He was a sharp dresser, with a sharp wit and an incisive ability to cut through all the nonsense normally heaped upon a journalist.
It might be easy to fall into cliché and call Marty Bernstein the “dean of auto writers.” After all, he was more than twice — indeed, triple — the age of many who take part in the traveling circus of auto shows and new car previews. But he was far more than that. He could be a mentor, if that was what the moment called for. A source of insight. A fount of great stories. And, until surprisingly late in life, a serious challenger on the tennis court.
Martin Stuart Bernstein passed away this week after a long battle with kidney disease at the age of 89. He remained a vital and active figure long past the age when most men shuffle off into obscurity.
Marty was born in Omaha in 1932, though the family soon moved to Corpus Christi, Texas — two of the least likely places to find “a member of the tribe,” Marty would joke. He eventually made his way to a more natural setting in New York, initially going there for a special speech clinic to deal with the terrible stutter he was born with.
As is often the case, children with speech impediments wind up ignored or overlooked. But it was impossible to dismiss the young man with the Mensa-level IQ — starting university at 16 — and an obvious gift for writing. After briefly returning to Texas, Marty settled in New York and a career in marketing.
It was a remarkable time to be in the Big Apple’s world of advertising, perhaps best captured by the long-running television series, “Mad Men.” Years later, when asked if he watched the show, Marty would let out his basso rumble of a chuckle and respond, “Why should I? I lived it.” And, if prodded, he’d quickly roll out a series of tales about three-martini lunches at the 21 Club and Elaine’s, the fixtures of the day.
His big accounts were, of all things, in the shoe business. Yet, somehow, Marty’s bigger-than-life personality opened up a variety of doors, and he grabbed at each opportunity, even representing the U.S. government on State Department-sponsored events during the Cold War. “He flew so much that the airlines would hold his plane if he was running late,” said his son, Michael Bernstein.
Long, out-of-town assignments were the norm. And Marty wasn’t shy about using the opportunity to reinvent himself. “During one extended trip to LA,” Michael recalled this week, “when my mom and I went to meet him at his gate we literally walked right by him. He had lost 30 pounds changed his hairstyle and ditched the Brooks Brothers (suit) for a true European look!” According to Marty himself, he had at least 100 shirts from the ever-so-trendy Robert Graham in his closet.
Following the trends — while also being able to see through them — was one of Marty Bernstein’s skills. And being able to put that into perspective was one reason Marty was invited to Michigan where he literally shifted gears to work on the Chevrolet account for the then-powerful agency Darcy McManus.
After a series of ventures and adventures — he briefly ran his own agency, the Marketing Service Bureau — Marty found his true passion: writing about cars. He started by covering marketing angles for Automotive News, broadening to include reviews, people profiles and perspectives for other outlets, including TheDetroitBureau.com.
He continued to write for this site and others until relatively recently. But Marty’s health took a bad turn after a medical issue caused his kidneys to fail and the requisite dialysis put increasing limits on his ability to travel. The last 12 months were increasingly rough. Yet, he never lost his keen eye and, even on the worst of days, he’d roll out a joke in his rumbling voice. Marty Bernstein passed this week with the same level of dignity that defined the rest of his long life.
Marty Bernstein was laid to rest on Jan. 21, 2022. He leaves behind a wife, Marti, son, Michael, and daughter-in-law Jennifer Bernstein. The family suggests donations be made to the Kidney Foundation, to Mazon, a Jewish organization dedicated to preventing hunger, to the Chabad Center of Troy, or to a charity of your choosing. They plan a celebration of his life sometime during the spring.