Friday, September 9, 2011

Joel Blumberg, Radio Show Host

As he had done a thousand times before, Joel Blumberg was going to work for a Miami Heat radio broadcast of the Knicks game. Over the years, he was in charge of Islanders, Rangers, Knicks, Jets and St. John’s broadcasts. He was also known by many as the longtime voice of Manhattan College basketball. His name may not have been known to the mainstream public as a sports announcer, but his voice was familiar.

On Friday afternoon, December 17, 2010, Joel boarded a Long Island Rail Road train in Merrick headed for Madison Square Garden to work the Knicks game for the Miami Heat radio team. He lived in East Meadow so the trip was routine. But before he reached his destination, Joel suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 64. 

If you’ve listened to a sporting event over the last 20 years, there’s a good chance you’ve been affected by Joel Blumberg’s work. He was considered one of New York’s busiest producers and engineers. “He was a terrific mentor and an even better friend,” said Marc Ernay, assistant sports director, Metro/Shadow Broadcast Services.

“He demanded only that you put all your care and dedication into your work,” remembers Tony Sibilla,  remote broadcast engineer for Blumberg from 1989 to 1991. “He taught me to be ready for anything. That’s a lesson that translates to everything in life.” After showing his dedication as an engineer, Sibilla was finally able to realize his dream—going on the air for in-studio updates during some Islander road games. One day in Chicago, though, he was asked to do color commentary on one broadcast. “I was so floored that he trusted me with that responsibility,” Sibilla says. “It’s a memory that will stay with me forever and I have Joel to thank for it.”

Joel was one of the most versatile people in media. Not only was he a former sportscaster, whose credits include play by play of football, baseball and NCAA basketball and hockey, and the producing of many of the top sports events that have taken place in the last three decades, he was one of the members of the Executive Board of the Metropolitan Golf Writers.

Joel Blumberg was also an avid film buff and historian. His favorite love was film noir and he supplied commentary for a number of DVDs through VCI Entertainment, including Forgotten Noir: Volume 5 and Silver Lode (1954). The latter film was a favorite of Blumberg's, especially since he admired the charisma of John Payne on the silver screen.
In the January 2008 issue of Classic Images, an article on character actor Richard Anderson went to press, authored by Joel Blumberg. In September 2006, Joel appeared at the 3-D film festival in Los Angeles and conducted an on-stage interview with Biff Elliott, the star of I, The Jury (1953), following a screening of the film. On the same weekend, Blumberg interviewed James O’Keefe, son of the late Dennis O'Keefe, following the showing of The Diamond Wizard (1954). It was here that Blumberg struck a friendship with O'Keefe, ultimately encouraging Joel to consider writing a biography about the screen actor, with the assistance of his son, James.

In May of 2006, Joel spoke at the 2006 Palm Springs Film Noir Festival. Joel had the honor of interviewing Adrian Booth Brian, formerly screen actress Lorna Gray, who talked of her roles in Serials, Westerns, and Three Stooges Shorts as well as her late husband David Brian. (Joel had been a featured host at the Palm Springs Film Noir Festival since 2005.)

Joel also took his lifelong passion and knowledge of classic movies and went public with it in the form of his acclaimed radio program “Silver Screen Audio” heard weekly on radio station WGBB in Freeport NY, a New York City Suburb. Whether the radio station now offers reruns of the program or simply canceled the series altogether is not known at this time. Thankfully, Joel's web-site (at the time of this writing) is still operating and allowing people to download past radio shows in mp3 format. If you are capable of doing so, record them now before the site goes down. Those interviews are treasured and should be preserved. (Remember, they are copyrighted, so copy them only for yourself!)

Guests on the program have included actors like, Burt Reynolds, Stacy Keach, Biff Elliot, Peter Ford, Marsha Hunt, Christopher Lee, Richard Anderson and Warren Stevens. Also interviewed are the likes of  film historians Foster Hirsch (Otto Preminger), Jeanine Basinger (several books, including the most recent, The Star Machine), Stone Wallace (George Raft), and Alan Rode (Charles McGraw). 

