Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Detroit's Movie Maven--Bill Kennedy

Bill Kennedy at the Movies with Sir Graves Ghastly. Sir Graves would riff on his monster movies and Bill would dish on Hollywood and the movie business.

Every Baby-Boomer from Detroit and Windsor remembers who gave us our extensive Hollywood movie education--Bill Kennedy. Bill started announcing on the radio professionally in the 1930s at WWJ - The Detroit News station. His deep voice resonated over the air waves.

In 1940, he embarked on a movie career and signed a contract with Warner Brothers Studios where he worked from 1941 until 1955. Bill had the voice but not the face. He didn't emote well on screen, so he was relegated to a series of flat supporting roles. He played mainly cops, bad guys, radio announcers (no stretch for Bill), newspaper men, and swindlers. In all, Bill Kennedy has 103 film credits.

In the post World War Two era, Kennedy appeared on numerous B-Western television shows including The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, and The Gene Autry Show. Kennedy always spoke kindly of Gene Autry. Bill was over six feet tall and many of Hollywood's leading men were short and didn't like doing fight scenes with him. Gene Autry was short, but always had a job for Bill when he needed it. Autry told him once, "I like beating up bad guys on screen who are bigger than me."

Bill Kennedy playing a newscaster in a Superman episode.

What many of us in Detroit know that most people don't is Bill's was the voice behind the opening credits of  The Adventures of Superman--one of the most iconic introductions in television history. Bill received a one-time check for $350. He regretted not asking for screen credit which might have benefited his career. The show has been continuously running in syndication since 1952. A link to the Superman program opening is below.

In 1956, Bill Kennedy returned to the Detroit area to host an afternoon movie program called Bill Kennedy's Showtime, for CKLW-TV across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario. The show became a big hit. Bill talked about his jaded experiences in Hollywood's heyday and how he worked with many of the top stars. His deadpan delivery and sarcastic wit won the loyalty of viewers. He had an avuncular, self-deprecating manner--especially if talking about a film he was in. If the movie was bad, he would tell his audience.

The show opened with a tight shot on a picture of a woman smoking a cigarette with Bill's theme song Just in Time playing in the background. The photograph was from a magazine. I can see the model in my mind's eye with her elbows on a table and a smoldering cigarette in her right hand. Bill chose Just In Time for his theme song because his professional life was at a low point when he got the job with CKLW.

Bill wearing a hat to cover up his hair transplant surgery.
In 1969, Bill took his show to WKBD which broadcast out of Southfield, Michigan. The show remained essentially the same with a title change to Bill Kennedy at the Movies. Bill would interview celebrities when they were in Detroit and he took on-air phone calls which were sometimes more interesting than the movies. I enjoyed the live TV commercial pitches of Abe Schroe for his furniture upholstery business.

Abe and Bill always had lively repartee like they knew each other well outside of work. These two got along so well on air that it strikes me Bill was probably part-owner or an investor in Artistic Upholstery. Bill would take a break and Abe would go into his pitch. Nobody else made live commercials on Bill's show--not Ollie Fretter--not even Mr. Belvedere (Detroit inside joke).

In 1983, Bill retired to Palm Beach, Florida. He died of emphysema on January 27, 1997, at the age of eighty-eight. Rest in peace "young, old-timer."

The Adventures of Superman introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2l4bz1FT8U

Bill Kennedy's theme song Just In Time by Frank Sinatra. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIcQ26arWAs

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Hissoner Detroit Mayor Coleman Young

Coleman Young's identity, life, and career were closely intertwined with issues pertaining to the African American community in Detroit and the nation. As the city's chief executive officer for five full terms, more than any other Detroit mayor, Young served the city he loved for twenty years. 

Throughout his political career, the White establishment, representing suburban interests and their media mouthpieces, viewed Coleman Young's ascendency to Detroit's mayor as a social trespass upon their political turf. But the demographics of the city were favorable for Young's election.

The phenomonon known as White flight decimated the city's population and tax base leaving crippling poverty in its wake. White flight redefined the city, first with the G.I. Bill for World War II veterans who moved to the suburbs, and after 1967 when Detroit experienced one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States.

Both of these demographic shifts happened years before Young was elected mayor in 1974. Factor in the virtual collapse of the city's main employer, the automobile industry, due to the oil crisis in the Middle East. This was the situation Mayor Young faced as he entered office and soon became defined by every urban social problem Detroit was heir to. He was the man in the moment.


