Hudson native Gary Grossman is an Emmy Award-winning television producer and author of the bestselling “Executive Series” political thrillers. He has also written two highly regarded nonfiction books on television history. Grossman has worked for NBC News, been a columnist for the Boston Herald American, written for the Boston Globe and The New York Times and produced more than 10,000 television programs for 40 networks. But it’s the first two words in this paragraph that define for him the source of all his career accomplishments.
“Hudson is woven into the entire fabric of my life,” he says. “Everything I’ve done is interconnected, and it all comes right back to growing up in Hudson. Whether it’s what I write about television or international politics, it all came together for me there.”
Grossman lives in the Los Angeles area these days, but will return to his hometown on Sunday, March 31 to do an author talk and book-signing for his latest political thriller, RED Hotel (Beaufort Books, 2019), co-authored by Ed Fuller (more about him in a bit). The event will be held at 4 p.m. at Time & Space Limited, the community arts center at 434 Columbia Street in Hudson. The building was once home to Grossman’s Bakery, established in the 1920s by Gary’s grandfather, Adolph Grossman, and great-uncle, Jacob. The family name is still emblazoned (in cobalt-blue glass) on the Columbia Street side of the structure they built.
In addition to discussing his new novel, Grossman will reminisce about his life growing up in Hudson and how that experience shaped him. Admission is free and open to all. Copies of RED Hotel will be available at the TSL Book Space reading.
Time & Space Limited (TSL) was founded as an arts center in New York City in the early ’70s. Rising costs, among other things, prompted founder Linda Mussman and co-director Claudia Bruce to move the organization to Hudson, where, over the course of the past two decades, the pair have renovated the former Grossman’s Bakery into a unique home for art exhibitions, movie screenings, original theater, youth programs and live broadcasts of cultural events.
Grossman first encountered TSL on a visit home to Hudson with his mother in the mid-’90s. “We were driving by the bakery, which had been closed for at least 40 years, and saw the door was open. So I said, ‘Look, I’ve got to go check it out.’ She was protective, worried that maybe somebody broke in, but there were posters on the front door, so I parked in the lot and walked in. These two wonderful women, Claudia and Linda, were inside, sitting at a desk surrounded by flyers, and I saw there was something going on there artistically. I asked them to explain what they were doing, and they said, ‘Yes, we can, but why are you asking?’ So I said, ‘Because my name is on the building!’”
The directors of the fledgling arts center asked Grossman to tell them more about the history of the structure. For one thing, they were puzzled about the reason for some large cement slabs on the floor. “Without even thinking, I said, ‘Well, the bakery ovens were on the cement and the workers stood on the wood floor surrounding the slabs.’ My mom, who by then had come inside, said, ‘How do you know that? That’s absolutely right.’ It must have been a memory that I haven’t thought about since I was four or five, and never thought about again.”
In touring the building, Grossman and his mom – with her own connections to the arts, having helped Olana many years back – were shown a large and colorful welded sculpture in the form of an accordion. “At the very end of our tour, here is this fabulous piece put together in a wonderful way. And I felt, ‘This is really meant to be,’ because my sister, who had died many years earlier, had played the accordion. So I felt an absolute wonderful connection to the space.”
The exact date when the structure was built is unclear, but it was likely in the mid-1920s. Adolph and Jacob Grossman were Hungarian refugees who came over in the late 1890s, as did another brother, Rudolph, who established a shoe store on Warren Street in Hudson.
The bakery closed in the mid-1950s when Grossman was still a young child. His personal memories of the place are those of a little kid, remembering how he loved to eat the frosting off the tops of cupcakes and leave the bottoms, driving his dad, who worked there, to distraction. His father had dreamed of taking the bakery into the frozen food business, even enlisting an acquaintance who knew about marketing, but it wasn’t to be. Grossman’s uncle, who had a stake in the business, wasn’t interested in frozen foods, and the acquaintance ended up moving to California and working for Disney, marketing Davy Crockett coonskin caps and Mickey Mouse ears. “So I just have to think my dad was absolutely on the right course of where they should go, and he had the right guy. But my uncle wasn’t into it, so the bakery closed.”
Grossman’s parents then opened an appliance store on Park Place, near Seventh Street Park. The building now houses a Chinese restaurant. “I would go down and sit in the store window on Saturdays watching television,” Grossman recalls. “A lot of kids in the ’50s and ’60s watched Saturday-morning TV, but I did it there at the store in Hudson. And I can’t help but think there’s a connection there as to why I ended up writing a nonfiction book years later on the history of children’s television.” (He also wrote another book on the topic, Superman: Serial to Cereal.)
Grossman’s stories about growing up in Hudson paint a picture of idyllic small-town life: a place where he could walk or bicycle everywhere and it was exciting just to go downtown. But the larger world outside began opening up for him even as a young boy, when he began tuning in stations from all over the world on a shortwave radio his parents had received as a wedding gift years earlier.
