August 26, 1996, Vallejo Times Herald by Mary M. Leahy

Ex-Vallejoan tours with Ali, meets Castro

Imagine Muhammad Ali being "childlike in sweetness" and Fidel Castro, "incredibly funny."

That's exactly how Greg Howard, a former Vallejoan and screenwriter, describes the famous men.

Howard, who grew up in Vallejo, met Castro earlier this year while accompanying Ali to Cuba.

Ali and a group of other Americans were delivering $2 million worth of medicine as a humanitarian effort to the embargoed nation.

Because Howard was writing a biographical screenplay about the former heavyweight champ for a Columbia Pictures movie - which will be released in November or December - Ali invited him to tag along.

"I found Castro to be incredibly intelligent, charismatic, intense - one of the most fascinating, brilliant men I have ever had the pleasure to meet," Howard said. "Seeing Ali and Castro together, the two 60s' icons, was certainly one of the highlights of my entire life."

Howard said Castro's intelligence was quite obvious as he spoke nonstop about science, art, politics and a myriad of other subjects and remembered the name of everyone in the 30-plus person group.

"You'd ask one question - it didn't matter what it was about - and he'd expound on it for hours. He is easily the most well-read leader in the world. He went through law school in a year and a half and committed his law books to memory." said Howard, who read up on Castro before visiting him.

Demonstrating his sense of humor, Castro greeted Ali by saying, "Muhammad, you look like you gained a little weight. As for me, according to the Metropolitan height and weight tables, a man of my height should weigh 172 pounds. But since I weigh 199 and am in excellent shape, the tables must be wrong," Howard recalled.

After seeing Castro's "positive influence on Cuba," Howard said he realized he had been "brainwashed, like we all have been, that (Castro) was a bad man and wasn't doing much good."

Howard, a graduate of Solano Junior High School, Vallejo High School and Princeton University, has been a professional screenwriter for eight years.

He recently wrote movie scripts for a Warner Bros. remake of A Star is Born for Whitney Houston, a 20th Century Fox courtroom drama for Wesley Snipes, and a mini series on the Harlem Renaissance for HBO.

Howard intends to write a movie screenplay on Castro.

He also has written episodes of the New Redd Foxx Show, True Colors, 21 Jump Street, Teach, and Where I Live.

Having spent almost a year with Ali, he had much to say about "the Champ."

He too possesses a sharp wit, according to Howard. Howard recalls the day he waited to meet Ali in his Los Angeles hotel room. Hiding behind a partition, Ali made mock squeals and grunts as if he was in agonizing pain in another room.

Stricken with Parkinson's syndrome, Ali shakes, but is in no pain, according to Howard.

"Suddenly two hands grabbed me, and (Ali) said, 'Gotcha.' I jumped out of my skin. He loves practical jokes. But he's very warm, the sweetest man I've ever known, childlike in his sweetness," Howard said.

That sweetness became apparent, Howard said, "When we were in Cuba and there was what we would call a street person, probably an alcoholic, bedraggled man. We were walking with a group and this guy's eyes caught Ali's. Without hesitating, Ali pushed through our crowd and hugged him. That's Ali. I wouldn't have touched him."