Kanarek's first career was as an aerospace engineer working for North American Aviation (NAA), where he invented a corrosion inhibitor for Inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid for the Army's Project Nike.
On July 12, 1954, while employed as a research engineer for North American Aviation, Kanarek lost his security clearance when the United States Air Force revoked it.[why?] On September 21, 1955 it was restored.[why?] He was dismissed from NAA.[when?][why?]
According to Tate-LaBianca prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, Kanarek was legendary in Los Angeles courts for his dilatory, obstructionist tactics. In his book, Helter Skelter, Bugliosi claimed Kanarek, in a different case, had once objected to a witness identifying himself; Kanarek claimed his name was hearsay because the witness had first heard it from his mother.
In the Tate-LaBianca trial, Kanarek objected nine times during opening statements, despite continuous censure by Judge Charles Older. During a later objection, he called witness Linda Kasabian insane, and by the third day of the trial, he had objected more than 200 times. According to author Jeff Guinn, jurors requested "NoDoz to ward off sleepiness" during his presentations, and he "infuriated his client so much" that Manson physically "attacked him in the courtroom." During the course of the trial he was jailed twice by Judge Older for contempt of court. In his summation, Bugliosi dubbed Kanarek "the Toscanini of Tedium."
Kanarek resigned from the California bar in 1990, aged 70, with charges pending. He is forbidden to practice law in that state.
Several movies have been made of the Manson Family in which Irving Kanarek is portrayed. In November 2008, a stage play premiered at Caltech in Pasadena, California, entitled Rocket Girl, about the life of Mary Sherman Morgan, a former co-worker of Kanarek at North American Aviation. The play was written by her son, George D. Morgan. The character of Kanarek appears throughout most of the play. The play was later turned into a book by the same title.
- Parsons, Dana (October 25, 1998). "Barred From World He Loved, Just Getting By Is a Trial". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, CA. Retrieved September 28, 2009.
- Sutton, George Paul (2006). History of liquid propellant rocket engines. Reston, Virginia: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-56347-649-5.
- US 2760845, Irving A. Kanarek & Paul E. Friebertshauser, "Stabilized Fuming Nitric Acid"
- "Irving A. KANAREK v. The UNITED STATES". Retrieved October 29, 2011.
- "Attorney Search". State Bar of California. Retrieved September 28, 2009.
- Bugliosi, Vincent; Gentry, Curt (1974). Helter Skelter. USA: Bantam Books. p. 379. ISBN 0553022229.
- Maslin, Janet (2013-08-06). "A New Look at Charles Manson, by Jeff Guinn". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-10.
- Bugliosi, Vincent; Gentry, Curt (1974). Helter Skelter. USA: Bantam Books. p. 549. ISBN 0553022229.
- Rocket Girl, georgedmorgan.com; accessed March 18, 2017.