by Len Lear
“I have few marketable skills. One is that I can write; another is that I have a good head for business, but I don’t really want to be in business or in sales. So I write about it instead. I’m good at taking complicated information and reducing it to plain English that nearly anyone can understand.”
These comments were made in an interview last week by Louis Greenstein, a prolific writer, novelist and playwright who will appear on Thursday, August 7, 7 p.m., at Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy, to discuss his recently published, highly acclaimed novel, “Mr. Boardwalk.” The book is about a boy who fell in love with the life and magic of the Atlantic City boardwalk and as an adult struggles to regain both the memories and the magic.
Greenstein, 58, who was born in West Philadelphia, raised in Havertown and now lives in West Philly again, may not exactly be a household name because much of his writing output has been as a ghostwriter for management consultants around the country. When asked for their names, Greenstein said, “If I revealed (their names), I’d have to kill you. I use their content, their research and their ideas. My job is to tell the story, make it flow and engaging to read. I ghostwrite books and articles, and I also work for business publishers as a ‘manuscript doctor’ helping authors who are content experts but not necessarily good writers to develop their manuscripts for publication.”
Greenstein lived in Boulder, Colorado from 1978 to 1982, then returned here with his wife, Catherine, 57, director of special education for the William Penn School District in Delaware County. In his early years Louis acted in plays, which eventually led him into playwriting. “I’m also a recovering mime,” he said. “I used to perform with the Boulder Mime Theater on the Boulder Mall. That was a long time ago, during the 20 minutes when mime was popular in America.”
In 1991 Greenstein was working on a couple of commissioned scripts for children’s plays (for the now-defunct Stageworks Touring Company of Glassboro, NJ). He wound up collaborating on a script with a friend, Larry Loebell, for “Rugrats,” an animated TV series for Nickelodeon from 1991 to 2004. The series won an Emmy in 1992, and Louis “got a really nice certificate from the Academy thanking me for my creative contributions.”
Greenstein also had some success as a producer of documentary films. One, “Fathers Talk” (1986), is about being a first time father. It was in distribution for several years (Barr Films) but is now out of distribution. He also produced a documentary film in which he interviewed Holocaust survivors who belonged to Temple Adath Israel in Merion. A copy of the film is still being given out to every boy and girl who is bar/bas mitzvahed at the temple.
Greenstein is also a prolific playwright. His most successful play was “One Child Born: The Music of Laura Nyro,” co-written with Kate Ferber. It was performed at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, CAP21 and the Laurie Beechman Theater, all in New York City, as well as at World Cafe Live in Philly and Wilmington, at a private school in Westchester County, NY, and various music venues on the east coast.
The premise of the show is that art can change your life. In it, Kate Ferber portrays 10 fans whose lives were impacted by Laura Nyro’s music. Another Greenstein play, “With Albert Einstein” co-written with Don Auspitz, was performed at the Walnut Street Theater in Philly, Princeton University, The Franklin Institute and other science museums.
Greenstein’s first novel, “Mr. Boardwalk,” which was just published last month, is earning raves. There are 13 reviews on goodreads.com, and the average rating is 4.7 out of a possible 5. In the book. 7-year-old Jason Benson first experiences the wonders of Atlantic City. Growing up in a Philadelphia suburb in the 1960s and ‘70s, he lives only for his summers on the boardwalk, where his father owns a pretzel stand. From a gypsy friend, the boy learns to juggle, and soon “Jason the Magnificent” entertains rapt beachside crowds with his skill and clever patter. He can’t wait to finish high school so he can move to Atlantic City permanently. But more than 20 years later, Jason is a grumpy New York copywriter who has never spoken of his youth.
Is Jason Benson based on Greenstein’s own childhood? “Partly,” he told us. “He is a better juggler than I am, and I have a better marriage than he does. But there are a lot of similarities. He is loosely based on me.”
What other writers have influenced Greenstein’s writing? “Philip Roth had a profound influence in terms of telling a story that embraces the age you live in … I admire emotional honesty, and I love a good story.”
Greenstein is currently working on a new novel about a man who takes a 30-year road trip. “It is loosely, indirectly, and (hopefully) nearly invisibly a contemporary re-imagining of ‘Siddhartha’ by Herman Hesse.”
The Greensteins have three grown children — Barry, 29, also a writer, has two unpublished science fiction novels under his belt; Hannah, 27, a photographer and bartender; and Sam, 26, the manager of wholesale operations for a cigar manufacturer.
More information at www.louisgreenstein.com or 215-844-1870.