New York-born Steven D. Greene primarily made his living in the U.S. Army as a deep-sea diver (for 15 and a half years) and newspaperman, but in the early 1970s he was cast as the prime minister of Baltonia in the futuristic Toho actioner Espy (1974). During his military service, Mr. Greene had two tours of duty in Japan. His first (1951 through circa 1957) was during his time as a diver, where he met his wife Kazuko.
His second tour of Japan was for about five years, mostly in the early seventies (circa 1969 through 1975) as a writer for Stars and Stripes, where he lived with his wife and five children. In between his tours of Japan, he was stationed a few places in California, such as Los Angeles, Fort Baker, the Presidio, and Sacramento. He eventually retired from the Army as a command sergeant major. In January 2021, Mr. Greene answered Brett Homenick’s questions in a wide-ranging interview about his career and various adventures around the world.
Brett Homenick: First of all, please tell me where were you born, and what is your birth date?
Steven Greene: I was born in Elmira, New York, [on] September 25, 1931.
BH: I’ve seen your middle initial, but what’s your middle name?
BH: Next, please tell me about your early life. What were your hobbies, growing up? What did you do at that age?
SG: Well, I was in a terrible accident when I was five years old. I went to school, and I got promoted four grades. A little girl was chasing me, and I ran right out in front of a bus. It crushed my skull, and I was in a coma for 10 days. I think they must have [done] something funny with my blood because this doctor said, “There’s something very strange about Mr. Greene’s blood at the molecular level.” [I asked these] doctors, “Please put me through the electron microscope to see what the heck it [is].” And nobody did it.
My folks were divorced. I went to a private school called Greer School in New York. It was a wonderful school; you had to take 16 subjects a year. I even took home economics one time to make it up. (laughs) Anyway, we learned everything. It was a very, very good school with teachers from all over the world — Germany, France, Italy, Spain. It was just an excellent school; we had 1,500 acres. We had to learn how to pasteurize milk when I was about eight years old, 10 years old. [I learned] how to milk cows, how to rotate crops, how to drive tractor, how to do canning [preserving food] of all sorts. It’s just an amazing school; you had to learn everything about everything. I was driving tractor when I was nine years old. (laughs)
I got drafted, to begin with, and I got to be a deep-sea diver during the Korean War. I liked it so much that I reenlisted for 30 years. I was a diver for 15 and a half years, deep-sea diver. For the other half, I was a writer; I was an established writer. I worked at Stars and Stripes; I was syndicated in 36 countries, 13 languages while I was there. I was also a poet; I used to write poetry. I still do. Do you want to hear one? I’ll give it to you. (laughs)
BH: Oh, yes, certainly.
SG: Of all the things I’ve wondered, / I mostly wondered why / God chose a fuzzy little bug / to make a butterfly. / One last thing I pray thee, Lord, / when comes my turn to die, / you take this fuzzy little bug / and make another butterfly. (laughs)
Now that went viral [all around the world] in three days.
BH: Excellent! Let’s go back to your childhood. What exactly were your hobbies at that time?
SG: Oh, I loved photography. I loved that, and I played all sports. We had to represent the school in all sports. I was a football player, I was a swimmer, I was a runner, a jumper, a leaper (laughs) — all kinds of things. So we played all kinds of sports. I read a lot; I could read four different, five different books a week. I was a very prodigious reader. I loved knowledge, and I couldn’t get enough. (laughs) So I read books on all kinds of subjects — anywhere from animal husbandry to law school. It was just an amazing school.
BH: So, when you were young, and before you got involved with diving and so forth, did you have any aspirations in terms of your career?
SG: I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grow up, and I still don’t! (laughs) I don’t know about you, but I still don’t know. I’ve done so many things. I just got a patent back, which was [related to] the cloning [reverse-engineering] of printed circuit cards. I don’t know if you know anything about that. But we had 25 engineers working for two years on this one board. I did it in two hours flat [and] gave them what they call a diazo [a machine printing process to duplicate the boards] to make a new board with. I did it in two hours, and I got a patent on it. It’s making millions of billions of dollars for somebody. I got screwed out of it; they didn’t give me even a penny. That’s OK; I don’t worry about that.
BH: That’s certainly unfair that you didn’t get your just compensation from that.
SG: You’d think they would at least throw me a bone; they made billions, billions, with a “b,” and they still are. They still are. (laughs) In fact, the United States government went into business, signing contracts with them, and everything else. The government owns it because I used government property. (laughs)
I’ll tell you what I’m interested in — a man called [Nikola] Tesla. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him. He was the smartest man that ever lived, according to me. He had 707 patents. You know where he died? He died penniless in a rundown hotel in New York City, without a cent to his name. That’s our government at work. He gave us the alternating current and everything else. Seven hundred and seven patents, and he died penniless. Unbelievable. I love his work, and I’ve come to some conclusions of my own. I proved a couple of them already, and I know they work.
Anyway, I have a wide, wide, wide range of experiences as a diver, as a writer; I worked on newspapers, produced newspapers all over the world. I worked for Yomiuri Shimbun, the greatest Japanese newspaper in the world — seven million daily circulation. I worked as one of their editors for their English-language newspaper that they put out. I worked for them for three years as editor over there while I was still [writing for] Stars and Stripes.
BH: Let’s talk a little bit more about your early life. Where did you go to high school?
