Lucianne Goldberg was—she owned the term proudly—a broad. A grand broad—big, blowsy, sexy, and up for a good time from morning till night. She was the first and the last person I ever knew to spend her days inserting cigarettes into a cigarette holder and smoking them with relish like she was attending the blowout party in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
She was my dear, dear friend for 40 years.
It was Lucianne the literary agent to whom I turned in 1983 when I had my first idea for a book—a parody of TV Guide during the days when parodies were all the rage. She was maybe the only agent in New York at the time who represented conservatives. The day she went out to publishers with the proposal, someone else sold the same concept. The project was not to be (and the version that was ultimately published was a dud), but thank God for its abortive existence, because she became a part of my life and never stopped being so.
Lucianne was maybe the most sheerly fun person I’ve ever known, full of high good humor and gossip and tales about everyone we ever knew in common, and plenty she only knew, and plenty everybody knew.
What a storyteller she was, cynical and world-weary and finding the humor in just about everything. And she had an essentially comic view of the world, in which, in one way or another, we were either all fools or tummlers. She started an anti-women’s-lib group in the 1970s she called the Pussycat League, as a joke, and it provoked outrage that absolutely delighted her.
She was not a demimondaine but she was a confidante to many who were. A friend of hers who lived on the edge of financial disaster found security in a rent-controlled apartment she rented out by the hour—and by allowing a once-famous New York City radio personality with a personal peccadillo to study her toes. Another person who helped her with her news-aggregation website in a faraway state—someone whom she never met, to my knowledge, Lucianne being one of the first people to live most of her life on the Internet—called her one day to say she was going to have to take a break because the police had for some reason decided to arrest her for attempting to kill her husband. These friends loved Lucianne because they believed she didn’t judge them. Oh, but she did. She did.
She could tell you tales about Clifford Irving, the freelancer who became briefly notorious for faking the memoirs of Howard Hughes. Or about how incredibly depressing it was to spend time with Charles Schulz, who drew “Peanuts” (her wonderful husband Sid had been Schulz’s editor). “They called him Sparky,” she said. “It was the most inappropriate nickname ever.” Her primary trade as an agent was largely in works others considered disreputable, but she thought would be fun. Or revealing. Or whatever—they could make a dollar. She wrote three pointedly disreputable novels herself (under her own name; she wrote others under the names of others), naked and unapologetic swings for the Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins fences that were arguably more entertaining than either of her inspirations. She and Carl Bernstein had been news aides together at a Washington newspaper in the late 1950s.
She was around in the early 1960s when JFK was cutting a swath through his aides at the White House, which served as preparation for the moment she became world-famous. That was at the end of January 1998, when she became the public representative of Linda Tripp, the intimate (and betrayer) of Monica Lewinsky, whose taped phone calls (taped on Lucianne’s advice) revealed the relationship between Lewinsky and President Clinton. You’ve probably forgotten, but I haven’t, the hilarious spectacle of a hundred reporters standing on the sidewalk at 84th and Broadway in front of Lucianne’s building as she calmly and with a Cheshire-cat smile replied to the screams of America’s journalists. “That’s not a Linda Tripp question,” she would say, in her sing-song voice, if they asked what the agenda was here, or the angle, or whatever.
Sure, she had an agenda, and she was totally honest about it. She didn’t like Clinton, either personally or ideologically, and wanted to see him laid low, and unlike other people who’ve been in the destroy-the-president game, she didn’t make any bones about it. When Lewinsky-gate ultimately came a cropper, she was even-keeled. “If you go at the king, you’d best kill the king,” she said, “and we didn’t.”
A couple of years later, my wife and I were eating at a restaurant right near her apartment—I’d told her we were going—and she came barrelling in with Sid. They had just been out with friends at another dining establishment nearby, and Bill Clinton had been there. He came over to her table and gave her a huge hug and a kiss and kibitzed with her for 10 minutes. She was dazzled by Clinton’s social brilliance and gained a respect for him she had never had before.
She knew sorrow and grief and tragedy, but this is not the time to talk about such things. Though she bore her husband’s Jewish name, Lucianne was a believing Christian, and she had a calm about her that came from what she said was her absolute certainty that she was a child of God and that God loved her. Most important, she told me I’d better marry the girl I was dating, whom she met during a weekend we all spent together at a conference a week before 9/11—and I did, and we’re going strong 20 years later.
The only time I saw her weep was on the morning of 9/11. I was walking on the Upper West Side, and she called me and said a plane had hit the towers, and I said I was coming over. I did, and in a couple of hours, we discovered that our friend Barbara Olson, whom we’d been with at that very conference the week before, had been on the plane that had been flown into the Pentagon.
To my other dear Goldberg friend, Jonah, and to Jonah’s Fair Jessica, and to Lucianne’s namesake, their daughter Lucy, I can only wish they find solace in knowing that they, like me, had been given a gift by the God this great broad was certain loved her by her presence in our lives.