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ZINDLER, MARVIN HAROLD
ZINDLER, MARVIN HAROLD (1921–2007). Marvin Harold Zindler, Sr., longtime Houston television personality, journalist, and consumer advocate, was born on August 10, 1921, in Houston to Abe Zindler, Sr., and Udith (Mayer) Zindler. The Zindler family arrived in the U.S. from Austria in the late 1880s. Zindler's grandfather Ben Zindler operated a tailoring shop in downtown Houston until his death, when Abe Zindler, Sr., took over the family business. He soon expanded the enterprise into retail clothing. Abe Sr. served several terms as the mayor of Bellaire, beginning in the mid-1930s. His son Marvin was the fourth of six children born into the family. For a time, the family lived at 804 Westheimer but soon moved to a two-story home at the corner of Post Oak and Bellaire Boulevard.
As young adults, Marvin and his brothers often worked at the clothing store. But Abe Zindler, Sr., was often critical of his sons, especially Marvin, whom he considered shiftless and irresponsible. Such discord between Marvin and his father dissuaded the son from taking a permanent role in the family business. The relationship between the two continued to be acrimonious until Abe’s death in 1963.
As a youth, Marvin Zindler displayed diverse interests. He played in the Lamar High School band and became proficient on drums, piccolo, flute, and piano. He also participated in boxing and ROTC. After graduating from high school in 1939, Zindler studied music at John Tarleton Agricultural College (now Tarleton State University) in Stephenville. After about a year there, he took up a lucrative offer to return to the family store in Houston, but with the U.S. entry into World War II in December 1941, Zindler enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. His service was short-lived because the boots issued to him proved to be too small for his feet. Despite his protests, his feet became infected and walking soon turned difficult. He was eventually given a medical discharge. Zindler also sought to enlist in the U.S. Navy but was declined.
For decades Zindler was associated with law enforcement in Harris County. His interest began when he went on patrols with the Bellaire chief of police. During the wartime years, a shortage of Houston police officers allowed Zindler to join the department’s auxiliary police as a volunteer officer. His interest in police work soon landed him a position with the department’s vice squad.
In the 1940s Zindler, working part-time at his father’s store and with the police department, also worked as a disc jockey for radio station KATL. That and his experiences on the street as an officer led him to develop a news program called The Roving Mike. Zindler took radio listeners to various crime scenes around Houston and interviewed victims and officers on the spot. In the early 1950s he also worked as a photographer for the Houston Press.
His entry into television began around the same time when he worked as a contractor to provide film footage for KPRC-TV. That was short-lived as Zindler often claimed he was “too ugly” for television work. Another reason given for his termination was that TV stations soon shifted to producing their own content instead of contracting the work. Nonetheless, Zindler’s dissatisfaction with his appearance led him to undergo the first of many cosmetic surgeries.
In 1962 Zindler renewed his interest in law enforcement by working for the Harris County Sheriff’s Department. For a time he tracked down fugitives and established the department’s consumer fraud division. Ten years later Zindler was fired from the department following a change of leadership there. In 1973 he began working for KTRK-TV; the partnership would last the rest of his life.
Less than a year into his work at the television station, Zindler produced a week-long exposé on activities at the Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange. The ensuing fallout led to its closure and a fracas between him and Fayette County Sheriff Jim Flournoy that resulted in a $3 million The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982). He was portrayed in both productions as TV personality Melvin P. Thorpe.
In 1985 Zindler broke the story of financial improprieties involving the Hermann Hospital Estate, a story he considered his most significant. The bulk of his work for KTRK involved taking up causes for consumers who believed they had been wronged by the public and private sector. But his most familiar reports for the TV station were his “rat and roach” segments that highlighted the health inspections of Houston’s restaurants. The long-running, weekly features ended with his catch phrase, “SLIIME in the ice machine!” He signed a lifetime contract, unheard of in the television business, with KTRK in 1988.
In the 1980s Zindler took on global causes through activities such as the Marvin’s Angels initiative, in which doctors donated their services to provide free medical care for children. He, along with plastic surgeon Joseph Agris, established the Agris-Zindler Children’s Foundation to help make sure youths in some of the world’s poorest nations received medical treatment. While with KTRK, Zindler traveled to Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Africa, the Middle East, Cuba, and Russia to cover world affairs.
Zindler married Gertrude Stella Kugler on April 26, 1942. Together the two raised five children before her death in 1997. He married Niki Gale Devine on June 23, 2003. Zindler belonged to Congregation Beth Israel in Houston. He held memberships in the Jaycees and Braeburn Country Club and was a thirty-third-degree Mason.
Marvin Zindler died of pancreatic cancer on July 29, 2007, in Houston. He is buried at Congregation Beth Israel Memorial Gardens in Houston.
Dr. Joseph Agris, White Knight in Blue Shades: The Authorized Biography of Marvin Zindler (Houston: A-to-Z Publishing, 2002). Kent Demaret, The Many Faces of Marvin Zindler (Houston: Hunt Company, 1976). Eric Harrison, “Channel 13's Marvin Zindler dies at 85” (http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Channel-13-s-Marvin-Zindler-dies-at-85-1632658.php), accessed August 8, 2017. Houston Chronicle, July 31, 2007.
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