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The candle still burns

Bud Greenspan continues to be inspired by his late wife, Cappy

Though Bud Greenspan, the celebrated sports documentarist, didn't realize it at the time he wrote the 1983 Heisman Special Award show, he was writing a kind of tribute to the late Cappy, "My best friend, my best girl and my wife." The program, seen nationally last Saturday on syndicated TV. spoke less about football than about people's dependence on each other. As Greenspan showed it, the four Heisman winners he profiled—John Huarte, Johnny Rodgers, Joe Bellino and Doak Walker—all owed their success to someone else: a teammate, a coach, a relative, a friend. And, for Greenspan, the 10-minute vignettes were symbolic of his reliance on Cappy.

"People think I wrote about Heisman winners and athletes who stand on victory platforms, but I was always writing about her," Greenspan says. "Everything I wrote, I used her as my model. I talked about courage and spirit and endurance and talent, and for all my scripts I used Cappy as an example. I told her that once. She said, 'Aw, go on.' I said, 'Listening to Beethoven and thinking about you is very inspiring.' "

Cappy Greenspan died last June of cancer at age 51. An extra tragic dimension accompanied her death, the diagnosis of her illness having come one month after the crowning moment of the Greenspans' careers: 20th Century-Fox's announcement in March that they would write, produce and direct the official film of the 1984 Summer Olympics. For years, Greenspan says, Cappy had been the principal negotiator, insightful interviewer, conscience and organizer behind their mom-and-pop filmmaking company. But her contribution was little recognized, even though the Greenspans' company was—and is—named Cappy Productions. Now, when the big Hollywood announcement came, she was called up to the stage as his equal—"Bud and Cappy," everyone said, identifying them as the teammates they were—and her eyes shone. They had no children, only their sensitive, understated films that always took the high road.

Greenspan and Cappy Petrash began working together in 1958, seven years before they were married. He was just breaking into films then, and she was feature editor of Monitor, the old NBC Radio show. She held the cue cards during the production of his first classic film, Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin. Later came the 22-part Olympiad series, which will be shown again this year by ABC-TV, and dozens of other productions. Bud was the creative force, "but she did so many things better than I," he says. "I used to tell people that I was a good Charlie McCarthy to a wonderful Edgar Bergen. And they would laugh, but I wouldn't mean it as a joke."

How can Greenspan, 56, go on in a business that reminds him daily of Cappy? The answer lies in his vision. He passionately believes that she lives on in his work. He began filming the Heisman documentary, which was wrapped around the live presentation of the award to Nebraska Tailback Mike Rozier, in late July, and he has already started preliminary filming on the Olympics opus. "It's more of a mission now than ever before," Greenspan says. "We came to the conclusion that we were going to leave a large part of who we were in our films, to be used for good by this generation and future generations."

Greenspan said he was helped greatly in his thinking by a compassionate letter he received shortly after Cappy's death from Dr. Sammy Lee, a U.S. gold medalist in diving in 1948 and '52. In his missive Lee included a poem called The Dark Candle, about a husband who becomes reclusive after the death of his beloved wife. Then one night the husband had a dream. He was in heaven, watching a grand procession of angels, each carrying a lighted candle. Suddenly he noticed that one angel's candle was darkened. The angel was his wife.

"How is it, darling, that your candle alone is unlighted?" he asked.

"Sweetheart," she said, "they often relight it, but your tears always put it out."

"Just then the man awoke from his dream," Lee wrote. "The lesson was crystal clear, and its effects were immediate. From that hour on he was not a recluse but mingled freely and cheerfully with their former friends. No longer would his beloved wife's candle go unlighted."


Greenspan's wife lent her name to Cappy Productions and was crucial to its success.