Thirteen Pieces of Unmatched Luggage and My Poodle unveils a life story that begins with Bernardo’s sensitive childhood and young adult life as the son of Italian immigrants who ran a small grocery in a tiny Birmingham town. He grew up in a segregated south. He was gay at a time of hateful discrimination.
Bernardo will share:
• His lobbying for marriage equality – and the award-winning film about his 40-year relationship.
• His courageous battle with liver disease that led to a life-risking liver transplant
• Insights on his home design career as a designer to Hollywood stars.
• How he worked with Elizabeth Taylor at the forefront of AIDS fundraising.
• How one can overcome their struggles, to keep believing in one’s self, and to have faith.
His life takes a turn when he leaves home to be with his first love, a well-known, married radio disc jockey. Shortly thereafter, at age 20, he loses his beloved mother who had suffered a stroke two years earlier. Five years later, Bernardo pursues a lifelong dream and moves to Beverly Hills, California – in search of fame and fortune.
The years ahead are spent creating his persona, a meteoric career, glamorous life in the fast lane of movie stars and celebrities, the AIDS epidemic and a love story sealed by marriage to his longtime partner.
A dramatic turn of events culminates in a life or death decision. He quits drinking alcohol and undergoes a liver transplant. He hopes that by telling his story he will inspire others to overcome life’s challenges, prejudice, and fears – and to pursue their dreams and happiness.
Bernardo got to hang with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Bee Gees, design the home of Emmy-winning actor Telly Savalas (of Kojak fame), and work with Liz Taylor on fundraising that raised millions of dollars for AIDS research and treatment. Contrast the high-life and globetrotting vacations with frightening moments a decade ago when he was throwing up blood while suffering the ravages of end-stage liver disease. Through it all, the good, the bad, and all that makes up a full life, the Catholic-raised man credits his faith as having been a bulwark of strength for his soul.
Even though he had a fetish for playing with his mother’s wedding dress, lacing it up daily as a boy, he didn’t identify with being gay as a child. Early in my teens, I wasn’t dating,” he writes. “I didn’t know that I was gay. I didn’t even know what the word ‘gay’ meant. Attempting to fit in I started dating a lovely Italian girl named Rita. We remained friends for many years, thereafter without any romantic notions ever attached.”
Perhaps the most shocking moment in Bernardo’s book is the retelling of the only time he had sex with a woman. It was with Hollywood screen siren Lana Turner, who, after drinking a bit much, seduced Bernardo. They were friends for years and he credits her with turning him into a heavier drinker – and changing his name from Bernard to Bernardo. They used to watch the Oscars together.
“In truth, I had enjoyed that moment of sexual pleasure – and won’t ever forget it,” he writes. “I had sex with Lana Turner and physically liked it. So where was I to go from there? I wondered more than twice. Was I even still gay? What a strange thought.”
He also talks of the time he met Rock Hudson – and regretting that he turned the hunky movie star’s invitation for coffee down. He writes “I could not believe I said no to his offer. I have always wondered how my life would have possibly changed had I gone out with him.”
Bernardo, whose work has been praised by Architectural Digest, LA Magazine, LA Times, Designers West, Florida Design, and numerous publications, says his memoir “is a true story of survival.” Indeed, Bernardo’s story is not just one of meteoric rise within the home design world, but one of following a dream and finding the inner strength to meet life’s challenges.
“I have made a difference,” he writes. “I have touched many lives with my particular talent as an interior designer. I have loved and lost. Many friends have departed this plane, of existence before me – so much sadness but so much joy as well. Life is difficult. Whoever tells you differently is either lying or selling something. If we endure, we are telling God that we continue to try, to do better, to make His universe a better place at the end of the day. I embrace tomorrow with customary curiosity and, I believe, courage. Life is limitless as long as you have faith and imagination.”
Bernardo’s work, charity events, and socializing allowed him to interact with Danny Thomas, Tony Curtis, Milton Berle, Phyllis Diller, Sid Caesar, Cher, Burt Reynolds, Burt Lancaster, Phil Donahue, Whoopi Goldberg, Cyndi Lauper, Carol Burnett, Shirley MacLaine, Rod Stewart and others. But his favorite was Elizabeth Taylor, whom he said he was privileged to meet and work side by side with on a humanitarian cause.
He wrote: “She was a driven woman committed to a cause outside herself, the antithesis of Lana Turner. Her vision for a better world precluded her material needs on every level. In truth, she restored my faith in humanity and continues to do so every time I reflect on her dedication. I will always hold a special place for her in my heart. My time with Elizabeth was like a dream come true. She had always been my idol – and always will be.”
Bernardo Puccio is one of California’s foremost interior designers, with an acclaimed and illustrious career that spans more than 50 years. He lives with his lifetime partner of 32 years and husband of 11 years, Orin Kennedy, on the Wilshire Corridor in Los Angeles, and the pair are the subjects of the award-winning documentary, An Ordinary Couple. This is his first book.