The Spin's All Bad in PR Pioneer's Bitter Family Feud

Article excerpt

Edward Bernays was dining at Delmonico's in New York City one day in 1914 when Czech leader Tomas G. Masaryk confided that he would soon declare his country's independence.

Bernays had an idea: Make the announcement on Sunday. It's a slow news day, and newspapers would give the story better play on Monday.

As simple as the idea seems today, it was a revolutionary concept, the notion that public opinion could be molded to one's advantage. Bernays spent his life refining the idea.

Now Bernays, at the age of 101, has become the central figure in a legal struggle over his wealth and mental health. The struggle is so acrimonious that it has become too big to be controlled even by the man known across America as the father of public relations.

At stake is who has power of attorney for Bernays over his sizable estate. The reputations of several Boston literary and social lights also are on the line.

In the middle is Edward Bernays, a colorful and feisty character whose career in developing the art of public relations has exerted great influence on American culture.

On one side are his daughters, both of Cambridge: Doris Bernays Held, a psychological counselor, and Anne Bernays, novelist and wife of Justin Kaplan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and editor of the most recent edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

On the other side is Joan Vondra, 50, who was hired five years ago by Edward Bernays as housekeeper and companion at $47,000 a year. She says that role developed into an intimate relationship that included sex.

Among acquaintances supporting her, says Vondra, is Boston University President John Silber, who, she says, has written a letter endorsing her.

A court granted on Sept. 29 a request of Bernays' daughters for an extension of a restraining order that forbids Vondra from any contact with Edward Bernays. The decision was based on the daughters' belief that Vondra has mismanaged Edward Bernays' money and a doctor's judgment that he was incompetent to handle his own affairs.

Appearing in court on behalf of the daughters was lawyer Nonnie Burnes. …

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