Greene, Bob 1947–
Greene, Bob 1947–
(Robert Bernard Greene, Jr.)
PERSONAL: Born March 10, 1947, in Columbus, OH; son of Robert Bernard (a business executive) and Phyllis Ann (Harmon) Greene; married Susan Bonnet Koebel (a paralegal; deceased), February 13, 1971; children: two. Education: Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, B.J., 1969.
CAREER: Journalist, columnist, and writer. Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago, IL, reporter, 1969–71, columnist, 1971–78; Chicago Tribune, Chicago, columnist, 1978–2002. Field Newspaper Syndicate, Irvine, CA, syndicated columnist, 1976–81; Tribune Media Services, Orlando, FL, syndicated columnist, 1981–90; Night-line, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC), contributing correspondent, 1981–90. Also served as fine arts lecturer, University of Chicago.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best newspaper column in Illinois, Associated Press, 1975; best sustaining feature in Chicago, Chicago Newspaper Guild, 1976; National Headliner Award, 1977, for best newspaper column in the United States; Peter Lisagor Award, 1981, for exemplary journalism, 1995, for public service; Illinois Journalist of the Year, 1995. Awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Ohio State University, Elmhurst College, St. Joseph's College, and Wittenberg University.
We Didn't Have None of Them Fat Funky Angels on the Wall of Heartbreak Hotel and Other Reports from America, Regnery (Chicago, IL), 1971.
Running: A Nixon-McGovern Campaign Journal, Regnery (Chicago, IL), 1973.
Billion Dollar Baby, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1974.
Johnny Deadline, Reporter: The Best of Bob Greene (columns), Nelson-Hall (Chicago, IL), 1976.
(With Paul Galloway) Bagtime, Popular Library, 1977.
American Beat (columns), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1983.
Good Morning, Merry Sunshine: A Father's Journal of His Child's First Year, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1984.
Cheeseburgers (columns), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1985.
Be True to Your School: A Diary of 1964 (excerpted in Family Circle and Esquire), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1987.
Homecoming: When the Soldiers Returned from Vietnam (excerpted in Esquire), Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.
He Was a Midwestern Boy on His Own, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1991.
Hang Time: Days and Dreams with Michael Jordan, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1992.
All Summer Long: A Novel, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993.
(With D.G. Fulford), To Our Children's Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993.
Rebound: The Odyssey of Michael Jordan, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
The 50-Year Dash: The Feelings, Foibles, and Fears of Being Half-a-Century Old, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.
Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.
Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2004.
And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributing editor and columnist for Esquire, 1980–90; columnist for Life, 1999–2000. Contributor of news stories, articles, and columns to newspapers and magazines, including New York Times, Harper's, Rolling Stone, and Newsweek.
ADAPTATIONS: The 50-Year Dash: The Feelings, Foibles, and Fears of Being Half-a-Century Old, Hang Time: Days and Dreams with Michael Jordan, Rebound: The Odyssey of Michael Jordan, Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War, Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen, Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents, and And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship have all been recorded as audiobooks.
SIDELIGHTS: Bob Greene was a popular syndicated columnist for many years and has written numerous books and articles. Rather than following major news items, Greene's Chicago Tribune and Esquire pieces focus on unusual events or people who never appear in the typical news story. "Greene has an excellent eye for the Everyman Anecdote in his columns," wrote Bob Levey in the Washington Post. Many of Greene's books are compilations of favorite columns.
In 1971 Greene published a collection of magazine-length pieces under the title We Didn't Have None of Them Fat Funky Angels on the Wall of Heartbreak Hotel and Other Reports from America. A Variety contributor described the book as "an unusually perceptive look at cafe society and its discontents" and called Greene a "rare newspaperman." Greene's second book, Running: A Nixon-McGovern Campaign Journal, contains his observations on the 1972 presidential campaign, which he came to view as a kind of road show. New York Times Book Review contributor Leonard C. Lewin wrote that Running captures the mood of a typical political campaign: "The detail is rich and the observations sharp, albeit without more than casual political insights…. And it is impossible not to share Greene's wonderment, to which he returns time and again, at the apparently total lack of connection between what was happening in the campaign organizations and what was going on outside."
