JIM VANCE YESTERDAY AND TODAY
Photo 1) Back to Hollywood salute to actor/producer Robert Hooks Photo 2) Tribute to Ohio State local athletes Cornelius Greene, Lenny Willis and Woodrow Roach. Special guest Coach Woody Hayes and Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin. Photo 3) Washington Bullets star guard Wesley Mathews models as the late great WHUR Radio DJ Melvin Lindsey (The Original Quiet Storm) and Jim Vance co-host KIT fashion show
Photo 1) Jim Vance and HBell mentor students at the Roy Jefferson NFL Reading Center in NW DC Photo 2) Kids In Trouble annual toy drive, Santa’s Helpers LR: Roy Jefferson, Jim Vance, Tim Baylor, George Nock, Robert Hooks, K. C. Jones, Eldridge Spearman, Derrick Humphries and Willie Wood. Kneeling, Keith Wade and HBell. Photo 3) Former kid in trouble boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard honors fallen fighter Photo 4) Jim Vance, Hattie T and Washington pro football player the late LB Pete Wysocki.
It was announced in news media outlets that popular NBC WRC-TV 4 news anchor Jim Vance would be retiring from the airwaves after 45 years on the DC news beat. There were stories in the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, USA Today and every television and radio station in the DVM as it related to his 45 year news media odyssey.
The announcement brought back memories and my Inside Story as it related to the trials and tribulations of Jim Vance. I remember when he first arrived on the DC scene. It was 1969 one year after the riots that hit inner-cities around this country, including Washington, DC. Black television news anchors were none existent and the white news reporters and anchors had no clue. There were no black contacts to cover the stories (Max Robinson was the exception) they needed in the black community.
I also remember exactly where I was the day that Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. I was standing on the corner of 9th and U Streets with my co-worker Willie Wood. We had just finished lunch at the popular restaurant Che Maurice. Willie is a native Washingtonian who played for the NFL World Champions Green Bay Packers. But during the off season he would return home and work for either the DC Public School system or the DC Recreation Department. You must remember, NFL players were not making the kind of asinine money today’s players are making so working during the off-season was a necessity. On that bright sun shiny day in April 1968 someone drove by and shouted out of a car window, “They just killed Dr. King in Memphis!” Willie and I were lost for words. We were asked by our Director of the DC Recreation Department Roving Leader Program, the late Stan Anderson to stay on the streets because of our high profiles, but for us to be careful–that was an understatement.
As Willie and I walked the U Street corridor we were joined by the late U. S. Marshall in charge Luke C. Moore a DC resident. Luke was the first modern day black to head the U. S. Marshall service. He had been appointed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Luke, Willie and I walked arm and arm down the U Street corridor. Once we got to Ben’s Chili Bowl, Luke spotted Ben Ali the owner of the restaurant standing out front with several other businessmen. He left us to see what was happening and was told by Ben that they had gotten orders via the White House to shut down all businesses. Luke returned to us and explained their dilemma. He told us to hang on and he would be right back. When he returned he had good news. He had spoken with President Johnson and convinced him to allow Ben’s to remain open because someone had to be open for first respondents, doctors and nurses, law enforcement, fire departments, military personnel and youth advocates like myself, we all would need a place to eat. Ben’s Chili Bowl would be the only business in the community allowed to stay open during the riots. The U Street corridor and the neighborhoods in the area suffered damages that would take almost 30 years to recover.
2015 marked 50 years I had been working in the Cardozo/Shaw U Street corridor with youth gangs and at-risk children. The revolution of black television reporters all started with Max Robinson. He was the first black to work in local television in Washington, DC. He was the first black hired at WRC-TV 4 in the early 60s and then he moved over to WTOP TV 9 in 1969. It was Max who kicked the doors down in local and the national television markets for black brothers like Jim Vance and Lester Holt. Max was the first black to anchor the evening news at ABC News. Jim followed Max to WRC-TV 4 after the riots. My nick name for Max Robinson was “Mad Max” I don’t think he liked the name very much but he never said anything. There were rumors already floating around about his abuse of alcohol and drugs. It was reported that he fired a gun off in his apartment building one evening in a drunken stupor. Max and I were like passing ships in the night, until he introduced me to his parents at the 1987 CIAA Basketball Tournament in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. This was one year before his passing. It was a “watershed” moment for me as he gushed over my sports talk radio show Inside Sports to his parents.
