Lerman grew up in a Jewish immigrant family in East Harlem and Queens. He began his career in theater, working as an actor, stage manager, and designer in the Catskills, and later on Broadway. Lerman began writing for Vogue in 1942, and in the forties contributed articles on the arts and entertainers to Vogue, Glamour, and House and Garden. In the early 1940s, he was also the children’s book editor at The Saturday Review of Literature, and a consultant and contributor at Harper’s Bazaar.
Lerman was a prolific writer who also wrote for the New York Herald Tribune Weekly, the New York Times Book Review, Dance Magazine, and Playbill, among others. Mr. Lerman worked at Mademoiselle as a contributing editor from 1949 until 1974 (The magazine was bought by Condé Nast in 1959.) He was named a consulting feature editor of Vogue in 1972 and in 1978 was made the magazine's feature editor. While at Vogue, he published the work of such writers as Rebecca West, Milan Kundera, Anthony Hecht, Peter Gay and Iris Murdoch. In 1983 Lerman left Vogue to become the second editor-in-chief of Condé Nast’s re-launched Vanity Fair. Then, in January 1984, he became editorial advisor to all the Condé Nast magazines. He continued working there, contributing to several magazines, until his death in 1994.
“For fifty years, Leo Lerman cut a bravura figure among the movers and markers of New York publishing and theater, dance and art,” said Stephen Pascal, Mr. Lerman’s assistant at Condé Nast for over 13 years. “Although remembered until recently mostly for his all-star parties in the forties and fifties, Lerman played a remarkable role in his day, uniquely central to much of New York’s cultural life. Through decades of reporting on art and entertainment and, perhaps more important, years of counseling, introducing, and prodding talent, Leo Lerman helped steer American culture.”
The collection includes personal journals running almost continuously for five decades, from the early forties into the early nineties, as well as invitation lists to 90 of Lerman’s legendary parties, beginning around 1941. The archive also features photographs, personal documents, leases, contracts, clippings of some 600 articles written by Lerman, many including his research and drafts, and files from his years (1972-1983) as feature editor of Vogue magazine, which include research and clippings of people and topics of possible articles.
The collection also contains correspondence between Lerman and many of his friends and colleagues in entertainment and the arts, including Truman Capote and Marlene Dietrich.
Selections from Lerman’s journals, roughly 10 percent of the writings, were published in 2007 as The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman by Knopf. The book’s editor, Stephen Pascal, began compiling the book after Lerman’s death, when the journals were discovered. According to Pascal, “His journals and correspondence vividly capture the personalities around him, his discoveries, insights and ideas.”
When cataloged and processed, the Lerman Papers will be available for use. For more information, call the RBML at 212-854-2232.
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