nobody does tabloid better than steve dunleavy. he’s equally aussie and new yorker, an old-school street reporter who would dig his heels into a story, kick it around and then polish it up with clever phrasing and pure passion. he always imagined ending his career while out on a story (or a bar stool), but that’s not the way this story goes. his health is failing, and so tomorrow night he closes up shop with a party in his honor.
i met steve in the very early days of fox television’s a current affair. i was young – still in college – and i worked with him for close to 10 years. everyone has an opinion of dunleavy and, more likely, a colorful story. let’s be clear: most of those stories are true. i certainly have my share, one of which involves his perpetually loose tooth and the airplane glue he was going to use to keep it in place until i reminded him that he was a fire-breathing cigarette smoker and the glue — yeah, flammable.
another time i showed up on a sunday for a shoot and could not find him anywhere. the crew was there, it was time to go and still…no dunleavy. i checked the lobby, the corner deli, even called across the road (translation: the racing club bar, our other office). still no steve. by now the crew is loaded up and waiting in the car and we’re running late. finally, i spin around in the office in exasperation and…there he is. sitting upright, asleep in a chair. he was there the entire time and i simply didn’t see him. i woke him up and off we went. a typical sunday shoot.
i remember him savagely hacking away at his typewriter, the way he could rattle off a standup in a single take, and his sheer joy at landing a story and beating the competition. i remember him spending a couple of days with robert downey jr. to “teach” him how to be a tabloid reporter for his role in natural born killers. it was pretty funny, watching dunleavy trying to act like he was not acting like a tabloid reporter. and robert downey jr. nailed it, too. there’s a lot of exaggerated steve in his performance.
some strange things have happened to me lately. i recently spoke with a couple of friends about dunleavy. a few days later, i was rushing through penn station to catch a train. out of the corner of my eye i see something, a familiar flash. thirty seconds earlier or later and i wouldn’t have seen him, but it’s steve dunleavy walking toward the escalator that leads up to the street. still … it wasn’t quite dunleavy. the man i saw looked the same — grey pants, blue sportcoat with brass buttons, crisp white shirt and blue and red striped tie — except, he was not the same. he moved slowly, carefully, a cross between a shuffle and a glide. his skin sallow, his face and eyes…vacant. it was literally like seeing a ghost. i watched him go, but did not move to say hello. i didn’t want to see him that way, to have that in my memory of him. i wanted to remember the man who would do a quick soft shoe or salsa dance, who had a big hacking laugh, who could zero in on the heart of a story and charm his way into any interview.
when i worked with dunleavy, we did stories on elvis, oj, leona helmsley, colombian drug lord pablo escobar…and we even helped free a wrongly convicted teenager. he was hard-working and loyal to a fault. in fact, rupert murdoch may be the only person he was completely faithful to in his entire life.
so steve dunleavy deserves a party, a send-off in style while he is here to enjoy it. it will be as much for everyone else as it is for him. steve dunleavy was many things, to be sure…but i knew him to be generous, kind and respectful. and the next time i see him i may still pause, but i will give him a kiss on the cheek and we will reminisce about the first time i met him and how i really screwed up and almost got fired.
which is a story for another time.
dunleavy on objectivity vs. fairness:
dunleavy on the elements of a story:
dunleavy does rhyming slang: