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Sportscaster Marty Glickman

Marty Glickman was the “epitome of the word mensch.”

So says James L. Freedman, the writer, producer and director of an eponymous new documentary about the famed New York sportscaster. The film, Freedman’s first feature, will be shown as part of HBO’s Monday-night documentary series on August 26, after a short theatrical release at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan.

While only a high school senior, Freedman produced Glickman’s late-night sports program on WNEW radio. Freedman’s older brother was the show’s producer, and when he was called to the Army Reserves, Glickman pointed to the stands and said “Let the kid do it.”

“For the rest of the year, I produced his radio show,” Freedman said in a recent interview with the Jewish Standard. “He never treated me like a high school kid.”

With Martin Scorcese as executive producer, “Glickman” traces Marty Glickman’s career from his working-class childhood in 1920’s Brooklyn to his renown as an amateur athlete and on to his long, varied career in sports broadcasting. “For kids who grew up in New York, he was the soundtrack” of their lives, Freedman said, and his interviews with a range of athletes, sportscasters, and sports lovers testify to the deep impression Glickman’s voice made on New Yorkers, particularly men, who remember listening to him describe the action of many different sports, particularly basketball. “He invented the vernacular” of basketball, Larry King says in the film. “He was TV on radio.”

The crowd of famous faces and voices in the film include Marv Albert (a protégé of Glickman’s), Bill Bradley, Jerry Stiller, Bob Costas, and Jim Brown, among many others. Freedman said Glickman was so beloved that everyone was eager to help him make the film. Glickman’s daughter donated scrapbooks and home movies while others provided tons of footage.

Known as the Red Grange of Brooklyn and the Flatbush Flash, Glickman was an extraordinarily handsome teenager and star football player. Five Jewish alumni stepped up to pay for his freshman year so he could attend Syracuse University, where he played football and became a sprinter. When Glickman made the U.S. team for the 1936 Munich Olympics, along with another Jewish runner, American Jews almost fainted with pride. In a crushing turnaround, Avery Brundage, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, refused to let the two Jews run in the 400-meter relay, concerned that Hitler would be displeased. One of the most surprising moments of the film comes when a much-older Glickman shares the intense hurt and anger he felt for years at the slight.

Returning to Syracuse and its football team, Glickman got a part-time job on a nighttime radio show. That was the beginning of his broadcasting career, and after service in World War II, he began to broadcast basketball, which was hardly the popular sport it is now. He also reported on horse racing, soap box derbies, curling, and almost every other sport. He became known as the voice of the New York Giants during the 1950s and ’60s, and then went to the Jets.

But with all that, Glickman was never really able to become a national presence. “He was born 10 years too soon,” Freedman said, noting that there are very few “ethnic” voices in national broadcasting. Glickman was always considered too New York – which often is a euphemism for too Jewish. Although Freedman did not set out to make a film specifically about Jews, he said, “the film ends up being a treatise on Jewish assimilation in the 20th century.”

Glickman died in 2001.

Ironically, Glickman’s voice was the first heard on HBO, which primarily broadcast sports when it started. The sportscasters who followed Glickman, including Albert and Costas, have become nationally known.

Freedman will be answering questions after the film screening at the Quad on August 21.