SETH GREENBERG: MY 1995 INTERVIEW

Seth Greenberg, ESPN’s popular college basketball broadcaster and analyst, may not seem to be in my wheelhouse as an interview subject but back in the day, February, 1995, to be exact, that’s exactly what he was. I recently came across the piece I did on him while reorganizing some of my files and it brought back a flood of memories. Also, since “March Madness” has been cancelled due to the Corona Virus pandemic, I thought this an appropriate time to reflect on what was.
The interview with Seth Greenberg came about like this: At the time of the interview, Greenberg was the head basketball coach at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) and managed to bring the school to the NCAA Finals for what I believe to be the first time. I was the editorial assistant for the Jewish Community Chronicle here in Long Beach while I was researching and working on Lee Marvin Point Blank in its earliest stages. My editor, Harriette Ellis, wanted me to interview Greenberg due to his involvement with the Maccabi Games, a sort of Jewish version of the Olympic Games, as well as the newly built Pyramid stadium at CSULB.
Obviously, interviewing an individual who’s claim to fame was athletic, proved to be quite a challenge to yours truly. My knowledge of such things is limited at best and other than touching base on what Harriette wanted covered, I was at a complete loss as to what else I would discuss with Greenberg. I remember that at the last minute, I decided to go with the concept of the cultural belief that generally speaking, Jews are not necessarily known for their athletic ability. Once again, for better or for worse, the result can be read below.
Oh, one more thing: due to the way in which I archived the article, the orientation of columns read straight down from one page to the next as you’ll see. Just so you know. Well, for better or for worse, here it is…..
– Dwayne Epstein

Seth Greenberg interview, page 1.

Seth Greenberg interview, page 2.

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ARCHIVAL: EXPOSING ANTI-SEMITISM

Anti-Semitism is apparently on the rise, along with other nasty acts of hatred, but the existence is hardly new. I’ve experienced some very minor run-ins with it myself, but it’s nothing compared to what I witnessed firsthand while working at Long Beach’s Jewish Community Chronicle.
Long before the rise of mainstream media’s embrace of such things (a culturally shift that, according to the ADL, can be laid at the feet of the President-Elect), I got the exclusive story of one such ugly incident of extreme anti-semitism back in 1993.
Worked like this: Long before the publication of Lee Marvin Point Blank, My JCC boss, editor Harriette Ellis, received a call of such an event to our cramped little office and then asked me to go check it out. Usually, our paper is made up of mostly local events, marriages, bar mitzvahs, etc. The only real news came from the Jewish Telegraph Agency we subscribed to and picked articles from it to run as filler. This, however, was quite different.
I went to the site of the incident and spoke with the young janitor on duty. When he showed me what took place, I took pictures to go with the article and asked if there was anything else. He reached into his pocked and pulled out some scraps of paper left at the scene. When I saw them, I immediately asked if anyone else had seen them, like the police or other local news organizations. He said the L.A. Times, Orange County Register and the Long Beach Press-Telegram all made phone inquiries. I was the only one to physically come to the scene of the crime. There’s a journalism lesson there somewhere, folks. As for the police, he said they didn’t ask, so he didn’t show it to them. I thanked him, rushed back to the office, burst in, and actually said to Harriette (wait for it)…”Stop the presses, Chief! I gotta story that’ll set this whole town on fire!” She loved it!
By the way, I like to add the Harriette was, and remains one of the best editors I ever worked for. In fact, as a side note, she contacted her nephew, L.A. Weekly editor Harold Myerson, and asked him to put me in contact with a good agent. He gave me Mike Hamilburg’s phone number which resulted in Lee Marvin Point Blank FINALLY seeing the light of day!
At any rate, below is the article for the Chronicle detailing the exclusive coverage I got on the heinous act of anti-semitism. I would like to be able to say it’s all in the past but sadly, it’s all too new, all over again. Here’s hoping 2017 might reverse the trend, but it’s doubtful….

Page of 1 my 1993 JEWISH COMMUNITY CHRONICLE article on local anti-semitic vandalism in Long Beach.

Page 2 of the article.

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MEMORIES OF MIKE ‘THE MENSCH’ HAMILBURG

Mike Hamilburg
Well, the clouds have cleared, at least enough for me to write a little of what I had intended to write, earlier. Mike Hamilburg’s memorial is this weekend and I thought it a good time to relate what it was that made him so amazing, at least to me, anyway.
I first met Mike in the late 1990s when my efforts to get a publisher for Lee Marvin Point Blank were beginning to become extremely frustrating. I had already gone through two other not-so-competent agents and was submitting my proposal to major publishers on my own. NOT something I would suggest to any fledgling author plying their wares. The result invariably meant unread returned submissions stamped, “We do not accept unsolicited material.” Sigh.
At the time I was working as an assistant editor at Long Beach’s Jewish Community Chronicle under the auspices of one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with, Harriette Ellis. I learned much under her tutelage but just as impressive was her surprising connections. Sensing my frustration, she decided to contact her nephew, Harold Myerson, who at the time was managing editor at The L.A. Weekly. When he and I spoke he told me the best agent he knew of was Mike Hamilburg and proceeded to put us in contact with each other. Keep in mind, this was before the days of Google searches, so I had no real way to know anything about Mike. My frustration grew but I sent him my proposal, anyway. What could I lose?
After he read it, I came to his office on Wilshire Blvd to discuss the proposal. The outer office was occupied by his secretary, Joanie, who led me into Mike’s office. There was no wood paneling or fancy furniture: just a simple work station set-up with Mike behind a series of desks to do just that, work. We exchanged pleasantries while I drank in one of the most impressive images I’ve ever seen.

