Long ago and far away, through the miracle of my parents’ friendship with the immortal columnist and speechwriter Bill Safire, I met a young executive at Warner Bros. TV named Steve Greene. I had pitched an idea to a wonderful man named Ed Bleier who was a high executive at Warner. I can still remember it — the pitch — it was at Mr. Safire’s magnificent home in Kenwood, a beautiful neighborhood outside Washington, D.C. Mr. and Mrs. Safire were celebrating the end of the fast for Yom Kippur and had invited high-ranking Jews in D.C., of whom my Pop was one. Mrs. Safire told Mom to bring me, whom she slightly knew.
Steve often had some new plan to make himself “as rich as you are, Ben.”
Ed Bleier said my idea was a perfect story and assigned me to work on it with Steve Greene, under Ed’s supervision in New York. (Ed had been Mr. Safire’s roommate at Syracuse U. They had remained pals.)
My story never got made. But I became close friends with Steve. Like everyone who meets me, he thought I was rich. I’m not and never have been. When Steve quit Warner and moved to Hollywood, we stayed friends. People in Hollywood like to have rich friends.
Steve was a handsome guy with brown hair and chiseled features. He had a gorgeous Italian-American wife named Denise Carpitano, whose ambition was to be an actor. I had a job with Norman Lear that allowed me to cast a show and get her auditions, even two tiny parts.
Steve wore his jeans way too tight. He also made up tall tales on a trivial scale, such as that he could read ancient Egyptian. But he was a great friend. He could cheer me up on even my darkest days. He always praised Nixon, which has always been important to me. Nixon is a god in my house. He was good to my mother and father, extremely good. To this day in February 2023, our houses are loaded to the brim with photos of Mr. Nixon and my parents (including a fine one of my Pop with Billy Graham).
Steve and Warner parted company in about July 1976, which was just days after I moved — all by myself with my literary agent, David Obst — to L.A. Steve still had some connections in the movie and TV business. He helped me sell one of my biggest sales ever, a 10-part series in our beloved Los Angeles Herald Examiner, R.I.P., about Quaalude addiction as a movie. The director and producer of the movie simply stole my writing credit. Standard in Hollywood. It came out as Cocaine. Starred James Woods. But I was well paid and got a “based on” credit.
But Steve was a cheerful presence in my travails. I never knew what he did for a living, but he lived well. Well, fairly well. His wife and he divorced probably 40 years ago. He never recovered. His wife had twins with her second husband. She got cancer of the stomach, a cruel and slow death. Steve stepped up and sat with Denise and the kids for months, maybe years. When his Denise died, he was devastated. But I mean truly knocked out of his mind.
Divorce is a terrible blow.
So is death.
About 10 years ago, Steve moved to Florida, to a pleasant area called Delray Beach. At the same time, Michael Chinich, the man who made me an actor, my wonderful friend, moved nearby in South Florida.
I saw them often in the days before I got injured in my right knee and could travel at will. They were both cheerful, although by then Michael’s wife, a superb chef named Marian, had also passed away. Steve often had some new plan to make himself “as rich as you are, Ben.” Michael had hilarious ideas for movies. I loved them both, and our bar visits to the Breakers in Palm Beach were memorable indeed. Steve would pick up girls by telling them he was with a movie star. He stopped showing up about a year ago.
About six months ago, though, Steve talked about how low he was feeling. He had worries about money, and he found a sympathetic ear on his friend Ben.
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I often offered to advance money to him for whatever his next project would be. He never took me up on it. Very recently, he tried to get me to be a spokesman for “crypto” machines in gas stations. I told him I thought crypto was a complete fraud, but I would advance money to him if he needed it.
He turned me down and he got sadder and sadder. He said he was suffering from a depression so deep he could never climb out of the well. I begged him to come to visit my wife and me in L.A. He said he would think about it. He thanked me but said he would work on it in Florida.
He talked about how much he missed Denise, and he meant it. Losing the love of your life is not something you ever get over.
One week ago, Michael Chinich called me and told me, in a deeply mournful tone, that Steve had died. I sobbed like a baby. I told Dr. Hyman, my shrink of 43 years standing, about it. Many years before I had sent Steve to Paul Hyman, and they hit it off brilliantly. But Steve did not keep attending his 50 minutes with the doctor. I don’t know why.
Dr. Hyman cried when he heard about Steve. I know a lot of shrinks. They don’t cry about their patients. But Dr. Hyman and Chinich and I cried and so did everyone who knew him. He was a friend. We don’t have that many of them in our short lives.