Bradley Cooper got OK for prosthetic nose from Leonard Bernstein’s kids

Leonard Bernstein’s children are dismayed that Bradley Cooper has faced backlash over his decision to wear a prosthetic nose to capture the look of the legendary composer in his upcoming biopic, “Maestro.”

After the trailer for the film dropped Tuesday, some social media users said that Cooper’s prosthetic appeared to be a larger, “exaggerated” version of Bernstein’s nose, the Daily Beast reported. These critics suggested that a non-Jewish actor donning a prominent prosthetic nose played into the antisemitic “hooked nose” stereotype, as described by the Media Diversity Institute. Others thought it was problematic in other ways for Cooper, who is Irish-Italian, to be playing the Jewish musical icon.

The backlash to Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic nose in “Maestro” ignites an ongoing debate over Jewish representation

— TIME (@TIME) August 16, 2023

“This isn’t about making a non-Jewish actor look more like Leonard Bernstein; it’s about making a non-Jewish actor look more like a Jewish stereotype,” tweeted one user. 

In response to these criticisms, Bernstein’s children, Jamie, Alexander, and Nina, issued a statement saying, “It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a big, nice nose.” They also said they were “perfectly fine” with Cooper using makeup to amplify his resemblance. “We’re also certain that our dad would have been fine with it as well,” they said.

“Maestro” opens in November and represents Cooper’s second film as both director and star after “A Star is Born,” his musical drama with Lady Gaga that focused on a doomed love story between two artists.

From the trailer, it appears that “Maestro” also will focus on a love story, this one involving Bernstein and his wife, actor Felicia Cohn Montealegre, who is played by Carey Mulligan.

This is MAESTRO.

Discover the towering and fearless love story of the lifelong relationship between cultural icon Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein. Starring Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper. In select cinemas in November and on Netflix 20 December.

— Netflix UK & Ireland (@NetflixUK) August 15, 2023

But with an apparent emphasis on this relationship, some on social media also wondered how the film would address Bernstein’s sexuality. It’s long been reported that Bernstein was gay, while he also was married for to Montealegre for 27 years. Bernstein’s  “West Side Story” collaborator Arthur Laurents once said that he was “a gay man who got married. He wasn’t conflicted about it at all. He was just gay.”

According to a 2018 memoir by Jamie Bernstein, “Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein,” her handsome and prodigiously talented father “slept with many men and women,” the New Yorker reported. He was probably “omnisexual, a man of unending appetite who worked and played all day and most of the night, with a motor that would not shut down until he was near collapse,” the New Yorker said.

American composer Leonard Bernstein (1918 – 1990) arrives at London Airport with his wife, actress Felicia Montealegre (1922 – 1978), having flown in from Gothenburg in Sweden, 9th October 1959. They are at the end of a tour of Europe and the Near East with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and Bernstein will be conducting the orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall the next day. (Photo by Lee/Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) 

After Montealegre’s death in 1978, Bernstein had many more lovers, according to letters released in 2019. As reported by The Guardian, the letters show that he embarked on a passionate relationship with a Japanese man in the last decade of his life.

As for the issue of Cooper playing Bernstein, people on social media noted that actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who is Jewish, had been developing a competing project about the the New York Philharmonic conductor. In an interview, Gyllenhaal said it had been “in his heart” for 20 years to play “one of the most preeminent Jewish artists in America who struggled with his identity.”

But Gyllenhaal said he “got beat at our own game,” with reports saying he lost to Cooper and his producing team, which included Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, in the battle to secure the rights to Bernstein’s material.

One social media user said, “I still would have preferred they at least give Jewish actors a chance to audition before automatically casting someone more famous.”

The specter of “Jewface” also was mentioned in response to the “Maestro” trailer. Comedian and actor Sarah Silverman once despaired of this longterm Hollywood practice in a 2021 episode of her eponymous podcast, the Daily Mail reported. She said, “There’s this long tradition of non-Jews playing Jews, and not just playing people who happen to be Jewish but people whose Jewishness is their whole being.”

But Silverman appears to have put aside those concerns when it comes to Cooper playing Bernstein; in “Maestro,” she plays Bernstein’s sister, Shirley, with whom he had a close relationship. Film critic Mark Harris called the backlash against Cooper “stupid” and said actors, for decades, have worn makeup so that they can more closely resemble historical figures they are playing. “Handle it,” he said.

Bernstein’s children expressed full confidence in Cooper’s ability to tell their father’s story.  “It breaks our hearts to see any misrepresentations or misunderstandings of his efforts,” their statement said. “Any strident complaints around this issue strike us above all as disingenuous attempts to bring a successful person down a notch — a practice we observed all too often perpetrated on our own father.”

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