West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein’s 10-year secret affair

West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein’s 10-year secret affair with Japanese fan is revealed in newly-unearthed cache of letters

  • Leonard Bernstein exchanged 350 letters with Japanese Kunihiko Hashimoto 
  • He met the 26-year-old insurance worker backstage after a concert in Japan
  • After spending the night together the pair wrote each other tender love letters 

West Side Story’s composer Leonard Bernstein had a ten-year love affair with a 26-year-old Japanese man who worked in insurance, an academic who found their previously unseen letters revealed.

Bernstein exchanged more than 350 letters with Kunihiko Hashimoto, now 66, after they met backstage following a New York Philharmonic concert in Tokyo in 1979. The pair spent the night together and Mr Hashimoto was devastated when Bernstein left.

The following day, he wrote: ‘After you left Japan, my mind became vacant, because the one night and afternoon that we had were like a beautiful dream,’ the Guardian reported.

Leonard Berstein pictured in a recording studio on November 5, 1974 in New York

When his wife, actress Felicia Cohn Montealegre (pictured with her husband backstage at Carnegie Hall in their concert attire), died in 1978, it is thought Bernstein had many lovers

Mari Yoshihara, a Japanese-American academic, found their letters at the Library of Congress in Washington. She says her ‘jaw dropped’ when she first read the letters – after discovering then in the library’s Bernstein collection.

Out of 1,700 boxes holding 400,000 items Ms Yoshihara came across personal letters between Bernstein and Mr Hashimoto. When she tried to find out who Mr Hashimoto was she could only find a small mention of him as being Bernstein’s business representative.

From working in insurance when they met Mr Hashimoto went on to organise the Hiroshima peace concerts in 1985. He helped Bernstein with other major projects in his late career and worked as a writer, director and producer in Australia and Japan. One of his productions was a translation of Bernstein’s musical Candide.

Bernstein was ‘a gay man who got married’ and ‘wasn’t conflicted about it at all’, according to his West Side Story collaborator Arthur Laurents. And when his wife, actress Felicia Cohn Montealegre, died in 1978 it is thought Bernstein had many lovers. Bernstein died on October 14, 1990.

Describing their letters as ‘passionate, tender and sometimes heartbreaking’ Ms Yoshihara says it was clear Mr Hashimoto had fallen in love.

Ms Yoshihara’s book Dearest Lenny: Letters from Japan and the making of the World Maestro will be published on September 2 in the UK and 28 November in the UK.    

Bernstein was ‘a gay man who got married’ and ‘wasn’t conflicted about it at all’, according to his West Side Story collaborator Arthur Laurents. Pictured in New York in 1958

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