Before Marv Albert and Bob Costas, there was Marty Glickman. A gifted Jewish-American athlete who was denied the chance to represent the U.S. at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he went on to become one of the most revered and influential sportscasters in history, pioneering many of the techniques, phrases and programming innovations that are commonplace in sports reporting today.
GLICKMAN is the first documentary from writer, producer and director James L. Freedman, who produced Glickman’s late-night sports program on New York radio as a high-school senior. Featuring archival footage and interviews with such notables as Marv Albert, Bob Costas, Bill Bradley, Jim Brown, Frank Gifford, Larry King, Jerry Stiller, New York Giants co-owner John Mara and others, the film tells the story of a man who overcame prejudice to forge a remarkable career, setting the gold standard for sports broadcasters past, present and future.
Born in the Bronx in 1917, Martin “Marty” Glickman was dubbed “the Flatbush Flash” as a teen. He became a national sprint champion and star of his undefeated high-school football team before attending Syracuse University, where he continued to excel in football and track. After beating Ben Johnson, the world record-holder in the 60-yard dash, Glickman decided to try out for the 1936 U.S. Olympic track team. At the trials, Glickman was announced as having finished third in the 100-meter race, although the officials, who were likely biased, dropped him to fifth place. Still, he made the team as part of the 400-meter relay, joining Jesse Owens and others bound for Berlin.
With Adolf Hitler in the stands, Owens won three gold medals, shattering the illusion of Nazi supremacy. Avery Brundage, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, along with assistant coach Dean Cromwell, then declared that Owens and Ralph Metcalfe would replace Glickman and Sam Stoller – the only Jews – on the relay team, ostensibly because “secret” German runners were expected to challenge for the gold. The U.S. team won by 15 yards, while the Germans finished a distant fourth.
Glickman returned to the States to star on the Syracuse football team.
Offered a nighttime radio show for $15 a broadcast, he developed a niche in sports broadcasting. Following graduation, he moved back to New York, married his high-school sweetheart, Marge, and made a name for himself doing dramatic recreations of baseball games. In 1943, he enlisted in the Marines and served in the Marshall Islands.
After the war, Glickman recognized a broadcasting opportunity in basketball, which was only a fringe sport at the time. His staccato calls and innovative verbiage such as “swish” and “good like Nedick’s” changed the way sports were called. Giving the listener the geography of the court, his style was what Larry King described as “television on radio.” Still, when the NBA signed a contract with a TV network, Glickman was replaced by “more Midwestern” voices.
Glickman kept working, broadcasting New York Knicks games and narrating Paramount newsreels, which included calling sports as disparate as soapbox derbies and curling. He endeared himself to New Yorkers as the voice of Giants football during their “golden age” of the ‘50s and ‘60s until he was lured to the Jets in 1972.
Around this time he joined HBO, then a fledging cable network. Glickman was the first person to be heard on air on HBO, helping launch the burgeoning network’s sports division with innovations such as early-round coverage of Wimbledon tennis. NBC hired him to coach network announcers, including Gayle Sierens, who remains the only woman in history to call an NFL game.
Briefly retiring in the mid-‘80s, he returned to work Jets games for five more years before retiring for good in 1992. Glickman died Jan. 3, 2001 at age 83. A gifted athlete and unparalleled broadcaster, he devoted his life to helping kids, as well as working with New York City high schools and the Police Athletic League, among others. Marty Glickman was a lifelong advocate of sports as a means of transcending divisions created by race, class and religion.
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GLICKMAN was written, produced and directed by James L. Freedman; executive producer, Martin Scorsese; executive producers, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Rick Yorn; narrated by James L. Freedman; music by David Carbonara.