The Human Dimension

By Emily Gold Boutilier / November / December 2002
June 28th, 2007
Stanley R. Greenberg, a writer who created the docudrama genre with his acclaimed teleplays Pueblo and The Missiles of October, died of a brain tumor on August 25. He was seventy-four.

Pueblo, which dramatized the 1968 surrender of a U.S. spy ship to North Korea, won five Emmys and a Peabody award after it aired on ABC in 1973. Viewers were told at the start that it was based on a true story. "When a name is used," Greenberg explained to the New York Times that year, "it is the real name of a real person; when a synthesized character is introduced, every action he performs, every word he utters is based on an actual statement and an actual action."

Though the genre would come to be known as docudrama, Greenberg preferred the term "theater of fact," says his daughter Ruth Hauser. For Greenberg the genre was the best way to tackle the moral and human elements of history. "If the only purpose of historical drama is to record history, to be illustrated textbooks, then there is no reason to dramatize the material," Greenberg told the Los Angeles Times in 1979. "Then it is better to do them as straight documentaries. But once you get into the human dimension, once you get into the idea of the individual as a hero who is bound by some kind of moral or ethical code, then you have to dramatize it."

The Missiles of October, an account of the Cuban missile crisis, aired in 1975, earning an Emmy nomination for outstanding writing. Four years later CBS presented Greenberg's eight-hour Blind Ambition. Based on John Dean's book about the Watergate scandal, it featured Martin Sheen as Dean. Greenberg was also known for two motion pictures, both of which starred Charlton Heston: Skyjacked, released in 1972, and Soylent Green, winner of the Science Fiction Writers of American Nebula award in 1974.

Greenberg's break came in 1961, when he sat down at his kitchen table in Gary, Indiana, and wrote a script for the television series The Defenders, a new show that he greatly admired. His wife, Tamara, recalls that he mailed in the unsolicited script and "four days later they called and said, ÔCome to New York.' "

Greenberg attended Brown on the G.I. Bill and was active in the Zionist movement and the nuclear-freeze group SANE. He enjoyed oil painting, played tennis, and read nonfiction. He had also been a ballroom dancer at one time. A devoted father, Hauser says, he used to do one-armed pull-ups while explaining the house rules to his daughters' suitors.

Greenberg is survived by his wife, Tamara, 40 Avon Rd., Kensington, Calif. 94707; three daughters; three sons-in-law; and six grandchildren.

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November / December 2002