A Strange Tragedy Revealed, Live

There was unexpected sorrow during yesterday's Z104 "Fridate" feature. That's morning drive-time jock Billy Bush's on-air dating game in which couples hook up on a Friday, go out over the weekend and entertain listeners Monday with a detailed report. On this past Friday's "Bush League" show, technology services worker Stephanie Bryan, a 22-year-old single mom from Manassas, chose her weekend date from among three candidates after a series of questions and answers. Bryan told us she picked 33-year-old Clark M. Creamer, a heating and air-conditioning technician from Westminster, Md., "because he said he was a single dad."

The two met for dinner shortly after 9 p.m. Friday at Phillips Seafood Grill in Vienna--which comped them their meal as part of a Z104 promotion. Bryan said she ordered the filet mignon and Creamer ordered "surf and turf." She had half a glass of wine. He had a beer. "It was a nice conversation, a nice atmosphere in the restaurant, but no sparks and no romantic feelings," Bryan said. "Dinner lasted till around 11:30. I told him, 'Please be careful driving.' "

On the air early yesterday morning, Bush reached Bryan for her report but couldn't locate Creamer. As quickly became clear on live radio when a friend of Creamer's called in, he had been killed on the way home from their date, around 12:35 a.m. Saturday, when his northbound 1987 Oldsmobile Calais was struck head-on by an out-of-control southbound 1995 Camaro on Ridge Road in Carroll County. Chad Stevens Ruth of Mount Airy, Md., a 21-year-old passenger in the Camaro, also died in the fiery crash. The Camaro's 18-year-old driver, Katie Carroll Upman of Eldersburg, Md., was treated at Frederick Memorial Hospital and released. "I view people who participate actively in the program as family. To me it feels like a member of our family has died," a very subdued Bush told us.

The Literary Gene Hackman

* If Hollywood were to make a movie of Gene Hackman's just-published first novel, "Wake of the Perdido Star," the character he'd play "would probably be this old degenerate captain on the ship--Captain Deploy," he told us yesterday. The 69-year-old movie star and his 54-year-old co-novelist, underwater archaeologist Daniel Lenihan, are in town promoting their salty tale of a 19th-century pirate named Black Jack O'Reilly--copies of which they'll sign starting at 12:30 p.m. today at Olsson's at Metro Center.

"I've written before for my own amusement--done some monologues for actors, some short-story writing--but I've never considered myself a writer and I've never done anything in my life that I thought was going to be published," Hackman said. "I was always so busy, I never had a chance to develop that skill. And when Dan and I first started, we thought of it as a serious lark--if that's possible."

Hackman and Lenihan, who both live in Santa Fe, N.M., cemented their friendship nine years ago on their shared enthusiasm for deep-sea diving. They traded plot ideas over lunches at the Cloud Cliff Cafe--"I usually ordered fajitas and he had the heart-stopping hamburger," Hackman recalled--and then toiled for three years before it was published by Newmarket Press.

Asked if he feels slighted that the world-famous Hackman is getting the lion's share of the attention, Lenihan told us, "No, I'm delighted."

"I'm delighted, too," Hackman agreed.

THIS JUST IN . . .

* Nuptial News: Vice President Gore's 45-year-old media guru, Carter Eskew--who has long been one of Washington's more eligible bachelors--took himself off the market Saturday by marrying thirtysomething landscape architect Faith Shaffer at the fabulous horse farm they share in Upperville, Va. "There must be unbelievable gnashing of teeth by the 30,000 other women Carter dated who didn't think he was capable of committing to the altar," said a veteran Eskew watcher. Meanwhile, Gore press secretary Kiki Moore, 36, who recently left the campaign to return to the private sector, has just announced her engagement to Democratic political consultant Joe McLean, 45. Finally, Jerry Seinfeld has revealed his engagement to 28-year-old Jennifer Sklar, the woman he began dating shortly after she married Broadway producer Eric Nederlander. The Source offers congratulations to one and all.

* Mary Moran--the soon-to- be ex-wife of Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.)--is writing a book about their decade-long marriage. "I don't really have any expectations that the book will go anywhere," Mary Moran told us. "But if nothing else it'll be good therapy." Working title: "Buried Alive."

* Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Styron says he's not clinically depressed anymore, but he sure was in a foul temper when we got him on the phone yesterday. We wanted to talk to Styron--who wrote a book detailing his own struggle with depression--about his speech at tonight's Mayflower Hotel dinner benefiting St. Francis Center, a Washington counseling service for people living with illness, loss and grief. But the 74-year-old Roxbury, Conn., resident blew a gasket when we admitted that we hadn't cracked his 1990 account, "Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness." He bristled: "If you'd wanted to do any sort of in-depth interview, you'd have read it." Asked about his current writing projects, he harrumphed: "I don't like to talk about what I'm working on." Then he snapped, "I think you have everything you need," and hung up. Hey, Bill, lighten up.