Eulogy for Edward G. Bernstein, the Fun-ster

At the end of a meeting with my doctor yesterday, and at the end of a meeting earlier today with a peer I’m getting to know, both said exactly the same phrase, and both said it with pretty much the same kind of this-isn’t-common-and-I-wish-it-were sort of tone in their voices. They both said, this was really fun.

A nice compliment, yes, but not one worthy of a blog post (not to mention that it’s way too self-referential) until I realized that what both of these folks were saying, without knowing it, is, Edward taught you well.

Let me explain.

*  *  *

I was an unusual law school grad in 1984: I graduated without a job, and with a big desire to pick up roots (L.A. did so not work for me . . . ) and move to SF, to start afresh. Shoulda gone to Hastings, I remember thinking.

In a way I did, because, after getting a small studio apartment in The Tenderloin on Larkin Street and doing some temp work (lotsa stories there . . . ), I went a couple of times each week down the hill to look at Hastings’s job boards.

There I saw a job listing for a position in Pacific Grove, at the very tip of the Monterey Peninsula, touching Pebble Beach and Monterey and just a few miles from Carmel.

I soon found myself moving down there.

*  *  *

Edward G. Bernstein had been a big-firm lawyer in New York (Shearman and Sterling, if memory serves). He had moved out to Carmel in (I’m guessing a bit here) the 70s and had started up a very successful and highly unusual law practice in, of all things, entertainment law and general transactional work.

I’ll only drop two names here (I’m the one, after all, who felt more at home in SF after one day than I did after three years in Name-Drop-City, a/k/a L.A.). The first is Esalen Institute, one of Edward’s clients. It’s fun to be able to say that, when I was a young lawyer, I had the pleasure from time to time of getting paid to go down to Esalen, in Big Sur, to serve as duh lawyer during their board meetings, after which the tubs and the star lit nights awaited, followed by a dark drive back up the coast late that evening (legal dork aside: coolest client code of all time = SLN for Esalen).

The second is John Branca, who was always a bigtime L.A. entertainment lawyer, but who only got bigger over the years, and came to perhaps his greatest media prominence as the lawyer handling Michael Jackson’s estate (I’ll bet that piece of work has kept a lot of lawyers working, and will continue to do so, for a very long time . . . ).

Edward played ball with people like that all the time. And he did so nestled away inside a big ol’ beautiful Victorian on Lighthouse Ave, in Pacific Grove, just a little ways from Lovers Point. He and Shelley, his secretary (the word we used then) worked downstairs, Edward mostly on the phone and Shelley running the place, while I upstairs wrote contracts and memos (we did no litigation), trying to put together all of Edward’s a-million-miles-a-minute stream of ideas (sometimes having to tell him that two of his ideas couldn’t both fit into one contract, without fear of a matter/anti-matter-like explosion, because not all ideas can fit together within a single deal).

So he had a highly unusual law practice.

*  *  *

Edward changed me.

I was a pretty confused 20-something kid at the time. I was also impressionable, and, thankfully, a lot of good from Edward rubbed off on me.

Above all, Edward was a fun-ster. He was bigger than life and highly charismatic (it helps in his field) and he invariably had fun. Sure, he would have some off-days, and I saw him angry every once in a while (I did blow things sometimes . . . ), but he also had a basic grin embedded within everything he did — so much so that, somewhere in the span of time between 1984 and 1988, I got a serious dose of fun-ster impressed into my little impressionable self — the grin ended up in me. And it came, I have no doubt, from Edward G. Bernstein. Thank you EGB.

*  *  *

In 1988, Edward was talking about mostly tapering down his law practice to pursue some other goals of his, while at the same time I was figuring out that, as things stood, my legal knowledge was mostly limited to the rather narrow specialty of knowing-how-to-keep-EGB-happy. Plus, I knew that I really wanted to live in the Little City by the Bay that had drawn me to it ever since I first laid my 17-year-old eyes on it. So there came a time when we agreed it was time to go our separate ways (ok, Ok, OK! I admit it, we were both also getting a bit tired of each other . . . ).

For many years after I would send Edward heartfelt holiday cards, expressing my appreciation for his being a great boss. And, if memory serves, during that time we also got together a few times.

Something like six or eight years ago, though, after writing an email to Edward, I received back from his wife the kind of email you never want to get, which started out by saying, “Oh, John, I’m afraid I have some terrible news for you” and then went on to say that Edward had unexpectedly died a few months earlier. Noooo! was my response — and then some days of feeling very deeply, very profoundly bummed out.

*  *  *

Please forgive me my trespass into corny triteness, but, looking back at the closing comments of the conversations I mentioned at the start of this piece — the conversation with my doctor yesterday (who had just done some pretty mutually un-fun things to some of the nether parts of my body) and the conversation with a peer a few hours ago — there’s no doubt in my mind that Edward’s grin lives on, in part, within me.

It’s one of my dearest possessions — like the third genie-wish that wishes for three more wishes, it’s the grin that generates all other grins. It’s my Driving Wheel.

It says,


Let’s be sure to have some fun here, shall we?
And pretty much no matter what the context.


That “pretty much” qualifier is in there because putting that grin into the wrong context can cause problems (e.g., do not let it surface when you’ve just been pulled over by a cop for doing in illegal U-turn on Valencia near 25th).

But, other than that, it’s just about always worked for me all these years, and can even help when you first learn that someone you love has passed away.

So thank you, Edward. I think you helped me figure out how to be a whole lot happier over the long-run: having a lot of fun moments has a whole lot to do with it.

*  *  *

Years ago I tried to track down some of Edward’s immediate family, but came up dry. The Internet has come a long way since then. Stay tuned . . .

1,129 words (less than a 12 minute read, sans links)


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