The Sad Saga of Bob Greene

When a woman from his past resurfaced, the columnist’s 33-year career crashed; then a family tragedy hit home.

(page 11 of 15)

 

Brenda You first met Greene in 1989, when she wandered into the Kroch’s & Brentano’s bookstore that was across the street from the Tribune Tower. “I recognized him-he was rearranging books on the shelves so that his got a better placement,” she says. A student at Columbia College, You introduced herself. “We chatted for a bit. I told him I was a journalism major and then he told me that he was about ready to go to his skyscraper condo and write his column. He asked me if I wanted to come watch him write. I told him no. And he said, ‘Well, you’d learn a lot.’”

The following year, the Tribune hired You; she started out working at the phone desk in the newsroom. “I didn’t sit anywhere near Bob, but he came in every weekend and hung around the phone desk. His gaze never went above my breast line.” When You was promoted to reporter, she was moved to a desk closer to Greene’s. “Then he would sometimes call me in to talk,” she says. “But he was like this with all the young female reporters, assistants, and secretaries.”

You says that she never saw Greene’s behavior go beyond overattentiveness. She herself left the Tribune under a cloud after freelancing for supermarket tabloids like the Globe and lending them photographs from the paper’s library. She now works for the National Enquirer. But her account dovetails with other reports given to Chicago by Tribune insiders past and present. Those sources say they sometimes warned the interns and young staffers about Greene and his intentions.

“His reputation was all over the newsroom all the time,” says Clarence Petersen, who worked at the paper from 1958 until his retirement in 1997. “If Tribune editors and management didn’t know, they are the only ones who didn’t.”

After the scandal broke last September and Greene resigned, the often-told tales of his womanizing reverberated through the Tribune. “I swear, you could not throw a rock in the newsroom and not hit someone who knew someone Bob had hit on,” says a person inside the paper.

There is no indication that a woman ever formally complained to Tribune management about Greene’s behavior toward her. However, several sources say that a succession of Tempo editors and their bosses had been alerted in the eighties and early nineties to Greene’s overattentiveness to young women. One person who complained was told to “stop picking on Bob.”

Two former Tribune editors say that is simply not true. “Not one person ever came to me and said there was a problem here,” says Howard Tyner, who was in charge of the paper’s features sections for most of 1992 and 1993 and edited the Tribune from 1993 to 2000; he is now the editorial vice-president of publishing. Owen Youngman, the Tribune’s vice-president of development, who was the managing editor for features from 1993 to 1995, says, “No such complaints were ever made to me during the time that Bob worked for me.”

James Warren, who was the Tempo editor from 1992 to 1993 and is now the deputy managing editor for features, refused to comment, although he recently told Newsweek that “[Greene] had a lot, a lot, a lot of younger women who kind of paid homage to him in one way or another. But we’re not the morals police, and we didn’t follow him out of the building if and when he left with them.”

Today, it is not clear whether Greene engaged merely in boorish and inappropriate flirtations-if, in fact, he was mostly acting like an overeager and unsuccessful teenager-or whether his actions frequently ended in sexual encounters.

After the scandal broke, the Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg published an account from Susan Taylor, a Milwaukee-area woman who says that she had an affair with Greene in about 1983. She had written him a fan letter about a column on breast implants and had mentioned her own; he called her and they met. According to Taylor, they had dinner on North Michigan Avenue; then he asked to see her breasts. They went to a room at the Marriott. After that, Taylor says, she saw him a few times. But once she confessed that she was developing feelings for him, he cut her off. Taylor told Chicago that Greene said he had gone “to a therapist and he was trying to stop that behavior.”

 

Share