Thursday, 22 August 2013 00:00
The late Marty Glickman’s (1917-2001) storied athletic career was something he didn’t talk about much during his decades as one of the nation’s most accomplished sports broadcasters.
It may explain why three New York Giants running backs challenged Glickman to a sprint at the end of one of their practices in the 1960s, only to find themselves left in the dust by the pudgy, 5-foot, 8-inch, middle-aged man who lined up alongside them only moments earlier.
John Mara, the Giants’ current co-owner, was a kid at the time, and tells the tale in Glickman, a terrific film debuting on HBO on Monday, Aug. 26, at 9 p.m. The foot race took place at Connecticut’s Fairfield University, site of the Giants’ summer training camp in that era. The younger Mara asked his father, then-Giants owner Wellington Mara, about the identity of the 40-something-year-old who was outrunning the fastest Giants players. “That’s our radio broadcaster,” the elder Mara said.
New York sports fans in 2013, unless they’re at least 40 years old, are probably as unaware of Marty Glickman’s amazing back story as the young John Mara and those long-ago Giants.
“What happens when an 18-year-old’s dreams are crushed by racism?” Glickman’s writer, producer, director and narrator James Freedman, who grew up in Malverne, asked rhetorically, explaining the running theme throughout his 80-plus-minute documentary. Indeed, the subject’s real-life story was so compelling that, after Glickman was shown last year at the Santa Barbara, California International Film festival, Ari Emanuel, co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor, a talent agency, sent it to filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Scorsese brought the project to HBO.
“Glickman ran the 100-yard dash in 9.5 seconds, and that was the third-fastest time in the world at the time, after Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe,” Freedman stated, during a recent interview. In fact, Glickman, a Brooklyn native, made the 1936 U.S. Olympic team as a teenager, along with Owens and Metcalfe. Glickman, who had just finished his freshman year at Syracuse University, where he also excelled in football, traveled that summer to Nazi-controlled Berlin, where a confluence of malevolent events kept Glickman and Sam Stoller, another Jewish athlete, from competing as two of four members on the U.S. 400-meter relay team.
The documentary features interviews with sports broadcasting notables who were influenced by Glickman, such as Marv Albert, Mike Breen and Bob Costas, and star athletes with whom Glickman crossed paths and covered, such as the Knicks’ Bill Bradley, the Giants’ Frank Gifford and the Cleveland Browns’ Jim Brown, a Manhasset native who also went to Syracuse.
“If you grew up in New York during the last half of the 20th century, and were a sports fan, then Marty Glickman was part of the soundtrack of your life,” Freedman said.
A Marine who served in the Marshall Islands during World War II, Glickman recognized after the war ended that basketball, which had limited popularity at the time, offered him the greatest broadcasting opportunities. He initially shot to fame in the New York area by calling college basketball, and his distinctive voice and detailed descriptions of the on-court action soon thereafter led to his designation as the New York Knicks announcer, and a longtime gig as the narrator of Paramount newsreels. The radio play-by-play man for the New York Giants in the 1960s, he ended up becoming the New York Jets’ lead sportscaster in 1972, a post he held periodically until retiring in 1992.
Glickman was the first person to be heard on-air on HBO, too. But it was not all clear sailing for Glickman when navigating the complex world of sports industry politics, as the documentary explains why Glickman was likely ousted as the national TV voice of the National Basketball Association in favor of Lindsey Nelson, a name Mets fans of a certain age will recall.
Glickman, Freedman found, had shared many of his life experiences in a video interview with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and in taped audio conversations with the late Newsday columnist Stan Isaacs for The Fastest Kid on The Block: The Marty Glickman Story (1996, Syracuse University Press). Excerpts from both are woven into Glickman’s narrative.
Filmmaker Ken Burns was talking once about the importance of preserving the past and how, when people die and their stories haven’t been told, it is as if a library has burned down. Freedman’s Glickman makes sure Marty Glickman’s story will always be on the shelf.
Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net