Bernard was born into poverty on February 2, 1912 in Berlin, Germany. He was put into an orphanage by parents who could not afford to support him. In 1923, his parents gave him a Rolleiflex camera, which led to a lifelong interest in photography.
He attended Kiel University, where, in 1934, he earned a doctorate in criminal psychology. He became general secretary of a Jewish youth organization, which led to his name appearing on a Gestapo hit list. In 1937, he fled to America from Nazi Germany, claiming to German authorities that he was leaving the country to continue his graduate studies. He did attend the University of California, Berkeley where he planned to continue his education but soon became interested in the arts. In 1940, he became a directorial apprentice at the Reinhardt School of the Theatre, opened by Max Reinhardt on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Career in Hollywood
Unable to get a job as a director, however, Bruno returned to his interest in photography. In 1938 he set up a darkroom in the basement of his Los Angeles apartment. Inspired by his background in psychology, what he learned about directing, and collaboration with Alberto Vargas, Bruno developed a unique portrait style that he called the "posed candid"; a style that evolved into what is now known as "pin-up" photography. Bernard preferred moderate use of artificial light. He preferred natural light like sun at the beach, and sometimes added a flash to his light concept. He never had any formal training in photography and credited his success to "two good teachers, trial and error".
By 1940, Bruno's basement darkroom had become his first studio. He started out taking photos of the wives and children of the directors and producers he had come to know through his apprenticeship. As he began making money, he opened a proper studio at 9055 Sunset Blvd. As word spread, he soon came to the attention of agents and other Hollywood professionals who sent actresses his way for photo shoots. He became known as "Bernard of Hollywood". Bernard is credited with first photographing Monroe at the Racquet Club in Palm Springs, California, in 1947, when she was still Norma Jean, who later became known as Marilyn Monroe and is said to have told Bernard, "Remember, Bernie, you started it all".
In the early 1950s, Bernard fought obscenity charges that ended with a case in the U. S. Supreme Court. He submitted as part of his defense a letter from then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was a fan of Bernard's pinup photography. The letter thanks Bernard for the morale-building effect of his pinups during World War II. Bernard's daughter Susan Bernard has made the case that the pinup style popularized by Bernard and his friend Vargas was "celebrating and empowering women rather than exploiting them".
In 1984, Bernard became the first still photographer to be honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a 50-year retrospective of his work. In 1999, his photo "Marilyn in White", of Monroe in her wind-blown dress from the movie The Seven Year Itch (1955), was selected as the "Symbol of the Century" by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The same photograph was also chosen by the International Center of Photography as one of the "20 Unforgettable Photographs".
- Find A Grave: Bruno Bernard
- "Photographer Bruno Bernard Dies at 75", Los Angeles Times, June 9, 1987
- von Sorge, Helmut (April 30, 1984). "Palm Springs – das Goldene Kaff". Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved October 3, 2012.
- When Sex Was Innocent, Sweet and Seductive, Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2002
- PRWeb PRWeb: LTL Prints launches Bernard of Hollywood Collection
- Bruno Bernard, Pin-Ups: A Step Beyond: a Portfolio of Breathtaking Beauties (Los Angeles: Bernard of Hollywood Publishing Co., 1950)
- Bruno Bernard, Bernard's Israel (London and New York: Vallentine Mitchell & Co., Ltd., 1962) ISBN 978-0853030928
- Bruno Bernard, Israel: Bernard's Photographic Impression (Tel Aviv: Editions Steimatzky, 1964)
- Bruno Bernard, Requiem for Marilyn (Abbotsbrook, Buckinghamshire: Kensal Press, 1986) ISBN 978-0946041527