Run for Your Life
Photos and Video
Back in the '60s, the New York Road Runners Club was just a small group of men who ran on the streets of the Bronx. It took one eccentric first-generation Jewish immigrant from Transylvania to turn the NYRR into the largest organization of its kind in the world. Fred Lebow (the erstwhile Fischl Lebowitz) brought the runners to Central Park, where the first New York City Marathon was held in 1970. By the next year New York had two-thirds more runners than the Boston Marathon. But that was just the start for Lebow. Before "event marketing," when corporate sponsorship was in its infancy, Lebow was cutting deals, getting Playboy bunnies to race in the first women's mini-marathon, and helping to feed the growing popularity of running as a social activity. But it was the 26-mile, five-borough marathon, first held in 1976 during the city's financial crisis, that cemented Lebow's legacy. With a flair for showmanship, Lebow leveraged every opportunity, even the 1980 transit strike, to promote the benefits of running. He also faced scandals, including the Rosie Ruiz incident and revelations that he had paid athletes under the table. With New York City Marathon winners Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, and Grete Waitz on hand, as well as many of Lebow's former colleagues, filmmaker Judd Ehrlich (the Emmy-nominated Mayor of the West Side) takes an affectionate look at a New York hero who inspired runners worldwide to go the distance. Fred Lebow's story is the story of the New York Marathon, a scrappy race around Central Park that evolved into a five-borough event that attracts thousands of runners from around the world.
Director's Statement Collapse
This project was born out of my friendship with Moshe Katz, Fred Lebow's nephew. Moshe would tell me stories about his uncle that I had never heard on news reports. As a New Yorker, Fred's story spoke to me. I grew up here and I remember how he transformed the city each year putting on the marathon with glitz and flare. Fred was a showman and, like all performers, there was a side of his persona that few people really knew about. From any angle, he was character full of contradictions. I was drawn to exploring the mind of a man who created order by generating chaos, a man who came from an extremely traditional background but had little regard for conventional practices, a man who pioneered the women's running movement but was considered a womanizer, a man who ignited a fitness revolution but ran like a duck. What I found out when I began filming was that this was a story bigger than New York and its great race. It was bigger than even Fred himself. There was an intangible element that put this unlikely person in the right place at the right time to make history. As a filmmaker, I came to see that one of Fred's greatest gifts was the gift of a storyteller—that magic ability to spin the elements into something bigger than the sum of their parts, to pluck what is there and wave a magic wand over what is not.
Film Information Collapse
Cast & Credits Collapse
Principal Cast Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, Grete Waitz, Ed Koch, Percy Sutton, Ted Corbitt
Producer Judd Ehrlich
Director of Photography Ryo Murakami
Editor Alison Shurman
Co-Producer Samuel Bathrick
Visual Effects Nicholas Vranizan
Consulting Producer Moshe Katz
Connect to this film Collapse
About the Director(s)Collapse
Judd Ehrlich (b. 1971, New York City) produced and directed Mayor of the West Side, the Emmy-nominated coming-of-age story about a teenager with multiple disabilities. He collaborated on the editing of Ric Burns' epic PBS series New York and Macky Alston's Sundance award-winner Family Name. He also worked for the acclaimed PBS documentary series POV and edited for CBS News. Ehrlich created and curated multiple film series around New York City, hosting notables such as Darren Aronofsky, Steve Buscemi, Tony Kushner, Cyndi Lauper, and Willem Dafoe. He teaches documentary filmmaking in high schools and colleges and is a graduate of Vassar College. Ehrlich lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.