13 October 2021

They’re playing our song

Jeremy Bernstein

I may be the only living soul who witnessed both the first and last public performances of Tom Lehrer. In my junior year at Harvard, 1949, one of my roommates was taking an introductory course in calculus. It was a large course and graduate students were engaged to grade homework assignments. The customary thing to do when performing this tedious job was simply to annotate with crosses and question marks. But on my roommate’s papers there were amusing remarks and even the odd funny drawing. I asked who the grader was and was told that his name was Tom Lehrer.

16 February 2016

Tom Lehrer, Al Sears and Me

Jeremy Bernstein

Most undergraduates at Harvard live in a ‘House’. When I went to the university in 1947 the place was overcrowded with soldiers and sailors returned from the war. So I spent the first two years in Dudley Hall, the ‘non-residents’ student centre’ in Harvard Yard. My room was number 46: I know this precisely because I have a letter sent to this address by Albert Einstein, dated 3 June 1949, telling me he did not give ‘oral interviews to avoid misinterpretation’. Since Dudley wasn’t considered a House it didn’t have a ‘master’ but a ‘graduate secretary’. Then in autumn 1949 I moved into Eliot House.