YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


The 'M' in Marvin Stands for Movies

Eisenman has 23 VCRs and 25,000 videos. He spends many hours putting together festivals and seminars. All for the love of films.


It's matinee time at the Valley Storefront senior center in North Hollywood, and Marvin of the Movies is warming up the crowd.

Al Jolson--star of the first talkie, "The Jazz Singer"--was the greatest entertainer of all time, he tells the 20 or so retirees in the audience. Terrible actor, he says, but a great performer. No. 2? Elvis Presley. Hands down.

Some dissenters--supporters of Eddie Cantor or Sammy Davis Jr.--speak up, but there is a certain authority to Marvin Eisenman, the host of this weekly screening. You may disagree with him, but you're not likely to win an argument--at least not about movies. In his head is an immeasurable catalog of titles, stars and directors.

In Eisenman's Encino house is a more measurable collection: 25,000 videos--more than twice as many as any Blockbuster boasts.

To call Eisenman a man obsessed with movies is not an insult. It's an understatement.

He was born the day that "The Jazz Singer" had its premiere in 1927. His first job, at age 5, was sweeping the lobby of the National Theater in Boyle Heights; at 8, he was changing the letters on the theater marquee. Eventually he became an usher and worked at all the theaters in an Eastside chain. The 25 cents an hour he got was nice pay, but it was more important that they let him into the movies for free.


Even though he was growing up on the outskirts of Hollywood, it never dawned on Eisenman to look for a movie-related job. He didn't have the confidence. So for most of his working life, Marvin of the Movies was a grocery store clerk.

After a series of knee injuries, he retired in 1979 and invested in several apartment buildings. To hear him tell it, Eisenman and his wife were fading into a retirement abyss when they bought that first VCR in 1985. It marked a turning point no one could have predicted. Eisenman first went in search of "The Whispering Shadow" serial he'd seen as a kid, and found the episodes at Eddie Brandt Saturday Matinee to rent. "It wasn't enough to see it," Eisenman remembered. "I had to have it."

He bought another VCR. And another. And more and more tapes. He started calling Ira Fistell during his nighttime radio show on KABC-AM (790). For 10 years they had a standing date: at 11:06 p.m. each Friday, Eisenman would call in and they would talk movies. It was Fistell who first dubbed Eisenman "Marvin of the Movies." The only show Eisenman ever missed was the week his first wife died in 1987.

On this Thursday morning at the Valley Storefront, Eisenman is screening "The House of Rothschild." He tells the group about one of its stars, Boris Karloff, and the real-life financier Meyer Rothschild. Before the film starts, though, Freda Spar, 74, asks for some collecting tips. She started in 1987, but she only has 500 movies so far.

She doesn't stand a chance of catching up. Eisenman's VCRs have multiplied like rabbits over the years. He has a 16-by-30-foot "studio" in the house he shares with his second wife, Elaine Glick. In it are 23 VCRs, one Betamax, five TVs, one laserdisc player, a satellite dish hookup, a video projector and a 6-foot screen. Like some telecommunications cowboy, Eisenman will fire off two remote controls, editing commercials out of movies he's taped from television, while three other machines whir in the background. He can tape up to 10 movies at once.

"There are times I go into the studio and I forget what time it is," Eisenman said.


He doesn't seem to forget much else. He can remember that he quit smoking--he'd been a four-packs-a-day man--on Nov. 15, 1988. It was a Tuesday. At 10 a.m. But the 212 boxes of videotapes have gotten to be a bit much to keep track of. A few months ago he hired someone to come in and catalog the movies. So far, she's punched 20,500 titles into the computer . . . and she's not done.

The question became what to do with all these movies. He'd loan them out. He also has gathered quite a collection of autographed photos by making copies of hard-to-find films for celebrities (his business card labels him "Film Detective"), such as a copy of "The Manchurian Candidate" for Frank Sinatra, years before the video was released.

In the last few years, he's started programming his own film festivals, like the one here at the Valley Storefront Jewish Family Service, a nonsectarian multipurpose center for senior citizens and their families. A set of four Jewish films ends today, and next week he begins a five-week series of musicals--including "42nd Street" and "The Eddie Cantor Story"--on Tuesdays at 12:30 p.m. August is reserved for a tribute to Gene Kelly. The screenings are free and open to anyone.

Los Angeles Times Articles