Seth Abraham, Marv Albert, Bill Bradley, Mike Breen, Jim Brown, Bob Costas, Frank Gifford, Larry King, John Mara, Oscar Robertson, Gayle Sierens, David Stern, Jerry Stiller, George Vecsey, James L. Freedman (narrator)
(HBO Documentary Films)
HBO: 26 Aug 2013
“I was excited too, and I screamed, ‘There’s Buddy Young tear-assing down the sideline for another touchdown.’ I actually said ‘tear-assing.’ I knew enough, though, not to go back and say ‘Excuse me’ or anything. For weeks afterwards, people would say to me, ‘Did I hear you say ‘tear-assing’?’ I would deny it.”
—Marty Glickman, The Fastest Kid on the Block: The Marty Glickman Story page 129
Marty Glickman was from Brooklyn. “I was always the fastest kid on the block,” he remembers, so fast, in fact, that as an 18-year-old, the “Flatbush Flash” made the US Olympic team, the one that went to Berlin in 1936.
The documentary Glickman, premiering on HBO 26 August, recounts young Marty’s experience on this team, the same team for which Jesse Owens won four gold medals. Glickman and Sam Stoller were the only two Jewish members of the team; though they traveled with the team and trained for the 400-meter relay in Berlin, they were pulled the day before the event. Tapped by Coach Dean Cromwell to run the race instead, Jesse Owens demurred, at which point he was instructed, “You do as you’re told.” Everyone knew what was going on, despite claims by Cromwell and Avery Brundage that the decision was based solely on the team’s best interests: Frank Wykoff, who ran the relay’s opening leg, put it bluntly: “It was the Jewish thing,” meaning, the US officials meant to appease Hitler. As Glickman remembers, Cromwell “never said he was sorry, he never spoke to me again.”
“I was not devastated by not running,” remembers Glickman, “I was terribly angry and terribly frustrated, but at the age of 18, the world is bright and glorious in front of you.” Just so, he went on to become an All American playing football at Syracuse University, specifically, as he puts it, playing “both sides”, defense and offense, blocking and tackling, running and catching. Jim Brown appears here to list several Orange football stars, himself included, along with Ernie Davis and Floyd Little, before he notes, “Before any of us, you had the great Marty Glickman.” And so you see, in grainy archival footage, Glickman dashing from midfield, dancing his way around some six defenders for a touchdown.
For all his flash and ability as an athlete, Marty Glickman found yet another route by which he would become famous, namely, as a sports broadcaster. As the documentary points out, he was approached by a radio station who wanted to “take advantage of” his celebrity. Though he worried that he’d stammer, Glickman took up the challenge, and with that, he embarked on yet another journey, becoming the first athlete to become a sports broadcaster. He went on to shape the field, inventing a vernacular, creating an attitude, and, as filmmaker Jim Freedman asserts, changing “the landscape of sports and television as we know it today.”
That is to say, Glickman honed his skills announcing sports on the radio, where, Larry King remembers listening to his game calls: “He was television on the radio. It was unbelievable: I saw the game he gave me basketball in my brain.” And then he helped to create sports on TV.
Known for his “thrilling style”, Glickman would help fans to feel the pace and the details of all kinds of games. The film slaps up collections of logos to indicate just the scope of his influence, from the NBA to the NFL to the MLB, from high school sports to the ABA, a league whose athletic, aggressive style of play he especially championed. He became the voice of teams, including the Jets and the Knicks, the Rangers and the Giants. In 1972, as HBO got off the ground as an all-sports network, he was crucial to the brand. He narrated games like they were adventures, with rising and falling action. He made players into heroes and plays into events, with causes and consequences. His storytelling, his colorful “words eye pictures” became models for any number of announcers, from Mike Breen and Marv Albert to George Vecsey and Bob Costas.
All this even as Glickman was affected by the CCNY point shaving scandal of 1950-‘51 (he was calling games he didn’t know were fixed and found himself fired) and as he continued to face anti-Semitism, sometimes fired by corporate executives in pursuit of a “broader appeal” or “different direction” for their broadcasts. Much as he refused to be “devastated” by the decision at the ‘36 Olympics, Glickman persisted in his life’s work, calling high school football and basketball in between more visible gigs.
The documentary hews to a conventional structure, its own story chronological and in some instances, perfunctory, using archival voiceover from Glickman (who died in 2001) as well as bits of his announcing. (These clips are terrific: his sports calling is as great now as it was then.) Other speakers are less viscerally effective, though each plays a role. Jerry Stiller and Elliot Gould speak to Glickman influences on his Jewish fans, while his daughter tells a couple of very brief stories about his marriage to her mother Marge, and Albert and Costas attest to his skills and innovations as an announcer. He believed deeply in the value of sports as a means to change the world, to forge empathy and understanding among peoples. “My experience in athletics in general and specifically in ‘36,” Glickman explains, “made me aware of the fact that I am not different from other people of the world, that we’re all one.”