Chapter 11:
Hooray for Hollywood!

Between the Signal and the Noise
by Roger Feinman

(Wherein we ask whether having breakfast with David Lifton pushed Greg Stone over the edge, and how David’s name became associated with Oliver Stone’s film JFK)

In his Compuserve essays, Mr. Lifton has issued an account of our dealings that is replete with factual errors, distortions, wild assumptions and innuendo, hardly hesitating to drag into his broad firing range the memory of a very tragic young man, Greg Stone, about whose life and death, including his relationship with Sylvia Meagher, David Lifton knows next–to–nothing.

Greg was a close associate of the late Allard Lowenstein. Sylvia held Al Lowenstein in great affection and esteem. A lifelong political activist who also served as a Congressman from New York, he was known toward the end of his life for his crusade to reopen the Robert F. Kennedy assassination. It is not nearly as well known that Al Lowenstein also developed an interest in the JFK case toward the end of his life, and was interested in keeping the momentum of the HSCA investigation going. He came to Sylvia several times to educate himself about the case. (That’s how she met Greg Stone.) She naturally saw in Al a potential leader and spokesman for the interests of the critics. His murder devastated Sylvia, especially since it came on the heels of the death of another of her close friends.

Greg Stone was also shaken by Lowenstein’s death, and he resolved to pay tribute to his mentor by continuing the effort to reopen the RFK case. Greg had no deep commitment to assassination research, and never expressed any interest in Sylvia’s work on JFK. He wanted only to finish Al’s work. To this end, he accomplished much, most notably the release of the Los Angeles Police files.

Greg and Sylvia kept in touch from time to time. Reporting those contacts to me, she often expressed her concern that Greg was pursuing the RFK case to the exclusion of developing a career for himself. Both Sylvia and I shared the view that the RFK case did not hold the same potential for a breakthrough as the JFK assassination. She worried that if Greg were to reach a dead end in his research, he would have nothing left to keep him going. Therefore, she gave him “a project” to work on, just in case. She left him in charge of her files and her book in the hope that, if he would only look through her materials, he would become interested in her work.

Greg Stone Telephones Roger Feinman

Greg Stone last contacted me by phone on the evening of January 7, 1991, to say that Oliver Stone’s research assistant, Jane Rusconi, had approached him earlier that day about buying the film rights to Sylvia Meagher’s book. A certain sum of money was mentioned. He wanted to know what Sylvia would do. At the time, few people outside Oliver Stone’s inner circle knew that his planned film centered on Jim Garrison; indeed, we knew virtually nothing, Stone's people weren’t talking. I told Greg that unless Stone’s people agreed to disclose the nature of their project, he could not agree to lend Sylvia’s book and her name to a film that might run counter to her views, and if they refused to disclose the script or a synopsis to him, he would have to decline the offer. I asked my friend and colleague, Jerry Policoff (another of Sylvia’s close associates), to follow–up with Greg during a business trip he took to L.A. a few days later, and Jerry met with Greg to convey our thoughts. I never heard from Greg again. He died on January 21.

David Lifton met Greg Stone for the first and last time over breakfast less than three weeks before Greg committed suicide (After Greg’s suicide, Lifton told a newspaper they had met about a week before. Los Angeles Times, February 17, 1991, View Section, Part E, p.1, col. 2). Yet, Lifton apparently believes himself capable of judging Greg and his needs:

I always wished that had I met Greg earlier [sic], because I might have prevented this, because mucking around in assassination research is a highly charged affair, and Greg needed someone who knew how to handle it, and still lead a decent life. I had been doing that for years. (If any reader of this thinks he is getting obsessed, come to me. I’ll tell you my secrets. I don’t charge very much.)

What, one might reasonably ask, would David Lifton possibly have in common with the late Greg Stone that they should have ever crossed paths? Greg never manifested any interest either in the JFK assassination in general or Mr. Lifton’s work in particular, and Mr. Lifton has never manifested any interest in the RFK assassination. Mr. Lifton implies that Greg came to him out of the blue for advice about whether to sell the rights to Sylvia Meagher’s book to Oliver Stone. He claims that he tutored Greg in Sylvia’s views about Jim Garrison. From this, Mr. Lifton asks us to infer that he was sincerely interested in safeguarding the integrity of Sylvia’s work, and in ensuring that Greg did not make any misstep. In his middle–age, Mr. Lifton now offers himself as mentor to the inexperienced and naive.