Joel also got involved with the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention beginning in 2009. Having made arrangements for a number of celebrities to attend the convention, Joel asked that he have the privilege of interviewing a couple of them on stage. The request was granted. The following year, the regular interviewer was unavailable to attend and Joel Blumberg filled in for him. He added class to the convention and both staff and attendees began remarking how the convention went up a notch in quality.

"It was my great pleasure to become acquainted with Joel Blumberg at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention," remarked Ken Stockinger, a yearly attendee. "While I was aware of his impressive professional resume, what struck me the most was his dealings with all those he came into contact. Whether speaking with a well known celebrity, or a first time convention attendee, all were treated with warmth and respect. After speaking with Joel for but a few minutes, he made you feel as if you were a lifelong friend."

Dennis O'Keefe
For the 2011 event, Gregory William Mank, another respected author and historian, has voluntarily accepted the position Joel Blumberg left behind. Greg has written a number of superb books including Dwight Frye's Last Laugh (1997) and Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration (2009). 

Talking on the phone with Joel a number of times, for myself, was a treat. He was a great conversationalist and shared the same passion of classic old time radio movies that I did. He often talked about the games he went to, his daughter Miranda, and the projects he hoped to complete before the end of the calendar year. He was working steadfast on a biography about Dennis O'Keefe before his untimely passing. Sadly, Joel planned to begin typing his book after the holiday.

Thankfully, his first book met fruition in 2010, Lloyd Nolan: An Actor's Life With Meaning, a biography about the actor who could play any character in any genre and was believable in every role. After reading the book, I was amazed to discover Nolan's off-screen life was just as remarkable. He was devoted to his autistic son Jay and, when young Jay died in an accident 2,500 miles away, Lloyd channeled his grief into action. For the rest of his life, he did everything he could to better the lives of disabled people and their families, and such people are still benefiting from the resulting legislation today.

"Joel Blumberg was the perfect co-author for a Lloyd Nolan biography because he was very familiar with Lloyd’s work and had a high regard for the man," recalled Sandra Grabman, his co-author. "The text he added to the book was wonderful, not only telling a bit about the films in which Lloyd appeared, but also their history and remakes. He certainly knew his stuff! It was through Joel that I met Lee Meriwether. [who attended the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention months prior]. We were in Los Angeles to do some Nolan research, but he had also scheduled a radio interview with Lee. He took me along to Theatre West and let me watch as he interviewed this very lovely, articulate, and kind lady."

"On the personal level, it’s very seldom that one comes across such a generous man," continued Sandra. "Joel learned that I was about to record some audio books, and responded by mailing me a professional microphone and mixer to use. He made himself available at any time, any place, to provide instruction for using them. When I was finished with this equipment, I asked if he’d like for me to return it. His response? 'Keep them. You might need them later.'"

Joel will no doubt be missed, but what he left behind cannot be expressed in words. Classic Images featured an obituary covering his career. And Joel, like anyone who helped preserve a little of the hobby, will be remembered for years to come. Somewhere, up in heaven, he will no doubt be looking down from Heaven and smiling.

Photos below were taken at the 2010 Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention and are courtesy of Mike Amowitz. Joel was instrumental in arranging for Marsha Hunt to attend the convention, having flown to California to meet her in person at her house, interview her for another project, and then called me moments after he pulled out of her driveway to tell me she would be coming as a guest. And of course, I could not turn down his request to interview her solo (not among a group of other celebrities). It was standing room only in the back room and the interview was broadcast live over for those who were not able to attend the convention that weekend.

Joel Blumberg and Marsha Hunt. Photo courtesy of Mike Amowitz.

Dawn Wells and Geri Reischl. Photo courtesy of Mike Amowitz.

Taking advantage of this posting, since I made mention of Silver Lode (1954) in an above paragraph, I am offering scans of original publicity photos distributed to movie theaters in 1954. I don't know when I'm going to have a chance in the future to feature a scan of these photos as I don't expect to do a write-up about the movie, considering Joel's commentary on the disc was fantastic and covers all the bases, so enjoy!