Lenny kisses his cuff links. Lenny messes up his hair. Lenny leaps to the air at the end of a concert piece. For a number of reasons made completely apparent on "60 Minutes" tomorrow night, Leonard Bernstein remains one of the most fascinating figures in popular culture.
Mike Wallace interviews and profiles Bernstein for "60 Minutes" and does a thoughtfully superficial job. Vbernstein's "flamboyance," "theatricality" and "celebrity" are discussed, and when Wallace presses Bernstein for comment on a disparging critical review, Bernstein disarms the interrogator by asking, "Are you grilling me?"
Bernstein's oft-ridiculated cocktail party for the Black Panthers comes up, and Bernstein says stories about the affair being "radical chic" or "slumming" are based on "lies." Wallace fails to follow up with what would seem the logical question: Well then, Lenny, what's the truth?
Some of Wallace's commentary is fluffy to the point of puffery. It is boldly stated that Bernstein "acknowledges that at heart, he is a perfectionist." What a confession! But things get a little tougher later on, and Wallace skillfully treads the line between hero-workshipper and hit man.
Bernstein looks craggy, creased, venerable, rumpled, mellowed, and terminally ill, but somehow embraceably, hammy. Wallace avoids words like egomaniac and exhibitionist, but these may pop into the minds of viewers when they see footage of Bernstein caught slightly off-guard or at full tilt.
The peg for this report is the opening of the Broadway revival of "West Side Story," but Wallace doesn't talk with Bernstein about that, either, nor about Bernstein's renowned and sloppy sentimentality. But so what -- he's a genius; he can cry whenever he wants.
"60 Minutes" is scheduled to open with Dan Rather talking to George f. Kennan, former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, and close with Harry Reasoner reporting on street drugs.
The indefatigable Lenny will be sandwiched in between, and the closeup view, in which Bernstein talks about such personal matters as the death of his wife Felicia, is perhaps most affecting when Wallace tells Bernstein that by the time the film is shown on TV, the composer-conductor will be 61. Bernstein stops Wallace in his tracks to ask in a disbelieving whisper, "Sixty-one???"
Watching him at home -- and in action -- in front of an orchestra, it is as hard for us to believe as it is for him.