As with Mr. Lifton’s other fictions, this fanciful scenario abruptly clashes with his invectives about Sylvia Meagher, the record of life in the real world, and the truism that a zebra cannot change its stripes.

Mr. Lifton says he called me after Greg Stone’s death because he thought I “might have some say in the disposition of [Sylvia Meagher’s] estate.” Why the disposition of her estate would be of the least concern to him, he fails to disclose in his essay. But I will tell you, only because Mr. Lifton has recast our conversation out of snippets of what was actually said, adding phony inventions of his own.

He was fishing for whatever he could glean about Oliver Stone’s plans, what kind of movie he was making, how much he had offered Greg and others for the rights to books about the assassination. Lifton told me he had written a screenplay and was shopping it around Hollywood. He had submitted it to Warner Brothers (Stone’s studio), but Oliver Stone was refusing to take his calls. The essential facts were reported in a later newspaper account:

Lifton wrote a screenplay based on his book which Stone eventually read and turned down. “I was shunned, I was definitely shunned,” Lifton says.

(“Taking Potshots at JFK; Conspiracy Theorists Voice Loud Objections to Stone Film”, Allentown Morning Call, December 21, 1991, p. A54)

Lifton spoke to me at what seemed interminable length about how a producer might buy the rights to a book merely to avoid lawsuits over misappropriation. He wanted to know how much Oliver Stone had offered Greg. I knew, but did not wish to tell him. Greg had given me one figure, but he had also given Harold Weisberg a different figure. So I asked Lifton how much he thought the offer was.

It is odd, as well as deplorable, that Lifton has chosen the Oliver Stone/Greg Stone matter as a basis for attack, since a number of researchers, including me, recall Lifton spreading his theory during the Winter of 1991 that Oliver Stone was the cause of Greg’s death for tempting him with what Lifton assumed was a large sum of money for the rights to Sylvia’s book that he had to turn down, a crass insinuation that belies Lifton’s ignorance. Mr. Lifton explained his theory to me during the telephone conversation he mentions in his Compuserve essays. At that point, I told Lifton that I thought his theory of Oliver Stone’s culpability in Greg Stone’s suicide was unfounded, that Greg had acted wisely in refusing to sell Sylvia’s work notwithstanding the temptation that the offer posed. From this portion of our discussion, Mr. Lifton quotes me, but only partially, as saying that, “Greg probably had to think twice about it, etc.”

At the time of our conversation, no one knew what arrangements — if any — Greg may have made for the disposition of Sylvia’s work upon his death. There had been a written agreement made between Greg and Sylvia regarding its disposition. One of the things that Greg was supposed to do was to review her papers to ensure that anything potentially harmful to third parties was sequestered for an appropriate time. Greg never got around to it. I wanted to be able to intelligently advise the executrix of Sylvia’s estate in the event any action on her part seemed necessary to safeguard my friend’s life work and reputation. Sylvia was not only a friend, but at times a client. Sometimes, it may seem to lay people that lawyers are too dispassionate at sorrowful times. The plain fact is that I knew Sylvia much longer and better than I knew Greg Stone. As shocked and sorry and as I felt for his tragedy, I was more concerned about seeing to it that what I knew were Sylvia’s basic wishes were carried out, especially since Oliver Stone was trying to co-opt her work for — as it turned out — a project that she surely would have opposed.

In emphasizing my distaste for Stone’s glorification of Jim Garrison, Lifton seems to imply that he defends it, as well as the book upon which it was mainly based. Here again, reality defeats him. He struggled to distance himself from JFK in the press:

I always thought Garrison was off the wall. His case was fraudulent.

(“Taking Potshots at JFK; Conspiracy Theorists Voice Loud Objections to Stone Film,” Allentown Morning Call, December 21, 1991, p. A54)

Stone is in the position to say, “When I’m right, I’m right, and when I’m wrong, I’m an artist.”

(“Another Angle on JFK: ‘Cosmetic’ Surgery?”, Arizona Republic, February 7, 1992, p. E4)

My attitude is: right message, wrong messenger. I think (former New Orleans District Attorney) Jim Garrison was a poor choice of a hero for Oliver Stone. But it was his $40 million.

(“Another Angle on JFK: ‘Cosmetic’ Surgery?”, Arizona Republic, February 7, 1992, p. E4)

If, as Lifton has said, Garrison was a poor choice for a hero, what was there about Oliver Stone’s “message” that Lifton found right? Could it then be Stone’s depiction of a triangulated crossfire, which Lifton’s book argues never occurred? If not, what else about JFK did he find “right”?

