[This is the eulogy I gave to a small gathering at the church where we interred my father’s ashes, where he now rests next to my mother’s.]

My father had a fantastic life.

It’s difficult to explain what a brilliant writer he was. His work isn’t in the pages of any book—you can’t go to the bookstore and buy him and read him and have that moment of “My God, he’s amazing.” He wasn’t a prose stylist, though his prose was elegant and shimmering and sly.

He was a playwright. What made him amazing was his ability to create vivid characters and then build actions for them that were consistent with the people those characters were. And the actions he built for them—the decisions they made, the repercussions those decisions had, and the ways they handled those repercussions—were founded on the deepest understanding of the architecture of dramatic conflict I have ever known, and ever will know.

One quick story—after college, for a period of about a year, I worked at One Life to Live during my father’s tenure as head writer. The team had collaborated on a six-month arc of story, and submitted it to the network, as was standard. The head of daytime—still and yet, my favorite job title ever—had rejected it, as was also standard. Sam and I—just the two of us— came in on a Saturday to build a new story to submit that Monday. We sat across from each other at a desk, spent fifteen minutes discussing what the network hadn’t liked, and then stared at our yellow legal pads, trying to think up solutions.

After about five minutes, Sam began to write. And once he started he did not stop—he filled up a legal pad page, flipped it over and kept on, pages and pages of finely wrought story that took the characters into utterly new situations and emotional places that simply hadn’t existed when we walked into the room. After about 15 minutes, I had a pokey little idea, and then another, and then I began to write as well. By the end of the afternoon he had solved the problem, and had even incorporated a couple of my ideas into the thread of story, suitably transmogrified, as necessary. Mostly, though, I had sat there and watched, in awe.

He was a poet of story architecture. That was his art—the ability to tell a great story. You all caught a glimpse of it at various dinner tables over the years. I saw it in its professional setting, and believe me when I say his talent was enormous and prodigious. He was the most talented writer I have ever seen, and to the world at large it would appear that he never wrote a word. Yet more people saw his work than have ever read Fitzgerald or Hemingway or Updike or Roth or any other 20th century American writer. He was a colossus, but unknown even to the people most avidly caught up in his work.

That’s just one of the ironies that surrounded my father’s life. Because he was a writer, he saw ironic interconnections constantly, between everything and everything else. Because he was a private man, he didn’t let those interconnections out very often…unless they were funny.

In one of the articles about Sam published online this week, one of the writers he had worked with over the years referred to him as a curmudgeon. Reading that, I instantly took umbrage—he wasn’t a curmudgeon, he was the smartest man in most of the rooms he was in, and his mind was lightning fast. If that writer couldn’t keep up, Sam might not have had patience for him. But a curmudgeon? No. A curmudgeon is someone who has become convinced of the sourness of the world. Sam had wayyyyy too much curiosity about the people around him to be sour. He could be bleak—if he was ever a curmudgeon, it was about himself, his fear that he had never achieved any of the things that everyone in his world celebrated him for. He could be depressive—that was an emotion in his repertoire, and he hit it every so often. But with Sam, curiosity always won out. He was always delighted to be surprised by true acts of friendship, by the strength of love, whether romantic or filial or any other kind. He wanted people to be interesting—and everyone was, or could be, to him, just by being themselves.

He was a war veteran. He was in the signal corps, he landed on Normandy Beach two days after D-Day and walked from Normandy Beach to Munich. One afternoon at Wildercliff 20 years ago I found a large cardboard boot box from a long-gone shoe store in Carrollton Ohio, his hometown. I opened it and discovered that his parents had saved all his letters home. There they were, hundreds of them, neatly arranged in three columns. My excitement was visceral—here was the entire history of my father’s war! I didn’t have time that day, but I made a plan that the next time I came up I would block out an afternoon, sit down and really go through this box of living history.

Three weeks later I sat down in a clean, well-lighted place, opened the lid of the box and again marveled at this unexpected treasure trove. I took out the first letter, addressed in pen to my grandparents in their house on Main Street in Carrollton. Carefully I unfolded the notepad-sized paper inside. There, in Sam’s open, cursive handwriting were the words:

Dear Sam and Bea
I’m somewhere in Europe. I’m not allowed to tell you where.
Today for lunch we had…

I opened the second:

Dear Sam and Bea
I’m somewhere in Europe. I’m not allowed to tell you where.
Today for lunch we had…

Hundreds of letters detailing the lunch routines of Patton’s army as it chased Hitler across Europe.

But the funny thing is…Sam actually managed to write a 13-act play during his time in the army, with over one hundred characters. He told me that he had done it, that it existed, and that it was terrible. And while he never let anyone see it— evidently it was never even typed from the notebooks in which he wrote— I expect it wasn’t about lunch.

He was not a man who expressed love easily. He loved good food and good wine and good company. He loved pugs, yes, and monkeys, and his house. But he also loved me. He loved my wife. He loved his grandsons. He loved us all ferociously, in his private way.

But more than any of those things, more even than us, he loved my mother. They met on a double date at Tony’s restaurant, the one celebrated in a song in Stephen Sondheim’s musical Follies. At the dinner table she mentioned a fiancé, and he stood up, went to the bathroom, slipped around to the maître D’, paid the check and took the next train up to Hanover New Hampshire, where the Dartmouth Winter Carnival was in session. Then, after the war, he was back in New York and a friend invited him to a party at her apartment. His first thought was: that marriage didn’t last. He went to the party, chatted her up— she had no memory of the earlier evening, and never was able to conjure it up— and managed to convince her to leave her own party and spend the night with him at the Algonquin. He loved my mother then, he loved her through 33 years of bright days and stormy days, and after she died he loved her for the rest of his life.

And I grew up with two parents who loved each other, even as they saw through each other’s facades and personas. They saw each other plain, and they loved each other, and they gave me life, and a decent education in the world we see, and the world beyond the facades and personas, and the ironic connections underneath, and for all those things I am profoundly grateful.

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