Marvin Zindler

 Our Houston throwback Thursday #tbt this week is a look back at Marvin Zindler.

Partly because of his flamboyant showmanship (and partly because of that movie about him with Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton), he became not only locally well-known but also nationally known, recognized, and written about.

here were numerous news articles written about him during the span of his career and at the time of his death as well. President Bush even spoke of him upon hearing of his passing. And there are a lot of videos with him still available on youtube. I selected a few of the news articles and videos to share with you as we take a look back.

In this process, I found out a lot about Marvin Zindler that I didn’t know. For example,  he was a 33rd degree Freemason. And he used to be a deputy at the sheriff’s department. Also, he had all those plastic surgeries (and, you know, the hair) because someone early on had told him that he was too ugly to work in television, and that had affected him. But it hadn’t stopped him.

When Marvin Zindler worked for the sheriff’s department, his initial job there wasn’t helping consumers. That came later. Here’s an Associated Press piece that appeared in numerous newspapers in August 1965 describing his job at that time.

Marvin H. Zindler’s job involves going out to people’s homes or businesses and taking what they have.

He does it all legally. He is a deputy sheriff assigned to execute civil processes for the sheriff’s department. Much of his work involves attaching property in payment of judgements against various people. In the course of his work, Zindler has seized ambulances, limousines, boats, airplanes, animals, a supply of ice cream, and assorted caskets.

In 1971, he worked in the new commercial fraud and consumer protection division. Here’s an excerpt from a news article published November 27th, 1971:

A small office in the criminal courthouse houses the Harris County Sheriff’s Department’s newly created commercial fraud and consumer protection division.

“The response has been absolutely tremendous,” sheriff Sgt. Marvin Zindler said.

Most days citizens have lined the hallway outside the door waiting to air their complaints about everything from a palm reader to a canned ham that did not weigh as much as advertised.

Criminal charges are now being filed in cases where consumers believe they have been swindled, which before were considered civil matters,” Zindler said.

He said the complaints ranged from reports of crooked roofing contractors to phony exterminators.

“Of course most contractors, exterminators, car dealers, carpet salesmen are honest,” Zindler said, “but the sheriff wanted to protect the consumers who are swindled by con men. They seem to prey on the elderly and poor minorities.”

And here’s a news article from January 7th, 1972 talking about how the Better Business Bureau had accused him of being a publicity-seeker and gives his response to that.

The new consumer detail is the brainchild of Marvin H. Zindler, a police officer as unusual and controversial as the unit itself.

Born in a wealthy Houston family, this 50-year-old bon vivant has a knack for publicity and a personality as flamboyant as his handlebar moustache {sic}.

The Houston Better Business Bureau charges that Sgt. Zindler is a publicity seeker who makes “generalized, irresponsible public statements.”

The organization, which is concerned with business ethics, insists its financial support from merchants doesn’t influence its stand.

“We are in complete favor of the department if it solves problem, but we are against trying of businessmen before television cameras instead of the courts,” says Richard McClain, president of the bureau.

To the charge of publiciity-seeking, Sgt. Zinder replies: “I like to share my experiences with the community, be they mistaken, tragic or humorous, If that is publicity-seeking, then that is the right word for what I do.”

This news article by J. Michael Kennedy in The Los Angeles Times (March 5th 1990) explained some of his earlier tactics.

  Although the Chicken Ranch episode put him on the map, Zindler was not without notoriety in his earlier days. Before he joined the television station, he was a deputy sheriff in the consumer fraud division. His affectation of the day was a pince-nez. He hauled in female prisoners in mink-covered handcuffs.
     When he was going to make an arrest, he would often call the media to make sure it received proper attention.  Once, he delayed arresting the owner of an auto dealership because the television crew couldn’t make it at the originally scheduled time.

Not everyone was happy with his tactics though. And when fired from the sheriff’s department, Marvin Zindler was quoted at the time as saying, “Sometimes God works in strange ways, and maybe this is just one of them.” Soon after, he was working for KTRK news, where he was able to continue doing something he’d started at the sheriff’s department – helping consumers.

Here is a quick clip of a Marvin Zindler promo. (Though whoever uploaded it to youtube got his name wrong. Oh well.)

An article from July 31st 2007 by Jim Bishop mentioned the parallels between what Zindler did with the sheriff’s department and what he did with the news station.

