Breindel's tragic early death made it difficult -- particularly for those who knew his history -- not to think about what could have been. But it was also hard not to think about how far he'd come back. Though it's unlikely the name Winston Prude crossed the mind of anyone at Breindel's funeral last March, perhaps it should have. Prude, once a young Justice Department lawyer, was arrested at the Holiday Inn with Breindel; they had gone to buy the drugs together. Two years later, however, while Breindel was really just beginning to rebuild his life in New York, Prude was found lying facedown on the kitchen floor of his Washington home. The cause of death was a heroin overdose.
Breindel's return from post-arrest exile happened, all things considered, very quickly. He wrote a little for The New Republic, and barely half a year after the bust he took a low-level research slot on a PBS show called American Interests. Soon after, he left to teach a course at Georgetown. He continued to write the occasional piece, and he asked his friend Christopher Buckley to make contact for him at the New York Times. He'd written a piece about Whittaker Chambers that he wanted to get placed on the op-ed page.
Buckley hooked Breindel up with Tamar Jacoby, who was then the deputy editor of the Times's op-ed page. "As soon as we met, we knew there was something there," says Jacoby, whose most recent book is Someone Else's House, a look at race and the struggle to achieve integration in America. "He was smart, he was funny, and he cared about the same things I cared about. I knew he'd been through a lot, but that often makes someone stronger and more interesting. I fell in love with him, and his problems certainly didn't get in the way."
Within a matter of months, Breindel was living with Jacoby in her apartment on the Upper West Side, and things were changing rapidly. With her help, and recommendations from Podhoretz, Peretz, and Moynihan, Breindel landed a job writing for the editorial page of the New York Daily News. James Hoge, now the editor of Foreign Affairs, gave him the job, but Breindel left the News after less than a year.
"He came to me and said the New York Post had offered to make him head of their page and to give him a column," says Hoge. "He agonized about it, but I told him I thought he'd earned it. He shouldn't feel indentured to me because I'd helped him out when he needed a job."
The Post offer had Podhoretz's fingerprints all over it. He'd been writing a column for the paper for two years. News Corp., Murdoch's company, also owned the syndicate that peddled his column around the country. And Podhoretz had a personal, social friendship with Murdoch. "Of course I talked to Murdoch about Eric," Podhoretz says.
Shortly after joining the Post, Breindel was having lunch on Saturdays at Gracie Mansion with then-mayor Ed Koch and the members of his inner circle. Breindel and Koch also went to the movies together. "I liked him enormously," says Koch. "I enjoyed talking to him about issues, and he was someone I could depend on."
Breindel and Jacoby decided to marry at the beginning of 1988, four years into their relationship. The wedding was at the Harvard Club, and the guest list was, of course, eye-opening. "We both knew a lot of people, and we took some mischievous pleasure in Elliot Abrams having to shake hands with Anthony Lewis and Norman Podhoretz having to shake hands with Bob Silvers," Jacoby says, laughing at the memory. "Eric and I joked about having to have different rooms to accommodate the various ideologies."
The relationship, which had always been combative, deteriorated not long after the wedding, and their split yielded one of the most often told and heavily embellished breakup stories in the history of New York's chattering class. The tale begins when Breindel and Jacoby embark on a two-week trip to Europe with Breindel's parents to visit the concentration camps. When they reach Auschwitz, about midway through their journey, Breindel announces that something has come up at the paper, and he must return to New York immediately.
Off he goes, leaving the wife, with whom he hasn't been getting along, at Auschwitz with his Holocaust-survivor parents. As she soldiers on and dutifully continues the trip through Eastern Europe, Breindel is back in the city, moving out of their apartment and in with Lally Weymouth. While Jacoby is still traveling with his parents, Breindel calls and tells her its over. When she returns home a week or so later, it's to an empty apartment.
Though Jacoby understandably has no interest in continuing to give life to this story, she would like to set the record straight. They were, in fact, in Europe with his parents when they decided to split up. They were in Hungary, not Poland, and she had always planned to stay on in Europe -- without Breindel -- to visit her sister in London. When she got home, the apartment was not empty, and Breindel was staying with his parents. It's painful and embarrassing for her to even discuss the story, which she believes was spread by Breindel's ideological enemies.
Jacoby was, according to people who know her, extremely bitter and angry after their split. Still, the funeral was difficult for her. "When I married Eric, I had all kinds of expectations and hopes about life. I'm a different person now, but at the funeral I spent a lot of time thinking about those two people."