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07.29.07 Marvin Zindler Died At The Age Of 85


Marvin Zindler - Wikipedia
























Houston's Channel 13's Marvin Zindler dies at 85
July 30, 2007, 10:17PM


The funeral is set for 11 a.m. today at Congregation Beth Israel, 5600 N. Braeswood. Burial will be at Beth Israel Cemetery.

Marvin Zindler obituary Marvin Zindler, a Houston institution for more than three decades and a pioneer of consumer reporting, died Sunday at M.D. Anderson Hospital after a fight with cancer.

The irascible, flamboyant 85-year-old television personality had been diagnosed in July with inoperable pancreatic cancer that spread to his liver.

Even in his last days, Zindler continued to work, filing reports from his hospital bed. In his last report, broadcast Saturday, in which he helped a 45-year-old U.S. citizen secure a Social Security card necessary for employment, Zindler appeared thin and his voice was weak. Still, he signed off with a hearty "MAARVIN ZINDLER, eyewitness news" his trademark for 34 years with KTRK Channel 13.

"Marvin Zindler was unique," said Dave Ward, the station's longtime anchor and one of the people responsible for Zindler being on the air. "There's never been anyone who lived life more than this man or who wanted to do more than this man. This is a personal loss to me and to everyone at this station and to every man, woman and child, really, who lives in Southeast Texas."

Channel 13 interrupted its regular lineup Sunday at 8 p.m. to announce Zindler's death, with Ward calling him "a legend in Houston television who will never be forgotten."

The station had extended tributes during its 10 p.m. newscast.

Serbino Sandier-Walker, a journalism professor at Texas Southern University, called Zindler "irreplaceable."

"Marvin Zindler was a man for the people," Sandier-Walker said. "He fought for the little person. He made consumer reporting what it is today."

'Rat and roach' reports
To youthful viewers, Zindler is perhaps best known as the kind-hearted, grandfatherly figure in white wig and blue shades who delivered the weekly "rat and roach reports" based on health department restaurant inspections. After his idiosyncratic sign-off, his most famous catch phrase comes from the frequent health inspector findings of, "all together now, SLIIIME in the ice machine."

But to generations of low-income Houstonians, Zindler was the champion of last resort, the man to whom you turned when bureaucracies seemed indifferent and businesses tried to take advantage. The station said that for many years Zindler received 100,000 appeals for help.

Though he was proudest of his work championing "the little guy" and helping secure medical care for needy children, he was best known for stories he did a mere seven months after starting the job in 1973 that led to the closing of the state's best-known "bawdy house," as Zindler called it a notorious La Grange brothel known as the Chicken Ranch.

The reports not only won him national notoriety but also a public thrashing by Fayette County Sheriff T.J. Flournoy, a Chicken Ranch partisan, who broke two of Zindler's ribs and snatched his toupee, reportedly waving it in the air as if it were a prized enemy scalp.

Texas author Larry L. King wrote an article about it for Playboy magazine in 1974, which was turned into a long-running Broadway musical four years later and became a kitschy 1982 movie starring Dolly Parton, Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise.

In The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, DeLuise played a character based on Zindler, a vainglorious reporter who goes on a crusade to close the brothel.

Though Zindler's Chicken Ranch stories often were characterized as a moral crusade or a quest for publicity, Zindler maintained that he'd pursued them because he'd been convinced by state law enforcement sources that the Chicken Ranch and another nearby brothel were making payoffs to local officials and were involved in organized crime.

"I didn't care that they had a whorehouse," he'd say in later years. "We had plenty here in Houston."

Zindler seemed to enjoy the spotlight the musical and movie shone on him he kept a poster for the film on his office wall though he always said he felt his most important stories were 1985 reports on financial mismanagement by the Hermann Hospital board of trustees.

Zindler also loved to talk of the thousands of children who'd received free medical care from Marvin's Angels, doctors who donated their services because Zindler asked them to. In addition to his frequent on-air reports about such cases, Zindler started a foundation with his friend and plastic surgeon Dr. Joseph Agris that helped children around the world.

These activities, he told a reporter last year, were why in his 80s and after enduring open-heart surgery and surviving a previous bout with prostate cancer Zindler continued to work.

