Glickman (DVD Review)3 Mar, 2014 By: Mike Clark
Available via Warner Archive
Even if he had done nothing more than coin the term “swish” as it applies to a basketball sailing cleanly through a net (and more specifically, during a radio broadcast), Marty Glickman would probably merit some kind of footnote in the annals of play-by-play. Fortunately, he did a lot more merely in the terms of adding immediacy, color, originality and excitement to the announcing vernacular, which doesn’t even get to Glickman’s storied history as a brilliant runner who got shafted out of appearing in the Hitler-hosted 1936 Olympics in Berlin — the same one in which African-American speedster Jesse Owens’ success took some of the smile off Der Fuehrer’s face a few years before Spike Jones’s DFF recording did.
Thus, this HBO documentary is a two-pronged affair that deals first with Glickman’s own success as an athlete, with the Olympics experience as a climactic bitter pill, and then as the storied announcer for the New York Knicks, New York Giants and New York Jets (the latter combo seemed kind of sacrilegious) plus all the other announcing pies into which he stuck his welcome fingers. There’s a graphic here that shows just how many gigs Glickman had during his most prolific years, and you have to wonder what his poor wife thought about all those nights in the booth. Especially given the fact, unless archival photos are somehow lying, that she was gorgeous and even drop-dead gorgeous.
Well, Glickman was the fastest guy in the neighborhood start with — and later enough of a football superstar at Syracuse University that fellow alum Jim Brown (who, as you know, doesn’t tolerate fools) speaks highly of him on camera as one of many sports fan household names that producer-director-writer James L. Freedman managed to recruit for appearances here. Even Jerry Stiller (father of Ben and half of the Stiller & Meara comedy team) has a show-up speaking purely as a fan — one who was rocked by (in one of many subjects addressed by the documentary) CCNY’s 1951 basketball point-shaving scandal. And when you’ve got Bill Bradley himself attesting to your excellence as a Knicks announcer, one can say that you did pretty well in your chosen profession.
Glickman and the only other Jew on America’s ’36 team (Sam Stoller) were pulled from competing in the 440-meter relay the day before the race, and it has long been thought that Avery Brundage (chairman of the United States Olympic Committee) pulled these strings to appease Hitler, who had enough of a party spoiler in Owens (who subbed in the 440 against his will — and let it be known). The official reason was over rumors that the Germans had been holding back superior “secret” runners, necessitating the strongest team the Yanks could assemble. Then again, Brundage — who never saw an Olympics controversy he couldn’t land in during his long association — scored a prized coup later when his construction company was awarded the contract to build the German embassy in Washington, D.C. If I recall, Brundage doesn’t exactly come off like gangbusters in the PBS’s “American Experience” documentary on Owens, either, which came out in 2012.
A lot of people would have let Glickman’s own American experience grind them down permanently, but this was all prelude to the second act of a guy who kept on reinventing himself to the end (including a major assist, much later and toward the end of his career, in putting HBO’s sports coverage on the map). Through it all, he was an unselfish mentor to just about anyone who asked, including Marv Albert and Bob Costas, who are both interviewed (did Freedman get access or what?).
The documentary feels a sliver overlong, but I do mean only by a sliver. And some of the footage that deals with what Glickman had to do to keep the employment fires burning is amazing at times. Speaking of fire, he was actually announcing some event where a guy engulfed in flames stood on a diving board gauging how long he could wait until sailing into a pool, perhaps the most amazing visual in the documentary. At least the thing had water in it.