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Who was Leonard Bernstein married to? All about his wife and children

In this article, we will explore the marriage of Leonard Bernstein, delve into details about his wife and children. But before we do that, let’s take a moment to know who Leonard Bernstein was.

Who was Leonard Bernstein?

Leonard Bernstein was legendary musician, who inspired an entire generation with his music ensembles and symphony orchestras, was one of the most influential classical musicians of the last century.

An influential teacher, a brilliant conductor, a fine composer, and an accomplished pianist, Leonard Bernstein was a musician of rare talent who wowed his young fans with his flamboyant style and pedagogic flair.

In fact, he was the most dominant classical musician of his times who influenced the musical scene of his day more than his peers did. As said by one of the veterans, “When he gets up on the podium, he makes me remember why I wanted to become a musician.”

No 20th century musician had as towering yet controversial career as Leonard Bernstein. His contribution to the realms of music is indeed unsurpassable. His music was deeply inspired by the people of America.

No other musician succeeded in arresting the attention of entire America as much as Bernstein did with his television shows.

His musical concerts were not only appeasing to the ears, but were an inspiration for every mind. Even after he passed away after a long battle with emphysema, at the age of 72, his works still continue to remain popular and are performed all over the world.

Leonard Bernstein not only had a successful career but also played the roles of a loving husband and a dedicated father.

Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein

Who was Leonard Bernstein married to?

Leonard Bernstein was married to Felicia Montealegre Bernstein, a talented actress and author from Costa Rica.

Who was Felicia Montealegre, Chilean actress and Leonard Bernstein wife?

Felicia Montealegre was a Costa Rican-Chilean actress and social activist, and the wife of American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.

She was a powerful voice in political struggles that included working women’s rights, anti-war movements and the struggle for racial equality.

And she was a successful and versatile actor, appearing in leading Broadway productions and TV shows, as well as on the world’s great concert and opera stages with the best conductors.

What was Felicia Montealegre best known for?

Felicia María Cohn Montealegre was born on 6 February 1922, in San José in Costa Rica. Her mother, Clemencia Cristina Montealegre Carazo, was Costa-Rican and her father, Roy Elwood Cohn, was an American mining executive, stationed in San José for work.

Montealegre’s father’s work took the family to Chile soon after she was born, and she grew up and was educated there.

She loved acting from a young age, pursuing it in Chile to begin with. She made her professional acting debut in Santiago before moving to New York in 1944 when she was in her early twenties.

She always dreamt of moving to America, and when she was 21 she went to the US embassy in Santiago to take an oath of allegiance to the country. Two years later, she emigrated to the United States and lived there for the rest of her life.

Leonard Bernstein wife
Leonard Bernstein arrives at London Airport with Felicia Montealegre having flown in from Gothenburg in October 1959. Picture: Getty

Montealegre moved to New York under the auspices of pursuing classical music. She did have piano lessons with the famous Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau, but also enrolled in the Drama Workshop of the New School for Social Research, and studied acting with Austrian-American actor Herbert Berghof.

She made her Broadway debut in 1946, appearing in Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s Swan Song.

Alongside acting, Montealegre was a prolific social activist. In 1963 she became the first chair of the Women’s Division of the New York Civil Liberties Union and she was also a bold anti-war protestor, including in the grassroots campaign Another Mother for Peace, which she co-founded.

She worked a stint at Amnesty International, including for behind-the-scenes efforts in her native Chile during its political turmoil in the 1970s.

She famously hosted a Black Panther fundraising party in 1970, going against the tide of the political mainstream of the time. And in 1972 she was among 100 people who were arrested at an anti-war demonstration in Washington DC.

Leonard Bernstein wife Felicia Montealegre
Felicia Montealegre stars in ‘Flowers From a Stranger,’ (season 1, episode 15) in 1949. Picture: Alamy

Which television shows and theatre did Felicia Montealegre act in?

Known for her work on TV shows released under The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre, Goodyear Playhouse and Studio One banners, Felicia Montealegre acted in programmes that include Mary Violet Heberden’s The Oath of Hippocrates (1949) and four episodes of the Suspense series (1949–1954).

She also starred in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1950) and Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage (1949), in which she starred opposite Charlton Heston.

Montealegre made her Broadway debut at The Booth Theatre on 20 July 1946, appearing in Swan Song. In 1950, she was an understudy for Leora Dana in another Broadway show, The Happy Time, which starred Eva Gabor and Richard Hart.

Montealegre revisited Broadway throughout her career, including in 1976 when she acted in Poor Murderer, directed by her former teacher Herbert Berghof. She also had a reputation for Shakespearean roles, appearing in productions of The Merchant of Venice and Henry V.

Montealegre appeared on opera and concert stages too, performing dramatic roles for classical music works. She narrated Lukas Foss’ Parable of Death, based on the mystical poem by Rilke, in 1957, and performed the title role of Joan in Arthur Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake more than once.

She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1973, playing Andromache in Berlioz’s Les Troyens.
How did Felicia Montealegre meet Leonard Bernstein?

Felicia Montealegre met Leonard Bernstein at a party in New York, in 1946. The host of the party was Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau, who Montealegre took piano lessons with when she moved to New York, and Bernstein and Montealegre were engaged by the end of the year they first met.

They broke the engagement off not long after this, however, and four years passed before the two met again. That reunion cemented their relationship, and they were married in September 1951.

Leonard Bernstein wife Felicia Montealegre
Felicia Montealegre and Leonard Bernstein with their children Alexander and Jamie in 1957, Getty Images

The couple went on to have three children named Jamie, Alexander, and Nina. In the public eye, Bernstein seemed like a devoted husband and father, but in reality, he was engaged with multiple affairs with both men and women while married, Burton said.

Felicia once wrote in a letter to him, “You are a homos*xual and may never change — you don’t admit to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your health, your whole nervous system depend on a certain s*xual pattern what can you do?”

In 1976, Leonard left Felicia to live with music scholar Tom Cothran in Northern California, but he returned to her the following year .

What happened to Felicia Montealegre?

Montealegre passed away in 1978 at the age of 56 with lung cancer. She died at her and Bernstein’s family home in East Hampton, and was survived by their three children, Jamie, Nina and Alexander.

Montealegre was buried at New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn where, 12 years later, Bernstein would be buried next to her.

Leonard Bernstein

How did Leonard Bernstein die?

Bernstein announced that he would retire from conducting in 1990 at the age of 72 years old. He passed away five days after this announcement.

The conductor died of a heart attack in his New York home, which was brought on by Mesothelioma, a relatively rare type of cancer.

According to the conductor’s biographer, Allen Shawn, Bernstein was buried with a pocket score of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, a piece of amber, a lucky penny, a copy of Alice in Wonderland, and a baton.

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Simon Kabutey
Simon Kabutey
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