing and other work. While living in the Osborne, Bernstein completed the scores for the Broadway musicals Wonderful Town (1953), Candide (1956), and West Side Story (1957), and the film On the Waterfront (1954). From 1954 to 1958, Bernstein hosted several episodes of Omnibus, a pioneering arts program on television, most famously in 1954 when he analyzed Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. In 1958, Bernstein was appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic – the first American to ever lead a major American orchestra. Shortly after this appointment, the Bernsteins moved to an apartment on Park Avenue and, later, into the Dakota Apartments on Central Park West.
Bernstein resigned as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1969 to pursue composing, but continued to conduct all over the world. Perhaps his most famous concert was in December 1989 when he led an ensemble of international musicians, including those from the former East and West Berlin, in an internationally televised rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, substituting the word Freiheit (freedom) for Freude (joy), in celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1976, Bernstein left his wife and moved in with composer Tom Cothran, but shortly thereafter, Montealegre was diagnosed with cancer and Bernstein returned and nursed her until she died in 1978. Bernstein’s final concert was at Tanglewood in 1990, shortly before his death.
Located diagonally across from Carnegie Hall, and convenient to the city’s other cultural venues, the Osborne has long been a popular home for people in the arts. Other LGBT residents have included legendary cabaret artist Bobby Short (he lived in Bernstein’s former apartment); pianist Van Cliburn, who won the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958, at the age of 23; actor and film historian Robert Osborne, best known for hosting prime-time films on Turner Classic Movies; editor and writer Leo Lerman and his partner, artist Gary Foy; author Fran Lebowitz; and fashion designer Fernando Sanchez, best known for his provocative lingerie designs, including items worn by Madonna, Cher, Tina Turner, and Elizabeth Taylor.
Architect or Builder: James E. Ware Year Built: 1883-85
Charles Kaiser, The Gay Metropolis (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 89. [source of Laurents pull quote] David Ehrenstein, “The Trouble with Lenny,” Gay City News, December 24, 2013. Georg Predota, “Interlude: Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre: A Divided Life,” Interlude, bit.ly/2w0Ifax. Nigel Simeone, ed., The Leonard Bernstein Letters (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013). [source of Montealegre quote]
Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2018.