Excerpts from an article in The Los Angeles Times on March 5th, 1990 by J. Michael Kennedy:

It was the lunch hour and Marvin Zindler opened the door of the Sunset Tea House.
     Then the oddest thing happened. Heads turned, eyes focused then clicked with recognition. Mouths curved into smiles. And people actually began to clap.
     Zindler didn’t even break stride. This kind of thing happens to him wherever he goes. People are constantly asking him for his autograph. Passers by he has never met treat him like a long-lost cousin.
     Marvin Zindler, you see, is the most famous person in Houston. If he and the mayor were to walk into a room, the smart money would bet on Zindler as the one who would draw the most attention.
     His official job description is that of consumer affairs reporter for Station KTRK, the local ABC affiliate. But to his legions of followers, that’s like saying Babe Ruth played baseball.
     Zindler brays and bellows. He pounds his fist in righteous indignation and makes mincemeat of the English language in the process. He’s also the guy responsible for the closing of the Chicken Ranch, once the best-known whorehouse in Texas.
But most of all, he stands up for the little guy and gets things done. When all else fails, as it often does, people in Houston turn to Marvin–everyone calls him Marvin. Letters asking for his help run at a clip of about 50,000 a year.
True, there are other consumer advocates out there, including the well-known David Horowitz in Los Angeles. But Zindler is an original. And if the ranting were not enough, there is the Zindler look: the dandified clothes, the snowy wig, the pearly white capped teeth, the blue-tinted sunglasses, the ever-present pancake makeup and enough plastic surgery to make Phyllis Diller jealous.
Finally, there is the famous Zindler sign-off, in which, after having righted yet another wrong, he peers into the camera and pauses before the Vesuvian eruption.

At which point Dave Ward, the anchorman, turns to him each night and deadpans a “Thank you, Marvin,” as if what he had just witnessed was not one of the more unusual events in television news.

The following quote was said by Marvin Zindler on Late Night with David Letterman, October 14th, 1982:

“I don’t particularly care about the word consumer advocate because it takes in all kinds of problems, inequities I feel. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone went out and bought something. It’s all kinds of problems.”

He also does a baton twirling scene in the video clip. It begins at 14:12.


This article from November 6th, 1993 (The Victoria Advocate) describes his style and his baton twirling on halftime at Rice’s homecoming game. But explains that it’s “entertainment with a mission.”

Houston (AP) – Don’t let the carefully coiffed white hairpiece, the blue-tinted sunglasses, the snazzy suits or the surgically smoothed face fool you — Marvin Zindler is no phony.

Well yes, it was amusing when the 72-year-old Zindler pranced onto the football field recently and twirled a baton at halftime during Rice’s homecoming game against Texas A&M. Rice lost, but Zindler didn’t miss a toss.

And yes, Zindler surely is the loudest and most flamboyant person on local television. But this sometimes pushy, always showy, consumer reporter is always serious when he battles the bad guys.

Call it entertainment with a mission. Zindler does. “I think we’re in show business here,” Zindler said recently in his cramped office at KTRK-TV. But by doing this we can communicate the problems.”

For two decades now, Zindler has charged onto the airwaves to rant about the plight of the poor, the sick, the old and disabled. He also has exposed shysters and scam artists, among many other small and large inequities in life.

“What makes me the angriest is when people are destitute and they are turned away by some kind of governmental office or bureaucratic office or the hospitals, or someone turns them away and they desperately need help,” he said. “That’s what makes me mad.”

Some bristle at his tactics and others cringe at his exaggerated style, but everybody certainly knows him. And with a lifetime contract at KTRK, Zindler plans to be around for a while.

“What I try to do is show my anger because I want people to feel the same thing,” he said, “I want them to be upset like I am.”

With the tone of a Baptist preacher, Zindler causes a stir on KTRK’s weekly newscasts at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. The station’s management shows more than 1 million people watch him daily.

Friday’s are reserved for his famed dirty restaurant reports in which he names the local eateries cited for health violations that week, but the other days are filled with various reports.

Zindler hates life’s “inequities,” and thrives on going after those who take advantage of the little guy. But he said he never really had it hard, growing up in a nice Houston suburb.

He worked in journalism before KTRK, but he was with the Harris County sheriff’s consumer fraud
division when Houston’s Channel 13 offered him a job. He joined the station in January 1973.

“I never quit wearing a badge except I use the camera as a badge now,” he said.

His greatest claim to fame came later that year when his reports forced the closing of the Chicken Ranch, a legendary house of prostitution in La Grange, Texas.

That expose did a lot to make Zindler famous, especially in Houston. He can’t walk down the street without people starting at him, calling out to him, asking him for advice.

He’s a Houston fixture, and even out-of-towners have been known to get this advice: Shop at the Galleria, visit the Johnson Space Center and watch Marvin Zindler.