Greene joined a different type of road show in 1973 when he toured with the rock group Alice Cooper, which at the time labeled itself "the sickest, most degenerate band in America." Greene wanted to experience the life of a rock star; he sat in on one of the band's recording sessions, then joined their tour. Greene had "always been attracted by the fantasy, of being a wealthy superstar, of performing on a stage before 20,000 adoring fans," reported a Publishers Weekly contributor, who also quoted Greene's experiences with the band: "I became another band member, performing with them every night and sharing their luxurious yet boring life on the road." But Greene's fantasy probably had not included playing Santa Claus in Alice Cooper's show, beaten to death every night by the band members as part of their holiday theme.
Greene's account of his experiences with the band, Billion Dollar Baby, is a study in the achievement of the modern American Dream through media image manipulation. The reporter took pains to portray not only the public image of the band, but also the private reality. Greene depicts Vince Furnier, the band's front man and the personification of Alice Cooper, as a normal, intelligent young man who consciously set out to create a controversial, unsavory public image in order to attract attention. The band's strategy proved successful, but, according to Greene, the members paid a price: the nights of glory and adulation they enjoyed were offset by days of boredom spent in hotel rooms watching television and drinking beer.
Most critics commended Greene for seeing through the glitter and presenting a balanced view of the inside reality of the superstars' lives. New York Times reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt described Greene as "a cultural explorer in search of the gap between the image and the reality, and a mapmaker trying to prove that the gap is nonexistent. Mr. Greene may look like a good-natured lightweight. But when he swings, he hits; when he hits, he hurts; and Billion Dollar Baby knocks you out." The book satisfied other critics as well. "Greene's provocative inside account," wrote Newsweek contributor Maureen Orth, "is neither the sycophantic gush of much rock writing nor the supercilious put-down of the Establishment journalist." Orth continued, "Billion Dollar Baby is to rock idols what The Selling of the President was to politics." New York Times Book Review contributor John Rockwell called the book "the most exhaustive rock-tour book yet, full of doggedly detailed information on everything from taping an album to the thoughts of the star to the tensions in the band to the camaraderie of the roadies." A New Yorker contributor praised Billion Dollar Baby as an "intelligent, unpretentious, and compelling account of a rock supergroup and its world."
Greene returned to the streets of Chicago with his next book, Johnny Deadline, Reporter: The Best of Bob Greene. The book is a collection of his newspaper columns on a variety of topics best described by the broad heading, "human interest." Rolling Stone reviewer Greil Marcus was impressed by Greene's ability to create insightful portraits: "When Greene deals with people on and off the street they come alive, and they are memorable." Marcus added: "What is best about Greene is that he writes as if he thinks there are still things for him to learn about."
American Beat compiles more of Greene's favorite columns from newspapers and his work with Esquire. Carolyn See wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Greene's "writing is vibrant and strong. But he's also a person beginning to consider himself as an old man. Several of his columns deal with traditional 'where are the snows of yesteryear?' themes." See added: "It is as a young/old man newly bowed down by the exigencies of daily life that Greene writes." Christian Science Monitor contributor Jim Bencivenga praised Greene's ability as a reporter: "I make a deep bow to Bob Greene as a man who can write the simple declarative sentence, the sine qua non of readable journalism. He's mastered the craft of clarity."
At the age of thirty-five Greene became a father for the first time. The birth of his daughter, Amanda, became the springboard for his next project: a record of his child's first year. The daily journal of both Amanda's and her parents' growth, Good Morning, Merry Sunshine: A Father's Journal of His Child's First Year, became one of Greene's most popular books. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "an intensely personal, day-by-day diary of the emotions Greene experienced as a first-time father." By publishing the journal, which included both Greene's and his wife Susan's readjustments to one another as well as to Amanda, Greene dropped some of his prior reserve and opened his life to his audience. Jim Spencer observed in the Chicago Tribune Books that "Greene has never revealed much about his family or private life in his columns." Spencer added: "One part of Greene revels in having created and sustained this mysterious persona. That is why [Good Morning, Merry Sunshine] seems ironic. This man, who spent years carefully avoiding saying very much about his private life, has written a book providing the intimate details of that most personal bond between father and daughter and throwing in several related family tidbits to boot."
Greene first hit upon the idea of writing the diary when he combed bookstores for "anything that dealt on a human level with what happens when a man and a woman bring a new baby home when a house that held two people suddenly holds three," he explains in Good Morning, Merry Sunshine. As Greene later told reporters, he did not intend to set himself up as a perfect father, but wanted to share with readers the common incidents in becoming a parent. Greene found his introduction to fatherhood a struggle since, as he later told the Publishers Weekly contributor, "I've always been ambitious and, to use a negative term, selfish. The number one obligation in my life was always to get the story." His attitude, however, changed after Amanda's birth. Greene added that "my job is still a huge part of my life, but now there is a part that is even bigger."
Still, despite the apparent openness, some critics felt Greene was holding back emotionally when describing his relationship with his family. "He hides behind the reporter's habit of just-the-facts ma'am, where exploring or hypothesizing would have added to the book immeasurably," claimed Washington Post reviewer Bob Levey, who continued: "Greene doesn't deliver when it comes to researching the core of his own feelings." New York Times Book Review contributor James Carroll commented that he found the book to convey immediacy and warmth: "I relished Bob Greene's 'Good Morning, Merry Sunshine,' for the company and the comfort," wrote Carroll. "At times I had the feeling it was one of those rare late-night conversations with an old friend and, at other times, a startling exchange with a stranger on an airplane."
Greene later published another diary. He had written what became Be True to Your School: A Diary of 1964 when he was a seventeen-year-old intent on honing his writing and reporting skills. After working on the journal for a year during high school, Greene had packed it away. Years later, as he writes in the book, "I realized that what I had here was something money could not buy: time preserved." As the entries were often scribbled, he rewrote many of them and connected the episodes with narrative, but still tried to retain the work's original teenage voice. Daniel B. Wood explained in the Christian Science Monitor that "doing his best as a 'glorified rewrite man,'… he has taken the cryptic sentence fragments, disjointed conversations and hurriedly written descriptions of emotions to reconstruct a publishable manuscript [into] a full, readable narrative on what might be called the purgatory of teendom." Wood went on to call the book "a daily dissection of the hopes, loves, and fears of a fragile 17-year-old, riding the emotional roller coaster of dating, while trying to discover himself, 'achieve,' and develop independence all at the same time."
Despite his upper-middle-class suburban background, Greene feels that almost anyone can relate to his high school experiences. Nevertheless, some critics objected to the inclusion of minor happenings. Toronto Globe and Mail contributor Jeffrey Zaslow wrote that "because the book is now very readable, it is also suspect. Many observations are so astute that you have to wonder who is responsible for them, the 17-year-old Bobby or the 39-year-old Bob." Zaslow also wrote that "the finished work is sensitively written, often amusing, even gripping. There is a voyeuristic charge to eavesdropping on this boy's life in 1964. It's as if you've stolen his diary." The reviewer concluded that Greene "has a gift for writing vivid, heartfelt prose, for revelling in the memories that tug at us all."
In He Was a Midwestern Boy on His Own, Greene presents a collection of his work from past newspaper columns, his Esquire articles, and Nightline television work. Writing in Publishers Weekly, Genevieve Stuttaford noted that Greene "is in top form in those essays calculated to bring a lump to the throat." The author turned to novel writing with All Summer Long: A Novel, a story about a television reporter who tries to relive his youth with his former best friend. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the effort "a sunny, nostalgia-drenched ramble across much of the U.S."
Greene writes about turning fifty years old in The 50-Year Dash: The Feelings, Foibles, and Fears of Being Half-a-Century Old. In Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights, the author reflects on 1950s America in a collection of his columns. Library Journal contributor Susan Dearstyne commented that the author "writes deftly; his gift for home truth is refreshing." Gene Lyons, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called the columns "economical, gracefully written pieces."
