Growing up in Los Angeles, Leah Bernstein always loved movies and made it her goal to work in the entertainment industry. She took typing, shorthand and bookkeeping in school, and when she was turned 16, her sister’s friend got her a job working from 5 pm to midnight at MGM Studios.
“I remember Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney playing outside the window, and Katharine Hepburn was always trying to get me to play tennis,” recalls Bernstein, now 93 years old.
“I made enough money at MGM to go to Woodbury’s Business College and become an executive secretary,” she says. She spent the rest of her career working with entertainment-industry executives, including Irving Fein, who managed Jack Benny; renowned animator Ralph Bakshi; and producer/director Stanley Kramer, who was best known for The Defiant Ones, Judgment at Nuremberg, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. She worked with Kramer on 28 films, counting luminaries such as Sidney Poitier, Bobby Darin and Vivien Leigh among her friends, before she retired at age 69.
Vision and AMD
Since then, Bernstein spends time with her eight great-great nieces and nephews and has been a dedicated volunteer for organizations such as Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Beverly Hills Public Library, where she regularly attends the Macular Degeneration Partnership’s monthly support group.
“I go to the meetings every month; I like to hear what other people are going through,” she says. “Mostly, though, I love hearing about the latest research. I would like to improve my eyesight, and I’m hoping they will come up with eye drops for my dry eyes.”
Bernstein started wearing glasses in her early 40s, and since being diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, she’s had cataract surgery in both eyes. “That didn’t help, but I do take the vitamins given to me by my retina doctor twice a day. I’m hoping those might be keeping my macular degeneration from getting worse,” she says.
She’s given up driving and now lives in an assisted-living facility, where she really hates the food. She has a little computer “for looking things up,” and she gets by with two pairs of glasses and a magnifier for reading.
“I wish I could read better. I really wish my eyes were better,” Bernstein says. “I do watch television. I see it — not as you see it — but I can see it with my distance glasses. And of course, I watch movies on my DVD player.”