Glickman -- Film Review
Directed by James Freedman
This is an outstanding documentary about a sports broadcaster who was very well known in and around New York, but probably not much beyond that area. I had never heard of him before attending this film and neither did my companion, who is a sportsfan, Jewish, and a little bit older than me. Marty Glickman (1917-2001) was probably the most influential sports broadcaster of all time, but he also had a profound influence on the nature of sports entertainment in the United States. His style and the quality of his delivery did much to popularize sports through the (new at that time) mass media of radio and later television. He was the voice of the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, later the New York Jets, the New York Knicks, as well as boxing, horse racing, and a number of other minor sports. Listening to the recordings of his broadcasts presented in the film, I was impressed by the fluency of his delivery. He was able to translate the fast moving action before him immediately into words that conveyed not only the action, but the visual experience of that action. People called it 'watching the game on the radio.' And indeed his crisp, concise, rapid fire descriptions enabled one to visualize the action as it happened. It is a rare talent and he had mastered it. It is a kind of poetry, really. It is words used succinctly and imaginatively -- and orally -- to their maximum effect. If you are a sportsfan, if you are from New York, or if you were born before about 1975, and whether you are Jewish or not, you should definitely find this film interesting.
Marty Glickman was Jewish and this fact was a crucial factor at many points in his life. He was selected for the 1936 U.S. Olympic track and field team when he was eighteen, along with Sam Stoller, the only two Jews on the team. Off they went to Berlin to race under Nazi banners and before Hitler and the top echelon of the Third Reich. They were scheduled to race in the 400 meter relay, in which the U.S. was heavily favored to win, but were replaced at the last minute by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalf -- two black athletes -- over Owens objections. Their removal was engineered by U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Avery Brundage and the U.S. Olympic track coach, Dean Cromwell in order to appease Hitler and prevent the Nazis from being embarrassed by having to award medals to two Jews on the winners' podium. The U.S. did indeed win, but Glickman carried the insult with him a long way. He was not forward about it, but the wound was evident many years later upon his return to Berlin and the stadium where it occurred. Brundage and Cromwell were Nazi sympathizers and after the Olympics Brundage's construction firm was awarded the contract to build the new German embassy in Washington D.C. This wasn't the last time Marty Glickman's Jewish origins resulted in his being shunted aside. He was scotched from being the voice of the NBA games on NBC because his name was considered "too Jewish."
There is also an interesting, extremely provocative episode that Glickman and Isaacs chose to leave out of their book, a moment that might easily be dismissed as apocryphal, except for the fact of my close relationship with Glickman. Marty and Morris (he insisted that he be called Maurice’ but his name was Morris) Podoloff, the first commissioner of the NBA, were invited to meet with Tom Gallery, the Sports Director for NBC’s television network in his office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The intention, Podoloff told Marty, was to discuss Glickman’ becoming the “Voice” of the network’s newly acquired rights to weekly nation-wide telecasts of NBA games. Gallery was effusive in his praise of Marty’s TV work on the games shown locally on the Dumont local outlet, Channel 5 in New York. Gallery, however had one reservation; the name Marty Glickman sounded “too New York” he claimed. Marty knew immediately what Gallery was implying. The name of Glickman was “too Jewish.” Glickman then told Gallery that he wasn’t averse to changing it. Gallery smiled and asked Marty whether he had an alternative name that he could use. “Yes,” said Marty. “And what would that be,” asked Gallery. “Lipschitz.” said Marty, Marty Lipschitz.” “Gallery’s face reddened,” Marty reported, ˇthat ended the meeting.” It also ended any intention that Marty Glickman would broadcast any NBA games on NBC.
Nat Asch, from a review of The Fastest Kid on the Block, (1999) by Marty Glickman, on WNEW website
While the film does feature the suffering Glickman endured as a result of the anti-Semitism that was prominent in American society during his lifetime, it also illustrates how Glickman was able to triumph in spite of prejudice and discrimination. Although in a few significant cases his path was blocked, what he was able to achieve was vast and awe inspiring. In the question session after the screening I saw, Director James Freedman remarked that one of the unintended consequences of the film was that through the life of Marty Glickman a documentation of the progress of assimilation of Jews into the mainstream of American society in the twentieth century becomes evident.
The film is very comprehensive in its treatment of Marty Glickman's professional career as a broadcaster. It is very superficial in its treatment of his personal and family life. He was married and had a family. His daughter, Nancy, does appear in the film. Interestingly, she had been a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. However, his wife, although pictured, never speaks or comments on her famous husband, who is praised so honorifically by so many others. Freedman was asked during the question session about the omission of Glickman's family life from the film, and he said it was due to considerations of space and that he wanted to focus the film on Glickman's professional career. That is fair, but much of the film is taken up with presenting Marty Glickman as a great person, a Mensch, who helped so many people, and who was so active in community organizations and activities for children and high school athletes, in addition to being a great broadcaster. It seems that at least a word or two from his wife would be worthy support to such a presentation and strengthen its credibility.
After the showing Freedman chatted a bit with a few people who lingered, and I asked him about something else that was omitted which I was curious about, namely, what relationship, if any, Marty Glickman had with Howard Cosell, a Jewish broadcaster that I was very familiar with from my teens. Freedman's answer was that they hated each other, and the reasons for the omission were again space and focus. I was able to find the following anecdote about Cosell in Glickman's 1999 autobiography, The Fastest Kid on the Block.
"From one of my favorites, Costas, let me move on to say something about my unfavorite, Howard Cosell. I recall in particular the occasion when he and I were inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in California in the mid-1980s. We both spoke: he last; I, just before him.
I spoke for about ten minutes. I spoke about the beauty and joy of sport, the camaraderie that exists among athletes, the understanding and affection that athletes have for each other, particularly in international athletics. The talk seemed to be well received.
Then Cosell got up and immediately started talking about Munich in 1972. "I saw no camaraderie," he said in that sneering tone of his. "I saw these men shot and killed. I was there watching those desperadoes. I saw none of that good feeling."
He equated murdering terrorists with Olympic athletes. He went out of his way to knock the whole point I was trying to make. He was as nasty and vitriolic about the Olympic Games and international athletics as he could be. He scoffed at "alleged sportsmanship" among athletes.
I was sitting there furious at what he was saying. But I was gentleman enough not to get up and make a scene about it. He sat down, and then, in moments after concluding, left the ballroom."
from The Fastest Kid on the Block, p. 156
I suspect that Freedman, aside from the incidents of anti-Semitism, wanted to keep the film upbeat and positive in tone. It is an acceptable approach, but it does leave some unfinished business that I wish he would at least have touched upon.
Generally the film is a well made, well thought out, honorific presentation of Marty Glickman, who was not only a great sports broadcaster, but also a great person, a person who was not diminished by the injustices that he suffered, but who was made better and who rose above the adversity in his life to give of himself to many others in great abundance. Anyone with a significant interest in sports should by all means see this film, but even those who have little or no interest in sports will find the human story of his life compelling. Seen at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Castro Theater, July 22, 2012.