Hal Marienthal (1924-2011) Kept Lifeline of Teaching and Learning

Emeritus professor of English Hal Marienthal died on Jan. 3 after a long battle with cancer. Until his death, the native of Germany continued his 63-year teaching career through teaching and mentoring students in the Humanities External Master’s Degree (HUX) program at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and taught screenwriting at the University of North Carolina, Asheville.

Hal Marienthal, emeritus professor of English, in 2007

Hal Marienthal, emeritus professor of English, in 2007; courtesy of www.halmarienthal.com

“Hal contributed to the success of several programs and countless CSU Dominguez Hills students,” says Margaret Gordon, dean of the College of Extended and International Education. “He loved mentoring students, and his students adored and praised him. They frequently commented on how they cherished the knowledge and skills he generously shared with them along with his keen critical sensibility and eloquence. His passion, wit, and encyclopedic knowledge will be missed by the HUX community as well as by all who were inspired by his remarkable vitality.”

Marienthal was a member of the CSU Dominguez Hills faculty from 1966 to 1988. He served as founding chair of the theatre department when the university was still California State College, Dominguez Hills and located at the original across Victoria Street. Marienthal directed several plays at the university’s original arts venue, the Playbox Theatre, including “The Threepenny Opera” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

While teaching in the English, theatre arts, and communications departments at CSU Dominguez Hills, Marienthal continued to work in various areas of the industry, including film distribution, writing for FM, a publication on radio, and Fine Arts Magazine, and writing and hosting a weekly half-hour show called “The Theatre Beat” on KCET from 1968 to 1982. He also produced “Great Conversations,” a KNBC program hosted by educational philosopher Robert Maynard Hutchins. Marienthal won the Lyle E. Gibson Distinguished Teacher Award at CSU Dominguez Hills in 1975 and in 2007, he received the Distinguished Teacher Award at the University of North Carolina.

“Hal was always responsive to students and enthusiastic about their ideas,” says Patricia Cherin, coordinator of the HUX program whom Marienthal had recently contacted with his wish to teach this spring. “Until the very end, he wanted to teach and share himself with students.”

Marienthal earned his bachelor’s degree at the Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and his bachelor’s degree in English literature and master’s degree in American literature from Northwestern University. He taught theatre history at UCLA in the 1950s, and had made many connections in the film and television industry. In 1966, he went on to earn his doctorate in communications at the University of Southern California.

Marienthal was the author of the autobiographical novel, “Good Germans,” an account of his childhood in Nazi Germany. He presented a talk and a book signing for the 2005 work last April at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He also published “Nicholas Icarus,” a novel about a man who could fly, in 2007.

Marienthal is survived by his wife, Sabine Marienthal, daughters Penny Marienthal and Alisa Groocock; sons Paul Marienthal, Tony Marienthal, and Kim Marienthal; daughter-in-law Barbara Marienthal; son-in- law Hugh Groocock; four grandsons and one step-granddaughter. The family is holding a private memorial in the spring.


  1. Chris Macheras says:

    He was a great man. I met him at the Washington DC Holocaust Museum in 2010 and I have his signature and a message from him written in a copy of ‘Good Germans’. Lucky to have met him.

  2. UNCA Faculty says:

    Today, May 5, 2011 at 12:15 PM, the Mass Communication Department of UNC Asheville will dedicate a tree planted in honor of Hal Marienthal’s distinguished career, which included teaching seven years at UNC Asheville.

  3. James Sudalnik, Ph.D. says:

    Hal also taught in the Communications Department in the early 80’s. Because of his involvement at the flagship Los Angeles PBS station KCET-TV, where he wrote and hosted his weekly half-hour show “The Theatre Beat” for many years, Hal was a driving force in establishing TV/Video production as a curriculum (and scriptwriting as a long standing staple course) in the Communications Department.

    His involvement with then current broadcasting professionals allowed him to bring guest speakers to campus. His efforts in this regard succeeded in raising the awareness level of the Hollywood crowd as to the existence of the COM program, and the CSUDH campus in general. At the time, if memory serves, CSUDH was often referred to as “the best kept CSU secret campus” in the system! I distinctly remember our marketing materials at the time promised “a very low student-to-teacher ratio” and we stood out for that reason, attracting students who disliked large and impersonal universities.

    Hal’s efforts inspired me, as a newbie assistant prof at the time, to establish an Instructional Media TV/Video Internship program which blossomed into a COMMUNICATIONS Internship program in several related fields and successfully continues to this day, and is now a required course for graduation as well it should be. Hal’s influence back then has yielded far-reaching positive ramifications for thousands of COM students over the last thirty years for this reason alone, not to mention his other many achievements. Hundreds of students over the years took jobs at their internship sites after graduation. And, if you can believe this, at one point the department had to establish a policy which stated that firms offering internships could NOT hire our students prior to graduation! Thanks, Hal, you will be missed – but you are fondly remembered!

  4. Robin Harrison says:

    Dr. Marienthal was the heart and soul of the University Theatre Department, during his time there. His was a legacy which transcended the department and had a positive effect on the University as a whole. To merely state that he served as the founding chair, is understatement to the highest degree. He was statesmanlike in his effect on the campus community. Students, like myself, who had the highest privilege of being under his tutelage, still carry his influence with us today.
    Dr. Marienthal not only developed scholars, he strove to produce great people, leaders among men and women. I am currently a teacher because of him. Years ago, he told me to “never be afraid to succeed”, as he relentlessly encouraged me to pursue a career in acting. He also had me make a promise, which changed my life immensely. That promise was: when my days in theatre were done, that I would take all that I have learned from my teachers, and give back to young people. This was his commitment to is craft, and the influence he had on so many.
    There has never been another teacher like Dr. Marienthal, to grace the halls of the University Theatre, and there never be another person like him. He has overcome so many of so many of life’s trials, and lived to see, and become a part of history. As a former student, and friend, I delight in the fact that this gentle giant of a man, lived and taught life, until his last days.
    Thank you, Hal.

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