SG: I went to high school at that private school. It’s called Greer School.
BH: After that did you go to college?
SG: I did not; I was drafted. (laughs) It was back in 1950, and I got drafted because I wasn’t in college yet. I thought college was a waste of time. Hell, I knew more than the teachers did! I think it was all because of that wreck; I think something happened to my brain because, when I woke up out of the coma after 10 days, I had a big lump right on the front of my forehead. They had about 40 doctors in the room, and this one doctor was going to take a scalpel and punch [it] because it contained all of my cranial fluid inside this big lump. I could look up and see it, you know. He poked it, and my cranial fluid flew all over the 40 doctors that were in the room! (laughs)
I don’t know what they did to me there or how, but I got extremely — I don’t want to say “smart”; I wasn’t smart, and I still am not smart. The only thing I know is, I don’t know how much I don’t know. Something happened to my brain while I was in that coma; I don’t know what it was. But I learned so many different things at such a terrific rate. It was beautiful!
I had interest in everything; everything in this Earth amazed me. I wanted to know how plants grew, that you could eat grass because chlorophyll is fed to all the different animals — goats, cows, sheep, bulls, horses. And it’s good for human beings, also. Did you know that? No, you didn’t know that. But I did. Anyway, it’s amazing.
BH: It’s certainly very fascinating. So, after you got drafted, tell me what happened next.
SG: Well, they wanted to put me in intelligence; I didn’t want intelligence because, while I was in Korea, when I got over there, the first thing I did was put in five acres of flooring. I had to screed it in. I used to work with the divers because [that] interested me, and I used to work with their equipment. I used to sew up the lines, the lifeline on the air hose, put those two together in canvas and then sew the canvas up around them, 300 feet at a time. I used to work on their communications equipment, below and topside. And I would put their new energy packs in for them, clean them all up and everything, and make sure they worked. They came out and said, “Anybody for diving?” I stuck my hand in the air, and I got to be a diver.
My very first dive I ever made was a free descent and a free ascent. It blew their minds. But it was just basic physics; basic physics is all it was. You know how air works? Air makes you float in water. (laughs) It was that simple, you know. But it blew their minds because it takes something like 16 weeks of training to do that. And I did it in one day, one dive. So I’d say I had a hell of a good time doing all this.
BH: What else happened during your Korean War experience?
SG: Well, during the Korean War, there were a couple of things. Every time a tank went around a corner, you locked one and rolled one [in order to turn the tank] because they work with treads. They would throw a whole piece of corner off to the side of the road. [These were] macadam roads; [the tanks would] throw them off because that one tread was running, and the other was locked. So it worked like a centrifugal force. And then we kept having to build new roads, new roads, new roads. They were burning up these machines because they had a small compressor on there, and the little compressor would not push this molten petroleum product out through the spreader. They would set them on fire time after time.
They were down to the last one. They called me in: “What can you do about it? Do you know anything about this? We only have one left; take care of it.” I went down there and looked at it. I saw that the compressor on a five-ton dump truck that lifted up the whole back bed of the truck full of dirt or gravel or whatever was in there was the same size just about — it was a little bit bigger, but the base that connected it to the truck was the same kind of a base that they had on this asphalt-spreading machine. So I took off the little one, put the big one on, and I could sit there, and I could squirt their liquid petroleum product 20 feet. I called them down, and they gave me a big medal. (laughs)
I could take a problem, and I used logic. I had to take logic four years. You don’t get that in high school or any public school; they don’t teach you logic. But I took logic for four years. When you understand logic, the first thing you learn about logic is that you have to know what you want. You have to define very clearly in your mind what it is you want to do, what you’d like to expect from this operation that you’re going to advance to. Because I did that, I usually used logic on everything. When you do it, you find out the simplest of solutions.
I just got a patent; I just now got my patent back that I gave the government billions and billions and billions of dollars on, to make these diazos for boards. They made billions upon billions upon billions of dollars because there was nobody who could do it that fast. It took 25 engineers two years; they still didn’t do one board yet. I did it in two hours, by the grace of God. I do believe in God, by the way. I believe in a Supreme Being who knows a hell of a lot more than I do! (laughs)
Everything I get, everything I did is just not mine; I’m just a servant of the Almighty, if you want to know the truth. I’m humble for it, and I’m so appreciative of it, it’s unbelievable. But that’s the truth of the matter. He gives it to me, and I give it out. I don’t expect money, but I expected something out of it. But I didn’t get it. He keeps putting these things on my mind through the use of logic, and I pray a lot. (laughs) When I was diving, I used to pray every time before I went in the water. (laughs)
BH: After the Korean War, what did you do?
SG: [After retiring from the Army in 1979,] I got out, and I went to work for the government. I got an offer from the government to come to work for them, and I took it. I worked at all different kinds of jobs. They made me chief of everything I touched. They made me chief of all of the information on the F-111, all of the engineering data. I had 8,780,000 IBM cards with little photographs of pieces of parts.
Then I got the A-10 aircraft dumped on me. Then I got provisioning dumped on me; I had to provision for all these aircraft. And then I got what they call the AMP program –Avionics Modernization Program — for all F-111s on Earth. I had some in London, some in England there, some in Australia — all over the world. I had all these F-111s — the bombers, reconnaissance aircraft, and the fighters. I had a [$]1.3 billion contract. It was the biggest contract McClellan [Air Force Base] ever had, and I was in charge of that. I saw it to its conclusion.
