Karen Gundersen Lerner was born in Hanover, N.H., in 1935 and grew up spending summers sailing and swimming off the shores of her beloved Hancock Point in Maine. She attended the Shipley School and later got her degree at Vassar (’57). In 1958 she volunteered at the World’s Fair in Brussels, where she was encouraged to go into journalism.
Karen was among the first women reporters at Life, Time, and Newsweek magazines, and later became a senior producer at ABC’s 20/20. She interviewed notables of the time including Fidel Castro, Phil Spector, Truman Capote, Billy Wilder, Andy Warhol, Richard Burton. She was a great journalist and storyteller, shied away from name-dropping, and often became friends of those she had interviewed.
Karen was generous, creative, critical, demanding, and incomparably witty. Truman Capote joked with her, Andy Warhol mugged for the camera with her, Henry Kissinger confided in her, Dominic Dunne took her everywhere, Dirk Bogarde introduced her to Luchino Visconti on the set of “Death in Venice.” Richard Burton may or may not have fallen off the wagon when she visited him at his home. She was pretty sure she did not join him in a cocktail.
She met and married Alan J. Lerner, lyricist (“Gigi,” “Camelot,” “My Fair Lady” and more) in 1966 after interviewing him for Newsweek magazine. They were married for eight years; it was a great love affair that she never regretted and that she remembered fondly with laughter. It was a birthday present for Alan that precipitated several portraits of Karen painted by Andy Warhol.
“I never thought to ask for receipts,” she said, after one of the portraits appeared at an auction in Belgium, 25 years after she’d lent three of them to the Warhol Museum in Houston.
She worked at the International Longevity Center with founder Dr. Robert N. Butler, MD, in the 1990s.
Friends knew that Saturdays she was at the Metropolitan Opera, or listening on the radio to her favorite announcer—and later, opera class lecturer—Ira Siff. Karen would call up friends to let them know they had to tune in to hear the powerful performance that was transmitting through the airwaves. She went on to found the Henry Street Opera Chamber in 1996, and later served the Gotham Chamber Opera as founding executive producer.
Karen Lerner died on Oct. 9 in Portland, Maine. She leaves behind many dear friends and family members, great memories, and a legacy of stories and laughter.
To view Karen’s guestbook or leave an online condolence please visit, www.athutchins.com