Early life and family
She was born in 1880 in New York City, the daughter of Rebecca (Goldsmith) and Joseph Frankau, an actor. Joseph was a cousin of London cigar importer Arthur Frankau and thus, by marriage, of novelist and art historian Frank Danby, whom Aline recalled visiting as a child when Joseph Frankau was performing in London. Her family was Jewish. By the time she was 17, both of her parents had died and she was raised by her aunt, Rachel Goldsmith. Goldsmith had a theatrical boarding house on West 44th Street in New York City. Aline married Theodore F. Bernstein, a Wall Street broker, on November 19, 1902. Bernstein and her husband had two children: Theodore Frankau Bernstein (1904–1949), and Mrs. Edla Cusick (1906–1983). She died on September 7, 1955 in New York City, aged 74.
Between 1916 and 1951, Bernstein would do set design, costuming, or both for 51 productions.
Bernstein was a theater set and costume designer for the Neighborhood Playhouse on the Lower East Side, volunteering her work to make her name.
In 1926 she struggled but prevailed in becoming the first female member of the designers union. This membership opened up opportunities for Broadway commissions. However, as a woman, she still found that it was much easier to find work as a costume designer rather than as a set designer. Her career ran in phases; early on, she focused largely on costume design. After about 14 years of work, in 1930, she was able to move into set design. For about a decade, she primarily did set design work, only to return to costume design again around 1940 for the final phase of her career.
Ironically her first book, Three Blue Suits, helped to more firmly established her as a designer in New York. The book included a series of three stories in which three very different men wear the same blue serge suit. The details regarding how each man wears – or drags (the jacket on the floor) – his suit, reveal aspects of each man's character in subtle ways. A common trope among costume designer is that costumes, if they are good, should ultimately not be noticed. In contrast, the blue suit stories reveal Bernstein's ability to discern how critical details of costume evoke, and interact with, a character, and ultimately her skill as a costume designer at making this happen effectively.
Some of her publications include:
- "Three Blue Suits" (collection of short stories), 1933
- The Journey Down (over her relationship with Wolfe), Knopf, 1938
- Miss Condon, Knopf, 1947
- An Actor's Daughter (memoir), 1940
- The Martha Washington Doll Book, 1945
- Masterpieces of Women's Costume of the 18th and 19th Centuries, 1959 (published posthumously)
In 1950 Aline Bernstein finally won some hard earned recognition. In 1949 she had designed costumes for the opera Regina. The music and libretto were written Marc Blitzstein but based on the play The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman, a play for which Bernstein had previously designed costumes. Although that production of Regina (it would be regularly revived in the 20th century) only ran for a month and a half, Bernstein won a Tony for her costume design in 1950.
From 1925 to 1929, Bernstein was romantically linked to Thomas Wolfe, who based the character Esther Jack on her, in his novels Of Time and the River, The Web and the Rock, and You Can't Go Home Again (1940). At the time of his death in 1938, Bernstein possessed some of Wolfe's unpublished manuscripts.
In the 2016 biographical drama film Genius, Bernstein was portrayed by the Academy Award-winning Australian actress Nicole Kidman, while Wolfe was portrayed by the Academy Award-nominated British actor Jude Law.
- "1944". Playbill. Retrieved December 16, 2008.
Philanthropist Irene Lewisohn died today in New York City. She and her sister Alice built and endowed the Neighborhood Playhouse. With Aline Bernstein she founded the Museum of Costume Art on Fifth Avenue in 1937
- Bernstein, Aline (1941) An Actor's Daughter, A. A. Knopf – Ch. 7 passim
- Biography of Bernstein in Notable American Women: The Modern Period : a Biographical Dictionary, Volume 4, edited by Barbara Sicherman, Carol Hurd Green on Google books
- "T. Bernstein, Partner in Brokerage House". New York Times. March 12, 1949. Retrieved December 16, 2008.
Theodore F. Bernstein, a partner in the brokerage house of Carl Loeb, Rhoades Co., 61 Broadway, died yesterday in his office of coronary thrombosis
- "Aline Bernstein". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved December 16, 2008.
- "Aline Bernstein, designer, Dead. Creator of Costumes and Scenes for Stage Wrote Novels and Life Story". New York Times. September 8, 1955. Retrieved December 16, 2008.
... a sister, Miss Ethel Frankau, and two grandchildren. A son, Theodore Frankau Bernstein, died about seven years ago.
- "Aline Bernstein". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League, Inc. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
- Essin, Christin (2012). Stage Designers in Early Twentieth-Century America: Artists, Activists, Cultural Critics. Loc: Publshr. p. 43.
- Mauldin, Joanne Marshall (2007). Thomas Wolfe: When Do the Atrocities Begin?. University of Tennessee Press. p. 229. ISBN 1-57233-494-0.
- Grout, Donald Jay; Hermine Weigel Williams (2003). A Short History of Opera. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 742. ISBN 0-231-11958-5.
- Aline Bernstein at the Internet Broadway Database
- Aline Bernstein designs, 1922–1952, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Aline Bernstein letters to Samuel Bradley, 1938–1946, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts