Back in the Saddle
February 2, 2008 5:00 PM   Subscribe

The sitcom with the Night Court guy was not based on Bob Greene. It was based on another "writer" named Dave Barry.
posted by Jay Reimenschneider at 6:23 PM on February 2, 2008

Thanks for posting this. I have such a love-hate relationship with Greene. I adore the naive 17-year-old in his senior diary, "Be True To Your School," and while I realize he relies on the same nostalgic America themes in his columns, I enjoy them anyway. Yet it's impossible to imagine that same 17-year-old as the dirty old man that's surfaced in all these reports. I want to go back in time and shake him.
posted by GaelFC at 6:29 PM on February 2, 2008

I used to write a weekly column (small suburban paper) and I used to imitate Bob Greene badly. He has a voice, as a writer, that's very flexible -- it sounds mainstream and conversational and humane, but just ironic enough to help you keep your sanity. (Which is to say, he never turns into Mitch Albom.) He also has several tics that became a real hazard to me. Many times his detached cool about deeply sentimental stuff didn't read like irony -- it was manipulation, the old choke-in-the-grizzled-reporter's-throat routine.

And after a while I came to recognize the heavy, heavy B.S. in Bob Greene. He was all about the effects, and pleasing himself by turning this or that switch on in his reader. Sometimes he equated his effects with the kind of Heartland Decency he claimed to be championing, and the combination could be gruesome.

That said, the Esquire piece is very sad. It sounds like he fell very far, perhaps farther than he deserved. It will be interesting to see if he comes back with writing that's less self-satisfied.
posted by argybarg at 7:16 PM on February 2, 2008

Argybarg: Well put. I was horrified when Greene took up the case of that tortured child in Chicago, Baby Richard. It seemed after a while that he was really just trying to show the poor boy's suffering in America's face, not to help the boy, but to make Greene himself seem so high above the torturers.

Judging from his CNN column, the same "turning on of the switch" mentality is back. He's still shocked that people are rudely having cell phone conversations in public elevators, still equating this amusing bit of modern life with the woman not caring about her fellow humans.

Read this column, about Greene's famous bit of work about the Munich Olympics massacre, and you realize that he knew if he played his cards right, his wringing emotion out of the event could make him even more famous. It's still a sharp piece of writing, as is his column on covering an execution, "We Will Always Come For the Killing."
posted by GaelFC at 8:02 PM on February 2, 2008

I have no comment, other than to say that I feel pity for anyone who writes that kind of bio about oneself, and apparently thinks that taking their picture next to a cracked window makes them look "edgy".
posted by spock at 9:53 PM on February 2, 2008

The sitcom with the Night Court guy was not based on Bob Greene.

Apparently she was thinking of Funny About Love, the existence of which I had completely erased from memory. It does seem to have sealed the decline in Nimoy's briefly celebrated directing career.

(The only other option would be Bagtime, but that seems to have been a couple of years after her post.)
posted by dhartung at 12:55 AM on February 3, 2008

Bob Greene uses people. I lived in Chicago for many years and I never cared for his fake sentimentality but what he did to the father of Baby Richard was inexcusable. He manipulated that story every step of the way. Even in this thread GaelFC refers to Baby Richard as "that tortured child" although he was not.

For the record, Baby Richards father found out that his ex-girlfriend had put the child up for adoption two months after it happened and he immediately sought custody. He never harmed the boy, indeed never even got to meet him until a few weeks before he got custody.

He was just a megalomaniac with a newspaper column.
posted by Bonzai at 1:13 AM on February 3, 2008

I'm sure there's a lot of Bob Greene in this guy.
posted by mediareport at 7:21 AM on February 3, 2008

Bonzai: I may have mixed up my kids. Did Greene write about another boy who was tortured? I swear he did...
posted by GaelFC at 11:20 AM on February 3, 2008

unfortunately, the content isn't easily available on the web, but ed gold's column 'bobwatch' is a must read for any bob greene fan. link to a description here.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 11:34 AM on February 3, 2008


He got into a zone where ALL he wrote about was the worst cases of child abuse he could have his researcher dig up. A 6 year old boy in indiana who spent his days chained in a closet being fed hot sauce and pissed on by his stepdad for wetting the bed. Kids in Kansas who were cattle-prodded by their father, a girl in wisconsin who came home from school and went to the basement to the dog cage she lived in.

What makes it even worse, is [especially with the Baby Richard stories- THE ONLY FAMILY HE HAS EVER KNOWN!!!] that he would recycle the most prurient stuff every column, reciting the horrors up front, and then filling in the last few graphs with whatever happened in the court case that day (courtesy of his researcher, who had to sit in the courtrooms and take notes). If it were a B movie or a bad episode of Law and Order you would just shake your head and wonder what kind of hack came up with that.

I never met Greene, but I used to work for the Trib and know people who knew him well, and most of what is out there about him is pretty much on the mark. As far as the circumstances of his downfall, I think what he did is sleazy and ethically wrong, but he had the dumb luck of being one of the few schmucks who got caught, and caught with a national spotlight on him. The notion that he was a champion of traditional American values etc. just makes it all the more ironic. He fell fast, far, and hard.

I think there was a time where he actually was a new voice, but then settled into complacency. He knew what buttons to push to keep the syndication happening. In the same respect, I think most readers knew there was a high BS factor, but read it everyday the way folks watch bad reality TV. They know it's crap, but it's entertaining crap and they like it. That's fine. Different folks.....

In a way I am interested to see what he will do with this CNN thing. It could be a chance to return to his better days, but from the couple of reports he has posted to date, seems he is just playing the same old tune on a new guitar.

Still....what else is he supposed to do?

He is looking for redemption, but it shouldn't be because of his dalliance, it should be for being such a lazy hack, and amateur human being.

my .02

p.s. That Zehme piece for Esquire is one of the best features I have ever read. I know it got included in Best Magazine Writing collection for the following year, and one a few awards I think. And yes, it is indeed sad.
posted by timsteil at 12:41 PM on February 3, 2008

Thanks for the posts, timsteil. I read them out of order - first the Esquire piece, then the Chicago Magazine piece, then the CNN piece - and, interestingly, because they differ in their approaches, I felt waves of both incredible sadness for the man, followed by qualms of slight revulsion. Like the story of most lives, I think the truth lies somewhere in between: Greene probably did habitually use his position and appeal to hit on younger women and, in doing so, was a bit of a creep, but he was also unfairly vilified by a company eager to cover its own ass, despite how profitable Greene had proven to be for them. Seems to me they took him out back and shot him point-blank for what amounted to stealing a pie off a windowsill.

Then there's what seems to be a taboo topic when it comes to these kinds of cases, which is the motives of the women involved. Why is it women are almost always depicted as these wide-eyed, weak-willed submissives, instantly snake-charmed by older men into carnal acts that debase their otherwise lily-white moral values? Nothing I read suggested Greene did anything but hit on these women; all of them were free to turn down his advances, as many smart ones did. The woman who precipitated Greene's spectacular fall from grace was obviously a woman who thought her life was going to turn out differently, perhaps in part because she'd had a dalliance with someone of prominence early in life. When things went south, she seemed to want to take it out on Bob Greene -- someone with whom she'd had no contact for years -- to bring him to the same low place in life from which she'd never had the talent to rise above. In the process, she destroyed a man's life and made miserable the last few months of life for Greene's wife, who by all accounts seemed a long-suffering but pragmatic and generous woman. And how did any of it serve to make the conditions of her own life better? I hope she has trouble sleeping at night, but I doubt that's the case.

Bob Greene's real crime, for most people, is that he made a spectacular career out of praising the simpler values of a bygone era, that he aspired, in his writing, to celebrate the better parts of human nature and to pass judgment on those who didn't live up to those standards. All the while, he wasn't living up to these values himself, routinely pushing buttons and pulling levers to generate something most people felt came pouring straight from the heart. That describes most of us, though, when we're brave enough to be most truthful with ourselves. Over the course of life, we all have moments of weakness, where we don't live up to the standards we hold others to. So I look forward to the world giving Greene a second chance - the same chance I'd hope someone would give all of us, after we'd been cruelly dressed down and spat upon by people with intentions no more virtuous, no purer, no better than our own.
posted by mrkinla at 2:05 PM on February 3, 2008

Something else of Greene's that's worth looking up: Billion Dollar Baby, a record of his tour with the original Alice Cooper Band. Yes, Bob Greene toured with Alice Cooper; he'd come out at the end of the show dressed as Santa Claus, and they'd kick his ass. James Randi was also on that tour as part of the show.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:05 AM on February 6, 2008

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