The day Jack Newfield and I passed ourselves off as rock-n-rolling,
freeway-cruising Angelenos was one of those historical
days that started at the pitch of happiness and anticipation.
And ended in a pit.
June 4, 1968 was bright and clear. The kind of day New
Yorkers cherish, but Los Angelenos take for granted because
they have so many just like that. The brilliant weather
reflected our mood. Bobby Kennedy was going to win the
California primary that day and go on to win the Democratic
nomination. Just a week before we'd suffered the first-ever
Kennedy election loss in the Oregon Democratic primary,
but California was clearly his.
That Tuesday was a happy, free day. I'd joined the campaign
entourage after my marriage to staffer Jeff Greenfield
a few weeks before (between the Indiana and Nebraska primaries).
I didn't have any assigned duties for the day of the California
primary; my new husband had some time between speechwriting
tasks; and Jack's column about Bobby's victory was for
It was down time. Play time. So my husband and I made
sure our clothes were laid out for the party after the
victory speech at a hot club called The Factory. Mine
was a short one-shouldered bright yellow dress in some
petroleum-product fabric and his a moss-green Nehru suit
with some interesting rick-racky trim on the collar and
down the front.
I doubt Jack gave a thought to what he was going to dance
in, but he was looking forward to celebrating. We three
New Yorkers decided to start the fun early by taking on
the coloration of the indigenous peoples and spending
the day driving around Los Angeles to visit the sights
there'd been no time to see while the campaign was in
You can't see the stars on the Walk of Stars outside
Grauman's Chinese Theatre if your eyes are on your candidate
and enthusiastic supporters are in the way! And you can't
tool around L.A. in a convertible with your hair streaming
in the breeze without some help if you are a man who grew
up in Bed-Sty and compared himself to the Number 4 Train,
not a sports car, because he never drove a car in his
66 years. My Upper Westside Manhattan bred then-husband
was a driver newly licensed by the State of New York,
but inexperienced. So, as a suburban transplant, I was
the designated driver, freeway-savvy, happy to help those
two play in the car culture for a day.
We got in the rental car outside the Ambassador Hotel
and cranked up the radio. "Angel of the Morning"
by Dusty Springfield and the bubble-gum rock song "Yummy,
Yummy, Yummy, I've Got Love In My Tummy" blared.
We sang along. We oohed at the Pacific Ocean.
We stopped for food and fuel and between verses and mouthfuls,
we hashed over the primaries past and the possible strategies
of the other Democratic candidates, Eugene McCarthy and
Hubert Humphrey. We considered who our New York Senator
would pick for his cabinet officers when he moved into
the White House come January 1969. With a mandate from
American voters, we trusted that the first item on Bobby's
agenda would be making the Vietnam War history and bringing
our boys come from Southeast Asia. After all, Bobby had
driven Lyndon Johnson from the Presidency. Was getting
out of Vietnam quickly unthinkable? No.
The Robert Francis Kennedy Presidential train had left
the station and it was unstoppable!
Except, of course, by a bullet.
In too few hours after the sun set over the Pacific that
night my husband and I were back in that rental car. The
writer of speeches -- and eulogies -- Ted Sorenson joined
our shellshocked vehicle. We'd thrown trench coats over
our garish party clothes and stopped and started our way
to the hospital where they'd taken the dying senator.
We all have the images of those next few days in our
heads. The coffin. The funeral. The grieving. And the
slow train from Pennsylvania Station in New York to Washington,
Over the years as the news footage of that week has been
repeated, I have always remembered that just a few days
before, with Jack Newfield in the sunshine of California
and a political season, we'd made detailed plans to be
part of a metaphoric train, not the funeral kind.
Jack wrote eloquently over the decades both in his biography
of Robert F. Kennedy and elswehere about what our country
and the world missed.
Now with Jack's death another voice of ferocity and justice
Mayer (Mike) Berliner
I was saddened to hear about Jack's death. I was a friend
of Jack's during our teenage years and we went on a trip
in my first car, a '49 Dodge Coronet. I wish that I could
have continued our friendship over the years and I am
proud to have been his friend during the years of our
For some reason, going back to my childhood, I have been
drawn to reading obituaries. Must have had something to
do with that old hack,"if I don't see my name in
the obituary column, I know it will be a good day."
But today's obit column has significantly more meaning
"Jack Newfield, political gadfly, muckraker author
and columnist", died Monday night. What a distinguished
career he had and his funeral was attended by the NY cognoscenti
(see the article by Jimmy Breslin.)
Now, I'll take you back to the old neighborhood, Bedford/Stuyvesant
-- actually Willoughby Avenue bordered by Vernon, Throop
and Marcy Avenues. My friends covered about a four-block
corridor and we went to Eastern District, Boys High or
When we graduated high school my father bought me my
first car, a '49 Dodge Coronet. Three of my friends and
I would embark on our first adventure: a car trip to Bar
Harbor, Maine, then onto the Bluenose Ferry to Nova Scotia
and on to New Brunswick, down through Quebec, and back
home to Bed/Stuy.
