Harvey Greenberg, a Shrink’s Shrink
What my dad taught me about writing, compassion, and a winning poker hand
My father, Harvey Roy Greenberg, who died on June 11th, 2022, was the kind of iconic Upper West Side New York psychiatrist and public intellectual that defined an era. He was so iconic that at one point he was turned into an actual icon — animated as a cartoon psychiatrist for the 90s show Dr. Katz Professional Therapist. (He played Dr. Katz’s doctor). He was part of that rambunctious, Philip Roth-ian generation of Jewish movers-and-shakers that dominated the second half of the American century. He both drove and rode a boom in psychotherapy that turned the country into a place where, for a time, it seemed, everyone had an analyst.
My dad was quick out of the gate, earning a Ford Scholarship and matriculating at Columbia at the ripe, young age of 16. Once at college he bounded through a pre-med curriculum and along the way edited The Jester, the university’s magazine of humor (“yoomor” as my father would say with his Brooklyn-by-way-of-Philadelphia accent.)
He was first and foremost a film addict, writing reviews and gladly twice-screening everything Hollywood had to offer up until the very end.
He served honorably as a captain in the Army at Fort Smith, Arkansas and Fort Lewis, Washington. He is reported to have enjoyed military service. That said, as S. J. Perelman wrote of another New Yorker’s homecoming, he surely “cried tears of pure pastrami” when he set foot in his native city again. Once back East he quickly re-entered intellectual life and moved energetically between psychiatry and writing. Eventually he would find a literary niche in film and television criticism, contributing occasionally to The New York Times but more regularly to Film Quarterly, The Journal of Popular Film and Television, Psychiatric Times and many other publications. He had a booming, sonorous voice and sat in as guest host of the popular Long John Nebel late night radio show (He and Dr. Ruth once sparred on Nebel’s couch about the finer points of teen masturbation). Friends and colleagues were known to call his office answering machine just to listen to his soothing baritone on the outgoing…