But I was always in charge of things like EDCARS — Engineering Data Computer Assisted Retrieval System, made by AT&T. And you’d think they’d give me an engineer or something to start off with. [It was] the only one like it in the world, but I got that up and running. When I did, they took that away from me and gave me ATOS — [Automated] Tech Order System — I got that up and running. So, every place I ever went, for some reason, they always put me in charge of something, of everything that came in there that needed somebody who knew something about it. And the only thing I had going for me was my primary interest — my interest in life and everything that touched it — made it work, made it go.
Let me give you another poem [written when I was 12 years old]:
Maybe the fool is the wise man, / and the wise man only the fool. / To know the why and where of things / in a world that looks on and smiles / isn’t worth the strife of a wise man’s life / or the grief of those lonely miles. / So you be the wise man, / and I’ll be the fool, / and question not my lot. / I’ll throw a kiss to the sun-drenched skies, / thankful for what I’ve got, / a spirit as free as a cool night breeze / and a soul I can call my own. / A lone-hand part and a vagabond heart / are the greatest treasures I own. / So you be the wise man, / and I’ll be the fool, / and when this adventure is done, / we’ll add up the score and find once more, / that I, the fool, has won.
How do you like that one? (laughs)
BH: That’s great! Yes, really good, excellent.
SG: Yes, it is. And I owe it all it a Mrs. [Pauline] Stock. Mrs. Stock was my English teacher at this private school, Greer School, and she loved my poetry. I was selling it all over the world; [people] all over the world bought my poetry. I was making more money than she was; she was my teacher! (laughs) I sold it to newspapers, Corning Sun, Buffalo Evening News — you name it, they all bought my poetry. Really, I sold so damn many of them, and I would get checks almost every day from one or the other of them. I was getting 50 cents a column inch! (laughs) It’s a great life, and it is a great life.
The Japanese got the fastest train in the world. I wrote a song about it, got it published — “The Shinkansen Blues”! (laughs) Have mercy, mercy!
BH: Speaking of Japan, how did you come to Japan?
SG: I came to Japan because, as a diver, they [the military] had the pipelines going over these supertankers [that] came out. Huge things. They couldn’t come into shore because [they] needed enough draft in the water, and they didn’t have it. So they had to run these pipelines from the shore out to the boat. Some of them were five miles long. And then we had the rubber hose, about 20 feet long, and a nozzle that pulls the buoy up to the deck of the ship, then hooked it up to their pump. And that’s how they used to pump the oil from the tanker into the beach.
There were a couple of depots there that were very important. They needed oil; they were rationing gas at the gas station because the damn fools dropped their whole 20 lines of rubber hose all at one time. Of course, that stuff is heavy and double-overs on itself, and it would split open because it was made out of rubber. It had steel flanges, but rubber in between — 20 feet long. And they kept breaking the hose and breaking the hose, and we had to keep going back down.
That’s why they sent me to Japan. They sent me to Spain. They flew us wherever we were needed. But mostly we worked on the pipelines. We got stolen cars; we worked for the FBI. [In] San Francisco, they had this pier. People would rob a store of diamonds, then when they were getting chased by the cops, they would run up this pier and throw the diamonds and everything into the ocean. Everybody thinks if you throw it into the ocean, no one will ever find it. There was 90 feet. We had what we call engineer tape; it was four inches wide, and it was white. We made a grid out there. We would go grid by grid, and we’d find these boxes of jewels and so forth. We come in, and they’d make us strip naked to make sure we didn’t take anything! (laughs) But we would find all the jewelry boxes and all this other stuff that they stole and threw out into the ocean.
The guys would run their cars off; the cars were all shot to hell. “Yeah, the car, somebody stole it! I was in the bowling, and I had to park outside, and somebody stole it! I don’t know how; they must have jumped my wires. That’s the only way!” We’d go over to this cliff, and go look in the Pacific Ocean right there in Yokohama. (laughs). We’d go down there, and there would be the car. There were the keys to the ignition! (laughs) When they run their cars off, they get the insurance because they had to buy Japanese insurance. They would get the full amount for the wreck because American cars were hot stuff over there.
One time, this woman dropped her silver dollar. She was the general’s wife, and we had to go down and find it for her — things of that nature. Too many to talk about, really.
BH: Around what year did you move to Japan?
SG: [The] 561st Engineer Port Construction Company is what I was in. Then I went to Japan out of Korea. I came home; my time was up. I still wanted to dive, so I re-upped and said, “I want to back to diving, and I want to go to Japan,” because I love Japan. I speak Japanese fluently. I speak about seven languages. Anyway, that’s how I got to Japan; it was to fix their pipelines, and build piers and seawalls, all kinds of stuff, [including] body reclamation. [There] used to be a ferry boat between Hokkaido and Aomori. We were up getting an F-86 Sabre jet out of the lake because the pilot belonged to one [air] wing, and the plane belonged to another wing, and we were salvaging the plane. I jettisoned a tip tank on that plane, and it came right up under my boat that I was diving from, and [it] nearly turned [my boat] over! (laughs)
Anyway, we got 139 bodies out of that ferry boat between Hokkaido and Aomori. It was only time I ever crapped my pants. You know how you go through a tunnel, and all the leaves follow you out? You go through a tunnel, and you pull that up because you form a suction. Well, the same thing happens with water, just a different medium. There were seats on both sides, and there was an aisle in the middle. I was walking down there with a Mark V [diving] helmet on, fully dressed. All of a sudden, I had this feeling. The hair was standing up on my arms, on my hands. I slowly turned around, and as I did so, this woman slammed me right in the face in the porthole. She slammed into me with her long hair hanging down. I crapped my pants! My going down the middle of that aisle pulled her up out of her seat, and every time I took a step she was right behind me. When I stopped and turned around, she’d come up and bang! hit me right in the face! (laughs) My God, I crapped my pants! (laughs) That’s the only time I did, though.
Anyway, that’s how I got to Japan. I loved it, and I married a Japanese and had five children by her.
BH: What year did you come to Japan?
SG: Nineteen fifty-one. I’m going on 90. On September 25, I’ll be 90 years old.
BH: How did you get involved with newspapers and Stars and Stripes?
SG: Well, I was back in the United States; I was a diver at the 561st Engineers Port Construction Company. They deactivate the unit and moved them over to Vietnam. I had a wife and five kids, and I went in and asked my captain, “Do you mind if I go across the Golden Gate Bridge over to the Presidio, San Francisco, and see if I can’t find myself a job?” He said, “No, go ahead.” So I’m over there, and I talk to the editor of the newspaper. He wanted to find out if I was literate, and I showed him some of my writings, poetry, and this and that, and told him all the books I’ve ever read. “Oh, yeah. OK, you got the job. Come over here Monday.” I went over there Monday.
I looked around and said, “Where’s the editor?” “Oh, didn’t he tell you? He’s taken a month’s leave.” So I was now editor of a newspaper called The Star Presidian. (laughs) I had a corporal that used to work for the Chicago Sun. I took him every day to my house, and in one week I learned all about the newspaper business because I used logic; I used formulas. He showed me how to measure, how to enlarge a picture, how to crop a picture, how to reduce a picture, how to blow up a picture, and so forth — all the different various fonts. I learned all of that in a week, and I got to be the editor of The Star Presidian newspaper.
Then I went all over the place, writing myself. I used to write a lot of stories for that paper. Then they moved me over to the [Army 6th] Recruiting office because they needed nurses. They said, “Can you write something for the nurses?” I took up the subject to find out what the hell they needed. I made up some posters that fit the buses. All the buses had that line of advertising on each side on the inside of the bus. I came up with a drawing; I had artists working for me. I told them I wanted a ghost nurse, and I wanted a soldier boy carrying his weapon in one hand and a little child in his other hand. I wanted [it to] show the nurse’s head with her hat on but no facial [features]. “Just make lips and a nose. Don’t make anything else on her.”
They did that, and I said, “He could use a hand.” That’s all I said — “He could use a hand.” It had this soldier walking down there, and he was bleeding himself. He had a bandage on his arm, you know. (laughs) They got more damn nurses than they could handle. That’s the thing that got to a nurse was the maternal instinct; that’s what makes women women. Anyway, that’s what they had to have. Logic tells you that. You’ve got to have the logic. So that’s what I used, and that’s [how] we got all the nurses we could handle.
They had four sizes of these milk cartons, these paper milk cartons. There’s a plate that you make, and I went back, and they were having a big conference. I went in front of them — there were about 500 dairies — and I said, “I would like to have this put on just one side of your box. ‘Be all you can be.’” (laughs) I think you know where that went! (laughs) But I [did] that all my life, and I thank God Almighty.
BH: Did you create that [slogan]?
SG: I don’t know if I created that one or if somebody else did. But that’s the one that went on the carton.
BH: What led to your involvement with Stars and Stripes?
SG: Well, it was my turn to reenlist again, and that’s what they made me [do]; they liked the papers that I was putting out, they liked the work I did for recruiting stations all over the country, and they just gave me that. They said, “You’re going to go to Stars and Stripes.” And Stars and Stripes were [like], “Ha ha, what the hell does a deep-sea diver know about the paper business? Eh, we’re getting a deep-sea diver in here!” Well, shit, I used to write for all them newspapers and sent my poetry around. And then I could write stories that I had.
I don’t know if you know this, but I was in Thailand. At that time, I was working for the embassy, taking all the movie stars and this and that all around Thailand to shake hands and sing songs and put on shows for the troops. All that word got back because I was decent to these people. I took them all around, treated them nice, and made sure they got on the planes. I had The Ink Spots, [and they] spent all their money for the aircraft on jewelry in Thailand. I went to this hotel where they were living, and I said, “Look, these guys are going to play for you a two-hour show, and you’re going to let their bill go. Is that OK with you?” He said, “Yeah, OK!” So that’s what we did. I told this guy, “Look, you blew all your money. You ain’t got money, so you’re going to put on a two-hour show for this man, and he’s going to write your bill off.” They came down, and they had the time of their life. People were clapping — they had a hell of a time.