Poster to the shamefully underrated film, THE YAKUZA -- which Mike Hamilburg produced -- and of which he had a copy of behind his desk in his Whilshire Blvd. office.

Poster to the shamefully underrated film, THE YAKUZA — which Mike Hamilburg co-produced — and of which he had a copy of behind his desk in his Whilshire Blvd. office.

Behind him, on the wall, was a massive mural-like poster of one of my favorite underrated 70s films, The Yakuza. I took great comfort in that and asked Mike if he was fan. “Fan? No, I co-produced it,” he off-handedly responded. I was now even more impressed! When I told him how much I always like the film, he jokingly muttered, “Oh, you’re the one.” By the way, over time I would ask Mike about the film, to gain some inside info on its production and he would offer such comments as, “My main responsibilty was to keep Robert Mitchum sober….and I really didn’t do a a very good job.”
We got down to business almost immediately which I found not only refreshing but quite amazing. Following a brief a discussion, he picked up the phone and right in front of me started talking to various acquistion editors to see if they’d be interested in my proposal. Then, he asked me how many copies can I get to him to send out. This guy was constantly amazing me from moment to moment. I asked him if the proposal needed any tweaking or punching up, as I had only written it based on some ‘How-to’ books I had come across. He reached in his desk drawer, rifled through some pages inside, pulled out several previous proposals from his clients and said, “Here, study these to get a sense of what works best.” I took them, shook his hand and drove home.
Those proposals? Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer-Prize winning Team Of Rivals, which later became the basis of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012); Robert Butler’s The White Mile (1994), which Hamilburg co-produced as a TV-movie starring Alan Alda; Virginia Morell’s Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind’s Beginnings (1995), which became a TV documentary. Pretty heady stuff!

The movie tie-in cover of Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, the proposal of which Mike Hamilburg lent me to write LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK.

The movie tie-in cover of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, the proposal of which Mike Hamilburg lent me to write LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK.

 

 

Robert Butler's non-fiction thriller, WHITE MILE, co-produced for TV by Mike Hamilburg.

Robert Butler’s non-fiction thriller, WHITE MILE, co-produced for TV by Mike Hamilburg.

The result, after carefully going over these wonderful examples, was a much better proposal of Lee Marvin: Point Blank. I then personally returned the samples to Mike by hand, which impressed him no end. From that moment on, we trusted and liked each other unconditionally.
Unlike my previous agents, who always seemed exasperated when I called to check in on any progress, Mike called ME on a regular basis. At one point, a young editor at Penguin named Hillery Borton was extremely enthused with the proposal and Mike put me in direct contact with her. Unfortunately, as enthusiastic as she was, when she put the idea before her editorial board, the answer was the same as previous publishers: Nobody is interested in a bio on a long dead film star.  A very small publisher offered an even smaller advance and on Mike’s advice (“Might as well take it and get the damned thing published….My percentage will be a free copy of the book.”), I begrdugingly took the offer.
Time passed, my parents’ health began to deterioate and I had to deal with their mounting issues. In the interim, on my girlfriend Barbara’s very wise advice, I returned the paltry advance to the publisher in hopes of reconnecting with Hamilburg sometime in the future.
Okay, flash forward a few years. After dealing with the nightmare of my parents’ demise — my dad of Alzeheimer’s in 2005 and my mom from heart disease in 2008 — I gambled on Mike Hamilburg still being in business, or at the very least, still alive and willing to offer some help. Turns out, he was very much alive, semi-retired and most amazing of all, STILL willing to pitch my Lee Marvin bio. A lot more tweaking followed and since Mike never believed in contracts with his clients, at least not with me anyway, I asked him in an e-mail if he’d be willing to go on record as my agent……

Mike's e-mail response to my request of his officially being my agent.

Mike’s e-mail response to my request of his officially being my agent.

After several months of redrafting the proposal and then several get-togethers with Mike to discuss it at Early World, his favorite old-timey restaraunt, he launched a battle plan. Several offers came in, and in 2012, I signed the contract with Tim Schaffner of Schaffner Press. It was a little bumpy at first and pretty scary but Mike kept reassuring me during the process with such pearls of wisdom as, “I fully believe that when the book comes out, Lee Marvin fans will come out from behind the curtain.”
I would like to write some more of Mike’s valuable insights but I’ve gone too long here, already. Suffice to say, as usual, Mike was right. In June of 2014 Lee Marvin: Point Blank was #4 on the e-book non-fiction New York Times Best Seller List, as well as #3 on The Wall Street Journal list and Publisher’s Weekly.
Mike Hamilburg. The rarest thing I’ve ever encountered. An honest agent. A perservering mentor. A good friend. More than just the last of his kind and the best of it. A true mensch.
– Dwayne Epstein

At the Book Soup booksigning for LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK, with Mike Hamilburg (right) on Sunset Blvd.

At the Book Soup book signing on Sunset Blvd. for LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK, with Mike Hamilburg (right).

 

 

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