Marvin also traveled extensively, documenting how Houston doctors helped alleviate suffering in developing countries. Recently, for example, he helped seven Iraqi men get prosthetic devices to replace the hands that were cut off during Saddam Hussein's regime.

"Marvin was one of the most valued and beloved people in Houston," Henry Florsheim, KTRK-TV president and general manager, said. "For nearly 35 years he was welcomed into the hearts and homes of millions of local viewers. This is a deep loss for me, both personally and professionally; my prayers are with his family, friends and co-workers."

Zindler signed a lifetime contract with the station in 1988. He honored it to the letter. Even after being diagnosed in early July with the disease that would kill him, he went on the air in a bathrobe, pajamas and slippers to report the news.

It was the lead story on Channel 13's 6 p.m. news, and to make it clear he was still on the job and not using his illness as an excuse to slack off Zindler ended the report braying his famous sign-off.

Zindler's unusual lifetime contract reportedly earning him $1 million a year, though he insisted it was lower recognized his worth to the station, which until recently consistently had the most watched local news program. His was one of the city's most recognizable faces, even if it kept changing.

Zindler had countless cosmetic surgery procedures, beginning in 1954 after he was fired from an earlier television job by an executive who said he was "too ugly" to work in TV.

Relationship with father
Born into wealth, Zindler admits to having had an unfocused youth. Abe Zindler, his father, considered his middle son frivolous and irresponsible and died in 1963 deeply disappointed in him. The successful retailer and longtime mayor of Bellaire left no inheritance to Marvin but rather placed it in a trust for Marvin's five children. Marvin could draw only the interest.

Abe Zindler also left Marvin a harsh letter in which he derided his middle son as "a silly playboy with no sense in your head" and urged him to make something of himself.

Zindler had never liked working in his stern father's clothing stores. In the 1940s, while still working days for his father, Zindler began as a night DJ and spot news reporter for KATL, a now-defunct radio station. In the 1950s, while working as a volunteer policeman, he began writing and taking photographs for the Houston Press, a long-gone daily newspaper, and did spot news reports for KPRC television's fledgling news operation.

In 1962, he began working for the Sheriff's Department where, among other duties, he traveled around the world to extradite fugitives. While working in the Sheriff's Department, Zindler found his true calling helping "the little guy" and also found an outlet for his constant desire for attention. He created and ran the department's consumer fraud division.

Known for his fancy clothes, the press conferences he held at the drop of a hat and the mink-lined handcuffs he carried (in case he had to arrest a woman), Zindler rose to the rank of sergeant. After 10 years with the department, he was fired in late 1972, allegedly for angering local business people by doing his job too well.

Ward recommended that Zindler be hired by Channel 13. The TV job gave him a bigger platform for his eccentricities and greater opportunities to anger people.

From the beginning he was an oddity intense, uncomfortable on camera, and he had the mien of a crusader.

Brush with politics
Zindler considered running for Congress in the 1970s at the urging of local Republican leaders. A survey was commissioned that said he could win, Zindler says, but he decided not to run because Gertrude, his first wife, didn't want to live in Washington.

Zindler's authorized biography tells of an earlier aborted entry into politics. In 1949, when he was 28, Zindler announced his candidacy for the mayorship of Bellaire, like his father had.

The Houston Post came out against him, calling the younger Zindler a "pinhead." The paper retracted the statement after Zindler filed a lawsuit, the book says, but the retraction ran under an eye-catching headline: "We won't call Marvin Harold Zindler a 'pinhead' again."

Zindler became involved in Democratic Party politics, serving as a delegate one year at the state Democratic convention where a conservative delegate slugged him after Zindler had made disparaging comments about the conservative wing of the party in a speech.

Zindler went on to work in the senatorial campaign of Lyndon Johnson and in other Democratic campaigns before switching to the Republican Party, where he continued to espouse liberal notions such as national health insurance.

Zindler often said he didn't consider himself a journalist, but he could claim credit for helping to pioneer broadcast journalism in Houston. He was born on Aug. 10, 1921, in Houston. He attended public schools and went to John Tarleton Agricultural College in Stephenville. He joined the Marines in 1941 and received an Honorable Discharge. In that same year, he married Gertrude, his wife of 56 years. They raised five children before she passed away in 1997.

He is survived by his wife, Niki, his five grown children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.




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