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  • Bud Greenspan, 84, Olympics Filmmaker


    (ATR) He was never an athlete, but Bud Greenspan is being remembered as an Olympic legend.

    Greenspan, who celebrated the Olympics with a cavalcade of acclaimed films, died Dec. 25 in New York after a years-long bout with Parkinson’s Disease.

    “He was kind of Olympian in spirit. He didn't know he was supposed to stop,” his companion and colleague Nancy Beffa tells Around the Rings.

    The onset of Parkinson’s made his Beijing film the last of three decades of work that included his direct involvement, says Beffa.

    Beginning with an Emmy-winning series of films about Olympians in the 1970s, Greenspan’s independent film company -- Cappy Productions -- became a regular at the Games.

    He could be easily spotted in the Olympic crowds: black horn-rimmed glasses perched atop his bald head, often clad in a safari jacket, a camera crew nearby.

    Greenspan’s storytelling power as a writer and film director drove the popularity and acclaim for his works, which often were the official film of the Games. Beginning in Los Angeles with “16 Days of Glory”, there is a Greenspan film for every Olympics since then.

    “Bud's lifetime of work was to the Olympic Games and the athletes what John Ford's cinema was to the American West,” Mike Moran, former communications chief of the U.S. Olympic Committee, tells ATR.

    “He had no peer in his craft, and he was the artist that thousands of Olympic athletes dreamed of when they thought of how their stories might be told one day,” says Moran.

    One of those athletes featured in a Greenspan opus is Johann Olav Koss, whose speedskating exploits in Lillehammer and charity work made him an enduring figure from 1994.

    “Bud was the true believer in the Olympic spirit and he understood the drive, passion and dreams every athlete has toward participating in the Games,” Koss tells ATR.

    “His dramatic, personal stories captured the essence of the dynamic interference between a personal strive for excellence and the spirit of the Olympic Movement. His films and stories created the popularity of the modern Olympic Games in North America,” says Koss, who recently visited Greenspan during his hospitalization.

    He calls Greenspan “a good personal friend and close advisor to me since we got to know each other during the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics.”

    In addition to his films,
    Greenspan with 2002 skeleton gold medalist Jim Shea in 2003 Shea was one of the Olympians Greenspan chronicled in Salt Lake City. (ATR)
    Greenspan also wrote books on Olympic themes. Most recounted exploits of the Games while his 1997 “The Olympians' Guide to Winning the Game of Life” provided words of inspiration direct from top athletes.

    Marketing consultant Michael Payne, who served as IOC marketing director during Greenspan’s peak of Olympic filmmaking, tells ATR that Greenspan helped build the brand of the Games.

    “Bud was the greatest of all the Olympic story tellers - finding the true spirit of the Olympic ideal. He was the real inspiration for the IOC's Celebrate Humanity campaign - and captured what the Olympic brand truly stood for, long before anyone began talking about brand management,” Payne says.

    “His contributions to the Olympic Movement and athletes
    Greenspan in 2007 with IOC President Jacques Rogge and then-USOC chair Peter Ueberroth at the launch of the filmmaking scholarship named for Greenspan. (ATR)
    from across the world rank with those of IOC presidents, Games organizers, and others who created the world's most important sporting event,” says Moran.

    "Bud Greenspan was a talented film maker and a true supporter of the Olympic Games and their values throughout his career," says a statement from IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

    Greenspan was born in New York and kept his home there his entire life. He liked to tell of his break into show business: as a spear-carrier for a late 1940's production of Aida at the Metropolitan Opera.

    He was sports director for a New York radio station, and in the early 1950s began his filmmaking career with work on commercials and documentaries. His wife, Cappy Petrash Greenspan, worked with him until her death in 1983 – and provides the company with its name.

    “Status – wealth, obviously -- was not important to him at all,” says Beffa with a laugh. “Telling stories was important,” she says.

    Beffa says no memorial service is planned. In place of flowers, she says contributions should be made to the Bud Greenspan Scholarship Program at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. The program is aimed at student interested in sports filmmaking.

    Beffa says Greenspan was always happy to encourage young filmmakers such as her. She joined the Greenspan 35 years ago, fresh from college.

    Greenspan, who had no children, told ATR in 2007 that “my films are my children”.

    “In 100 years people will know who Bud Greenspan is,” he said.

    Written by Ed Hula. For general comments or questions, click here.

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