Wednesday, September 04, 2013

One of my great mentors

HBO has another superb documentary airing these days – a biography of sportscaster Marty Glickman. It’s a portrait of a fascinating individual.  Even if you're not a sports fan you should find his story inspiring.   He should have competed in the 1936 Olympics but they were held in Nazi Germany and he was, well... screwed.  

New York sports fans grew up listening to Marty. He was the voice of football and basketball in Gotham for a thousand years. More than that, he literally invented basketball announcing, coining the terms used to describe the game. 

He also served as a mentor to numerous young sportscasters, including this incredibly grateful blogger. 

This was the mid-80s. We hated Iran more than Iraq.  President Reagan had prostate surgery.    I was learning how to do baseball play-by-play by going to the upper deck of Dodger and Anaheim Stadium and sitting in the stands with a tape recorder, surrounded by drunks. For basketball I attended Clippers games in the old Sports Arena, and that was great because I’d have whole sections to myself.  Even the drunks didn't bother.  Sitting in row 114 I imagine the players on the court could hear me.

A friend put me in contact with Marty Glickman, who at the time was the radio voice of the Seton Hall Pirates basketball team. The Bucs were scheduled to play in the first round of “March Madness” at Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA (my “crib”). Marty needed someone to keep his statistics for him during the game. I gladly volunteered. He sheepishly said he had no budget to pay me, but I didn’t care. I would have paid him.  To be able to sit next to God while he called a basketball game -- this was like winning an Emmy. 

My friend had told him I was an aspiring sportscaster so he volunteered to listen to a tape of my work.  Holy shit!  I sent him a cassette of baseball on one side and basketball on the other.   The plan was I'd meet him at his hotel the morning of the game, we'd go over my tape, I'd drive him to the arena, and we would work the game.   Marty Glickman was going to be in my car.   In fanboy terms that's like Joss Whedon writing AVENGERS 2 on your laptop.  


We met at the appropriate time. He was overall very complimentary (overly so considering the actual quality of the work) and popped in the tape, basketball side first.

Along the way he paused to offer lots of great suggestions. Be more descriptive. Be less verbose. Where exactly on the floor was the action? Always give the time along with the score, and always give the score after every basket. Find interesting ways to identify the players. Vary my vocabulary. Always make it clear which team controls the ball. Talk about the crowd and setting. Use my voice to build tension. Have an expert grasp of the rules. Sprinkle in more analysis. Keep the audience aware of the foul situation and how many time outs were left. Refer to the shot clock more.  In other words, I needed a lot of work.  A LOT of work. 

When the basketball side was mercifully over he removed the cassette. I figured he would flip it over and do the same with the other side. Instead, he just handed it back to me and said, “You’re a baseball announcer.” Clearly I had a better feeling for the game and was way more in my element.

When I needed a demo to send out to minor leagues teams I used that inning. I figured, if it was good enough to impress the great Marty Glickman, it had to be good enough for the huckleberry in Elephant’s Breath, Georgia.

Sure enough I received several offers.

I owe a great debt to Marty. He was the first professional to suggest I might have enough talent to actually get a job doing this. He was (as everyone else says in the documentary) a total mensch.

I invite you to seek out the documentary.   It's a slam dunk.  SWISH! 

24 comments:

Ben Bragg said...

Great story, Ken. "Always give the time along with the score, and always give the score after every basket." As a football fan in the Deep South, it is maddening to me that radio announcers don't give the time and score at least after every first down.

Mr. Hollywood said...

I agree Ken ....superb documentary and a true "mensch" ... which, by the way, also describes yourself! And a great job on KABC Radio on Monday night as well. Loved "Things That Aren't There Anymore" ...

Michael said...

I don't get HBO but look forward to the documentary. I presume it tracks with his autobiography.

Marty Glickman also mentored Marv Albert, and I read that when NBC had him coaching announcers, two people got fascinating lessons from him. The young and young-looking Bob Costas asked him how to overcome looking too young and Glickman told him to talk more slowly and he'd sound older and more profound. Bill Walton wanted to broadcast but still stuttered, so Glickman had him chew gum and talk, and watch himself in the mirror as he did so.

slgc said...

My husband and I watched it the other night - it was a real eye opener. Great stuff!

Ed said...

The sports broadcasting camps in LA used to include Glickman's notes to NBC football announcers in what was essentially a textbook they created. Those notes (similar to what he told you) were not only helpful reminders and guides to those starting out, but were occasionally hilarious.

Glickman hated when the English language would get butchered and wanted to institute a fine for any announcer that said "...like I said" instead of "...as I said." Glickman would make a fortune today if such a fine were in place and could be enforced throughout network TV sportscasts.

I hope to catch this documentary. He was a pioneer in sports broadcasting!

David said...

Great doc, indeed. The '36 Olympics was neither the first nor the last time Glickman was pushed aside due to his religion... and he still reached the pinnacle in running, in sportscasting, and apparently in Being A Nice Guy. Glad you had such a marvelous experience with him -- it certainly matches the Glickman portrayed in the doc.

Jeff said...

Friday question: Have you ever had to fire an actor? Talk about difficult actors in general.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Wonderful story!

Brule Eagan said...

Stuff like this is why you're first on my list of daily clicks, Ken.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Friday question: You've talked separately about the various things you've written - screenplay, stage play, TV scripts. What, to you, are the most significant differences in how the scripts for those three different media need to be structured?

wg

John said...

