Harry Berger Jr.
December 18, 1924 - March 12, 2021
Harry Berger, Jr. passed away peacefully in Santa Cruz from natural causes on March 12, 2021. Professor Emeritus of Literature and Art History, Harry was a founding faculty member of Cowell College, UC Santa Cruz in 1965.
Born in 1924 in Manhattan, New York, he was the middle child of Harry Berger, Sr. and Madeline Adelson Berger. His father was a successful shirt manufacturer who "lost his shirt" during the Depression but made a business comeback soon after. Harry attended public schools in Manhattan and New Rochelle. He was admitted to Yale at age 16 at the start of World War II, and subsequently left college to join the Marines from 1943-46.
After the war he completed his PhD at Yale, where he taught as a grad student. He dated John Powers Agency model Maggie Long, whom he pursued after he saw photos of her modelling clothing manufactured by his father's company. Harry and Maggie were married in 1947 and lived in the New Haven area, where their four children were born.
Harry taught at Yale from grad school through the mid-60's. In 1964 he was recruited by Chancellor Dean McHenry to launch fledgling UCSC's English department. He brought his family to Santa Cruz in 1965. In the first years, literature faculty families often met on the beach or at Manuel's Restaurant in Aptos.
Harry received wide recognition for both his teaching and writings. Some highlights: In 1970 he was awarded the Danforth Foundation's E.H. Harbison Award for Distinguished Teaching. In 2003 he was presented with a lifetime achievement award from the International Spenser Society and was the subject of a panel sponsored by the Modern Language Association devoted to his impact on literary interpretation. In 2006 he was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to which he was elected a Fellow. In 2009, Fordham University Press published A Touch More Rare: Harry Berger, Jr. and the Art of Interpretation, celebrating more than four decades of his groundbreaking work. And In 2010 he received the Constantine Panunzio Distinguished Emeriti Award from the University of California system.
After "retiring" in 1994 at age 70, Harry continued teaching and lecturing into his 90s. The extra time afforded by retirement allowed him to focus more energy on a prolific blitz of writing and publishing, along with traveling widely as a visiting scholar at numerous academic institutions including a memorable stint at the Bellagio Center in Italy.
Harry loved traveling with his second wife and muse, Beth Vieira. They spent many happy hours viewing and discussing portraits in the museums of Holland and Italy.
A big part of Harry's life was playing jazz on the clarinet. He had attended high school with Brubeck's sax player Paul Desmond. While in the Marines he played in jazz clubs in Honolulu. While on sabbatical he joined jams in Florence, Italy. He was a great improviser and played locally with pianist Vi Stafford and bassist Jim Houston. He loved classic Dixieland and melodic standards, particularly Rogers and Hart. The strains of Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Johnny Hodges, Ella Fitzgerald and June Christy could be heard wafting from his home.
At home Harry was known for his joyful culinary adventures (and misadventures).He enjoyed eating out with friends and family, often resulting in a table groaning with many dishes as his eye eagerly roamed the menu. He had a lifelong dedication to regular exercise. Starting as a student at Yale, he played squash for many years. He also enjoyed running on the beach and swimming at Cowell Pool. Harry also loved books and every wall in his house was lined with literature, criticism and art history books. He read himself to sleep with John LeCarre and Simenon mysteries every night.
Harry was well-beloved by his grandson Ezra. They had a special bond and Ezra was one of the apples of Harry's eye.
Survivors include his wife and muse, Beth Vieira, his daughters Cynthia and Caroline and his grandson Ezra. He was predeceased by his sons, Tommy and David, by his first wife, Maggie, and by his siblings - younger brother Lewis and older sister Rosemary. A celebration of his life will be held at a later date. For information contact the family at firstname.lastname@example.org. View the online memorial for Harry Berger Jr.