House Calls? Dr. Marshall Goldberg Arrives in Millions of Canadian and American Homes by Television

updated 11/17/1980 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/17/1980 01:00AM

For three and a half days a week, Dr. Marshall Goldberg heads the endocrinology department at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Mich., teaches and conducts a private practice. By noon every Thursday, the 49-year-old doctor sighs, "I'm sick of patients." He metamorphoses after that, but into what depends on whim or circumstances: Goldberg the novelist, Goldberg the Canadian TV talk-show star or Goldberg the ABC-TV medical reporter.

At the moment he is busy contributing to ABC's new science-adventure show Quest, which is expected to premiere later this season. Goldberg will write and narrate segments on developments in medicine. The first one, about neuropeptides, the natural brain chemicals that control behavior, is already on tape. He has also done spot assignments lot ABC World News Tonight on such stories as the late Marshal Tito's illness, a form of gangrene. "When I interview a fellow doctor," Goldberg says, "he isn't able to snow me. I have him talk medicine in plain language."

Goldberg first got involved in television while serving his residency at a University of Wisconsin hospital in Madison in 1962. He wrote a 110-page novel, which he ended up selling to Richard Chamberlain's then popular Dr. Kildare TV series because a friend knew a Kildare producer. Since then Goldberg has compiled two dozen TV drama credits, among them two 1977 NBC movies based on his novels Critical List and Skeletons. Another novel, The Anatomy Lesson, has been optioned as a theatrical film.

The hero in several of Goldberg's books is a doctor described in one cover blurb as "a brilliant internist and an idealist who finds himself trapped between politics and human suffering." Goldberg himself, who dropped out of the AMA when he decided "it's just a union," says his character is "an idealized version of me, much more in command of his life than I am."

His unusual on-camera career began after he plugged his books on TV talk shows. He was such a hit on Canada AM—seen in every major Canadian city—that he became its regular medical expert in 1976. Now he commutes to Toronto once or twice a month to tape his weekly segments.

"He's incredible," gushes Howard Bernstein, the show's producer. "Two years before the FDA report was published, he told people about the benefits of aspirin in preventing heart disease. He comes off as extremely trustworthy, like a medical Cronkite."

Goldberg was a childhood chemistry whiz while growing up in North Adams, Mass. His sister Toby, now a communications professor at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, recalls: "Marshall took all the money from his bar mitzvah and bought chemicals to make plastics, synthetic rubber and explosives. The family was terrified."

Goldberg's parents ran an Army-Navy store; his father was an ex-boxer. "I took up fighting," the son remembers, "because it was the only way to get close to him. I had my nose broken four times. I stopped boxing my first year in medical school when I saw the damage to brains caused by blows to the head."

He graduated with high honors from the University of Rochester, took his M.D. at Tufts, where he married a lab technician, and went into the Army. Stationed in Paris for 30 months, Goldberg delivered the babies of the wives of top-ranking officers. When he came back to the U.S., his marriage broke up. He has two grown children, both Yale students, by that union, and three by a second marriage that ended after 11 years in 1977. Now he dates a Lansing woman who is a political organizer.

Goldberg plans to continue his series of novels about contemporary medicine. "I want to be," he says, only half-joking, "the Dickens of the medical profession." Since 1966 he has taught at Michigan State's College of Human Medicine, winning its "outstanding teacher" award in 1973. He also helped establish a medical clinic for the poor in Fayette, Miss, and earned an NAACP award in 1974.

"Marshall will never achieve everything he wants to," says sister Toby, "because he wants to achieve everything."

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