October 19, 2006
Steve Rubin has a passion for war
To meet him, you might think Steven Rubin is a normal person. Tall, handsome, happily married with young children, he is personable, affable -- in short, one of the gentlest and nicest guys you could meet.
But he is a man obsessed with war -- World War II to be precise.|
Recently, Rubin launched www.ww2daily.com, a Web site that posts a daily broadcast of the news that occurred on that day during World War II. Rubin began posting his broadcasts on Sept 11, 2006, with the news from Sept. 11, 1939, and he intends to go day by day for the next six years, until he reaches VJ day, Sept. 2, 1945 -- in 2012.
"My vision is part entertainment, part history," Rubin said recently, "to tell the story of America at its greatest." Rubin feels this is particularly important today, to remind the world of what America helped accomplish.
Rubin envisions his Web site as a broadcast channel devoted to the war, as a site where students, veterans, history buffs and collectors can all interact. He has assembled a team of a dozen writers, including a military historian, a schoolteacher and several professional writers, who scour archives for the actual war news of the day. In addition, there are four editors.
To save costs, Rubin had originally planned to serve as the radio newsreader, but he had to fire himself after he recorded the first few. Instead, he hired stage professional David Cox. Rubin's plan is to eventually hire other correspondents to read the reports as they were filed from various locations and sources. As he refines his business plan, he is currently shoring up investors and advertisers.
Why? You might reasonably ask. The answer is that Rubin wanted to take a shot at making his passion be his business (or make his business be his passion) -- it's one or the other or maybe both. Rubin was born in Chicago in 1951. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1955, and Rubin grew up in the Pico-Robertson and Beverlywood neighborhoods.
His fascination with World War II took hold as a child absolutely riveted to Sgt. Rock comic books and to the "Combat!" TV show. One of the first books he ever read was about the Battle of the Bulge, and when he played after school, suddenly the hedges along Robertson in Beverlywood became battlegrounds, where he re-enacted Montgomery's attacks on Rommel.
It was a childhood that included seeing the film about the young Jack Kennedy, "PT 109" (1963), at the Stadium Theater (now the home of B'nai David-Judea Congregation) and "The Longest Day" at the Carthay Circle Theater. One of his favorite films was "The Great Escape," and one of Rubin's cherished childhood memories is once, at age 12, meeting Steve McQueen, who was lost and looking for directions to Culver City.
At UCLA, Rubin studied military history by attending ROTC classes (although he never enlisted in ROTC or the armed services). It was also in college that Rubin discovered a talent for writing, joining the UCLA college newspaper, the Daily Bruin.
Upon graduation, Rubin put his interests to work, writing his first book, "Combat Films" (MacPharland), a study of war movies for which he interviewed his idols, including director John Sturges ("Thunderbolt," "The Great Escape"), director Henry Hathaway ("The House on 92nd Street") and actor Cliff Robertson ("PT 109").
Writing about movies and movie stars led Rubin to a 20-year career working in publicity, first at the studios and then at Showtime.
Showtime gave Rubin the opportunity to become a producer on "Bleacher Bums" (2002), based on Roberta Custer's successful play of the same name. He also produced "Silent Night" (2002), a fact-based story about a World War II Christmas truce for the Hallmark Channel, which starred Linda Hamilton. Rubin decided to become a full-time producer, but despite his successes, he found that being in production can be elusive. So while continuing to pursue his producing projects (including one with yours truly), Rubin decided that he needed to focus professionally on what he cared about most. Which is when he had his "eureka!" moment, to launch a Web site devoted to World War II.
Which brings me back to the question of "why." Being of the same relative vintage as Rubin, I see the attraction. Although the war occurred long before we were born, for many of our generation, World War II represents a time when things were black and white. When the Americans were the good guys and cheered as they liberated Europe.
Korea? Vietnam? Grenada? Iraq 1? Iraq 2? None have the epic and heroic sweep that we associate with what Tom Brokaw calls, "The Greatest Generation."
That would be the easy answer. Perhaps the more noble one. But I think there's another theory. Rubin is having his midlife crisis -- not the bad kind but the good.
Much has been made of the male midlife crisis. Most media depictions of this phenomenon involve the male of the species besotted by small cars with large engines and/or young women with large flotation devices, often mixed together in a combination that disrupts marriages.
While this may be all too real an occurrence, there is a corollary that is rarely reported -- a positive version, where a person (and when I say a "person" I really am referring to someone of the male persuasion) decides to give their life greater meaning by changing not their family life but the content of their life.
So, for example, a Bill Gates decides to devote himself to charity, or an Arnold Schwarzenegger takes up politics and becomes governor of California. These are but a few famous examples. Among my friends, some have found religion late in life; others have decided to pursue their avocations as photographers, artists, novelists.
As I see it, these are not unrelated occurrences. Whether motivated by altruism or narcissism, ego or just plain fear of death -- each is seeking, in their own way, a greater meaning and a connection to something larger than themselves. Rubin, for his part, is making World War II come alive at his Web site.
"We have a beachhead," Rubin says, "I would like us to be the MySpace for World War II buffs -- anyone from a 14-year-old video gamer to an 80-year-old war veteran with a lot of baby boomers in between." I say: Why not? Let Rubin win his war. We all sleep better when the good guys triumph.
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he's an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every other week.