Bernie was born and raised in Brooklyn, went to Erasmus High and then on to NYU where he majored in Dramatic Art. Following his graduation, Bernie fulfilled his military obligation in the US Navy. He hesitates to talk about his heroism – – – – but aboard the USS Iowa, he was the librarian and modestly admits he kept America safe from overdue books!
Driving a taxi in 1958, Bernie got an unexpected “break.” He picked up Dick Einfeld who was about to produce The Oregon Trail starring Fred MacMurray at 20th Century Fox. Bernie managed to convey to Dick during the ride to the airport that he was not really a “cab driver”, but a temporarily misplaced actor. Einfeld cast Bernie as President Polk’s secretary! Bernie got his SAG card and two entire lines – “Yes, sir.” – “No Sir.”
His television debut was in 1961 as a Cuban heavy on the CBS soap The Brighter Day. This role lasted for three months. In retrospect, it hardly seems conceivable that Bernie spent his first four years in the business almost exclusively as a Latin! He played a Mexican on The Danny Kaye Show, The Jack Benny Show and The Steve Allen Show. He was a Puerto Rican dentist on The Flying Nun, a Mexican small town mayor, hotel owner and bartender on My Favorite Martian and a Mexican divorce lawyer on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
It was at the Players’ Ring Theater in Los Angeles, where he performed a variety of character roles and discovered his facility for accents. As a shyly assertive Russian peddler in The 49th Cousin at the Players’ Ring Theatre, Bernie caught the attention of Producer Leonard Stern. His mastery of the difficult Russian dialect coupled with the strength of his acting prompted Stern to cast Bernie as “Siegfried” in the popular series Get Smart. Stern also cast him as “Howard Wagner” in the prestigious CBS Special Death of a Salesman, starring Lee J. Cobb.
From the mid 60’s through the early 70’s, Bernie could be seen concurrently as “Siegfried,” on Get Smart, as Marlo Thomas’ neighbor “Jerry” on That Girl, as “Louie Palluci” on The Doris Day Show and on Bewitched as the 100-year-old apothecary, a Viennese psychiatrist, a blonde hippie and a German submarine captain.
In 1975 he starred as “Alan-a-Dale” in the Mel Brooks cult comedy TV, When Things Were Rotten.
From 1978 to 1988 he had a marvelous run on The Love Boat, working with many of his heroes.
After The Love Boat, Bernie got back to character work as an arrogant Russian wine expert who tries to dump his young wife (Mariel Hemingway) of three years – with no settlement! This was on the highly regarded Steven Bochco show, Civil Wars.
Bernie starred as Lenny Ganz in Neil Simon’s Rumors at The Burt Reynold’s Jupiter Theatre. He then continued with Rumors on a very successful tour. On the Travel Channel, Bernie enjoyed hosting the very popular Railway Adventures Across Europe.
Bernie and his wife Catrina Honadle opened their production of Neil Simon’s Rumors at the Whitefire Theatre in Los Angeles in June of 1996. It got marvelous reviews, sensational word of mouth, and ran for a phenomenal 11 months. Three weeks before closing, Bernie starred in Dick Van Dyke’s Diagnosis Murder. On the Diagnosis Murder set, Bernie worked with his old pals Jack Klugman, Wayne Rogers and of course Dick Van Dyke. They’d all heard about Rumors, had been planning to come, and took this opportunity to make a party of it. They all came together and that same night Neil Simon came as well! It was the best performance ever. Neil Simon was ecstatic and said, “This should have been my New York production!”
Bernie starred in the comedy-horror feature film Bug Buster along with Katherine Heigl as his daughter and Randy Quaid. And also the romantic feature for television Follow Your Heart playing mentor to Ted McGinley.
Bernie has starred on Aaron Spellings Charmed, Beverly Hills 90210 and Sunset Beach. He introduced baby Adam to Katie Couric on the Today Show. He reminisced about his experiences on The Love Boat for Entertainment Tonight and Bewitched for E’s biography of Elizabeth Montgomery. He talked about his experiences and adventures on the A&E specials for The Love Boat and That Girl.
Bernie stared with Shirley Jones and Linda Carter in the feature film Creature Of the Sunny Side Up Trailer Park, written and directed by Christopher Coppola. In Creature Of the Sunny Side Up Trailer Park, Bernie comes back to his “character actor” roots playing a skuzzy Southerner who slyly does everything he can to keep the young leads from achieving their goal. He loved “ripping into” this not too pleasant “desert rat” with a three-week growth of beard.
Bernie had a fun spot on the Conan O’Brien Show, and nine comedy spots on The Jimmy Kimmel Show.
Bernie is particularly proud of having the title role in The Cutter, the Chuck Norris feature film. In The Cutter, Bernie plays an 82-year-old concentration camp survivor who cut diamonds to keep his wife and children alive in Auschwitz. The Nazis kill his family anyway. He and his niece now have a little jewelry shop and are pursued by the commandant of Auschwitz. He is again imprisoned but eventually Chuck and Bernie win the day.
Bernie can be seen in a cameo role in the Warner Brothers feature film Get Smart starring Steve Carell, Ann Hathaway and Alan Arkin.
Bernie enjoyed working with Tony Shalhoub on one of the final episodes of Monk. Bernie played a very elegant and sophisticated men’s room attendant with some similar hang-ups as Monk. An awed monk said, “ You are the Michelangelo of the Men’s Room.”
On the show My Name is Earl, Bernie got a kick out of playing a decrepit country bumpkin.
He has just completed two long and successful runs in Calgary and then Toronto in Lou Cutell’s comedy Viagara Falls.
He frequently participates in and has won many celebrity tennis tournaments benefiting worthy charities around the world. Bernie hosted his own pro-celeb tennis and golf tournament at the Woodmont Country Club in Ft. Lauderdale, benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association.