Greene writes about his relationship with his dying father and about Paul Tibbets—the pilot who flew the atomic bomb to Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II—in Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War. Comparing Tibbets with his own father, Greene explores the World War II generation that these two men represented. "A touching look at parent-child relationships and the psychological distance that can grow between generations," wrote Vanessa Bush in Booklist. Jeffrey Record, writing in Parameters, called the book "a light and easy read" and "a successful attempt to understand a war that defined the life of a generation."
The author continues his look back at America during World War II with Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. Focusing on a canteen in North Platte, Greene recounts how the local populace provided food and companionship to soldiers who stopped with the train on their way to war. Greene retells both the town's story and the many sacrifices made by the people to provide comfort to soldiers. "There's no doubt that this slice of home-front Americana is heartwarming," wrote Ilene Cooper in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author's "skill makes this homage … a resonating chord in those seeking to remember the generosity and selflessness of many."
Greene recounts his visits to former U.S. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush (senior) in his book Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents. Ilene Cooper, writing in Booklist, noted that "the presidents' postpresidential lives come through interestingly." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted: "Carter … receives the most substantial profile as serious, tightlipped micro-manager."
Greene told CA: "Against all odds, I think that books may be on the verge of entering one of their greatest eras. Everything we've heard recently argues against this—the fragmentation of media, the cacophony of voices coming at us from every direction, the 24-hour availability of video images from cables, dishes, satellites."
"Everything we've heard argues that we no longer have the time or attention span we used to, that books are too quiet, too modest, to compete in the frantic new world of ceaseless information."
"But that may be wrong. The quietness of a book—the sound of one author speaking directly to one reader—is precisely the appeal. There's nothing else quite like it, for those of us who write books, for those who (to our eternal gratitude) choose to read them. Blaring sounds and streaming data and garish images bang away at us everywhere we turn; a book, the centuries-old way for one person to reach another, seems suddenly new, inviting."
"The most compact, portable, and beautiful of packages, a book requires no downloading, no wires, no modems, no batteries. It doesn't shout at you or demand your attention; it's happy to wait for you, when you're ready to turn to it. It feels like it's yours, in a way no electronic device, no portable media player, ever quite can. It endures."
"Who would have guessed it? The book—for writers, for readers—may turn out, in the end, to be winner and still champion. Which is very good news, in a world that can use all the good news it can find, delivered between hard covers or any other way."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Greene, Bob, Good Morning, Merry Sunshine: A Father's Journal of His Child's First Year, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1984.
Greene, Bob, Be True to Your School: A Diary of 1964, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1987.
Greene, Bob, The 50-Year Dash: The Feelings, Foibles, and Fears of Being Half-a-Century Old, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.
Greene, Bob, Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
Aerospace Power Journal, winter, 2000, Rob Reinebach, review of Duty, p. 99.
Booklist, December 1, 1995, review of Rebound: The Odyssey of Michael Jordan, p. 587; December 15, 1996, Bill Ott, review of The 50-Year Dash, p. 691; June 1, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of Chevrolet Summers, Diary Queen Nights, p. 1618; February 15, 1999, review of Hang Time: Days and Dreams with Michael Jordan, p. 1096; April 1, 2000, Vanessa Bush, review of Duty, p. 1411; May 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen, p. 1442; July, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents, p. 1795.
Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1987, review of Be True to Your School, p. 6.
Christian Science Monitor, November 4, 1983, Jim Bencivenga, review of American Beat, p. B7; April 28, 1987, Daniel B. Wood, review of Be True to Your School, p. 29.
Crain's Chicago Business, January 31, 2005, Dan Weissmann, "Folk Artist," discusses author's reading habits, p. 34.
Editor & Publisher, October 7, 2002, Dave Astor, "Would They Be a Party to Greene," p. 29.
