Marvin Eisenman dies at 83; owner of vast video and DVD collection
On his business cards, Marvin Eisenman called himself a “film detective,” but to the unofficial Hollywood network that benefited from his unusually large personal collection of videos and DVDs, he was simply Marvin of the Movies.
Over the last quarter-century, the retired grocery store manager had amassed about 42,000 titles while indulging in a hobby that had grown “far past” an addiction, he often said.
Movie stars, producers and scholars searching for a rare or obscure film often came calling. The walls of the studio at his Encino home were covered in photographic proof — signed “thank you” glossies from such famous names as Frank Sinatra and Cher.
“He used to say, ‘The tough titles take a little time to find, and the impossible ones take a little longer,’ ” said Howard Green, a Walt Disney Studios spokesman who was searching for rare films when he met Eisenman in the late 1980s.
Eisenman died Sunday at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Woodland Hills from complications related to heart disease, his family said. He was 83.
“He took such pleasure in helping anybody who wanted to see a movie,” said Leonard Maltin, a film critic and historian who “couldn’t begin to count” how many times he borrowed from Eisenman’s library.
“As far as I know, he never took a nickel in return,” Maltin said. “It was for the sheer satisfaction of being able to deliver a movie.”
Eisenman bluntly spelled out his philosophy to The Times in 1995: “A true collector is willing to share; otherwise, he’s a hog.”
Producer Howard Koch was seeking a copy of the 1962 film “The Manchurian Candidate” years before it was released on video when he called Eisenman.
“Yeah, Frank, he has it,” Eisenman heard Koch say. “That’s how I got my autographed picture of Sinatra,” Eisenman said in the documentary short “Marvin of the Movies,” released earlier this year.
When actor William Conrad told Maltin that he was eager to see “I Met Him in Paris” (1937) because it had influenced him as a young man, Maltin contacted Eisenman.
He answered the phone, “Hi, it’s Marvin from the Movies,” and once again came through.
The nickname was bestowed by Ira Fistell, a KABC-AM (790) radio host who featured Eisenman on his Friday night show for a decade beginning in the 1980s.
“Marvin was one of those very useful, eccentric people that turn up in your life,” said Richard Schickel, a film critic and historian. “The quality of his tapes were not exactly wonderful, but when tapes and discs didn’t proliferate the way they do now, he was a very useful ally.”
A Los Angeles native, Eisenman liked to say he was born the day “The Jazz Singer” premiered, Oct. 6, 1927.
At 5, he was sweeping the lobby of a Boyle Heights movie theater, and he eventually became an usher for an Eastside theater chain.
In the late 1940s, he served as a cook in the merchant marine in Japan.
For nearly four decades, Eisenman worked in and managed grocery stores, including the Hollywood Ranch Market and Toluca Mart.
On disability leave in 1979 after a series of knee injuries, Eisenman later said he felt like he was fading away into retirement with his first wife, Lucille, who was ill. She died in 1987 after 41 years of marriage.
Movies on tape were the solution. After buying his first videocassette recorder in 1985, he rented “The Whispering Shadow,” a serial he had seen as a child.
“It wasn’t enough to see it,” he told The Times in 1996. “I had to have it.”
By the late 1990s, he had 24 VCRs, including one Betamax, and five TVs. He had a fondness for serials, and his rarest was a Brenda Starr serial from 1945.
After marrying Elaine Glick in 1992, he moved into her home, and they added a studio to house his trove, which included short features, cartoons and TV episodes. He traded films with collectors around the world.
His family has tentative plans to donate his collection to a film library.
“You have to give something back,” Eisenman said on CNN in 1997, and he did so by programming film festivals at the Valley Storefront Jewish Family Service.
Hunting down old movies was a way to recapture his youth, he told The Times in 1995, then wistfully added: “Often, the films are good, but not quite as good as we remembered.”
In addition to his second wife, Elaine, Eisenman is survived by three children from his first marriage, Leon Eisenman, Rosalyn Savage and Judy Rundle; five stepchildren, Debbie Glick, Robbie Gershkowitz, Sandra Ridley, Ronnie Glick and Beth Glick; 16 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at Eden Memorial Park, 11500 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills.
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