It’s the hair, the sunglasses, and the suits that first catch the eye. Without any prodding, he says that he has had four full facelifts and several more minor surgeries, buys 12 hairpieces a year and has about 75 suits.

(Zindler explains he was told long ago he was too ugly for television, and he also believes TV reporters should dress up for work.)

And if the clothes and the hair don’t grab you, the slogans surely will. It isn’t a great restaurant report if he doesn’t yell, “SLIMMMMME in the ICCCCCCCCE Machine,” and a piece about poverty usually is accompanied by his favorite, “It’s HELL to be poor!”

Then there’s the traditional sign-off: “MARVIN Zindler, EEEYE-Witness NEWSSSSSS!!”

“I just have to let it all out there at the end,” he explains. “I get it from my father,” he explains. “He yelled and yelled. It’s a Zindler trait.”

The station’s management did ask Zindler to tone it down a bit years ago, and Zindler obliged.
But so many people called in worried he was sick that management gave up its quest for a more mellow Marvin.

Zindler insists he’s calmed some over the years, but he has a sharp response when asked if he has ever been afraid of anyone on the job.

“No, I do the intimidating,” a dead-serious Zindler said. “That’s my job.”

His off-air conversation is sprinkled with obscenities and he sometimes loses his temper with co-workers and those he interviews, even the ones he sympathizes with. But he also can be genuine and kind – and surprisingly softspoken.

He has his detractors but there are many who admire him, and he gets several hundred letters a day from fans and those wanting help.

In early July of 2007, it was announced that Marvin Zindler had pancreatic cancer. Here was his statement about it:


And though the plastic surgeries Marvin had for himself are well known, upon hearing his passing, President Bush recalled other surgeries that Marvin had helped make possible.

31 July 2007

President Bush praised flamboyant TV newsman Marvin Zindler for helping victims of Saddam Hussein’s regime receive prosthetic hands in 2004.

Zindler, who died Sunday from complications of pancreatic cancer at 85, raised money for the surgeries and encouraged doctors to perform the procedures.

“Marvin was a Texas legend with a bigger than life personality who dominated Houston TV for decades,” Bush said in a statement. “He was also a kind and compassionate man who made it his life’s work to help others in need.”

Here are excerpts from an article published July 31st, 2007 by Jim Bishop:

As the consumer reporter for KTRK-TV, the ABC affiliate in Houston, Marvin righted a lot of wrongs and got justice for a lot of victimized consumers and other citizens.

Marvin faithfully continued to do his duties as an investigative reporter and consumer watchdog for many years. And for every journalist who ever publicly chuckled at his over-the-top TV sign-off: “MARVIN ZINDLER, IIIIIIIIIIWITNESSNEWS,” there was also a silent respect for his tireless efforts on behalf of the little guy.

Those who knew him will tell you that despite his flamboyant style, Marvin was sincerely concerned about the many people he helped, folks who had many times tried

Here’s a portion of his obituary. The complete obituary can be found at this link.

MARVIN HAROLD ZINDLER, SR., a well-known and tenured broadcast journalist, passed away peacefully on Sunday evening, the 29th of July 2007. A native Houstonian, Marvin was born on the 10th of August 1921 to the late Abe and Udith Mayer Zindler. After serving in United States Marine Corp, Marvin joined the family’s retail clothing business, Zindler’s, and then pursued a variety of interests. He served twelve years with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department where he started the Consumer Fraud Division during a time when consumer advocacy was very much in need. Following his career in law enforcement, Marvin began his broadcast journalism career with ABC 13 where he served for thirty-five years as the community’s consumer advocate. He developed a legacy of providing thoughtful and sincere assistance to those in need; many of whom having found themselves in situations where there was no one else to turn to. Many tributes and stories have detailed Marvin’s professional life and his career; and the family is indeed grateful for the many considerate expressions, kind remarks, and professional compliments. In addition to his professional career, Marvin was a 33rd Degree Mason at Temple Lodge No. Four, a member of Congregation Beth Israel, a lifetime member of the Jaycee’s, and a member of the Braeburn Country Club. Marvin’s passions were his beloved family, his professional life and nurturing the many friendships he developed along the way, and his golf games at Braeburn. He always looked forward to the annual golf tournaments benefiting two organizations very dear to him, the Houston Ear Research Foundation and Houston Eye Associates Foundation.
In lieu of usual remembrances, the family suggests contributions in memory of Marvin be directed to the Marvin H. Zindler, Sr. Fund for Pancreatic Cancer Research, in care of Dr. Robert Wolff, MD Anderson Cancer Center,

Bonus video here. Might add one or two.



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