While I was in Japan, I was writing for Stars and Stripes. It was the economic miracle that Japan was undergoing at that time — brand-new cars, the special venturi carburetor, making all kinds of cars, building new bridges, building the fastest railroad train in the world called the shinkansen [bullet train]. And they loved me for that; they loved that I was putting all [those] stories in the Stars and Stripes newspaper. One day, I got an offer to go and work for the Yomiuri Shimbun. Would I like to help, be an editor for the English version of it? Yes, I would; I’d love it. I did that for three years. That’s how I got to be. You had to have a pass to get in there. They had 1,500 reporters on the payroll and a circulation of seven million daily. That’s how I got to work for the newspaper.
How did I get on Stars and Stripes? They just took me; they just assigned me. The Army just assigned me to that place. But they didn’t know who the hell I was or what I could do or anything else. But, as usual, [the reaction was], “What the hell does a deep-sea diver know about [the] newspaper business? Can he even write? Has he passed the eighth grade?” Of course I got more education than the college guy did! (laughs)
BH: How did you get cast in the movie Espy (1974)?
SG: I used to write all these stories about the Japanese. One story I wrote — there’s a cemetery over there, and on both sides of the road are these Japanese cherry trees. They were all in bloom, and I’m telling you it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Just walking through that long arch of beautiful pink and white blossoms. Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. I wrote just a little short article down below, and I said, “God, it is beautiful.” That’s the last line I put on the story. “God, it is beautiful.” That was the caption for the picture. I shot a picture of it; I was into photography. I could take a camera, and I would shoot a picture of it. And that’s all I said: “God, it is beautiful.” Japanese people just wrote to Stars and Stripes all kinds of letters, thanking us.
They asked this man who was 104 years old, “How did you live such a long life?” He said, “Well, I drink a fifth of whisky a day. That’s the only thing I can put it to; I drink a fifth of whisky a day.” So I had to write a headline for that in one column. It was a little bright on page one in the right-hand bottom corner. I had to write a headline, put a headline on it. That was my deal, and I wrote this down. I got a little something from [the] AP for that. (laughs) I said, “Using old math; 1/5 = 104 years.” (laughs) They had an editor there on the rim, and this old guy’d been on all kinds of newspapers, he started laughing his ass off! “What are you laughing at?” He said, “Read this!” I remember I got a prize for that, just for that one little headline. But I used to write all kinds of stories.
[Yukio Mishima] was a big-shot writer over there. He wrote books; everybody loved his writing. He and five others went over to the Japanese headquarters where all the generals stayed. He called all the troops out, and he raised hell with them while these other five guys were on the inside with their swords with these four generals. He said, “You’ve lost the samurai spirit of dying. You don’t know how to die anymore. You don’t know how to commit harakiri when you mess up.” But he said, “Those boys did. You don’t know what a giri is,” the word in Japan for “spirit.” He raised hell with [those] guys; they were all sitting out there in ranks in front of them. He was on the second floor of this building and talking to them.
He went inside, and he’s telling [the general] the same thing: “You don’t know how to be a samurai anymore. You don’t know how to lead men.” He said, “Put your hand out there.” The general put his hand out, he spread his little pinky out, and cut it off with a knife! Cut it right off with a knife right in front of everybody! Then he got down in front of the generals, and he committed suicide, seppuku. Well, that’s what he did, where he puts the knife in his belly, pulls it all across, and then up. And he died. Then he had a man cut his head off because he’s sitting there with his knees [folded] underneath him. The kid chopped his head off with the sword. He took the head and put it against the wall in the back of the room, dragged him back, and stuck him there.
Well, they called me up. “Somebody, go down there! Somebody’s gotta make it down there!” It was about four or five blocks down from our office where we made the paper. I said, “I’ll go.” So I got a photographer, and we ran down there. We walked in — the ceiling was covered with blood. When they cut the neck off, the heart was still pumping; it would pump the blood all the way up to the ceiling. And the back walls and the rug, every time you took a step, it squished with blood. You got it all over your shoes, your pants, and everything else. When we walked in, all five of them committed suicide like that. The lone guy that was left chopping everybody’s head off, he committed suicide, too, finally — seppuku. That’s the story that I had to write. Well, then they found out I was a writer. They finally accepted me! (laughs)
I wrote the first newspaper [for] the prisoners of war [who] came out of Vietnam. After five years of jail, I had to write five years of history for them in a 52-page newspaper just for them by the year. I would take the first top-10 stories that we did down at Stars and Stripes for the last years. I had to put all this stuff together. They wouldn’t even give [me] a headline writer. But I had to write the whole thing — write up all the headlines and everything else. Every country around wanted more copies of that paper.
The first guy that got off the airplane at the Japanese airport there, the first thing in their hands was that newspaper that I had written up to [get] them up to speed. That’s when we landed the first man on the Moon. That was the big story; that covered the front page. That was bigger than wars and killing — hell, we’ve been doing that for 20 billion years. Nothing new about a war. But landing on the Moon was the story I put on the front page.
BH: Let’s move on from newspapers, and let’s talk about the movie that you did. How did you get cast in the movie?
SG: Well, they just came to me, asked me, “Have you ever had any experience in front of a camera?” I said, “Yes, I’ve done a hell of a lot of your ads for you — advertising, movies, wristwatches, coffee beans you got from Brazil, chocolate bars, all kinds of things.” I said, “I’ve done a lot.” They said, “Good, come on down; we’ll take a little movie of you doing something down here.” So I went down there and went through their rigmarole to make sure I was literate. (laughs) I’d done pretty good as a cameraman, I looked like a movie star.