“At night, I would tune in Radio Moscow, or broadcasting from the Vatican, or the BBC. I listened to broadcasts from China, and from Cuba after Castro came in. So I was very much aware of the world and what was going on. I remember listening on shortwave radio to Sputnik, the first Russian satellite in 1957 – listening to the beep, beep, beep as it went overhead in the Eastern sky.”
Along with fellow Cub Scout and friend Bruce Coons – who these days, as a former Army intelligence officer and munitions expert, serves as technical consultant for Grossman’s political thrillers – he became a ham radio operator. “So then we were able to communicate with people all over the country and all over the world, using Morse code.”
As a young teen, Grossman would practice being a radio deejay in his bedroom, playing records and talking over them. In his freshman year of high school, he wrote a letter to the local radio station, WHUC, informing them that he and all his friends only listened to the stations coming out of New York and Boston because the Hudson radio station didn’t play anything worth listening to.
“The general manager was either very sober that day when he read my letter, or just the opposite, because he called me up on the phone and said, ‘This is a great idea. We’ll have you start as a deejay next Monday.’” Grossman bicycled over to the station after school for the next three-and-a-half years to do a show called Teen Time for Columbia and Greene Counties and became a fill-in announcer at the station.
“And that launched my career,” says Grossman. “It really did.” In college he began working at WBZ-TV in Boston, operating cameras, lights and working the master controls. That led to producing local documentaries and other programs, followed by a stint as a college teacher and newspaper columnist before moving to California to work in television production.
Grossman gets back to Hudson now about every year-and-a-half, he says. “It always grounds me. I get recharged.” The purpose of the trips is often to attend high school reunions, he adds, “because it’s not just a high school reunion, but a ‘life’ reunion. We all went to school together from kindergarten through high school.”
The author has not only remained close to his high school friends – even celebrating each other’s birthdays to this day – but their names are known to pop up in the pages of Grossman’s political thrillers. “I write with my yearbook open. I never make any of my friends an assassin; they’re not bad guys and they don’t tend to get bumped off. But they’re other characters: reporters, former CIA people and members of the cabinet. It’s so much fun to do that.”
Grossman’s “Executive Series” of novels, which includes Executive Actions (2004), Executive Treason (2005), Executive Command (2012) and Executive Force (2018), are standalone political thrillers chronicling the doings of fictional Secret Service agent Scott Roarke. Writing RED Hotel with Ed Fuller is Grossman’s first time writing with a co-author.
“I had always worked alone and had no intention of working with anyone else,” he says. “But by coincidence one night, I was walking my dogs in LA and I bumped into a friend in the neighborhood. He told me a friend of his was interested in having someone co-author a book with him, to help take his stories and turn them into a thriller. He told me what Ed did: that he was the former president of Marriott International and ran all their hotels around the world. So I said to my friend, ‘What do I have in common with a guy who is the former president of Marriott? You know what I do.’ But my friend, Bruce Feirstein, wrote the first three James Bond movies with Pierce Brosnan, and when he said this guy was very interesting, I decided to meet him. And it took me all of 30 seconds to realize Ed was as much in the anti-terrorism business as the hotel business.”
After Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels were bombed in Jakarta, Indonesia in July of 2009, Fuller had to get his team out of the country, explains Grossman. “And Ed was in Tripoli when Gaddafi fell [in the 2011 Libyan civil war], and had to get his people rescued. Members of his staff have been kidnapped on two continents, and he’s negotiated with cartels to get people back. And that was just what I heard in the first 30 seconds!”
The main character in RED Hotel is largely based on Fuller’s real-world experiences as an international hotel executive and former Army captain. Fuller is “the real deal,” says Grossman. “He developed the multicolor code threat assessment system described in RED Hotel, but he did it for real. And what I realize now, happily, is that people who do have some of these major international jobs, and deal with our travel and our lives, have deep connections in intelligence organizations or other foreign intelligence services. They need to.”
The plot of RED Hotel involves a Putinlike Russian president “hell-bent on reclaiming the former Soviet satellite nations,” says Grossman. “And if you look at what is happening in the world today, the book is very real. The book is fiction, but it’s fiction on the edge of reality.”
The co-authors are about three-quarters of the way through a sequel now, he adds. “Every time we get together, I get more stories; it’s so interesting to hear them from the source. We come up with the plot together and I write, then Ed and I rewrite and retool. It’s a fabulous, positive working relationship and I can’t imagine any writing partnership going easier. I would like to see this become another series, and maybe a movie.”
RED Hotel talk/book-signing, Sunday, March 31, 4 p.m., Time & Space Limited, 434 Columbia Street, Hudson; https://timeandspace.org.