Television Trail Blazer Max Robinson
I was already in the war zones of the inner-city when Jim Vance arrived in 1969. I started work with the United Planning Organization, a community self-help group in 1965 on the U Street corridor. The organization hired three Neighborhood Workers, Petey Greene, H Rap Brown and me. I left for the DC Recreation Department in 1967 when UPO gave the department a grant to fund a Youth Gang Task Force for its elite Roving Leader Program with the stipulation, that I would be one of the Task Force members hired. H. Rap Brown would also leave UPO to take over the reigns of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) replacing Marion Barry. Petey stayed on with UPO and became a stand-up comedian, radio and legendary television talk show host. There was an attempt to make a movie of his life several years ago (Talk to Me) but it failed miserably, because Dewey Hughes made it his story.
Jim Vance would later join Dave Bing, Willie Wood, Petey Greene, Luke Moore, Sonny Hill and Roy Jefferson as a member of my reach-back efforts in the inner-city. The NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball “I CARE” programs exist because they followed my lead into the community. Dave Bing (NBA 1967), Willie Wood (NFL 1968) and Chuck Hilton (MLB 1970).
In 1972 NFL Films record the first ever community service television promote at Hillcrest Children’s Center Saturday Program in DC. Washington pro football players RB Larry Brown and LB Harold McLinton are shown with CBS crew teaching water safety to inner-city kids. LR: Larry and Harold standing with towels wrapped around them and that is me kneeling.
In December 1968 my wife Hattie and I found our non-profit organization Kids In Trouble, Inc. We would use it as a vehicle in the fight to give inner-city children an equal opportunity to grow-up to be healthy, wealthy and wise. In December 2013 after 45 years of Christmas toy parties for needy elementary school children we took a step back and retired the toy party program. When we started our first toy party after the riots in 1968 the only organization giving toys away city-wide to needy children were the United States Marines. The KIT toy party benefited thousands of kids in the DMV without grants or loans. The KIT community toy party has since been copied in every city and by every organization in America.
Washington pro football players, NFL Hall of Fame player Dave Robinson, the late Harold McLinton (Santa) and Roy Jefferson play Santa’s Helpers for inner-city children.
In the past 45 years there have been dozens of newspaper, magazines, radio and television stories on the trials and tribulations of Jim Vance. His media and community odyssey in the alleys, side streets, highways and byways in the DVM have truly been movie worthy (Believe it or Not). If you don’t think there is a television God, then you don’t know the Jim Vance story. There are dozens of them in this city but I can only tell one, mine.
The Marvin Gaye story could have easily been the Jim Vance story—similar only in a tragic ending due to the love of drugs. The big difference Marvin didn’t have anyone to make him pee in a cup twice a week as NBC made Vance. The procedure was implemented after he was stopped by the police late one night walking on the Beltway. He was so high he left his Porshe automobile running on the side of the road and decided to walk his way off the beltway. The television station and his wife Kathy a former TV-4 producer and the late George Michael of the Sports Machine deserved all the credit for saving his life and his career–they had a vested interest.
George arrived on the television sports media scene in 1980 during the time when Inside Sports was kicking butts and taking names. I had just been named “Washingtonian of the Year” by Washingtonian Magazine for my groundbreaking work in the inner-city.
George hit the scene with pom-poms, and a cheerleader’s mega-phone. He had everything but the short skirt of a cheerleader. George was the best description of a “Homer.” A Homer is someone who roots for the home team and lacks objectivity. I loved the home team as much as anyone else in sports media but if they stunk the join up I was going to call it exactly like I saw it, no sugar coating! I have always thought it was great to have a winning team to report on in the business of sports media. I could never understand how anyone growing up in DC could go into a stadium or arena and root for the Cowboys (despite the Redskin’s racist history), New York Yankees, Rangers or Knicks against the home team!
George and I got off on the wrong foot because I would call him out on my radio sports talk show and give him the blues about being “The King of Cheerleaders” in DC sports media. He ignored me until one of the media critics Dennis Tuttle wrote a story in the Washington Star in 1989 with my photo next to TV 9 sportscaster the late Glen Brenner. The headline read, “Area Sportscasters walk a Fine Line Covering the Redskins
SPORTS MACHINE’S GEORGE MICHAEL
The next day after the story was published I get a telephone call at W-U-S-T Radio after my 5 o’clock sports show, on the other end of the line was TV 4 sportscaster George Michael. He says, “Is this Harold Bell” and I say, ‘It surely is.’ And everything went down hill from there. One year later I get a call at the station from George with a different tone of voice saying, ‘Mr. Bell I just want to say, you are doing a hell of a job with the kids in the community and I got Jim’s back. Have a great Thanksgiving.’ One week later I get letter from George with a $500 check for my annual Christmas toy party for needy children. Evidently, he did his homework, because he had all ‘The Usual Suspects” on his weekend talk show, John Thompson (GT), James Brown (CBS), Michael Wilbon (Washington Post), Doc Walker (NFL) and last but not least Jim Vance, who I am sure gave him the 411 as it related to Harold Bell. This is the best example; ‘Respect is earned and not just given.’