One of those friends was a quirky guy we called "Eggie"
for some reason beyond me. Jack Newfield was a maniacal
Brooklyn Dodger fan like the rest of us but he would love
to write stories and always had something sarcastic to
say about some political figure of the day.
Years later, I attempted to contact "THE JACK NEWFIELD"
to see if the quirky guy of our youth was indeed Jack
Newfield. When I read his many obituaries and the coverage
of his funeral attended by the big wigs I began to search
all the literature about him to see if indeed he was the
"Eggie" of our youth from Vernon Avenue.
In the Jimmy Breslin article about Jack he specifically
mentioned the old neighborhood -- yes, Vernon/Nostrand
Avenues. And there you have it, though I never was able
to contact Jack during his illustrious career, I was finally
able to verify that "Eggie" and Jack Newfield
were one and the same.
That trip to Canada was our first true adventure before
going to college, "Eggie" to Hunter and CCNY
for me. My other friends went to a fledgling school at
the time, The Fashion Institute of Technology, which is
I remember distinctly that "Eggie" was different
in many ways and especially that he liked to write short
stories. Come to think of it each one of my friends was
unique, but we all came together as fanatics for the Brooklyn
And to this day if we could meet again, we would reminisce
and remember those great days of our youth and the hope
for the future. Jackie Robinson would be our hero forever
and we believed in the American Dream for everyone.
Jack Newfield was able to put those ideals on paper and
become a true American hero in his own way, not unlike
Jackie Robinson. How fortunate we were to have been able
to have such lofty ideals and live in an atmosphere where
some would reach fruition. It is too bad that I wasn't
able to keep the friendship of our youth alive years later,
but, I am proud to have known "Eggie".
Sincere personal regards,
Mayer (Mike) Berliner
Lake Luzerne, NY (Willoughby and Throop near Vernon/Nostrand)
I've been reading Jack Newfield's writings ever since
I first discovered the Village Voice from a beatnik lady
who frequented the pharmacy where I stocked shelves when
I was age 12.
It wasn't until 1969, however, that I so recalled an article
he wrote that I saved it in a scrapbook I'd been keeping.
While the book is long gone [alas] one recollection of
the piece has stayed with me.
The recollection is that if you are so alienated from
the culture in which you live that you cannot stand it,
then you had better be prepared to offer some alternative.
At the time, this struck me as genius.
It still does. Jack will be greatly missed.
Phil Demise Smith
I am an old friend of Jack's. We met, not through our
writing, but through our children. Our friendship was
long (17 years) and took us through the many trials and
tribulations of family life: from Passover to Passover
we shared music, food, sports and even touched upon art
which he respected and revered. He often mentioned how
he was in awe of Jimmy Breslin who could write a novel,
a fiction. Jack could only write what was really happening,
but his great modesty and compassion changed the context
in which fiction and dreams could be written. He made
a difference rather than just dreaming of a difference.
He helped create a context in which a text could be created.
He wrote a preface to a book of poetry and photographs
I had written and collaborated on with Gunter Temech about
the homeless in New York (The Lost Supper/The Last Generation).
He came to watch my band perform. He came to our house
in CT and played basketball in the pool with the kids
(and played hard). We ate at many restaurants together
(mostly Italian). We always hugged and I called him Jackie
(which he accepted because of our friendship and because
of Jackie Robinson). I really loved Jack. He was an important
person on the planet, but more important to me, he was
a kid from Brooklyn and he was my friend. I will really
miss him. See you later, Jackie....
Newfield Still Here
there is a new field rising up from the fertile earth
floating above the futile systems and lords of the land
the music of its floatation imagines a ring of potential
where the fight for equality is equal to its peace of
and the underdog rises to every occasion
it quietly erupts with the power of a voice that sings
in the face of corruption and disgrace
it leads the fight against the leaden poisons
that peel away the breath of unborn children
it is where the future seat of power unfolds its flowers
and the pain of common sense writes history in the sky
this new field furrows its brow and its columns
with a delicate crop of compassion
that hunts and pecks for the words and doors
yet to be opened by the royal keys of justice
after all is said and done the new field remains
firmly planted in the greener grass of the other side
Mr. Newfield loved two things that are close to my own
heart: Brooklyn and the legacy of Jackie Robinson.
One of the reasons I loved his journalism was that he
did not have many sacred cows. Unlike many others, he
was not afraid to expose the corruption of the likes of
Don King or Al Sharpton.
In City for Sale, he and Wayne Barrett showed us the
darkness that often lurks under the self-serving statements
of noble politicians.
Our Uncle Jack was a mensch who spent his life doing
lots of mitzvah's.
Rest in peace!
Gene Roman, Columbia University Graduate School