These public statements were tame, compared to what Lifton had to say about Garrison at the time of the New Orleans prosecution:

I am now convinced that Garrison’s total investigation is a hoax and a fraud, based on nothing more than meaningless threads he is attempting to weave together which in fact have no meaning whatsoever when viewed in their proper context.

(Lifton, David. Letter to Sylvia Meagher, May 15, 1968)

The real mystery in all of Lifton’s gibberish about Greg Stone and Oliver Stone, however, is how David Lifton got his name on the closing credits of JFK as an adviser to the film.

Lifton has claimed that Oliver Stone offered him a consulting contract worth “several thousand dollars”, but that he turned it down. “I wanted to remain neutral,” he reportedly said to one reporter. (“Taking Potshots at JFK; Conspiracy Theorists Voice Loud Objections to Stone Film”, Allentown Morning Call, December 21, 1991, p. A54)

In fact, according to a source close to the JFK film project, Mr. Lifton was paid $50,000 as a consultant. At the Midwest Symposium, I told Oliver Stone’s assistant, Jane Rusconi, that I had this information and asked her why he would have done such a thing, as I could find no evidence in either the JFK script or the film that Lifton had contributed anything. She told me, “Because he was making a pest of himself.”

Lifton invents out of whole cloth comments he alleges I made about Sylvia Meagher’s knowledge of the case. He purports to divine my feelings and reactions to the death of Sylvia Meagher. She never designated me as either an executor or a co–executor of her estate, nor was I ever supposed to act in those capacities, as Lifton claims, another of the numerous blunders in his blind quest for a fact about matters of which he knows nothing.

Sylvia Meagher’s Opinion of David Lifton’s Best Evidence

It is Lifton who hardly conceals his deep and abiding animus toward one who can no longer reply to his loathsome, frenzied and hate–filled derision of her stature as the preeminent scholar in this subject area, which he can never hope to match. After her initial reading of Best Evidence, which was frequently interrupted by gales of laughter, Sylvia soon came to regard Mr. Lifton’s book as nothing more than “junk”, an opinion in which I concurred then and still do. From the earliest days of the case, Lifton — and, much later, his book — were little more than chicken feed to this woman. To imagine, as Lifton does, that she was somehow jealous of him and his book is so pitiable a delusion of grandeur that one easily discerns in Mr. Lifton’s plain words a desperate unhappiness from which decent and self–possessed people can only recoil.

With 20–20 hindsight, Mr. Lifton insinuates it was just as well that Sylvia Meagher had no part in a pre–publication review of his manuscript, since she allegedly “killed” two books during the late 1980’s. Again, he writes without knowledge of the facts and misleads his readers. Prentice Hall/Simon & Schuster asked her to read the manuscripts for both Jim Garrison’s On the Trail of the Assassins and Jim Marrs’ Crossfire. Prentice Hall was reluctant to get involved with the subject of the Kennedy assassination, but was willing to consider these books in anticipation of the twenty–fifth anniversary of the assassination. The responsible editor respected Sylvia Meagher’s experience, reputation, and credibility. He trusted her, notwithstanding her status as a critic of the Warren Commission, to provide honest and objective appraisals. In the case of Garrison’s manuscript, she pointed out several significant factual errors, but gave high praise to a concluding chapter that he wrote on the history of the Central Intelligence Agency. (Oddly enough, that chapter never made it into print when the book was finally published.) She believed that Marrs’ manuscript was a good survey of the case but added little new of substance, and suffered from the lack of footnotes to sources. (Sylvia was a stickler for citations and indices.) In neither case did she recommend against publication. Prentice Hall made its own judgments in passing on the two books.

Mr. Lifton also gives an inaccurate account of my behavior toward Oliver Stone (no relation to Greg) at a dinner in Chicago, something of which he could not possibly have first–hand knowledge, since no one invited him to come. I have spoken to three other members of the dinner party. Two of them specifically recalled that, as soon as Stone and I were introduced, I looked him in the eye and told him that I was the man responsible for seeing to it that he did not get the rights to use Sylvia Meagher’s book or her name in his film. After that, we had a very pleasant dinner conversation. (The third member with whom I spoke had no independent recollection of any of the greetings.) By the way, Mr. Lifton’s name was never mentioned.

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