A cover story in Washingtonian Magazine several years ago read “Inside Jim Vance“ inquiring minds wanted to know ‘how could a handsome brother making $300,00 a year be unhappy and insecure?’ They could have added ‘and how can he be so paranoid’ to the list.
In the 70s and 80s Jim and I were joined at the hip when it came to sports and community involvement. When he arrived in DC I was already an athletic and community icon. In 1971 I became the first black to host and produce his own radio sports talk show in Washington, DC. I thank my mentor and friend the notorious Petey Greene. Petey an ex-con and drug abuser had his own talk show. It aired on W-O-L Radio on Sunday evenings BCH (before Cathy Hughes). He gave me 5 minutes every Sunday to talk sports. I parlayed that opportunity into obtaining my own sports talk show “Inside Sports.” The ground breaking show aired on W-O-O-K Radio and the rest is sports talk radio history.
Jim Vance supported the Hillcrest Children’s Center Saturday Program that Hattie and I found for neighborhood children immediately after the riots. The program was located in the heart of the inner-city (14th & W Streets, NW). The program housed Christmas toy parties, Celebrity Fashion Shows, Tennis Tournaments and mentoring programs. KIT supported local athletes and media personalities like Radio & TV One’s Cathy Hughes, GT Coach John Thompson, Boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and Ohio State QB Cornelius Greene, to name just a few before their 15 minutes of fame.
Inside Sports Celebrity Tennis Tournament (Anacostia Tennis Courts SE)
The Original Inside Sports dominated sports talk in DC with guest like Muhammad Ali, Red Auerbach, Jim Brown, Dr. J, Dave Bing and the list goes on and on.
The late great NBA legend Red Auerbach and his wife Dotie guest host on Inside Sports. Special guest via telephone was tennis great Jimmy Connors.
When WRC-TV 4 weekend sports anchor Martin Wyatt’s career stalled with station management he left for a television anchor job out west in San Francisco. Jim made sure I was called in to audition for the vacancy (CBS NFL Host James Brown would follow). I didn’t make the cut and moved on.
In 1974 Muhammad Ali provided me with a rare opportunity to interview him one on one immediately following the Greatest fight in boxing history “The Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, Africa. Ali was a big underdog against the undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World, knockout artist, the indestructible George Foreman. Ali shocked the World when he knocked Foreman out in the 8th round.
In Chicago before leaving for the biggest fight of his career Ali invited me to make the trip, but I when I found out how long the plane was going to be in the air I chicken out. I was scared to fly across the body of water leading into Africa, a decision I would later regret. But still he promised me I would be his first interview on his return to the U. S., he kept his word. We met in the wee hours of the morning in New York City for the most incredible interview he has ever given. The interview focused on “The Game Called Life!”
I took the finished product to Jim Vance and he took it to NBC WRC-TV 4 brass. In November 1975 I became the first black to produce and host his own sports television special on NBC affiliate WRC-TV 4, the show was called “Sportlight On Sports” featuring Muhammad Ali. The show made its debut in prime time before the Washington vs Oakland NFL game.
I was a bad businessman I thought my partners Rodney Brown and Wil Williams were handling the financial end of the business, but I was wrong as two left shoes. There were no financial benefits. I became just a footnote in black television sports history.
I learned to write commentaries and how to tell a story in print at the elbow of the best story teller in a media newsroom– his is name is Jim Vance. But after his frequent bouts with drugs he was denied those on air commentaries.
I am a “Child of the streets” I grew up in a NE housing project called Parkside, the product of a single parent household. My father was a Rolling Stone (Deadbeat Dad). My heroes were black women and not black athletes, they had names like Grandma Bell and Mommy B. My community roots are a result of watching my Great-Uncle the Rev. Earl Tyler (The Tyler House) and my grandmother, Amy Tyler Bell venture out into the local housing project Sursum Corda and hospitals surrounding my family’s church, Mt. Airy Baptist Church to check on the sick and shut-in. My Great-Grandfather the Rev. Alfred Johnson Tyler laid the first brick to build the church in 1893. My reach back efforts are not by accident.
