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 culture.

"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.

"He molested 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 interviews.

"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 features.

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 outlets."
                                                                              -- Abby Ellin
Just Shock Me

Melvin Just photo with June
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


March 4, 2002

Sometimes startling. Sometimes heartbreaking. Always real. HBO's award-winning documentary series, America Undercover, Sundays at 10 PM/9C.

"Monica in Black and White" (premieres Sunday, March 3)...
"Telling Nicholas" (premieres Sunday, May 19)

It's not TV. It's HBO.

DIRECTOR'S FILMS: GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: New York, GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: Hollywood, Telling Nicholas, Just, Melvin,
Find out more about James Ronald Whitney's Productions at the Fire Island Films website
Comments or questions about the Web site contact the Web Master at

© 2003 James Ronald Whitney