Whirled Musings

Across the Universe with Cosmic Connie, aka Connie L. Schmidt...or maybe just through the dung-filled streets and murky swamps of pop culture -- more specifically, the New-Age/New-Wage crowd, pop spirituality & religion, pop psychology, self(ish)-help, business babble, media silliness, & related (or occasionally unrelated) matters of consequence. Hope you're wearing boots. (By the way, the "Cosmic" bit in my moniker is IRONIC.)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Goodbye to a Texas legend

This really has more to do with my "day job" than with the usual subject matter of this blog, but I wanted to make note of the passing of one of our local heroes, Houston television's "white knight in blue shades," Marvin Zindler (1921-2007). Marvin passed away on July 29 around 6:15 PM Houston time, succumbing to complications from pancreatic cancer. He was less than two weeks shy of his 86th birthday.

Marvin is perhaps best known nationally for being the inspiration for the Best Little Whorehouse In Texas franchise – the Playboy article that became a stage play that became a movie. But he was so much more than the man who closed down the cat houses in LaGrange and Sealy, Texas. Since 1973 he had been a fixture on Houston's ABC affiliate, KTRK-TV Channel 13, initially reporting on consumer fraud and later expanding his beat to include, among other things, dirty restaurants. His "Rat and Roach Report," with the rallying cry, "Slime in the ice machine!", was a welcome dinnertime staple on Friday evenings. Mmmm, tasty! Not that Marvin confined his activities to the Houston area. He also traveled the world on "goodwill missions" to help people who needed helping. For the most part these were medical missions, and he was accompanied by doctors and other professionals, "Marvin's Angels," who donated their time and their services to his good causes. And almost until the day he passed away – he even continued to broadcast reports from his hospital bed – he remained the "loudest man on television." Love him or hate him – and most of us loved him – you just couldn't ignore him.

There are so many ways in which Marvin Zindler differed from the New-Wage/self-help/pop-spirituality gurus I love to skewer on this blog. True, Marvin had an ego that could easily have put the lot of the New-Wagers to shame. From a very early age, he was an inveterate publicity hound and would do just about anything to get his name and picture in the news. But he wasn't just another fame whore. The man had a heart that was even larger than that ego of his, and he touched countless thousands of lives – not by selling vague promises of enlightenment or unlimited wealth via self-help books and DVDs and weekend workshops, but by actually solving everyday problems for everyday folks.

Marvin had several signature mottoes, but the one that made him a hero among so many people was, "It's hell to be poor." Unlike the current crop of
New-Wage entrepreneurs who are getting so much mileage out of being "formerly homeless" and now wealthy beyond belief, Marvin himself was born into affluence and lived a life of privilege. But he wasn't one to flaunt his wealth, at least not in the way that my favorite targets on this blog do, though he never hesitated to use his considerable resources and connections to help those in need. More importantly, he knew, and cared deeply, how "the other half" lived, and he spent much of his life fighting for the poor and disenfranchised. As well, he helped thousands of ordinary middle-class people fight back against shoddy business practices, tangled bureaucracies, or just plain bad luck. (I would have loved to hear his take on Secret creator Rhonda Byrne's "let them eat cake" philosophy.) For decades Marvin was also a fierce crusader against prejudice and racial discrimination, a cause that surely must have raised more than a few eyebrows in certain circles back in the day.

Ron and I were privileged to take part in the creation of Marvin's authorized biography, White Knight In Blue Shades, which was penned by Marvin's plastic surgeon and long-time friend, Dr. Joseph Agris, who accompanied Marvin on many of his worldwide medical missions. Doc Joe, a hero in his own right for several reasons, was a delight to work with, and clearly had a fondness for his subject matter. Instead of seeking a trade publisher, Doc Joe chose to self-publish, and proceeds went to the charitable organization he and Marvin had founded, The Agris-Zindler Children's Foundation.

The original working title of the book was an accurate though somewhat uninspired one: Marvin Zindler. It was Ron and I who came up with White Knight In Blue Shades, a title Doc Joe loved. The title referred not only to Marvin's status as a local hero (and his fondness for wearing white suits), but to his trademark blue sunglasses, which he wore in his later years to protect his eyes from the bright glare of the TV studio lights. It was only a couple of years ago that we found out Marvin himself never really cared for the name we had so lovingly bestowed upon his biography. But he did approve of the book, for the most part, and I guess that's what really mattered. (And I suppose it was a tribute to Marvin's stature in Houston that the Houston Chronicle book editor suspended his usual policy of snubbing self-published books, and actually did a write-up of White Knight In Blue Shades.)

In the days to come, Houston media will no doubt be saturated with tributes to Marvin Zindler. I usually get pretty weary of this sort of thing after a few hours. But Marvin...well, he was someone special, and I can't seem to get enough of the tributes. And even though I didn't know him very well, except through working for so many months on his biography, I'm truly going to miss him.

As will, I suspect, the vast majority of the people in this realm of rats and roaches, this blessed plot of dirty politicians and shady merchants, this precious stone set on a murky bayou,
this quirky town, this Houston. It truly will not be the same city without Marvin Zindler.

One of my favorite columnists, Ken Hoffman, pays tribute to Marvin in this piece.
Marvin Zindler's son tells of his father's final night.

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