Thelma Bernstein, 95; Mother of Albert Brooks Was Former Actress

Times Staff Writer

Thelma Bernstein, a former singer and actress and the mother of comedy filmmaker and actor Albert Brooks, comedy writer and actor Bob Einstein and advertising executive Clifford Einstein, has died. She was 95.

Bernstein died of natural causes Saturday at her home in Beverly Hills, her family said.

Born Thelma Goodman in New York City, Bernstein first gained recognition on the radio after singing in light opera. She was discovered singing in a New York nightclub in the mid-1930s by a talent scout and placed under contract by RKO.


Renamed Thelma Leeds by RKO, she had an uncredited part in the 1936 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical “Follow the Fleet” and had supporting roles in “New Faces of 1937" and “The Toast of New York.”

While making “New Faces of 1937,” she met dialect comedian Harry Einstein, a fellow cast member known to vaudeville and radio audiences as Parkyakarkas, a stereotypically Greek character.

Bernstein gave up her career after they were married in 1937. In 1960, two years after her first husband died, she married Irving “Bernie” Bernstein. He died in 1983.

Brooks’ 1981 comedy “Modern Romance” was a family affair. Bernstein played a small role -- her son’s mother. Bob Einstein, a.k.a. TV’s comedy daredevil Super Dave Osborne, played a sporting goods salesman, and Clifford Einstein played a sound mixer in the film.

Bernstein also had a small part in Brooks’ 1979 comedy “Real Life” and provided inspiration for his 1996 comedy “Mother,” with Debbie Reynolds in the title role.

“I think Mom was bugged that she couldn’t play it,” said Clifford Einstein, chairman of West Hollywood-based Dailey & Associates Advertising and chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

“She loved to laugh at herself and loved the portrayal of ‘Mother’ that, while not her story, was certainly loosely based on her: the kind of mother that loves to control everything.

“She was very strong; she’d tell us what to do always. She was perfectly comfortable giving advice to kids in their 50s and 60s.”

In addition to her sons, Bernstein is survived by five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A private family service will be held.