Do you remember the father [Brian Kelly] of the two sons on the Flipper series? That’s who I look like. He came over to Thailand when I was in charge of all that crap, and he got drunk on a motorcycle with a sergeant major from the Marines. They were out bar-hopping and chasing the girls, and they had a wreck with the motorcycle. He had a four-inch cut on his left leg. The sergeant major took him back to his hooch and sewed him up! He sewed this guy up, this movie star! Anyway, he went back to the States. Then he sent me a picture; I got the picture. His pants [were] on him, but his left leg was sticking up to show me his leg was OK, and he’s still got it. (laughs)
The Japanese wanted to do a Woodstock. They wanted to do their first Woodstock. I went over there, and I was telling them about the Woodstock we had in the United States and what they had to do. They had to get sheets of plastic. “What for?” Well, you gotta put them on the ground so the people don’t get their clothes all green from grass. They’ll be sitting on the ground, and if [they] put their food out, you have to have these 10×10 plastics to sit down on the ground. “Oh, that makes sense.” And what do they have to do about garbage? I said, “Well, you gotta get the big leaf garbage bags and post two of them to every tree in the area so these people have a place to put their garbage; they’ll put it in there.” “Oh, yeah! Great idea!” Well, we had a whole bunch of people. We drew 39,000 people down in Fujiyama. We had Buffy Sainte-Marie [and Pink Floyd].
Anyway, we had four or five American bands and singers of all kinds from the States to go over there. But this thing even had a naked stripper to run across the front of the cameras so everybody could see her! (laughs) We had the 1910 Fruitgum Company [also perform there]. Anyway, four or five American bands went over there, too, and they sang.
Then I had it worked out with NHK with our people, Air Force types, who had the equipment to record what was going on and give it to the people in Korea, in Vietnam, and so forth, and please bounce it off Tokyo Tower — NHK owned that — so we could send it over to these people. And I got my NHK buddies because we used to get drunk on a Friday night and go down to Ginza and spend $5,000! (laughs) Anyway, they said, “Hell, yeah, we can do that.” So that’s what they did. They ran that thing there, they drew 39,000 people in Fujiyama. The mayor of the town was so happy that they didn’t have a big mess to clean up. He said, “You can come back next year if you want to.”
So, when they had this movie they wanted to do, they needed an American face to be the premier of Baltonia. And I said, “Hell, yeah, I’ll do that.” They took a picture of me for the newspaper, with my picture waving to the world — my hand’s in the air and all that stuff. Then we made the movie with the top, leading movie stars that they had in Japan. That’s how it came to be.
BH: Do you remember much about the director, Jun Fukuda? Do you remember anything about him?
SG: Yes, I do. Let me tell you what happened. The major scene was this evil man who I never did see, but he had ESP powers. And he was creating an earthquake. We had 200 people in this big dining room. They’re around these tables, and we had guys under the tables. They had these big columns going up and down made out of Styrofoam; they didn’t weigh nothing. But, during this earthquake scene, they had the guys under the tables shaking the tables and throwing the dishes on the floor. Then these big towers broke to pieces, and they came falling down, banging on the tables, hitting people in the head. And I was up on my pulpit where I was giving my speech, and it was rocking me, too. But this guy with the evil forces, ESP, he was making the earthquake. It sounded like an earthquake. He was making that; it was his fault, and it all came crashing down.
Now, this Japanese actor had to come up and save my life at the pulpit. We both bent over, and we’re going off exit left from the stage. I bent and split my pants wide open and mooned 200 people! (laughs) The director: “What the hell is going on, all that laughing up there?!” (laughs) The Japanese guy told him, “He split his pants!” (laughs) Oh, well. That’s what I know about him. I never did meet him personally.
But the thing was, I always picked up my clothes and put them on a hanger and hung them back up when I was done [and put] my own clothes back on. [The wardrobe department] saw that, and they told the producer, “Mr. Greene’s the only one who cleans up after himself and hangs his clothes up.” They had me up for another five movies in Hawaii — five of them. But I didn’t go on any of them! But they had me pegged for five more good movies. But we had a tremendous time with that movie. Even the dog had ESP! (laughs)
It went on. I was the premier of Baltonia, then I had a twin brother who got shot to death up in Switzerland. I had to die, and I had the blood squirting out of me up around my chest. I fell down; I grabbed a tabletop and pulled all the dishes down on the floor, and I fell down these three steps. Even the director said, “Boy, you died good!” It was a real experience.
We were up in an airplane, coming back, and this old guy who’s with us had ESP of a certain type. The bad, evil man is trying to get to the airplane to crash, and this old guy was keeping us afloat with his power. But it was tapping all of his strength, and he finally died there on the airplane. But he got us home safely, and we landed safely. It was quite a movie.
BH: In the scene where you’re giving the speech, and the bad guy is manipulating you through ESP, do you remember what you were actually saying during the filming? Were you just ad-libbing, or were you reading from a script?
SG: No, I was just telling them what a good partner you’ve been since the war and what you’ve done for yourself, and thanking them for coming back and being a trading partner with the United States of America, and allowing our businessmen to come to your country and show you these things, how to make cars, and so on and so forth. And that was the general area that I was talking to them in. Congratulating them on the comeback that they were making for themselves. “You people do this; you did it yourselves.”
