Corrections or additions?

This article by Deborah Cooperman was prepared for the April 6,

2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. The date of the event, April 7, was

corrected. All rights reserved.

Mrs. Bill Bradley, Outside the Box

During Senator Bill Bradley’s run for the 2000 Democratic Presidential

nomination, information posted on a website from a small town in

Germany appeared that challenged the story Bradley’s wife, Ernestine,

had been telling about her upbringing in Germany. Leaked by the town

archivist in Passau, the small town where Bradley had grown up, the

story asserted that her father was not, as Bradley had claimed, an

air-force officer but a Nazi, and that she was presenting herself as

someone she was not.

In the course of bringing the truth to light, Bradley began writing a

history of her family that she intended to share only with her

children. Instead, encouraged by her husband, Bradley decided her

story might be of interest to others. "The Way Home: A German

Childhood, An American Life" (Pantheon Books) tells Bradley’s story –

a tale of her near soap-operatic beginnings, peppered with adventure,

risk, and loss. What comes through is Bradley’s incredible facility to

overcome and learn from the challenges and obstacles in her life,

which she communicates with the straight-talking, good-humored style

that endeared her to so many on the campaign trail in 2000.

She will have a booksigning on Thursday, April 7, at Barnes and Noble

Marketfair. (If seeing Bradley speak in public is anything like the

half hour I spent interviewing her on the phone from a hotel in

Washington, D.C., the Barnes and Noble event will be a wonderful

treat.)

About the bureaucrat from Bradley’s hometown in Germany who posted his

misinformed claims on a website, Bradley says: "He made it seem that I

wanted to appear more than I was. I was very upset." But rather than

do nothing Bradley says she decided that "since it was out there, I

wanted it out there correctly – the way I understood it. I thought I

should write it." She says writing the book was invigorating and

reminded her of her experiences on the campaign trail with her

husband. "We knew the press would want to know everything. We went

into the campaign knowing that everything was up for grabs. I felt a

great sense of liberation. There was no sense of trying to shave a

year off – what was the point? It was liberating in every respect."

Bradley was born in 1935 to Erna Keller, a strong and dominant woman.

Erna became pregnant by a man she loved when she was just 18, but did

not marry her baby’s father because, as Bradley says in her book, she

did not want to ruin his career by forcing that decision on him.

Instead, Erna married Baumeister Max, a man who for a time she

presented to the world as her daughter’s father. When Ernestine’s

natural father returned from his travels and studies, Erna asked for a

divorce from Max. She then married the man, Sepp Misslbeck. In the

book Bradley says of Baumeister Max, "The man ascribed to me by the

town archivist as my father did join the (Nazi) party in 1937 and

during the war served in the army as a clerk."

Raised by her mother to be self-reliant, Bradley studied hard and

learned several languages. "The underlying drive of my life had been

to get out," she says in the book, "but I did not have any clear idea

what I intended to do with the freedom after I had it."

The way out turned out to be a job with Pan Am as a stewardess (the

term "flight attendant" was not used in those days). New York was her

"hub," and while living there, she met Bob, a physician, who – after a

very brief courtship – would become her first husband. When Bob

accepted a job at a hospital in Atlanta, Bradley gave up flying, went

back to school and became a professor of literature, beginning her

lifelong career in academia that had just one brief, but very fateful

detour.

The marriage to Bob produced a daughter but that wasn’t enough to hold

the two together. Due to questions about her residence and

citizenship, Bradley lost custody of the child in the divorce.

Feeling that New York was the place to be, Bradley moved back and

continued with her academic career. But bubbling in the back of her

mind was a dream to try her hand at filmmaking.

In 1965, Bradley went to see a production of "The Iceman Cometh" in

Greenwich Village. Eugene O’Neill’s lengthy play is about several men

hanging around in a bar making excuses about their lives, putting all

their energy in pipe dreams and unwilling to confront the reality of

their true circumstances. The play, she says, changed her life. "They

were all hanging on to their illusions, and I didn’t want to be one of

them."

She knew she’d never forgive herself if she didn’t give filmmaking a

try. She left academia and went to work for an educational film

company. One of the projects she worked on required that she get in

touch with a basketball player named Bill Bradley who, as coincidence

would have it, lived in her building. The filmmaking career didn’t

work out. Bradley says in her book: "I could not hustle; I could not

sell my cinematic ideas. But I had given it a try, and the iceman

could no longer threaten me." She married Bill in 1974.

In the early 1990’s Mrs. Bradley was diagnosed with breast cancer, an

experience she now calls a gift. Turning adversity and defeat into

liberation is one of the major themes of Bradley’s book, and, she

says, her life as well. "Don’t give up. If unpleasant things happen,

you do not go under. It has carried me through a lot."

This same attitude carried her through the rigorous Presidential

campaign. "I truly enjoyed it. I wasn’t a candidate – for Bill it was

much different." When it began, I thought this would be like New

Jersey times fifty,".Bradley says, referring to her husband’s

Senatorial campaign in New Jersey. "But the states are so different.

It was so invigorating. And I loved to talk about Bill. I really did

feel that Bill was the best candidate we had. But he was running

against a candidate who had eight years to prepare. He gave it his

best shot." When it was over, Bradley says, "There was great

disappointment. But I was grateful to have the experience."

Back on the media trail again, only this time to promote her book,

Bradley is totally charged up. "I’m thrilled," she says. "I’m going to

be on Charlie Rose and Larry King. I think it’s really the teacher in

me. It’s wonderful when people are interested and have questions. I’m

in a wonderful position to share what I think is important: Have

courage. You should have the courage to test your dreams. The courage

to get to know yourself on the most honest level we can."

Does the title of the book, "The Way Home," have a story behind it?

"My mother always thought she had not brought me up properly because I

was never homesick" she says. "This is such a mobile society, and you

are never rooted geographically so much. I’m an east coast person now,

so New Jersey has become my home, and New York. But that even is not

quite home – my home is in the heart of those I love. The way home,

you never completely arrive. But being in the right direction, on the

right road? There is always more love to give, more love to receive."

– Deborah Cooperman

"The Way Home: A German Childhood, an American Life,"

booksigning by Ernestine Bradley, Thursday, April 7, 7:30 p.m., Barnes

& Noble Marketfair. 609-897-9250.

During Senator Bill Bradley’s run for the 2000 Democratic Presidential

nomination, information posted on a website from a small town in

Germany appeared that challenged the story Bradley’s wife, Ernestine,

had been telling about her upbringing in Germany. Leaked by the town

archivist in Passau, the small town where Bradley had grown up, the

story asserted that her father was not, as Bradley had claimed, an

air-force officer but a Nazi, and that she was presenting herself as

someone she was not.

In the course of bringing the truth to light, Bradley began writing a

history of her family that she intended to share only with her

children. Instead, encouraged by her husband, Bradley decided her

story might be of interest to others. "The Way Home: A German

Childhood, An American Life" (Pantheon Books) tells Bradley’s story –

a tale of her near soap-operatic beginnings, peppered with adventure,

risk, and loss. What comes through is Bradley’s incredible facility to

overcome and learn from the challenges and obstacles in her life,

which she communicates with the straight-talking, good-humored style

that endeared her to so many on the campaign trail in 2000.

She will have a booksigning on Sunday, April 9, at Barnes and Noble

Marketfair. (If seeing Bradley speak in public is anything like the

half hour I spent interviewing her on the phone from a hotel in

Washington, D.C., the Barnes and Noble event will be a wonderful

treat.)

About the bureaucrat from Bradley’s hometown in Germany who posted his

misinformed claims on a website, Bradley says: "He made it seem that I

wanted to appear more than I was. I was very upset." But rather than

do nothing Bradley says she decided that "since it was out there, I

wanted it out there correctly – the way I understood it. I thought I

should write it." She says writing the book was invigorating and

reminded her of her experiences on the campaign trail with her

husband. "We knew the press would want to know everything. We went

into the campaign knowing that everything was up for grabs. I felt a

great sense of liberation. There was no sense of trying to shave a

year off – what was the point? It was liberating in every respect."

Bradley was born in 1935 to Erna Keller, a strong and dominant woman.

Erna became pregnant by a man she loved when she was just 18, but did

not marry her baby’s father because, as Bradley says in her book, she

did not want to ruin his career by forcing that decision on him.

Instead, Erna married Baumeister Max, a man who for a time she

presented to the world as her daughter’s father. When Ernestine’s

natural father returned from his travels and studies, Erna asked for a

divorce from Max. She then married the man, Sepp Misslbeck. In the

book Bradley says of Baumeister Max, "The man ascribed to me by the

town archivist as my father did join the (Nazi) party in 1937 and

during the war served in the army as a clerk."

Raised by her mother to be self-reliant, Bradley studied hard and

learned several languages. "The underlying drive of my life had been

to get out," she says in the book, "but I did not have any clear idea

what I intended to do with the freedom after I had it."

The way out turned out to be a job with Pan Am as a stewardess (the

term "flight attendant" was not used in those days). New York was her

"hub," and while living there, she met Bob, a physician, who – after a

very brief courtship – would become her first husband. When Bob

accepted a job at a hospital in Atlanta, Bradley gave up flying, went

back to school and became a professor of literature, beginning her

lifelong career in academia that had just one brief, but very fateful

detour.

The marriage to Bob produced a daughter but that wasn’t enough to hold

the two together. Due to questions about her residence and

citizenship, Bradley lost custody of the child in the divorce.

Feeling that New York was the place to be, Bradley moved back and

continued with her academic career. But bubbling in the back of her

mind was a dream to try her hand at filmmaking.

In 1965, Bradley went to see a production of "The Iceman Cometh" in

Greenwich Village. Eugene O’Neill’s lengthy play is about several men

hanging around in a bar making excuses about their lives, putting all

their energy in pipe dreams and unwilling to confront the reality of

their true circumstances. The play, she says, changed her life. "They

were all hanging on to their illusions, and I didn’t want to be one of

them."

She knew she’d never forgive herself if she didn’t give filmmaking a

try. She left academia and went to work for an educational film

company. One of the projects she worked on required that she get in

touch with a basketball player named Bill Bradley who, as coincidence

would have it, lived in her building. The filmmaking career didn’t

work out. Bradley says in her book: "I could not hustle; I could not

sell my cinematic ideas. But I had given it a try, and the iceman

could no longer threaten me." She married Bill in 1974.

In the early 1990’s Mrs. Bradley was diagnosed with breast cancer, an

experience she now calls a gift. Turning adversity and defeat into

liberation is one of the major themes of Bradley’s book, and, she

says, her life as well. "Don’t give up. If unpleasant things happen,

you do not go under. It has carried me through a lot."

This same attitude carried her through the rigorous Presidential

campaign. "I truly enjoyed it. I wasn’t a candidate – for Bill it was

much different." When it began, I thought this would be like New

Jersey times fifty,".Bradley says, referring to her husband’s

Senatorial campaign in New Jersey. "But the states are so different.

It was so invigorating. And I loved to talk about Bill. I really did

feel that Bill was the best candidate we had. But he was running

against a candidate who had eight years to prepare. He gave it his

best shot." When it was over, Bradley says, "There was great

disappointment. But I was grateful to have the experience."

Back on the media trail again, only this time to promote her book,

Bradley is totally charged up. "I’m thrilled," she says. "I’m going to

be on Charlie Rose and Larry King. I think it’s really the teacher in

me. It’s wonderful when people are interested and have questions. I’m

in a wonderful position to share what I think is important: Have

courage. You should have the courage to test your dreams. The courage

to get to know yourself on the most honest level we can."

Does the title of the book, "The Way Home," have a story behind it?

"My mother always thought she had not brought me up properly because I

was never homesick" she says. "This is such a mobile society, and you

are never rooted geographically so much. I’m an east coast person now,

so New Jersey has become my home, and New York. But that even is not

quite home – my home is in the heart of those I love. The way home,

you never completely arrive. But being in the right direction, on the

right road? There is always more love to give, more love to receive."

– Deborah Cooperman

"The Way Home: A German Childhood, an American Life," booksigning by

Ernestine Bradley, Thursday, April 7, 7:30 p.m., Barnes & Noble

Marketfair. 609-897-9250.


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