Marvin A. Gluck—October 14, 1933-February 27, 2021

By Fred Samia

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Marvin A. Gluck—October 14, 1933-February 27, 2021
Photo courtesy of Marvin Gluck family
rascible, irreverent, witty, compassionate—my good friend and mentor. MY FRIEND, MARVIN Marvin and I met when he helped us with the narration for a documentary that we were doing on a group of young Palestinians, the so-called “LA 8,” arrested in 1989 and charged with being terrorists. Marvin was Jewish, progressive, anti-Zionist, so there was no conflict for him offering his assistance. The documentary, Voices in Exile, earned rewards and air time on PBS thanks in part to his words, as spoken by Casey Kasem, our narrator. And from that collaboration came a friendship and mentorship that to this day guides me, not just in my writing, but in how I live my life. It’s also how I came to live in Topanga. Marvin and his wife, Sherna, before it was fashionable or hip, were inveterate travelers, sans guide, to out-of-the-way places yet to be touched by tourism. Although I had visited Topanga many years before and several times while working on the documentary, it was while house and dog sitting for them whilst they traveled, that I really discovered the magic and charm of Topanga. And before illness made him too distant, I helped to digitize his travel slides and what a treat that was for me. Oh yeah, he was also an excellent photographer with an eye, compassion, and respect for those people whose countries he traveled in. Marvin did not suffer fools easily, even or especially within the industry that provided his livelihood, Hollywood. When The Great Sioux Massacre, a retelling of the battle of Little Big Horn, sympathetic to Native Americans that Marvin co-wrote, was massacred by the director and producer, Marvin removed his name from the writing credit, using “Fred C. Dobbs” for his nom de plume, a sly admonition to the industry that it ought to know better. An industry where one of its stalwarts once remarked, “If I want to send a message, I’ll use Western Union;” getting progressive stories told, especially post-McCarthy, was not easily done. Still, Marvin stayed true to his personal moral code and did what he could. In 1978, he wrote See How She Runs, a television movie starring Joanne Woodward (which earned her an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama), whose character, a determined woman who breaks the males-only Boston Marathon, says “period” in referring to menses, the first ever use of the word on television, and something Marvin had to fight to keep in the shooting script. Marvin’s 1958 student film, Children of the Sun, (with George Huaco), was chosen for a recent UCLA retrospective at the Armand Hammer Museum. Beautifully shot in color by Marvin in Peru, the film tells the story of indigenous people who rise up against their gringo overlords and oppressors. Even 60 years on, it retained its power and of all the films screened that evening, most moved the audience. Marvin loved the 1930s rambling house on Observation Drive that he and Sherna lived in since 1963 and maintained and improved it with his carpentry and handyman skills. They both fiercely loved Topanga, fighting several development plans in the ‘60s and ‘70s as part of TASC (Topanga Association for a Scenic Community). Marvin often wrote its informative literature as well as letters to politicians and newspapers. He had a scathing wit and used it to make obvious points that seemed to be anything but to the powers that be. Marvin and Sherna moved from the Canyon to Santa Monica in 2018, when maintaining the old house and the acre of land became too taxing for them. Marvin was an Army veteran stationed in the South, where he got to see firsthand the workings of Jim Crow racism and experience anti-semitism personally, adding to his growing progressive awareness. For many years, Marvin and I rode the bike path from Temescal to the Venice Beach boardwalk, then half-way back and then back to the Fig Tree Restaurant, where nearly every server knew him by name because of his good nature and humor (often joking with them in Spanish) and his generous tipping. Though 14-years older than I, and even after recovering from knee and hip-replacement surgery, it was often a struggle to keep up with him as he leaned over his handlebars and pumped away. During those rides and breakfasts we, discussed the state of the world and our place in it. I always marveled at the breadth of Marvin’s knowledge and how he understood the interconnectedness of events, both historically and personally, something I struggled to do. As part Arab-American, I came in for my share of good natured ribbing from Marvin, and we teased each other as Semitic “cousins.” He was also intuitive and sensitive and frequently had the right words to help pull me back to the surface when my remembered Vietnam combat experiences threatened to drown me. Marvin died peacefully from complications of Alzheimer’s disease and is survived by his spouse of sixty-five years, Sherna Berger Gluck, his brother E. Robert Gluck, and nephews David and Jeremy. His ashes will be spread at his former Topanga residence and in the Alder Creek Sequoia Grove where he and Sherna maintained a small cabin since the 1980s. —Fred Samia
Marvin Gluck’s 1958 student film, Children of the Sun, (with George Huaco), was chosen for a recent UCLA retrospective at the Armand Hammer Museum

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December 10, 2021

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