And then they had the international music festival. Guess who the first judge was? Me! They put me down as first judge of that. I can’t even read a note of music! (laughs) They were so good to me, and I was good to them.
BH: I’m speaking about the scene, though, in the movie where you’re giving the speech, and the guy is manipulating through ESP. I’m talking about the filming of that scene. It seems that they dubbed your voice into Japanese.
SG: Yes, they did.
BH: Do you remember what you were saying?
SG: No, it’s not word for word; I was praising them for letting America be their trading partner and for their rejuvenation they were going through after the war. You cleaned up all the damaged trains, all the damaged windows, buildings, everything. You cleaned them up, and you made a brand-new Japan out of it.
BH: I see. So that’s what you were saying in that scene.
SG: That’s what they were talking about. That’s what was coming out of my mouth, supposedly.
BH: Obviously, we can only hear the Japanese speaking, but in English you’re saying that stuff during the speech. Is that correct?
SG: No, sir, I’m just mouthing. I’m just moving my mouth around.
BH: You’re not actually speaking in that scene?
SG: No, I was not saying a word. I was just moving my mouth and looking interested and moving my hands and pointing [at] people and so forth. It was all the animation required of an actor without saying a word. (laughs)
BH: Do you remember any filming locations where you went during the movie?
SG: There was only one building that we went to, and that was the one where we had all the 200 people set up at the dining room tables. I don’t know exactly the address of it, but it was a stage operation inside the movie company itself.
BH: At Toho Studios?
BH: Do you know how long you worked on the movie?
SG: I worked on it about two months, to get my parts of it done.
BH: Were you ever given a script, or did they just tell you what they wanted you to do at the time?
SG: They just told me. The other two guys I was working with knew English, too. The mother was English, and their father was Japanese. They could speak English, and they would tell me what the script read and so forth. The director spoke English, too, by the way — good English. They would tell me what to do and what they were talking about and so forth. “Just make your movements around it. Look interested when people were talking to you, lean your head forward so you can hear better.” (laughs) Things of that nature.
But one scene where this old guy died in the plane, I got something stuck in my eye, and the tears were coming down. They thought that was me crying over him dying. I didn’t tell them any different! (laughs) But they all I thought that I was able to [cry] on a moment’s notice. (laughs)
BH: But that was just a coincidence.
SG: That was just a coincidence. I had something stuck in my eye — a piece of dirt or cinder or something. I don’t know what it was.
BH: Do you have any other memories of the director, working with him on this film? Do you have any other memories of him?
SG: No, just that one big one. That was the biggest scene in the movie, by the way, was the crumbling in that earthquake. That was the biggest scene with the most action on it. He wondered why the hell people were laughing up there. My pants split wide open; they got little asses over there in Japan. (laughs) Not like Americans! I split the whole pair of pants open and mooned 200 people! (laughs)
The Japanese actor with me, who’s saving my life at the time, he started laughing like hell, too! The director [said]: “What’s going on with all that laughing up there?!” (laughs) But we had a good time, an excellent time. They fed us every once in a while. In the holdout area, [they’d] give us tea and some goodies, a little sembei to eat, and so forth.
BH: Some of the actors, I don’t know if you might remember, there’s Hiroshi Fujioka.
SG: He was fun. He was the one that was saving me. He went up onstage and bent over and saved me. He was the main actor.
BH: Do you remember him, other stories or memories of Mr. Fujioka?
SG: No, I didn’t know him. I just met him at the movie itself for the first time in my life. I didn’t meet him outside of that movie. He was a very fine guy. He was really nice. There were two guys. Both of them spoke English, and the three of us had a good time together. Sort of hang out together when we weren’t in the film or in the set at that time. We’d just sit around and shoot the hooey, and they’d ask me all kinds of questions.
Because I worked at Stars and Stripes, I used to teach English. I had all of these guys from these major companies — Mitsui-Soko, there were NHK people. CEOs would come down to the Stars and Stripes building, and I would take them up and put them on the rim, and I’d give them today’s paper. I’d say, “Now read this.” And, hell, they spoke English as well as I did — probably better. They wanted to know all about business; they wanted to know everything about America. We would read certain portions, then we’d stop that because the questions and answers were the only thing they really wanted. So that’s what I was doing, and they all paid me. (laughs) Like I said, we used to go down to Ginza and all the beer joints, and spend $5,000 a night! (laughs)
Then, on top of that, they had this golf course; American guys were going to close this golf course. It belonged to us, or we had use of it, but nobody was coming there. They were thinking about closing it all. Then the Japanese had greenback money instead of this scrip. The Japanese could also have the greenbacks. So I went back there and asked the guy — I said, “Do you want to save this place? I’m teaching English to a bunch of Japanese bigwigs who love to play golf, but it costs them $300 to play a round.” I said, “You got [business] cards?” He said, “Yeah, I got cards.” I said, “Give me about 500 of them. I’ll have you 500 golfers here this weekend.” “OK.”
He gave me a whole box of them — 2,000. I took them back. The next meeting over there at the newspaper, I said, “How many of you guys play golf?” All the hands went up. I said, “Guess what?” I told them of the story, and the first day that he let these guys in, he sold out wall to wall everything he had. Everything you would need for the sport of golf, he had. He sold every damn thing he had on the first day. I said, “Give me another box!” (laughs) He gave me another box.