The truth be told, the original Santa’s Helpers were not athletes and celebrities from TV and radio! The original Santa’s Helpers had names like, Phila. Jake, Dog Turner, Shep, Slippy Jackson, Zack, Buster, Cornell, Nook, Black Danny and Bob Wayne. They laid the foundation for the 45 years of Christmas Toy Parties for needy children. They provided the toys and cash left at places like Face’s Restaurant, Ed Murphy’s and other water holes in the city. My roots and credibility on the streets and my work with young people made me a trustworthy partner among the hustlers in the city. When I decided to run for public office (DC City Council) it was at the urging of everyday folks who had grown tired of the gun toting slum landlord, City Councilman H. R. Crawford in Ward 7. I was further encouraged by a chance meeting in Las Vegas with my homeboy, legendary recording artist Marvin Gaye.
In September 1979 Sugar Ray Leonard (24-0) was fighting an unknown boxer by the name of Andy Price (28-5-3). Price had beaten both WBC champ Carlos Palomino and WBA king Pipino Cuevas in non-championship title fights. To my surprise Marvin would be singing the national anthem but he also own the boxing rights to Price. Sugar Ray was undefeated and I was a team member in good standing at this point in his career. Marvin and I joked about me coming to work for him after his fighter kicked Ray’s ass. I smiled and played along but I didn’t think Price had a chance even though his winning record shown he had beaten several outstanding fighters. Marvin sung the National Anthem but before he could get out of the ring and back to his seat, Sugar Ray had knocked out Price in less then 3 minutes of the first round. Following the fight Marvin was distraught. We had made plans to have breakfast the next morning in Ceasar’s Palace but I am in doubt because of the outcome of the fight. In the press conference following the fight he gives me the high sign and says “Homeboy, I will see you in the morning!”
The next morning we met for breakfast and he beats me to the restaurant. We talk about home and the struggles we continue to fight and how can we overcome if we are not all on the same page? I told him I was thinking about running for the DC City Council and he said ‘Thinking, do it and I will come home and support you.’ We talked for about 2 hours more before he said ‘I am going back to bed, but I want you to meet me back here at 6 pm, I have tickets for the Diana Ross Concert.’ I think he was trying to make up for standing me up in Detroit a couple of years earlier. We were suppose to meet at the Joe Louis Arena for a fight headlining Thomas Hearns but he was a no-show. This time he was determined to connect. Before the show he gave me several telephone numbers where I could reach him to remind him about the upcoming City Council race. He had the usher escort me and former NFL player and artist George Nock to our front row seats. He then disappeared to stand in a corner in the back of the concert hall. The only reason I knew he stayed for the show, Diana hollered out during her performance ‘My baby Marvin Gaye is standing back there somewhere.’ And the place just screamed his name. That was the last time I saw him alive! Marvin Gaye had a heart of gold and he never forgot who he was and where he came from. His biggest problem was one he could not sing his way out of–drug abuse and finding a way to please his father. In the final analyst, Marvin Gaye was a man’s man.
There have been news media reports that TV 4 news anchor Jim Vance’s announcement of his departure from late night news will be the partial of an era. One report read, “He has been a local celebrity whose battles with, and eventual conquest of, drug addiction were well chronicled in the news media in the 1980s.” The timeline coincides with our work in the community together.
He was not alone, celebrity personalities who abuse drugs while participating in Kids In Trouble and Inside Sports community endeavors would read like a Who’s Who in media, sports and entertainment. To their credit none would abuse their drug of choice while participating in my community endeavors. The drug abuse will usually take place behind closed doors in designated hotel rooms in the city before or after the events. It was understood that I didn’t do drugs or like to be around them.
There was the time when my friend an undercover FBI agent told to get the word to an NFL MVP to step back because the drug folks he was dealing with had underworld ties. I passed the information on to him but he seem to let it go into one ear and out the other. What saved him was the head coach got hold of the same information and called him into his office. His neighbor and friend a linebacker on the team told me later he got the message loud and clear. Cocaine has been the drug of choice for as long as I can remember for athletes, entertainers and media personalities–there is a laundry list of them in DC.
The most difficult drug abuse case was with my partner in the community, Jim Vance. While I was preparing to get my ducks in a row to run for the upcoming Ward 7 City Council seat race one of my Santa’s Helpers brought to my attention that my friend and tennis partner had a drug habit in the worst way. He produced a check that Jim had written for the purchase of the drugs. He made it perfectly clear he liked Jim but someone needed to tell him to step back and get some help, but he would not be the one. To Santa’s Helper it was still business as usual, he was not going to turn his back on the money. Like it not, I was the chosen one to break the news to Jim Vance, the Number One television news anchor in DC and ask him to “Just Say No!”