Coleman Young began his boyhood in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on May 24, 1918. His father William Coleman Young was a barber who sold a Black newspaper out of his shop. For this, the local KKK began a harrassment campaign prompting him and his growing family in 1924 to become part of what history notes as the Great Migration to the North in search of jobs in the automobile factories and steel mills. Impoverished Southerners, Black and White, poured into Detroit. The men competed for unskilled jobs on the assembly lines, steel mills, and iron foundries, while the women found work in the domestic services industry.

Coleman was five years old when his family moved to Detroit's Black Bottom neighborhood on Antietam Street between St. Aubin and the railroad tracks. He was the oldest of five children born to Ida Reese Young. As Coleman Young details in his autobiography Hard Stuff, he graduated from Eastern High School in 1935 during the depths of the Depression. To help support his family, he hustled to earn money doing small jobs. He recycled glass bottles, swept floors, delivered packages, and answered phones for Dr. Ossian Sweet.

Eventually, Young was hired as an autoworker for the Ford Motor Company. It was there where he joined the United Automobile Workers of America. After being fired from Fords for fighting, he went to work for the United States Postal Service before entering the service during World War II.

"My political consciousness was awakened at the neighborhood barber shop in Black Bottom where I shined shoes," Young wrote. "Local radicals educated me with dialogue that offered nothing about passivity or surrender but much about unity. As both a means and an end, unity has driven virtually every pursuit of my public life."

The two-chair, barber shop was owned and operated by Haywood Maben, "a self-educated Marxist and (political) pontificator." He and his customers would argue about trade unionism, dialectical materialism, and unity between the races which made for provocative conversation. Maben's barbershop was a left-wing caucus in the afternoon; at night, political meetings were held behind drawn curtains. 

These meetings did not go unnoticed by the FBI, which recorded names of participants and labeled them Communist sympathizers and socialists. Coleman Young's name was included on that list leading to the opening of a confidential dossier on him which followed him through his adult life. Time and again, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI interfered with Young's ability to hold onto a decent job or get fair treatment in the Army Air Corp. All it took was a well-placed phone call or a letter from the FBI and Young's opportunities vanished into thin air.


With the end of World War II, Detroit was on a collision course with history. The post-war economy began shrinking rapidly as government military contracts expired. The Arsenal of Democracy scrambled to transition back to a peacetime economy. Nowhere was this felt more than in Detroit. To compound Detroit's economic woes, the G.I. Bill and the Veterans' Administration provided low-cost, zero percent down home loans that sparked a dramatic exit from the city which became known as White flight, further devastating the city's population and tax base. 

Then came a gut punch which sealed Black Detroit's fate. President Eisenhower pushed for an Interstate Highway System based on the Autobaun, which he had seen in Germany at war's end. His primary argument for such a highway was it allowed the military to deploy personnel and equipment quickly to virtually anywhere in the country on expressways. In Detroit, local politicians saw this as an opportunity to clear out the depressed Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal.

The Black population regarded the construction of I-375 as little more than Negro removal. Local politicians gave no regard to the people who would be displaced or the impact it was destined to have on the city. Impoverished Black residents were forced into other underfacilitated, overpopulated, segregated areas within Detroit. In short, a powder keg of human misery was created waiting only for a spark to ignite and engulf the area. Up to this point, Detroit's African American community had little or no political influence.

Although not the first American urban area in the 1960s to erupt in civil unrest, the Detroit Riot/Rebellion began on July 23, 1967. It became the most devasting race riot of the era. President Lyndon B. Johnson sanctioned a federal investigation in 1968 into its causes and of other urban civil disorders called The Kerner Commission. 

The Commission determined after an exhaustive study that the rioting in Detroit was a response to decades of "persausive discrimination and segregation." The siege mentality of the mostly White, aggressive, and combative Detroit Police Department was singled out in particular.

After the week-long rebellion, Detroit public opinion polls revealed that 75% of White respondents believed the rioting was caused by radicals guided by a foreign conspiracy to overthrow the American government and our way of life--specifically, Pinko Commies and Black Panthers. 

Conservative politicans disputed that the blame fell on White institutions or White society and took no ownership of the issue. Most White people were dismissive and believed that the rioters were criminals who were "let off the hook" by bleeding-heart liberals.

Refuting that popularly held suburban belief, the Kerner Commission determined that the insurrection was a revolt of underprivileged, overcrowded, and irritable citizens. During a blistering heatwave, they reacted against a provocative police raid that provided the spark igniting the week-long rebellion.

The Commission concluded that the root cause of the violence was institutional racism. American society in general is "deeply implicated in the ghetto," the report read. "White society created it. White society maintained it. And White society condoned it."

Ironically, President Johnson, who initiated the study, was unhappy with the result because the Commission's recommendations were all budget busters with no chance of passage in the United States Congress. Johnson was also a man from the South and knew there would be political repercussions if he threw the weight of the presidency behind the Committee's recommendations.

