Susan Berman

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Susan Berman (1945-2000) lived in Las Vegas from 1945 to 1957. Her father, David ("Davie") Berman, was a prominent hotel owner, devoted Jew, and important citizen of Las Vegas.

To Berman, Las Vegas was the center of the world and her father owned it. When researching her roots in the 1970s, she learned she was Mafia royalty and that Davie Berman's mob history was long and deep. Her memoir, Easy Street (1981)—catalogued by the Library of Congress under "Crimes and Criminals–Nevada Biography"—starts with her father's death when she was twelve and her mother's subsequent suicide. Berman recalls her life as the pampered daughter of an early Las Vegas mob boss. Easy Street received critical praise, and Berman went on tour and sold the paperback and movie rights to the book. The movie was never made.

After finishing high school in Idaho where she lived with an uncle, Berman obtained a BA from UCLA (1967) and an MA in journalism from the University of California–Berkeley (1969). By all accounts, she was a smart, intense, and complex woman who challenged the boundaries of friendships and relationships. She was also the victim of many phobias, including crossing bridges, riding in elevators, and staying above the third floor in hotels; and at one point, she rashly attempted to kill herself.

Despite neuroses and irrational anxieties, Berman was a versatile writer in many literary genres. She was a journalist, novelist, screenwriter, memoirist, and the author of a popular reference work and a local history of Las Vegas. Berman's freelance breakthrough came with an article for City of San Francisco Magazine titled, "San Francisco, City of Sin: Why Can't I Get Laid?" (1975). Her novel, Driver, Give a Soldier a Lift (1976), is set in Israel where she lived after suffering her first nervous breakdown. Berman returned and settled in New York to write for New York magazine where she is remembered for clever and sassy personality profiles.

In the 1990s, Berman began writing mysteries. Like Driver, Give a Soldier a Lift, and Easy Street, her two mystery novels, Fly Away Home (1996) and Spiderweb (1997), describe psychologically vulnerable women in dependent relationships. Another common theme is sisterly relationships, explored metaphorically in Lady Las Vegas: The Inside Story behind America's Neon Oasis (1996), which portrays the city as Berman's glamorous sister.

On December 24, 2000, Berman was found murdered with a bullet to the head in her home in Los Angeles. Investigations are ongoing. Her murder remains unsolved, but various suspects are evaluated in Cathy Scott's true-crime book, Murder of a Mafia Daughter: The Life and Tragic Death of Susan Berman (2002).

Further Reading

Lisa DePaulo. Who Killed the Gangster's Daughter?. New York Magazine, March 2001.
Cheryll Glotfelty. Susan Berman: Writer of Las Vegas and Murdered Mob Princess. Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Winter 2006.
Cathy Scott. Murder of a Mafia Daughter: The Life and Tragic Death of Susan Berman. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books, Inc., 2002.

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