Las Vegas Sun

November 28, 2015

Hank’s Battle Over

SUN Publisher Hank Greenspun died Saturday morning at his home in Las Vegas after fighting a valiant year-long battle with cancer. He was 79.

His passing will be felt not only in every corner of Nevada, but across the U.S. and around the world as well. He was one of the nation's few remaining publisher-crusaders, and his death represents the end of an era.

Services are scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday at the Temple Beth Sholom.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara; sons Brian and Danny; daughters Susan Fine and Janie Gale; nine grandchildren; brother, David; and sister, Alice Goldberg.

Renowned as a journalist, Greenspun was famous for taking the unpopular side of an argument. Especially through his Where I Stand column in the Las Vegas SUN, he waged ferocious wars with anyone who dared encroach on the territory of the little guy.

Though his sky-blue eyes usually twinkled with mirth, compassion and caring, they could transform into the flinty daggers of a fighter pilot ready to do battle.

A hard-charging type of newsman, Greenspun was not afraid to take on such giants as former Sen. Joe McCarthy or the IRS. Even local politicians whom the publisher believed were doing wrong suffered his wrath.

He always maintained a deep love for the community of Las Vegas, whose growth he helped shape since moving here in 1946.

Greenspun's reputation and deeds reached across the world.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Aug. 27, 1909, Greenspun spent most of his childhood in New Haven, Conn. He attended St. John's College and graduated from St. John's School of Law with an LL.B. in 1934. He was a member of the New York Bar Association and worked in Republican Congressman Vito Marcantonio's New York office, where Fiorello LaGuardia was a law partner.

When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private in 1941 and left with the rank of major in February 1946.

He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with silver star in the Battle of Falaise Gap and received commendations from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower as well as the Conspicuous Service Cross of the state of New York and other battle stars.

While stationed in Ireland, awaiting the invasion of Europe, he met and married Barbara Joan Ritchie of Dublin in 1944.

He served with General Patton's Third Army, advancing through France into Germany.

An adventurer and a crusader, Greenspun risked his meager savings and his reputation on the possibility of imprisonment to support the founding of the state of Israel.

Greenspun was proudest of his federal conviction - and later pardon - for smuggling arms to the Haganah in its struggle to provide a homeland for the survivors of the Nazi holocaust. Not so well known was his part in the relocation of Ethiopian Jews to the Israeli homeland years later with the help of Sudan's President Gafaar Mohammed al-Nimeiry, and his earlier efforts toward a Middle East peace which led to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Israel.

Because of his gun and ammunition experience with atton's forces, he was asked to help arm the Haganah to defend Jews against Arab invaders in the newly partitioned state of Israel. In Hawaii, he scrounged aircraft engines, machine guns and spare parts from a military surplus yard for shipment to what would become the new State of Israel.

Arranging their transport through Mexico, he masqueraded as a Chinese Army colonel after stealing official seals from the Chinese embassy to cover the paperwork.

One of his partners in that operation, Teddy Kollek, is mayor of Jerusalem. Another Haganah colleague, Sam Lewis, became chief pilot for El Al Airlines. And Greenspun's close friend, Al Schwimmer, who recruited him for the Haganah effort, founded Israel Aircraft Industries, Israel's chief air defense industry.

Greenspun moved to Las Vegas in 1946 where he edited a magazine, "Las Vegas Life." He later became public relations director at the Flamingo Hotel run by Benjamin "Bugsy" Seigal.

With Siegal's death came the success of the Flamingo, leading newsmen to quip that arranging the "mob-style" killing was one of Greenspun's greatest publicity stunts.

With the backing of Valley Bank founder Nate Mack, Greenspun bought the Las Vegas Free Press, a small newspaper for $104,000 ($1,000 down) in 1950, and hired the unioon printers who had been locked out by the Review-Journal. Two weeks later, he changed the paper from three times a week to a five-day-a-week publication, renaming in the Las Vegas SUN.

In 1963 he was the publisher with the world's longest paper route after fire destroyed the SUN. For close to a year, he had the SUN printed in Phoenix, Palm Springs, Indio, Banning and Los Angeles, flying it to Las Vegas in rented DC-3s while he rebuilt his newspaper plant.

He also owned the Colorado Springs Sun in the 1970s.

