Mark Besten: Rest in peace, oh obsessive one. Hail and farewell.

LEO was shocked and saddened this week to learn of Mark Besten’s death. Working as a free-lancer, Besten wrote numerous articles for LEO, including a lengthy cover piece about his 2001 visit to Holcomb, Kan., where he was able to fully indulge his obsession with all things Clutter. (That notorious murder case from 1959 led to the book “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote, and more recently, the film “Capote.”)

The cover: to Mark Beston’s “In Cold Blood” story from August  2001.
The cover: to Mark Beston’s “In Cold Blood” story from August 2001.

Suffice it to say, whenever LEO needed someone to write about something funky from the world of pop culture, such as the old “Dark Shadows” TV show or an interview with an expert in SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence), Mark was a great choice. And he always delivered.

We’ll miss his wry humor, insatiable curiosity and huge dose of humanity. Below, a couple of Mark’s friends pay tribute.

I met Mark Besten in the early ’90s, when I was producing commentary and book reviews for the old WFPL-FM “Noon Report.” Mark had impressive writing credentials, with numerous book reviews in print and even some co-author credits of his own. He had, however, no real experience in reading his own reviews aloud, and self-deprecatingly panned his first recorded attempt as “wooden and

The cover: to Mark Beston’s “In Cold Blood” story from August  2001.
The cover: to Mark Beston’s “In Cold Blood” story from August 2001.
Muskie-like.” He was receptive to my coaching, though, and eventually looked forward to our bi-weekly recording sessions, which soon became regular giggle-snort fests as I learned to appreciate his dark sense of humor, and as he learned to anticipate the directions of my yellow highlighter pen.

“Uh oh,” he’d quip, “she’s got the light saber!”

When I hung out my own media relations shingle in 2000, Mark was tremendously supportive. He made a point to introduce me to his friends in the public relations business, and I regularly went as his “date” to numerous industry functions such as the PRSA Landmark and Louie awards ceremonies. Meanwhile, Mark’s own star in the field was rising, as he began to collect numerous such awards for his clever copywriting.

Sadly, one of Mark’s most insidious demons was an unfounded and irrational insecurity about his own talents and abilities. Even with regular reinforcements, such as the awards and the sheer joy he felt at seeing his stories featured here on the cover of LEO, Mark would frequently have clammy-handed panic attacks worthy of Albert Brooks in “Broadcast News” prior to a deadline. He fought other demons as well, mostly those related to the constant pain of his diabetic neuropathy.

He’d fight the demons by losing himself in films — he probably should’ve written more film commentary, really, as he was an astute student of the craft as well as a tremendous fan of the art form. And he loved trivia — in addition to the team trivia tournaments at which I occasionally served as a ringer, he’d spend many hours on the online trivia forums, talking film and television with others who shared his obsessions.

Mark was a study in contrasts. He was a great big bear of a man, which made his nasal, uncontrollably girly giggle all the funnier. His meticulous writing style for print was countered by his predilection for composing e-mail in an odd, phonetic spelling, which he eventually named Kentucky Fried English. His kind, shy and gentle demeanor gave no hint of the dark subject matter that so fascinated him — everything from true crime, serial killers and drug addiction to vampires and werewolves. He viewed himself as a loner, but cherished the longtime friendships he carried from his Seneca High School (Class of 1976) days and his years at Transylvania University (Class of 1980).

For my friend Mark, I can only hope that he’s now safely ensconced in his idea of heaven — San Francisco, where he spent the happiest years of his life. In that heaven, there’s a big movie palace in which he can view his all-time favorite film, “A Clockwork Orange,” on demand, and he’ll find Stanley Kubrick in the seat next to him, ready to discuss every obsessive, trivial detail.

Hail and farewell, Mark Kipling Besten. Your presence was anything but trivial in the lives of your friends.

It’s sure unsettling when a close friend of your generation dies. You know, the type of pal with whom you went to school and shared interests. Such is the case with Mark Besten, a unique, creative individual who LEO readers have known for his feature writing through the years.

Mark Besten was camera shy,: but we caught him with LEO’s Sara Havens and former LEOite Erin Sanford at our anniversary party last fall.  Photo by Rob Southard
Mark Besten was camera shy,: but we caught him with LEO’s Sara Havens and former LEOite Erin Sanford at our anniversary party last fall. Photo by Rob Southard

Mark and I met at Seneca Junior High School in 1970, as two 12-year-olds who would share such classes as shop and Spanish. In a “talent” show decades before karaoke, he directed another classmate and me in lip-synching The Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” — after “opening” for us with his imitation of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Mainly, though, we shared an interest in the television serial “Dark Shadows,” which tied up our families’ telephones and added to teen magazines’ profits. That led to such outlets as doing imitations (from teachers to Junior Samples of “Hee Haw”) and writing parody songs and quizzes we’d give each other about our favorite shows of the early 1970s. (Not long ago, after collecting the original series on video and DVD, Mark exulted over purchasing DVD episodes of the 1991 “D.S.” revival series.)

Mark’s other interests ranged from conspiracy theories to “In Cold Blood.” Movie-wise, he flocked to monster films, especially George A. Romero’s zombie trilogy, plus “A Clockwork Orange” and “Dazed and Confused.” Musically, he would listen to the Partridges as well as Pink Floyd. OK, Mark didn’t care for Ron Howard-directed films, but he enjoyed more obscure performers, such as Pamelyn Ferdin and Howard’s brother, Clint.

Though I was most proud of his contribution to a book about another shared TV series, “Green Acres,” Mark, a natural but untrained journalist, excelled in public relations, for several years working creatively to write and produce award-winning campaigns for two local agencies. He also secured a free-lance spot with a California company, making sense of business- and/or techno-speak. And not long ago, he returned to LEO with pieces connected to the movie “Capote.”

Mark came up with an alias for himself, “Old Doc Goppy”; enjoyed mispronouncing the city in which he lived, worked and visited as “San Farisco”; referred to a superhero character by his name backward — “Namrepus” — and developed an intentionally misspelled style of writing.

In his relatively short life, Mark got to meet “D.S.” stars. (We made a memorable visit to Crawfordsville, Ind., in 2001 to experience a readers’ theater performance of actor Jonathan Frid, and meet the object of our fandom.) He also made some lasting friendships, including longtime pet dog Taz, and dutifully, with sister Sally, took care of his mother and late father.

Years did separate us, save for a school reunion, until time brought both of us back to Louisville in the 2000s. In this decade, we reconnected as teammates in local trivia competitions, often winning the weekly contests, although usually duplicating each other’s entertainment knowledge.

Then, just last October, we found a monthly movie trivia. (What a better outlet for two fan boys?) We achieved a perfect score that first time, but lost to friends with a higher score. Teaming last month, we won outright. It’s unfortunate that our in-house prize of food/drink will now be split three ways instead of four.

To use a pun he might have appreciated, Mark left his mark. I’m glad to have known him and glad we were friends.

Contact the writers at [email protected]