The Distinguished Career of Alan Bernard
by David Waelder
There is no Alan Bernard recorder or mixing panel or microphone boom. His contribution has been the example of practicing his craft at the highest level of skill and grace for fifty years. In the course of that career he encountered, as we all do, some cinematographers who would light him out of a shot or other colleagues who impeded rather than assisted the process. He was always an effective advocate for his department but it’s a testament to both his diplomacy, and the good will he brought to these negotiations, that he maintained personal friendships with all concerned.
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Alan Bernard came from a family originally employed as tailors to the Tsarist Court of Russia. In the turmoil following the Russian Revolution, his grandfather arranged for some members of the family to immigrate to Canada. It was a wise decision; all the family members who remained in Russia perished in one pogrom or another. Although these events preceded his birth and he was never in personal peril, growing up in an environment where one’s safety and welfare can be so arbitrarily disrupted shaped his outlook on life. He was always a person quick to stand up for his crew or anyone else vulnerable to intimidation by more powerful forces.
Returning from military service, Alan worked for a while as a Contract Administrator in the Planning Department at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica. Although it was a responsible position, it didn’t really suit him. When his childhood friend, Dick Overton, arranged an interview for a post-production position in the Sound Department at Fox, Alan jumped at the chance. It was only a six-week job but he ended up staying for six years, starting out loading raw stock in the recorders and gradually working his way up to Recordist and ADR Mixer. Later on he took positions working at MGM and at Warner Brothers.
Eventually Alan tired of the routine of work closeted away in dark studios and decided to pursue a career as a Production Sound Mixer. He reasoned that his post-production experience gave him good perspective on what worked for a film and what didn’t. But, with no real production experience it was a long lean year before anyone hired him. His first film as a Production Sound Mixer was “Three the Hard Way” in 1974. Directed by Gordon Parks Jr., son of the director of Shaft, it was a blaxploitation film with good production value. Hal Needham was the stunt coordinator and Lucien Ballard, justifiably famous for “The Wild Bunch” and “True Grit,” was the cinematographer. In short, it was an excellent first project for Alan Bernard, a project where good work could be noticed.
After that film, he was rarely idle. Alan did the final season of the television show “Gunsmoke” with Willie Burton as his boom operator. Willie remembers:
He followed “Gunsmoke” with the “Ghost Busters” TV series and dozens of TV movies.
“A Christmas Story,” the now classic tale of a boy’s yeaning for a Red Ryder BB gun, was his favorite. It’s full of memorable lines. Who can forget Darren McGavin, as Mr. Parker, saying, “He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny.” Or, referring to the prize lamp he has won, “Fra-gee-lay. That must be Italian.” Although filmed largely on location in a cold Ohio winter, we hear every line from Alan Bernard’s tracks; not a single line was looped. (Not that a looped line is a sign of failure; sometimes it’s necessary. But to bring in a whole picture without a looped line is an accomplishment.)
Although busy with work for the Studios, Alan managed to find the time to volunteer for service to Local 695. Spanning nearly 30 years, he served the Local in a variety of elected and appointed positions, beginning on the Local 695 Advisory Board (an adjunct to the standing Board) during Thomas Carmen’s administration in the 60’s and then as a Shop Steward, on the Local 695 Executive Board, as a member of the Board of Trustees, and as Secretary-Treasure. Business Representative Jim Osburn says of him, “Anytime you needed a guy on a picket line or to stuff envelopes, Alan would always do it.” He was generous in his support and would help in any way needed.
Sometimes it is difficult to make career decisions that give priority to family needs but when we do, the rewards are lasting. Alan has been continuously married to Linda for fifty-six years… no small accomplishment in this very demanding business. Alan’s son, Scott, says his dad never missed any of the important family activities. He was there for all the graduations and birthdays and all the moments that keep a family close. And Scott recalls early morning rides with his mother in the family car to pick up his father from his post-production jobs because Alan often worked night shifts in order to make himself available to his children during the afternoons. He coached Pop Warner football during the years Scott was playing and then stayed on to coach several seasons beyond Scott’s involvement.
In a business that often demands unreasonable sacrifices of time and energy, Alan has managed to strike a balance between his chosen profession, his family and his community obligations. His best contribution may be the example he shows us by perfecting this balance.