I remember phone calls with my friend Marty Greenberg in which we discussed Tekno Books business, the Three Stooges, the Chicago Cubs, Marty’s daughters, an old sf magazine I’d talked about previously, the latest Seinfeld episode rerun, wholesale prices for the books we were publishing and the newest jokes about George W. Bush. All in one call. And this went on virtually every day for twenty-seven years.
Marty and Isaac Asimov had been best friends for years and called each other just about every day, including a few days when Isaac was overseas. When Isaac passed Marty and I started talking every day.
I met Martin Harry Greenberg (not to be confused with that other Martin Greenberg of ill repute) when I began selling him stories around 1983 or so. I sold him quite a few and got to know him in the process. We had the same pathetically deranged sense of humor as well as the same ambitious plans to create interesting literary projects.
There was a time early on when I didn’t know him all that well it turned out. He made frequent trips to New York for many years and called me from there to tell me how it was going with agents and editors. One night when he called and I asked him what he was doing and he asked me if I could keep a secret. Naturally I said yes (I’m like George Costanza—I put it in the vault). Well, he said, he had a couple of hookers in his room and couldn’t talk very long. But please keep this to myself.
Of course I mentioned this to my wife Carol and said you know people always surprise you She was surprised, too. Marty always talked about how much he loved his wife Roz and depended on her. Hookers just didn’t fit.
When he called the next night we talked for awhile before I asked him if he had hookers tonight. At first he didn’t know what I was talking about and then he laughed that great Marty laugh. He’d forgotten. “Jesus Christ,” he said. “that was a joke.”
Marty bought out fifty per cent of Mystery Scene magazine (from our friend Bob Randisi) which made us business partners because I owned the other half. Only Marty’s generosity kept the magazine going. We never did make any money with it but as Marty always insisted owning the magazine brought us to the attention of people in the publishing business. It gave us a brand. We also co-edited many books with the help of Roz, Larry Segriff, Denise Little and John Helfers, the killer Tekno team. We even had a small publishing house called G&G books which he insisted stood for “Greenberg and Greenberg.” He was laughing as he said it of course.
I’ve had three other business partners in my lifetime. I ended amiably with none of them. Marty was the model business partner. I say this without exaggeration. He had more good ideas in one morning than I had in a month. And in the publishing world of the eighties and nineties and on into the new century he knew who to take those ideas to and what to do with them. One other important element in our business partnership was that Marty genuinely liked people, liked conventions and sitting around getting to know people. I'm not anti-social but I've always been pretty insular. In all the years we knew each other I only met Marty face-to-face on three occasions. Obviously it was his warmth and savvy that made the sales.
Tekno Books prospered. His anthologies became proving grounds for an innumerable number of writers who went on to notable careers. In addition to business acumen he was a generous supporter of writers in financial trouble. I know of one writer he supported for the last years of his life. I know of another writer whose house he helped save from foreclosure. There are a lot of stories like that.
But mostly he was just Marty, the best friend I’ve ever had. Until he got sick with pancreatitis, just about every conversation had at least one bit of lore about show business, a subject we both loved.
Marty’s great obsession was the history of Jews in show business, everything from the New York vaudeville to the Catskills to the history of the William Morris Agency to the alleged mob ties of Lew Wasserman. This extended to a poor soul named “Strauss the Mouse” a club fighter who set a record by having as many as four fights in a single night. The Mouse, God knows how, kept this up for nearly a decade. Marty also loved the all the stories about Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohen (as did the Coen Brothers in their under-appreciated film “Barton Fink”)who had once supposedly remarked that “the world would be a better place without the Jews or the Irish.” As one of his writers said that was because all of Harry’s writers were Jewish or Irish. Like all Hollywood moguls, Harry despised writers.
He had other interests as well, of course. The only one I had no interest in was sports. I’m not a sports fan so I always joked that I was setting the phone down when he started doing a sports rap up. He took the Green Bay Packers so seriously that he’d get depressed for a day if they lost. When I first met him I was still a boxing fan but after seeing a boxer die I gave even that up.
My goal in most of our conversations was to make him laugh. Carol always said that hearing him laugh made her happy. It had the same effect on me. And luckily I got to hear it for more than a quarter century.
In January of this year Roz called and told me that the doctors had found a massive tumor on Marty’s brain. They felt certain that it was malignant and so it was, even more than their worst fears in fact. Roz nursed and nurtured him for longer than a year, having little life of her own. If there’s such a thing as secular sainthood, she should receive the honor.
Marty was never the same after the operation. We talked four times a week or so, no longer every day, and some days he had difficulty focusing. A few times he was incoherent. A month or so before he died he said to me “I’m not the same anymore am I?” I lied and said that of course he was. But we both knew better.
Roz and his three wonderful daughters and I had known that he was going to die. We prepared ourselves for it. Or thought we had, anyway, until the day he passed. He taught me more, influenced me more than any other person in my life.
In addition to the melancholy I feel there’s the practical matter of wanting to tell him about all the things that I liked in a given day and all the things that made me mad. He had to put up with a lot of my Irish rants. Five times a day I want to pick up the phone and make him laugh and then make him sit still for one of my angry political bursts. That’s the hardest part of all. Glancing at the phone three or four times a night knowing it’ll never be him calling.
So long old friend. I hope heaven turns out to be the Hollywood of the Thirties and Forties. When you come right down to it, who’d want to spend eternity any other way?