As cruel fate would have it, one month after the Kerner Report was published, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated while standing on the Lorraine Motel balcony by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee. America's best hope for pulling our nation out of this racial quagmire was cut down in his prime. Grief and anger broke out across the land and demonstrations occured in over one hundred American cities. The Kerner Report was back-shelved and conveniently forgotten.

In Detroit, a new wave of White flight made Detroit the Blackest city in the United States. African Americans were now in the political majority.The stage was set for a new generation of Black leaders who would struggle to lift Detroit out of its death spiral. The most visible among them--Coleman Young Jr.


Young began his political career coming from the left-wing branch of the American labor movement. He became a respresentative for the Public Workers Union and devoted himself to full-time union organizing. By 1946, Young won a leadership role as a director within the larger Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO). His election to the position was a major victory for the Black community, and he instantly became a spokesperson for Blacks across Detroit.

Earning a reputation as a devoted and hard-working labor organizer in the 1950s, Young was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1960. He helped draft a new state constitution for Michigan, which in turn led him to run for State Senator in 1964, a position he held for ten years making a name for himself as an effective legislator.

In 1970, Wayne County Sheriff Roman Gribbs became mayor of the City of Detroit running on a law and order platform. Gribbs hired former New York Police Commissioner John Nichols. Together, they created a special police unit named STRESS, an acronym for Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets, to apprehend street thugs and patrol in primarily minority-isolated neighborhoods. The group became simply known as The Big Four by the city's Black residents. The special unit soon devolved into what amounted to agents of urban terror.

STRESS Police Unit

STRESS police cruisers consisted of a driver and three burly, usually White, plainclothed police detectives. The department had several such units. In less than three years, twenty-two Detroit citizens (twenty-one of them Black) were shot to death, hundreds of illegal arrests were made, and an estimated 400 warrantless police raids were conducted. Rather than protect the citizenry, The Big Four terrorized the city's Black residents.

In 1973, Roman Gribbs stepped down as mayor after a single term in office, throwing his support behind his police commissioner John Nichols, who ran on a law and order platform. Coleman Young saw this as an opportunity to leave the Michigan senate and run for Detroit mayor.  

Young campaigned against the abuses of the Detroit Police Department which Black residents identified as their number one issue. He also ran on a platform of reconstructing the inner city, creating sorely needed jobs for city residents, and hiring city employees to reflect a 50/50 racial balance.


On election day there were no surprises. In this hard fought election, White precincts voted for Police Commissioner Nichols, and Black precincts voted for Coleman Young Jr., making Young Detroit's first Black mayor by earning 52% of the vote to John Nichols' 48%.

In his inaugral speech, Young urged unity between the races, White and Black, the rich and poor, and the suburbs and the city. He also spoke about restoring law and order.

Young addressed Detroit's criminal element directly, "Dope pushers, rip-off artists, and muggers, it is time for you to leave Detroit. Hit Eight Mile Road. I don't give a damn if you're Black or White, or if you wear Superfly suits or blue uniforms with silver badges. Hit the road!" 

While Mayor Coleman Young's "New Sheriff in Town" speech resonated with many city residents, The White political establishment extrapulated it as an invitation for Detroit's Black criminals to prey upon the affluent White surburbs. The opposition's fear mongering was echoed and amplified by Detroit's media outlets. And thus, Coleman Young's new administration began.

Young's first political act was to disband the police STRESS units and move toward a community policing approach with mini stations located around the city. He also made good on his promise to hire more Black policemen. The percentage of Black officers went from 10% to 50% during his administration. The net effect was the reduction of police brutality complaints against the department by over 35%, improving police relations within Detroit's neighborhoods.

The nationwide recession of the mid-1970s hit Detroiters especially hard. Unemployment was at 25% increasing costs for public relief programs and reducing city income and property taxes. In 1974, Automobile production was at its lowest level since 1950, and the Middle Eastern oil embargo drove up inflation nationwide. 

As if German Volkswagen imports in the 1950s and 1960s were not enough of a nuisance, in the 1970s, Japanese imports caught Detroit's Big Three (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler) flat-footed with an large inventory of high-cost, gas-guzzling, luxury and muscle cars gathering dust in storage lots.

To vent the frustrations of laid-off auto workers, the UAW hosted fundraisers around the city where workers, or anybody else with a few bucks, could take a sledge hammer to a Toyota Corolla for a dollar-a-whack. These displays of the area's collective blue-collar angst did nothing but provide the local media with dramatic made-for-television news moments. The sledgefests also proved how well these imports were built. Most drove off under their own power after an afternoon of pounding.

