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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 5 of 15)


To read the piece today is stunning-the Greene in the story is light-years away from the public persona he later created at the Tribune. This Greene, who says “fuckin’” as liberally as an Osbourne family member today, affects a tough, cynical approach to everything. Talking about the assassination of JFK, he says the President “took lunch,” as in, “A year after Kennedy took lunch, I wrote a piece.” He displays a militantly ignorant approach to literature. “I never read anything,” he tells Fletcher. “I’ve never read a word of Hemingway, I’ve never read any F. Scott Fitzgerald. I certainly never read any fuckin’ Shakespeare. All I ever read in my life was newspapers.”

He dismisses negative comments about him-such as those by the Pulitzer Prize–winning critic Ron Powers and by contributors to the Reader-as “faggot humor.” “I’ve never blamed [my critics],” he says, “‘cause think about it. When you think about it rationally, if I was them, I’d rather be me, too.”

As for the column about the Israeli athletes, which he calls “the Jew column,” he says, “I wish I’d never written it.”

“Q: Why?

“A: First of all, there’s still, four years, five years later, there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t get a call or a letter about that column. Second of all . . .

“Q: Calls or letters like what?

“A: [Affects a fair impression of a little old Jewish lady] ‘I just always remember that, we still have it taped to our refrigerator.’ [Laughs] . . . that type of shit, you know?

“Q: Like you’re the conscience of your people.

“A: Yeah, you know. And I get all kinds of calls from Jewish organizations, askin’ me to come talk to them about being a Jew, which I won’t do. . . . I say, ‘My religion ain’t Jewish, my religion is bein’ a newspaperman.’ And when they say, ‘Oh, that was a beautiful column,’ I say, ‘That’s right, it was a beautiful column. Period. I wrote it in ten minutes, drunk. And I felt nothing.’ The only thing I felt was that this had better get good play because it’s a hell of a newspaper column.”

Fletcher also asks about Greene’s “outrageous” reputation as a womanizer. “Yeah, I guess I’m pretty unaware of that,” he responded. “A womanizer, eh?”

Fletcher goes on: “If it’s not too bold . . . , it might make sense to ask about what kind of relationship you have with your wife?”

Greene: “It’s not too bold to ask, but I don’t think I’ll talk about that. It’s a good question. I just don’t much ever feel like talkin’ about it. Except that I just get annoyed sometimes when people tell me I have a fucked-up view of women. I mean, because . . . I’m one of the few people I know who has a marriage that’s working, you know?”

A decade later, the editors of Spy magazine, preparing a story on Greene, asked him about the Reader interview. In a brief phone conversation, he said that he wasn’t being “cynical as much as just stupid” and that he had just been “striking a pose.”

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