Back when cable television was in its infancy in New York, Manhattan Cable TV (Time Warner Cable now), had a community channel with nothing really to put on it. But they had just signed a big contract with Metropolitan Life to wire their Stuyvesant Town & Peter Cooper Village apartment complex -- which having been built for mainly for World War II vets who helped fuel the post-war baby boom, had a significant number of yutes running around, and a Little League complex just across Avenue C.

So with an open channel and trying to attract subscribers out of the 30,000 or so people in the complex, Manhattan Cable decided to broadcast the league's 1968 championship game.

With Marty Glickman as the announcer.

MCTV replayed the thing a bunch of times over the next couple of weeks, but this being the pre-VCR days, I never did have a copy of Marty announcing my name (we won, 7-6, no thanks to me, but even then it was fun at age 12 to hear the guy doing the Knicks and Giants radio broadcasts calling out your name).

DJ said...

It's Seton Hall, not Seton Hill.

I was aware of Glickman's legacy as a broadcaster and tutor of broadcasters. Really hit home when they played three generations of Knicks broadcasters -- Glickman, Marv Albert, and Mike Breen -- back-to-back-to back. Same pacing, rhythm, rise and fall of volume.

Chas said...

Saw the show yesterday. Wow, what a story. Ken, you're a lucky guy to have had that experience.

By the way, "slam dunk" is Chick Hearn. "SWISH" is Marty Glickman.

Anonymous said...

I was one of those guys up in General Admission sitting close to that guy practicing his play-by-play. Great cheap seats my girlfriend and I loved. For the record, I wasn’t a drunk. Wasn’t. In fact, your dedication made us feel miserable about our lives, 20-somethings buying cheap Dodger tickets and selling souls the rest of the week. We changed, however. Went to graduate school, got good humanitarian jobs. OK, drank a little. But only after.

mdv1959 said...

Great story.

I wonder how long until HBO's "Perfect Pitch: The Ken Levine Story" goes into production?

Tom Quigley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Quigley said...

During some of my younger years, my famly lived in Buffalo, where we listened to the great Van Miller call the Bills' games, but a competing station broadcast the Giants' games (in the early 60's the NFL still refused to acknowledge the AFL's existence and considered all of New York State to be Giants territory) and listened to Marty Glickman do the Giants' games. Even then I thought to myself "For a team from New York City, they couldn't have a more perfect announcer." Just the right amount of authoritarianism mixed with the talent to create a visual image with his words and ability to stay focused on the action and important associated facts.

I remember in the 80's when NBC was still broadcasting the Rose Bowl on its Sports Radio Network, they'd bring him out of retirement every year to do the play by play from Pasadena, but sadly I thought he seemed out of place doing the game. He belonged to New York City and New York City belonged to him.

Breadbaker said...

One thing I love about you, Ken, is that you never forgot everyone who helped you on the way up, and the list is long.

L'Shana Tova and a sweet year to all he Levines and all the readers of this blog.

Anonymous said...

I will look for it. The name Glickman jumped out at me for another reason: my mentor and a true mensch was Stuart Glickman, entertainment lawyer nonpareil and longtime Carsey-Werner CEO. Must be something about "Glickmans"

Paul Gottlieb said...

The thing I remember most about Marty Glickman was wonderfully resonant baritone voice and his elegant accent. He sounded like on of FDR's wealthier cousins! And he was a Jewish boy from Brooklyn, the son of a Romanian immigrant. Imagine the countless hours of practice it took for him to develop that magnificent voice.

jake said...

What a great story - maybe it tops your Marvin Gaye encounter. I always got a kick out of Marty Glickman's basketball announcing getting a cameo in Kerouac's On the Road - he was incredible to listen to. Just amazing to contemplate that Glickman and Sam Stoller were kept from competing in the 1936 Olympics as a courtesy to Hitler.

Anyway, as a sports-on-the radio-fan growing up in New York in the 1960s Marty Glickman's voice is in my head as much as the Beatles

VP81955 said...

Marty Glickman -- the first of the great Syracuse University sports broadcasters. SU is as renowned for those as it is for great running backs wearing 44.

Mike Barer said...

I believe that he did the Notre Dame football highlights on Sunday Mornings in the 60s. They would run the previous day's Notre Dame game nationwide, Marty Glickman would announce. That's how I learned about Terry Hanratty, Joe Theisman, Joe Montana Bob Kutchenberg and Jim Seymour.

Jeffro said...

One of the interesting topics of the documentary is his friendship with fellow US Olympic teammate Louis Zamperini. To those who aren't aware, Zamperini went on to serve as a bombardier during WWII in the Pacific, where his plane was shot down. Not only did he survive the crash and spend almost a full seven weeks on a rubber life raft with two other survivors, he was caught by the Japanese and spent over two years as a POW. However, the Japanese never reported him as a POW, so he was listed as missing and then assumed dead after a year (this is the time when the documentary mentions Glickman's involvement in the memorial races for Zamperini). More sensational is Zamperini becoming a born again Christian after a period of severe depression following the war, and in the 1950s he went back to Japan to personally forgive all of his captors, even embracing with a hug those who came forward as recognizing Zamperini (at that time most of the guards were themselves still being imprisoned for war crimes).

There is a great biography of Zamperini written just a few years ago called Unbroken, which I highly recommend reading. It was written by Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote the best seller about the famous racehorse Seabiscuit.