The fundamental problem rested with the automobile executives who did not take the small car trend seriously and frantically rushed to produce economical cars which were inferior to Japanese imports.

As Detroit sank deeper into financial crisis, Mayor Young's second, third, and fourth elections were focused on creating jobs for city residents. Young's mantra was "Jobs built Detroit, and only jobs will rebuild it." The automobile companies decentralized and moved much of their manufacturing to the suburbs or to the South where wages were lower. That left Detroit out in the cold. The city could no longer depend on the auto business to enrich its coffers and pay its bills. Something huge and dramatic needed to happen.

Young tossed the dice and decided that casino gambling was the answer to his city's woes, especially after Windsor, Ontario, across the Detroit River approved gambling on their waterfront. For his next three election campaigns, Young made casino-style gambling the centerpiece of his political platform, much to the dismay of his most ardent supporters, the ministerial alliance of Black churches.

Young's most strident political opponents, the suburban power elite and their media machine hammered away at Young on a daily basis in the city's major newspapers and local news programs. Each time Young promoted casino gambling, the ballot measures were soundly defeated by a 2 to 1 margin in expensive and dirty campaigns.

For Young's fifth and final campaign for mayor, he did not make casino gambling part of his political platform. It took his successor Mayor Dennis Archer to win approval for casino gambling within the city limits. 

With the State of Michigan running a daily and weekly lottery and Windsor's Caesar's Casino raking in a million dollars a week from Michigan residents, voters' attitudes about gambling softened. In 1996, the proposition narrowly passed. The creation of construction jobs, casino jobs, and vendor jobs did much to stablize Detroit's economy and help revitalize downtown.

Coleman Young decided not to run for a sixth term as mayor. His emphysema from a lifetime of smoking robbed him of his strength and energy. Twenty years serving the city he loved was enough. He fought long and hard to improve Detroit and left the city in better shape than when he entered office.

The Renaissance Center

During his tenure, the Renaissance Center was completed in 1977 creating jobs and increasing the city's tax base. The Hart Plaza, thirteen acres of people-friendly sidewalks and promenades along the bank of the Detroit River, humanized what was once a blighted area. It included an amphitheater hosting all manner of ethnic and music festivals bringing city and suburban audiences together.

Among many other large construction projects Young supported the People Mover, a light rail loop in the downtown area; Detroit Receiving Hospital; Riverfront Condominiums; and the FOX Theater restoration, looking out at what would become Comerica Park and Ford Field bringing the Tigers and the Lions downtown.

From the beginning of his political career, Coleman Young was accused by his critics of being corrupt. In a Freedom of Information Act investigation, Young discovered he had been under FBI surveillance since 1940 because of his reputed association with suspected Communists and his labor union activities. Surveillance continued through the 1980s.

After six federal investigations of his administration, Young was never indicted or charged with a crime. Claims that he was corrupt were malicious myths designed to tarnish the mayor's brass.

Young emerged from a left-leaning element but moderated his political view once in power. He allied himself closely with community leaders, business entrepreneurs, and bankers proving that rather than a socialist, Young was a devout capitalist committed to rebuilding Detroit and improving the lives of its residents. His vision for Detroit laid the foundation for much of the city's resurgence we see today.

Coleman Young Surveying His Legacy

At the age of seventy-nine, Coleman Alexander Young succumbed to lung disease on November 29, 1997. The mayor's body laid in state for two days under the Rotunda in the Hall of Ancestors at the Museum of African American History in Detroit's cultural district.

Funeral services were conducted on Friday, December 5th by Reverend Charles Butler at the New Calvary Baptist Church. Aretha Franklin sang at the ceremony with the combined chorus of Greater Grace Temple and the New Calvary Baptist Church. Coleman Young was buried in a private ceremony in Elmwood Cemetery where many of Detroit's distinguished citizens are interred.

Background on Casino Gambling in Detroit

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Early Detroit Tiger History

Charlie Bennett
Prior to 1894, the Detroit Tigers played minor league baseball and were one of the founding members of the West League that played throughout the Great Lakes states. Owner George Vandereck choose the corner of Michigan and Trumbull Boulevards as their home field. Previously, the vacant lot was used as a local hay market for farmers and livestock owners. Vandereck bought the lot and built Bennett Park--named after a popular Tiger catcher Charlie Bennett--who lost his legs in a railway accident in 1894 while running on a rain-slick train platform and falling onto the tracks. Bennett's left foot and his right leg above the knee were severed as the train pulled out, ending his baseball career.

