Born in Cape Town, South Africa, February 13, 1933, Phil was one of seven brothers and a sister. His parents Benjamin and Rebecca were both born in Lithuania and immigrated to South Africa at the turn of the last century.
Phil’s first job out high school, printing Fox newsreels for South African audiences, led to a trainee position with the Central African Film Unit in Rhodesia, which resulted from his writing an ingenuous letter asking, “Do you have a job for me.”
Within months he was directing educational films for Africans. His quick rise suggested he was destined for bigger things, and again fearlessly he applied to UCLA film school where he completed his undergraduate work in three years. At the same time served in numerous editorial positions on the UCLA Daily Bruin.
Before graduating he married a wonderful American girl, Ruth Greenberg whom he had met while working as a waiter in the Catskills. They were married in Temple Beth El in Hollywood in 1954.
Forced to return to South Africa in 1955 he worked for three years in the family hotel business, yet always yearning to make a career in the film industry.
Armed with a play he had written, the family returned to the U.S. unable to find work in the movie industry he took any job just to support his family. With six mouths to feed he looked elsewhere and got a teaching credential.
After earning a master’s degree, he worked as an educator for 30 years supervising award winning programs in cinema, speech and debate, student government, and journalism.
A sabbatical in Cape Town provided him the opportunity to write for the Cape Argus, and shortly after returning to Los Angeles he became a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, eventually serving four two-year terms as president.
During those years he unfailingly increased the Nielson ratings for the Golden Globe Show and helped establish it as a TV behemoth.
He holds the record of serving the longest time of any HFPA President.
For over 40 years he wrote profiles about movie personalities for Japan, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, and served as Hollywood correspondent for FilmInk in Australia, and The Star in Malaysia.
As film critic for the B’nai B’rith Messenger (later Los Angeles Jewish Times) he reviewed film for ten years, and served three terms as secretary of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
Over the years he chaired the juries at the Guadalajara Film Festival, the Hawaii Film Festival, and the Bahamas Film Festival.
An early book Thank You for Sharing, a smorgasbord of quotes from celebrity interviews,earned unanimous praise from critics.
His published autobiography With Signs and Wonders, My Journey from Darkest Africa to the Bright Lights of Hollywood was called “life changing,” by Malaysian economist Paulau Shavin.
“This is a great book and will add value to your life. Berk’s account is enthralling. Not to be missed,” he wrote.