Entertainment Weekly, September 12, 1997, Gene Lyons, review of Chevrolet Summers, Diary Queen Nights, p. 132.
Esquire, Howard Kurtz, "The Confessions of Bob Greene," p. 97.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 4, 1987, Jeffrey Zaslow, review of Be True to Your School.
Hollywood Reporter, September 16, 2002, "Columnist Exits," p. 3.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2002, review of Once Upon a Town, p. 543; July 1, 2004, review of Fraternity, p. 617.
Library Journal, September 1, 1997, Susan Dearstyne, review of Chevrolet Summers, Diary Queen Nights, p. 204; April 15, 2000, William D. Bushnell, review of Duty, p. 106; July, 2004, Karl Helicher, "Bob Greene," interview with author, p. 98.
Los Angeles Times, November 24, 1983, Carolyn See, review of American Beat; December 6, 1985; September 16, 2002, "Greene Quits Tribune Over Sexual Misconduct," p. A13; September 17, 2002, J. Michael Kennedy and John Beckham, "Private Life Collides with Popular Columnist's Public Image," p. A12.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 3, 1995, review of Rebound, p. 11.
Newsweek, January 13, 1975, Maureen Orth, review of Billion Dollar Baby, p. 68; September 20, 2002, Seth Mnookin, "A Writer's Fall from Grace," p. 46; October 7, 2002, Seth Mnookin, "Tribulations at the Trib," ongoing coverage of author's resignation, p. 65; October 7, 2002, Karen Springen, "Time to Take Stock," discusses author's book being removed from Chicago Tribune gift shop, p. 12.
New Yorker, December 9, 1974, review of Billion Dollar Baby, p. 194.
New York Times, November 14, 1974, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Billion Dollar Baby, p. 45.
New York Times Book Review, May 20, 1973, Leonard C. Lewin, review of Running, p. 16; December 22, 1974, John Rockwell, review of Billion Dollar Baby, p. 10; June 10, 1984, James Carroll, review of Good Morning, Merry Sunshine, p. 18; January 22, 1989, Dough Anderson, review of Homecoming: When the Soldiers Returned from Viet Nam, p. 24; March 16, 1997, Milton Garrison, review of The 50-Year Dash, p. 20; August 3, 1997, Carol Peace Robins, review of Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights, p. 17.
Parameters, winter, 2000, Jeffrey Record, review of Duty, p. 150.
Publishers Weekly, August 5, 1974, review of Billion Dollar Baby; May 4, 1984, review of Good Morning, Merry Sunshine; February 22, 1991, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of He Was a Midwestern Boy on His Own, p. 204; May 3, 1993, review of All Summer Long: A Novel, p. 292; December 2, 1996, review of The 50-Year Dash, p. 45; June 2, 1997, review of Chevrolet Summers, Diary Queen Nights, p. 58; May 20, 2002, review of Once Upon a Town, p. 59; July 12, 2004, review of Fraternity, p. 54.
Quill, October-November, 2002, "Hang Time: Days and Dreams," comments on author's resignation, p. 46.
Rolling Stone, July 1, 1976, Greil Marcus, review of Johnny Deadline, Reporter, p. 97.
Time, September 20, 2002, Amanda Ripley, "Gets Spiked: The Strange Fall of a Veteran Columnist Whose Private Life Could Not Live Up to His Public Voice," p. 58.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 6, 1984, Jim Spencer, review of Good Morning, Merry Sunshine; January 22, 1989, review of Homecoming, p. 5; December 10, 1995, review of Rebound, p. 4.
Variety, July 10, 1978, review of We Didn't Have None of Them Fat Funky Angels on the Wall of Heartbreak Hotel.
Washington Post, May 26, 1984, Bob Levey, review of Good Morning, Merry Sunshine, p. C5; May 14, 1987; September 16, 2002, Howard Kurtz, "Tribune's Bob Greene Resigns after Sex Inquiry," p. C1.
Washingtonpost.com, http://washingtonpost.com/ (March 6, 2003), Howard Kurtz, "The Shattered Glass of a Career."