Later that same night I drove up to the Nebraska Ave. NW, WRC TV-4 news complex to wait for Jim to finish his 11:00 newscast. I waited outside the building for him to exit. He didn’t seem to be surprised to see me, he just asked “Whats up man” and I told him I was attending a PTA meeting at nearby Woodrow Wilson High School and I decided to hang around until he got off. I suggested we go by one of his favorite watering holes and have a beer. He looked at me and said, ‘What’s the occasion, you drinking a beer?’
I followed him to a Wisconsin Ave. bar and we sit in a booth. I got right to the point and gave him the check and said “No explanation is needed but I wish you would get some help.” He looked at the check and looked back me. My “friend” then got up and walked out of the bar never to speak to me again until 30 years later. The occasion, a tribute to local sportscaster Glen Harris who was recovering from a stroke. The tribute was held on the Howard University campus. It was a great turnout. I was standing near the entrance talking to several friends when Jim Vance made his entry. For almost 30 years we were like ships passing in the night pretending we didn’t see each other. But for some odd reason he came over and spoke to me saying ‘Hey Harold Bell’ and made his way to the head table. I was puzzled by this show of recognition and I never returned his greeting.
He was full of surprises, the best was yet to come. As the head table guest were asked to pay tribute to Glen, he made his way to the microphone. First, he told Glen how great he was and how proud he was to have him for a friend. He thanked him for standing by him during his trials and tribulations with substance abuse. He said, “Unlike other friends who bad mouthed me you were very supported!” He then disappeared into the night much like he did 30 years ago. The more things change the more they remain the same.
Former Olympic Track and Field star and DC Public Schools educator Lacey O’Neal was sitting across the table from me and said “What was that all about?” I said, ‘Evidently me!’ The sad part of the charade performed by Jim Vance that evening, he still didn’t have the balls to say anything directly to me about his concerns as it related to me allegedly bad mouthing him about his drug problems. I thought I was trying to save his life–excuse me!
There was no reason for me to bad mouth him about his drug use. The drug community in DC is a very small community and everybody knows who is who. For example; Marion and Cora Barry, Petey Greene, a radio and TV owner, were all being served by the same Santa. Folks even knew NBC had made it mandatory for Jim to pee in a cup twice a week, where is the beef?
Former popular kick returner and defensive back Ricky Harris of the Washington pro football team has a similar story of his and Vance’s drug odyssey in DC.
I still smile to myself when I hear the phrase, “The Bitch Set Me Up.” If Marion Barry had heeded my advice that part of history would not be a part of his legacy. It never would have had happen. His driver and security man, police officer William Stays was in Face’s Restaurant parking lot the night I forewarned ‘The Mayor for Life’ there was an FBI sting in his future. But as always Marion was thinking with the wrong head and said, “Thanks, I got everything under control.” Famous last words.
Two weeks after my brief encounter with Jim Vance at Howard University I would see him at the Grand opening of the historical Howard Theater. This time he says, “Man we have got to have lunch, give me a call at the station next week and we will go from there.” This time, I said to my wife Hattie, who is a big Jim Vance fan, ‘Guess who I saw today, I saw Jim Vance?’ Her response, ‘Did you ask him why he pretended he didn’t know you when you saved the little autistic girl from the subway tracks?’ ‘He did invite me to have lunch with him!’ She said, ‘Well, what are you going to do?’ Against my better judgement, several days later Hattie and I were visiting a friend at Sibily Hospital when I suggested we ride over to TV 4 and see if Jim was in his office. He was and he came out to the lobby to greet us and pretended he was happy to see us. A lunch date was set up for the three of us to meet on K Street NW. On the particular scheduled day as we were headed out the door to meet him, I received a telephone call from his office cancelling the lunch. The caller said, “Jim is still in the dentist office and he will call you to re-schedule.” That was over a year ago and he has disappeared again without a trace.
WRC TV 4 investigative reporter John Friess and I walk through my rescue of a 15 year old autistic child off of the subway tracks in 2007. Doreen Gentzler reports on the rescue and Jim Vance acts as an innocent by stander
Jim was not really a bad guy even though he has done some bad things to others, his problem, he allowed drugs to be his co-anchor for most of his news media career. In the meantime, we are still looking for our heroes in all the wrong places.