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On the Death of Bud Greenspan on Christmas Day


December 26, 2010

Bud Greenspan Leaves Us A Lifetime of Inspiring Stories And Moments



A sudden, gentle gust of wind disturbed the trees and briefly caressed the eternal Olympic flame as the sun set on Christmas day at ancient Olympia in Greece, site of the original Olympic Games…………not to worry, it was just the soul of Bud Greenspan wafting by, on its way to the Gods and Olympus…………the revered Olympic filmmaker died peacefully and quietly at home in New York City yesterday at 84, losing a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease and leaving behind a treasure of millions of feet of film and stories that will define the Modern games for generations yet unborn……….Greenspan was to the Olympic Games and the athletes of the world what John Ford was to the American West……..Ford gave us his Stagecoach and Fort Apache, Greenspan gave us the iconic The Olympiad Series, Wilma, 16 Days of Glory, official films for Games in Los Angeles, Calgary, Lillehammer, Atlanta, Nagano, Sydney, Salt Lake, Athens and Torino…………..his gifts to us also included memorable cinema including Jesse Owens Returns To Berlin and Pride Against Prejudice, The Larry Doby Story…………along the Golden road of his life, Bud earned eight Emmys, a Peabody, the Olympic Order from the International Olympic Committee, and induction into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame by a grateful USOC……..he dealt in reality, not illusion or fantasy, and over four decades, did more than anyone in history to bring the incredible stories of Olympic athletes from 30 nations into millions of households, sharing with the world the uniqueness of those who chase the Olympic dream and the glory of the competitive spirit……….he often shoved aside criticism that his work was journalistically incomplete and politically naive, his usual response to journalists was, “I choose to concentrate 100% of my time on the 90% of the Olympics that is good. I find the goodness in people, and I present them as people first and athletes second.”………….he viewed the Games as a catalyst for brotherhood and the triumph of the human spirit, “They are two weeks of love. It’s like Never Never Land. Like Robin Hood shooting his arrow through the other guy’s arrow. It’s a privilege to be associated with the best in the world. They bring things forward that they don’t ordinarily do,” he said in 2002 to ESPN……..his Olympic journey spanned six decades, and he covered the Games as a writer, radio voice and cinematographer………..as the sports director of a New York radio station in 1948, he made his first Olympic broadcast from London, using a pay phone at historic Wembley Stadium as the athletes of the world came together after the horrors of World War II in a city still displaying the ravages of the Blitz of 1940………….but above all else, he was a story teller, an extraordinary creator and presenter of the tales and lives not before discovered about athletes from across the globe that left audiences in tears and inspired by his scenes…………we became friends in 1980, not long after I joined the USOC as its spokesman………over the next 30 years, I enjoyed cherished moments with him, and his companion and partner, Nancy Beffa, in New York restaurants like JoJo, the Sea Grill, Redeye Grille and even Hamburger Hamlet……..at the Games when he visited the Main Press Center, dressed in his usual photographer’s jacket or red turtleneck………at the USOC offices in Colorado Springs, fund-raising events in New York, even my wedding in 2002 at ’21” in New York………I still have the note he penned with my gift that day which reads, “One for the ages, Michael.” While the marriage lasted less than an Olympic quadrennium, the note endures………..periodic visits to his studio on 57th Street in Manhattan were the equivalent of boarding an H.G. Wells Time machine……..stacks of publications, shelves groaning with cans of film, tables crammed with Olympic memorabilia, and the smell of his pipe…….out of earshot, his friends used to wonder aloud if the trademark position of his Clark Kent-like glasses atop his shaved pate were the result of Velcro strips implanted by surgery………somebody at the USOC of my time was always hitting him up for film or a special video for some event or incident, and though he had a business to run and a living to earn, he almost always produced it and rarely sent an invoice………..his business, Cappy Productions, was named after his beloved late wife, Cappy Petrash, who died in 1983, a year before his role in the story of the critical 1984 Los Angeles Games……….Bud told the Los Angeles Times that “We didn’t have children and Cappy would say, ‘The films will be our kids, they’ll live long after we’re here.’……he added, “And that, in a sense, is immortality, and that is exactly what I think we’re here for, to leave something for this generation and generations not yet born.”…………..the USOC honored him and his life at a nice club down in the financial district in New York in 2007, with IOC President Jacques Rogge and Peter Ueberroth lauding him as he sat in a wheelchair near the dais…….the USOC also announced then the creation of a special Bud Greenspan Scholarship for Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, and this is where Nancy wants donations sent, no flowers, please………Bud told her recently, using an old Red Barber quote, “If you’re going to send someone flowers, make sure they’re around to smell them.”………as I was closing down our media office in 2002 at my last Games in Salt Lake City, Bud appeared in the doorway to say goodbye and give me a hug……….luckily, I got to see him many more times in New York over the next three years when I was part of the NYC2012 team that valiantly carried out a beautiful bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games………..he gave me an extraordinary gift in 2005, a copy of his grand “Hymn of The Nations” video, a ten-minute production which I use ahead of my occasional Olympic speeches here and there, and which always makes at least half the audience tear up with its unbridled display of joy by athletes of the world……….today, as Christmas is over and a New Year about to be born, the Olympic family has lost one of its greatest members………but left behind are thousands of Olympic athletes who became his friends and mourn his death today………as a kid who was raised a catholic and taught by Jesuit priests and Sisters of Mary in my 1940s and 1950s, my mind’s eye bring me an image of Bud Greenspan arriving in heaven this morning, where he is greeted by Jesse Owens, Bob Mathias, Wilma Rudolph and Al Oerter, prepared to show him the ropes and how things go up there……….”Bud, just so you know, Tuesdays are home video night after dinner,” says Owens. “Did you bring along anything?”

Mike Moran was the chief spokesman for the United States Olympic Committee for a quarter century, through thirteen Games from Lake Placid to Salt Lake City. The Omaha, Nebraska native was the Sports Information Director at the University of Colorado for a decade before joining the USOC in 1978 as it left New York City for Colorado Springs. He was the Senior Communications Counselor for NYC2012, New York City’s Olympic bid group from 2003-2005 and is now a media consultant. Reach him at: mike@thesportscorp.org [3] and read more of his columns at www.coloradospringssports.org [4].