This went on. They had what they call ofuro downstairs, a big bath. Some of the mosaic tiles were falling off the walls and off the floor. He repaired all of that, put in new plumbing, new heaters for the water tanks, new benches, new lighting. He opened that up, and after the golf they would go downstairs, and [they] loved it! I could do no wrong. I could not do any wrong because, after that, they didn’t need his card anymore — just come on up! They were very good to me, and I was very good to them. And I married one.
BH: Another actor is Yuzo Kayama. Do you remember him?
SG: No, I don’t recall him at all.
BH: How about Masao Kusakari?
SG: I recall his name.
BH: What do you remember about him, if anything?
SG: Not too much because, right after shooting, that was it. While we were there, we were making the movie. I lived quite a ways from where we were making the movie down in Tokyo. It was quite a ways I had to drive up there in all that traffic, so I had to get going. I had four girls and a boy, and I had to go pick up my kids. I couldn’t hang around there after shooting. I’d take my clothes off, put my clothes on, get the hell out of there, and go pick up my kids.
BH: There’s also some other foreigners who appear in the film. I don’t know if you remember Robert Dunham or anybody else who appeared in the film with you.
SG: As far as I know, sir, I was the only gaijin there.
BH: Do you have any other memories of the scene where you get shot? Could you tell me more about that?
SG: Well, I had a twin brother. I was the premier of Baltonia, and he was my twin brother. He was up there in [Switzerland], and I was sitting in a chair in [Switzerland]. The evil guy’s henchmen came in and shot me to death. I fell down off this little raised flooring, and I died. That was all. I was sitting in a chair, I was shot, and I died. We did that all in about 15 minutes, and that was the end of that one.
BH: What was it like to get shot?
SG: Well, they had these things of red blood that I had to smash myself over my heart when I got shot and bust them up so the blood could come spurting out! (laughs) Spurting out my uniform and clothes! (laughs) That’s where the guy said, “You died good!”
BH: The director said that?
SG: Yeah. That’s all that was to that section.
BH: Do you have any other memories of the film?
SG: Well, we won. After we landed and so forth, we won against this evil guy. I never did see the evil guy, and nobody else did, either. But we knew we beat him because his men and everybody else went to jail. But I didn’t see that part, either. I was only there for my parts.
BH: When you saw the film, what did you think of it?
SG: Well, between you and me, I laughed like hell because you have American films, and you have Japanese films. (laughs) And even the dog had ESP! (laughs) So it was a little strange. But the only parts that I was in [are where] where I’m walking down the street, holding up my hand, and they showed the picture of that, and they showed me up at the pulpit, they showed me over the top of the dying old man. That was about it.
BH: When did you move back [from] Japan?
SG: [Around] 1957.
BH: And then, after that, when did you come back to the States?
SG: I came back [to Japan] in 1969 through ‘75 [for] Stars and Stripes, so ‘75 I came back to the States.
BH: After you came back to the States, what did you do?
SG: That’s when they sent me to McClellan Air Force Base.
BH: What else did you do?
SG: Well, I started some corporations of my own. We started a company called AMMS — American Medical Management Systems. We sold that system to Scotland and to England and to Texas. Then I got out of that, and I opened up another company to make these diazos. We needed LN2 [liquid] nitrogen, and we needed a mammogram machine that you check for cancer. They’re making billions of dollars off it, but this one guy screwed me out of my royalty. No biggie.
BH: You got to meet Kim Novak [during the filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo], correct?
SG: My very first day of duty after coming back [from] Japan, my very first day, I walked in, and this lieutenant [said]: “Get your diving suit on, get your diving suit, go find a diving suit! We’ve got to go across the bridge! There’s a movie star over there; you’ve got to take a picture with her!” I looked around, and I finally found one they used for a display when they had Armed Forces Day. It had a brand-new suit; it was nice and clean, and a helmet they already rigged up. So I grabbed that and put it on, went across the [bridge], and there she was. We went [to] Fort Point, the San Francisco side of the bridge. That’s where we took the pictures. The only thing she said was, “Weird, weird, weird!” (laughs) I had the front mask open. I had that opened up so that she could look in there and see me; we could talk to each other. All she said was, “Weird, weird, weird!” Sweet girl. That was the first day of duty. I said, “Well, I’m in America again!” (laughs)
BH: What about James Garner?
SG: James Garner was one of those [movie stars] in Thailand. I was in Thailand then. I knew everybody there that was worth knowing. And this one woman had this club called Caesar’s Palace on the seventh floor of the BOAC building. Gorgeous thing — [it] had all these girls, beautiful girls in little short togas that they wear around with the Roman-style shoes on. They had a chaise lounge up there, and they had him down on a chaise lounge, and they were feeding him grapes! (laughs) I’ll never forget that! He had the time of his life. He sent me all kinds of pictures.
The funny thing is, his movie, Grand Prix (1966), was premiering over there, and I got a hold of the theater. I said, “Hey, I want to bring James Garner over there to see you. Two o’clock, I’ll be there. Tell all your people.” And they had a crowd of about 5,000 people! (laughs) He just enjoyed himself. We had a hell of a time, he and I. I had a suite of rooms downstairs at the brand-new hotel they built — gorgeous rooms I had. That was my military job, taking care of all these people that came over.
Special thanks to Steven E. Greene and Ken Tyson.