31 January, 2012

31 January 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
31 January, 1945      0945

My dearest darling –

It’s raining today and just as warm as can be. It’s sure raising hell with the snow and I see no tears being shed. A native told me yesterday that it wasn’t at all unusual to have a week’s rain in early February, followed by 3 or 4 days of strong wind. Everything dries up then according to him – and that’s the end of the snow. Sounds good, dear, if true.

But the news from Russia sounds even better, and following our Operations map each day is really fun. It seems as if almost anything can happen from here in, and it’s about time – if you ask me, darling.

Last night I stayed around the Dispensary and played cribbage with the Dentist. Usually we hang around the C.P. of an evening. I got to bed about 2200 – which is earlier than usual.

I was just re-reading a letter of yours written 13 December, dear. You had been over to see my folks – and although you don’t say too much about it, I know how difficult things must be at times; but be patient, sweetheart, it will be much easier when I get back. Easy or hard though, you’re finding out a whole lot more about me than I know of you. Do you realize how little I actually know about your early days, dear? I never had the opportunity to sit around with your folks and talk about you – but I’m not worried in the least – and anyway – I’d just as soon find out from you. You also mention marriage, “honeymoon and rest”. That’s the usual order too, sweetheart, particularly the rest. But if you intended to imply that I’d need a rest after being in the war – that won’t be necessary at all. I hear a lot of enlisted men and officers say that when they get home – they’re going to use some of the money they’ve saved – for an extended vacation. I can’t see that at all. Personally – I’ll be very anxious to get started on whatever I’m going to do – and the sooner the better – it seems to me. I’m not very tired – physically – and anything outside of the Army will be a pleasure.

Boy – I got a real kick out of your Shirley ‘Burton’ story. I had no idea that Leonard wrote plays also. He really is talented isn’t he? And where did Shirley get her dramatic training? She’s quite a girl – and it seems as if I didn’t appreciate all her qualities when I met her.

And darling – here I’ve been celebrating my Birthday for about 10 days and I almost forgot to mention it. I hate to write it – but your ‘surprise’ has not yet materialized – but it makes no difference about the date, darling. I’ll be surprised whatever and whenever it is. That’s fair enough – isn’t it? The mail still fails to assume any regularity and there’s nothing to be done about it. I have one bottle of cognac left and tonite we’ll open it and have a mild celebration. But my thoughts, love and heart are with you today – as always and just chalk up one more special day we owe each other.

Have to stop now, sweetheart – sick-call is beginning. I love you, love you, love you! Never forget that!! Best to the folks

All my sincerest love


about Shirley "Burton"

Shirley Bernstein, Arthur Levine and Leonard "Lenny" Bernstein

When Greg mentioned "the Shirley 'Burton' story", he must have been responding to Wilma's mention of Leonard and Shirley Bernstein's involvement with the play "On the Town" when it opened at New York's Adelphi Theatre on 28 December 1944. Shirley had been Wilma's roommate at Mount Holyoke College, and Wilma naturally followed Lenny's early career, keeping in touch with Shirley.

"On the Town" was an original Broadway musical comedy about three sailors on a day of shore leave in New York City looking for fun and romance before their twenty-four hours are up.

Lenny, Jerome Robbins, Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Rehearsing for "On the Town", 1944

The music was written by Leonard Bernstein and orchestrated by Lenny and four others. The lyrics were written primarily by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with additional lyrics by Leonard Bernstein. The screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green was based on an idea by Jerome Robbins. It was directed by George Abbott and choreographed by Jerome Robbins.

On opening night, the following were among the cast: Sono Osato as Ivy Smith, Nancy Walker as Hildy Esterhazy, Cris Alexander as Chip, John Battles as Gabey, Robert Chisholm as Pitkin W. Bridgework, Betty Comden as Claire deLoone, Adolph Green as Ozzie, Ray Harrison as The Great Lover, Susan Steell as Madame Maude P. Dilly, and Maxine Arnold as Little Old Lady. And among the "Singing Ensemble" was one Shirley Ann Burton.

Knowing the story of the Bernstein family unravels the connection between Shirley Ann Burton and Shirley Anne Bernstein. It turns out that Leonard and Shirley had a brother named "Burton." In order to perform without appearing to be related to Leonard, Shirley simply used her brother's name as her "stage" last name.

Shirley, Lenny and Burton "Bertie" Bernstein, 1949

Lenny was born Louis Bernstein on 25 August 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the son of Ukrainian Jewish parents Jennie and Samuel Bernstein. His family spent their summers at their vacation home in Sharon, Massachusetts. His grandmother insisted that his first name be "Louis," but his parents always called him "Leonard," which they preferred. He officially changed his name to "Leonard" when he was fifteen, shortly after his grandmother's death. To his friends and many others he was simply known as "Lenny." His father, Sam Bernstein, was a businessman and owner of a bookstore in downtown Lawrence. At a very young age, Lenny listened to a piano performance and was immediately captivated; he subsequently began learning the piano seriously when the family acquired his cousin Lillian Goldman's unwanted piano. Sam initially opposed young Leonard's interest in music. Despite this, the elder Bernstein took him to orchestra concerts in his teenage years and eventually supported his music education. Exhibiting some of his father's resolve and resourcefulness, Lenny raised money to pay for his own lessons by teaching younger kids and recruited his talented sister Shirley to share his enthusiasms.

Leonard's sister, Shirley Anne Bernstein, was born on 23 October 1923. She was named after her mother's favorite actress, Anne Shirley.

Sam, Lenny, Shirley and Jennie Bernstein

As a child Lenny was very close to his younger sister Shirley, and would often play entire operas or Beethoven symphonies with her at the piano. At nine years old, with teeth missing, she delivered the prologue of Bizet's Carmen in a community production staged by Lenny in a Sharon (Massachusetts) resort hotel's dining room. At age 11, she was featured in Lenny's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado at the Sharon Town Hall auditorium. That answers Greg's question, "And where did Shirley get her dramatic training?" Shirley and Lenny remained extremely close throughout their lives. "On the Town" was made into a movie in 1949, starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

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