| New York Times
April 30, 2000
A Broker's Painfully Personal Trail
NEW YORK -- On Wall Street, intimate self-disclosure usually
involves the size of your co-op apartment, the price of your
car or the perils of your $20,000 trek through the Andes.
But for James Ronald Whitney, 36 and a star broker at Tucker
Anthony, it involves telling how his maternal grandfather sexually
abused Whitney's mother, uncle, aunts and step-aunts, some from
the age of 2, they said. And telling not just his friends and
business associates, but also the world, through a feature-length
documentary film, "Just, Melvin," shown at the Sundance
Film Festival in January, praised by Roger Ebert as "one
of the best docs of the year" and recently sold to HBO, which
plans to show it in 2001.
"The film is about a courageous
family, my family, who has a powerful and chilling story to
tell about the abuse they suffered because of my grandfather,"
Whitney -- Ron to friends -- said in a conversation at his 3,000-square-foot
downtown Manhattan loft. "I want it to serve as a wake-up call
to society and as a warning to those monsters like my grandfather
who are still out there."
So far, no one -- neither clients nor colleagues -- has been
put off by a film whose tone is so contrary to a universe-mastering
"I was shocked that he opened himself up
to the straight-backed guys on Wall Street," said Jeanne Moos,
a CNN correspondent and a client of Whitney. "But the film actually
convinced me to invest with him. You have to invest with someone,
and when I saw the film, I was impressed with that."
Executives like Rakesh Khilnani, a Tucker Anthony senior vice
president who has worked with Whitney since 1994, were sympathetic.
"It's serious stuff that was happening in his family," Khilnani
said. "We don't take it lightly. But it's important that it
be spoken about."
The idea for the film began brewing three years ago as Whitney's
maternal grandmother lay on her deathbed. He decided that it
was time to explore a forbidding topic: how his grandfather,
Melvin Just, a mechanic from Carlotta, Calif., traumatized his
family. Whitney wanted some answers.
my family, including my mother, and made her suicidal," Whitney
said, adding that his parents had split when he was nine years
old. In some of the movie's most emotional scenes, Whitney confronts
his grandfather, who died at 71, shortly after filming was completed.
Just denies all the accusations. In 1979, he was convicted of
12 counts of child molestation in his family and sentenced to
13 years in prison. He served less than nine years in a state
prison in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
On camera, aunts of Whitney discuss drug and alcohol problems
as well as being molested. Three of them also say they witnessed
Just rape and murder a social worker who was assigned to protect
the children from him. Although Just was a suspect in the killing,
he was never charged in the case, which remains unsolved.
"It's possibly too honest for some people," Whitney said
of the film. "But I think society is ready for some honesty."
Whitney, who is divorced, worked on his film during free time
and on vacations, traveling around the country to interview
relatives, many of whom he had not seen in years. The film won
the best documentary feature award at the Santa Barbara International
Film Festival and Newport Beach Film Festival.
Still, he always kept a finger on the stock market. At the Sundance
festival in January, he had a cell phone in his hand as he conducted
"CNBC was my alarm clock," he said. "In
the mornings, I equally grabbed the entertainment and business
sections of all the newspapers. I knew when Coke was getting
rid of 1,200 employees."
With no previous filmmaking experience, Whitney, who grew up
in Las Vegas and studied economics at Arizona State University,
invested nearly $500,000 of his own money to produce "Just,
Melvin," which he also wrote and directed. HBO agreed to
pay what a spokeswoman said was "six figures" for the film.
"Between the monetary Awards from festivals and the HBO
deal, the film is in the black," Whitney said, although
he declined to give specifics.
Whitney was already used to being before the public. As a dancer,
he was a contestant on the "Dance Fever" and "Star Search" television
shows in the mid-1980s. In the film, he is seen competing on
television game shows and performing with the Chippendales dancers.
Even while performing as a dancer, Whitney ran a frozen yogurt
and ice cream shop in Los Angeles, among other small businesses,
and gave investment advice to friends. He passed his brokerage
license exam in the early 1990s. After working for a smaller
firm, in 1995 he joined Tucker Anthony, the banking and brokerage
firm that was formerly part of John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance.
"My mom raised me to be an overachiever," he said, a Cheshire
cat grin spreading across his decidedly clean-cut, innocent
Given his critical success, he is already at work on another
film, about a friend who is involved in the cybersex industry.
But he is keeping his day job, which he says thrills him. "I
get so excited by empirical data," Whitney said. "That's why
I'm a stockbroker. I like to solve puzzles. Market hours are
play time for me. It's like one big game show that begins at
9:30 a.m. It's like the final round of 'The $25,000 Pyramid,'
because it's so time-sensitive. During market hours, as 4 O'clock
approaches, I get sad."
Besides, he can put the money to a good use. "My financial success
on Wall Street," he said, "has allowed me to afford my creative
-- Abby Ellin
Just Shock Me
James Ronald Whitney, vice-president at the investment
firm Tucker Anthony, cold easily pass for a Wall Street blue
blood. Instead he has written, directed, and produced as award-winning
documentary exposing the ghastly truth about his poor white
family. In his intimate and disturbing film Just, Melvin: Just
Evil, Whitney reveals how his grandfather - a junkyard owner
in Northern California - molested then of his children and stepchildren
and then apparently got away with raping and murdering the social
worker who came to rescue them.
Whitney interviewed his mother about her repeated suicide attempts,
and talked with a bevy of prematurely toothless and alcoholic
aunts whose lives Melvin destroyed - all of whom recall in excruciating
detail how "Grandpa Just" (pictured, with daughter June) started
molesting them when they were toddlers.
HBO reportedly paid more for the documentary than it has for
any other film. But for Whitney, it isn't about the money: He
hopes exposing the family skeletons during National Child Abuse
Awareness Month will help advance the cause. The movie airs
national on April 22.
-- Nine Burleigh
NEW YORK MAGAZINE
March 4, 2002
Sometimes startling. Sometimes heartbreaking. Always real. HBO's
award-winning documentary series, America Undercover, Sundays
at 10 PM/9C.
ALL NEW SEASON:
"Monica in Black and White" (premieres Sunday,
"Telling Nicholas" (premieres Sunday, May 19)
It's not TV. It's HBO.