Greenspun had gained national prominence in testifying before the Kefauver Committee in the U.S. Senate, which was investigating the nation's organized crime, in late 1950 and early 1951. He attacked Sen. Pat McCarran's restrictive immigration bill, raising the powerful senator's hackles. He editorially supported an opponent of a McCarran-backed candidate for the Senate.

In March 1952, on McCarran's orders, every major Las Vegas hotel and casino canceled their ads in the SUN. McCarran sent Sen. Joe McCarthy to Las Vegas. The Red-baiting McCarthy, perhaps intending to call Greenspun an ex-convict because of the gun-running conviction, instead called him "an ex-Communist." Greenspun chased him off the speaker's stand.

His Where I Stand columns later offered proof of McCarthy's homosexual tendencies and showed the senator's communist leanings, using McCarthy's own tactics to expose him.

After Greenspun's conviction on Israeli gun-running charges, he lost his U.S. citizenship. However, he was pardoned by then President John. F. Kennedy in 1961 and his citizenship was restored. When then-Clark County Democratic Chairman Mike O'Callaghan brought him papers to re-enroll him as a registered voter, Greenspun registered Republican.

A year later, when the ill-timed death of Greenspun's close friend Lt. Gov. Rex Bell forced the Republican Party to seek another gubernatorial candidate, Greenspun threw his hat in the ring. He entered the state Republican primary in the governor's race against Las Vegas Mayor Oran Gragson, who beat him. Gragson was later defeated by incumbent Gov. Grant Sawyer.

Steadfast in his belief that Las Vegas was a thriving, attractive community for visitors and residents alike, Greenspun was one of the early supporters of construction of a convention center here. When there weren't enough rooms to accommodate the first convention influx, he urged Las Vegas to allow delegates to use their spare rooms. They did, and lasting friendships began between visitors and their "hosts."

When Culinary Workers union strikes shut down Las Vegas Strip hotels and negotiations reached an impasse, Greenspun stepped in to help break the stalemate by forcing both sides to negotiate a settlment before they could leave his newspaper office.

But it was his earlier acquaintance with industrialist Howard Hughes that put Las Vegas on the Big Board. Hughes, hounded out of Boston by reporters, gained privacy in a Desert Inn penthouse reserved for him by Greenspun.

Hughes subsequently bought the Desert Inn; the Frontier, across the street; the Sands; Silver Slipper and the Landmark Hotel, as well as hundreds of acres of hotel-casino property in and around the Strip.

Hughes' purchases added the legitimacy Las Vegas needed. Nevada gaming went corporate. Gaming stocks were sold publicly. Wall Street picked up the scent, and gaming became a legitimate investment. Gone were the images of "the Mob."

Greenspun was a founder of the city's first commercial television, KLAS-TV, which he later sold to Howard Hughes. He also started Prime Cable, the county's largest cable TV franchise.

Following his dream of an ever-growing Las Vegas, he bought thousands of acres of remote desert land in Henderson and turned it into the booming, master-planned community of Green Valley.

Greenspun was unrelenting in pursuit of his adversaries and in defense of his friends.

In one of his many fights with government bureaucracy, Greenspun offered SUN subscribers the free services of a tax lawyer and a SUN reporter armed with a tape recorder should they be called in for an IRS audit.

In the 1980s, Greenspun took on the IRS and FBI in defense of then Federal Judge Harry Claiborne who maintained he was being victimized by a federal vendetta and was not guilty of the tax charges against him. Through an exhaustive investigation, the SUN uncovered much of the evidence used in his defense throughout his court trials and impeachment proceedings before Congress. Greenspun even testified on Claiborne's behalf at the proceedings, claiming the judge was the victim of an over-reaching federal government bent on removing Claiborne from office at any cost.

For his years of service to the state and community which he loved, Greenspun received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from UNLV in 1977. He has won many civic awards as well as the highest honors from the state of Israel.

He was a member and past president of the Nevada State Press Association, member of Sigma Delta Chi, Overseas Press Club, American Newspaper Publisher Association, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Las Vegas Press Club and California Newspaper Publishers Association.

He was also member of the International Platform Association, Friar's Club, Variety Club, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disable American Veterans and the American Legion. He was a past president and member of the Federal Bar Association, Nevada Chapter.

He wrote a book, "Where I Stand," and co-authored "The Day the MGM Burned."

Best-selling author and entrepreneur Lucius Beebe once said of Greenspun: "If Pulitzers were given for old-time newspaper achievement, Greenspun would have prizes to throw at the birds."

He was indeed one of the last of America's fighting editors.

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