Actress Sarah Jessica Parker has tagged her neighbor, George Capsis, 94, the ‘king of Greenwich Village,’ and the title is apt. Capsis, editor and publisher of WestView News, “the voice of the West Village,” works seven days a week to turn out a literate, colorful, always readable monthly paper. “It’s an occupation of mental survival. It’s amazing that we get it out,” says Capsis, who works in an office in his Charles Street home, a 20-room house once occupied by Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis. Lewis lived there during his salad days when money was scarce, leading him to coin the phrase ‘brunch’, claiming it cost less when dining out to combine breakfast and lunch, says Capsis, who has a touch of the Homeric story-teller about him.
In Capsis’ eventful life, a bad thing often leads to a great thing – something like Odysseus lost at sea and washing up on Circe’s island. While an undergraduate at Columbia, he also took courses in film at City College and got a job as a production manager for a TV commercial production company. “The ad agency head was insulting to the crew, and I insulted him back and was fired on the spot. I went for a job interview in the newly erected United Nations building, and decided to take the UN tour. When I learned the tour cost a dollar I started to leave but was stopped by a tour guide who had been a fellow student at Columbia. She took me on the tour, and at the end said to me ‘Capsis, you’re a Greek. Do you want to meet another Greek?’ And she introduced me to her boss of the guides, Andromache Geanacopoulos, who was very attractive and very smart. When I invited her out for dinner, she declined and said she had a date. I concluded that she was too attractive and too accomplished to have anything to do with me. So I left and went down to the Village to Washington Square. I ran into my first love who announced to me that she had just gotten a divorce. I invited her to the White Horse Tavern for a beer. As we entered the White Horse, I looked down to see Andromache and her date. She had just said to him ‘today I met the man I am going to marry.’ And then she looked up and said, ‘there he is.’”
Capsis continued, “nine months later we were married, a beautiful wedding in the Holy Trinity Cathedral. You could do a film on this incredible story. It’s a true story. I called her Maggie, from the American distortion of ‘mache’ in her name. We were both 27 when we married and were married for 50 years.”
According to Capsis, his three children, two daughters and one son, were “really Greek.” Naming their son, Capsis suggested calling him “Doric, as in the column. My wife thought that was silly, and suggested George. Finally we named him Doric George Constantine – after his grandfather – and left it up to him to pick. He opted for Doric.”
Capsis’s father, Costas, was born in Smyrna. When his brother Trasevalous came to the United States to study at MIT, he followed him, coming to New York, initially living in a rooming house in the Bronx “run by a German woman whose daughter Martha married my father. My father became the first Greek restaurant broker in America. He bought and sold restaurants. If you wanted to buy a restaurant, you would go and see Charlie. He had his office in the Times Building and dealt only with Greeks.”
Capsis just missed being born in Greece. “In 1927, my uncle Pantelis was running for mayor of Salonica, and invited my father to help in the campaign. So my father and pregnant mother went to Salonica and Pantelis did not win the election. They had run out of money and my mother wanted to get back to the USA before I was born. She wrote her mother, who only sent one ticket. My dad went into an all-night card game to earn the passage and come back with my mother.”
Before starting WestView News, Capsis worked in the corporate world. “I was in my seventies when I left my last paying job, and founded WestView in 2003.”
Capsis uses his paper to fight for the causes he believes in and is now campaigning to bring a hospital to the West Village. He’s modest and understated about his numerous good deeds. When the Greek-American Writers Association lost its Cornelia Street Café home, for instance, Capsis introduced the group to Father Graeme who welcomed the writers to a special new venue, St. John’s in the Village.
Says Capsis on the subject of his Greekness, “If you have to have a country of origin, Greece is the best.”