We got to be good friends with Edward Bernays, the father of Public Relations, in late 1985. He had invited us out to dinner at the Waldorf. I brought along my then-boyfriend Barry (*now husband). Barry had never heard of Bernays before because he was a graphic artist, not a PR guy. I was in awe, I could hardly speak through dinner. Bernays was talking about the clients he worked for; people like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Enrico Caruso, Eleanor Roosevelt - EVERYBODY who was anybody in the 20th century. Barry said we've got to start interviewing this guy.
So that’s what we started doing. Starting in 1986, we’d go up 2-3 times a year. Eventually Barry and I got married and had children, who actually grew up thinking Bernays was their grandfather. He loved our kids, absolutely loved them. We have these great videos of him singing lullabies to our children.
Bernays’ whole house was like a time capsule. He was practically engaged in every historical moment of the 20th century, like in ZELIG. There’s a 9 year old Bernays sitting at a patio table with his uncle Sigmund Freud...…there’s a picture of Sigmund Freud with Bernays's mother, who was Freud’s sister, with Walter Cronkite…there’s a photo of Bernays with Calvin Coolidge, Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover. The whole house was filled with these 8x10 black and white photos of Bernays with events - like the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty with President Wilson.
One day, when he was 101, we asked Bernays, “What are you going to do with all this stuff when you’re no longer living here?” He said, “Well, I’d like to turn my house into a museum.” And I said “What kind?” And he said “A museum of public relations.” And I said “Well, Eddie, to be frank, your family probably won't want to go along with it." The house was a mansion from 1849, by the way. Then he asked, “Well, will you make a museum of public relations?” Despite not knowing the first thing about building a museum from scratch, Barry and I told him “Yes, we’ll make a museum.” Sometimes, you run into opportunities that seem impossible, but you cannot turn them down, because they are the ones that are meant to change your life.
After Bernays died, the family invited us to come up to take artifacts from the house. Everything that the Library of Congress didn’t want, we took. We walked around from room to room, with the Librarian in charge of his collection from the Library of Congress. She had first dibs, and we took everything that related to public relations. We packed up all the stuff in our truck, drove it back down to the City, and we were going to give the items to PRSA, our trade association, but they didn’t want it. They didn't want the responsibility. It was now up to us to carry out Bernays's wishes, and create a museum starting with his collection. It became so popular that we were urged to make it a nonprofit, so we could raise money. We first had to get a charter from the State of New York Department of Education so we could become a