Frank "Old Stone Face" Navin
In 1901, the Tigers joined the new American League as one of its eight founding members. Samuel F. Angus bought the Tigers in 1902 and hired lawyer and baseball enthusiast Frank Joseph Navin to run the club for him. As a young man, Navin was a blackjack and poker dealer in an illegal gambling establishment. He loved horse racing and was an avid wagerer at two racetracks in Windsor, Ontario and attended the Kentucky Derby annually. In 1908, Navin parlayed $5,000 of winnings into buying a significant portion of Tiger stock.

In 1908, Navin bought another large block of shares making him controlling owner and new president of the organization. When Navin's silent business partner William Yawkey--lumber fortune heir--died in 1919, Navin bought his stock becoming full owner of the club. Because he was suddenly cash-poor, he sold 25% of the franchise to auto-body manufacturer Walter Briggs Sr. and 25% to wheel maker John Kelsey of Kelsey-Hayes Corporation. When Kelsey died, Briggs bought his interest in the team becoming an equal co-owner with Navin, but Briggs was content to allow Navin to run the team unhampered.

Frank Navin and Ty Cobb
In 1905, Navin signed legendary Tiger center fielder Ty Cobb for $1,500. The talented ballplayer led the Tigers to their first American League pennant win in 1907. Between seasons, Cobb held out for a $5,000 contract. After bitter negotiations, Navin--a tight-fisted owner--met his match. Cobb was wildly popular with the fans and threatened to expose Navin for the conniving cheapskate he was. The penny-pinching owner quickly did the math and caved-in to Cobb's demand. Cobb led the Tigers to two more consecutive American League pennants in 1908 and 1909 turning a nice profit for the team. Navin made Cobb the team's manager as well as being the team's star player.

Navin Field
Bennett Park consisted of a wooden grandstand and bleachers. It was the smallest ballpark in the league seating 14,000. Owners Navin and Briggs tore down the obsolete wooden Bennett Park between the 1911 and 1912 seasons and built a concrete and steel stadium seating 23,000 fans--renaming it Navin Field. In 1924, Navin built a second deck increasing seating to 30,000.

By 1931, the Great Depression cut Tiger attendance by 30%. To draw fans to the ballpark, Navin tried to sign the most popular player in the game--Babe Ruth--but he wasn't availabe, so Navin bought out Mickey Cochrane's contact from Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack for $100,000 and made him a player-manager. Cochrane was just what the team needed. He helped the Tigers win pennants in 1934 and 1935.

Mickey Cochran with Grace and Frank Navin--1935
Under Navin's stewardship, the Tigers won four American League pennants but did not win a World Series until the 1935 season, giving the Tigers their first series win. But Navin's victory lap was short-lived. Navin and his wife Grace rode horses several times a week at the Detroit Riding and Hunt Club. Six weeks after the Tigers won the series, Navin went for a solo ride on his favorite horse Masquerader and suffered a fatal heart attack, falling to the ground. When his horse returned riderless to the stable, his wife cried out for help, but it was too late. Navin was dead at age sixty-five. He was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Michigan in a family mausoleum.

Mickey Cochrane and Walter Briggs
After Navin's death, Walter O. Briggs purchased Navin's stock and became sole owner. Because Briggs made a fortune manufacturing automobile bodies for Ford, Chrysler, Packard, Hudson, and Willys-Overland, he did not need an income from the team and promised not to take a salary during his tenure as owner. In 1938, he changed the name of Navin Field to Briggs Stadium and remained the sole owner of the Tigers until his death in 1952. The stadium was renamed Tiger Stadium in 1961 until the franchise moved to Comerica Park in 2000.

For 104 seasons, the Tigers played baseball at Michigan and Trumbull earning them the distinction of being the oldest continuous one-name-only city franchise in major league baseball.

1935--Detroit Tigers, Lions, and Red Wings win their championships. 

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Alex Karras’ Made-In-Detroit Movie—Jimmy B. and Andre (1979)

Alex Karras proves there is life after professional football.

When Alex Karras retired from the Detroit Lions in 1970, he left town for the bright lights of Hollywood. Alex first caught the acting bug as a senior at Emerson High School in Gary, Indiana when he performed in South Pacific. When he played college football at the University of Iowa, Karras wrestled professionally as villain George Brown donning a full mask and earning $50 a match. He relished playing the bad guy and acting crazy. It beat working in the steel mills.

After Karras was drafted by the Detroit Lions, he supplemented his ridiculously low NFL salary by wrestling in the off-season to help pay the bills for his growing family. He formed a tag team called Killer Karras and Krusher Konovski that performed to boos and sneers while winning all of their matches in the Midwest. While still a Detroit Lion, Karras played himself in the Hollywood film, Paper Lion. He garnered good reviews that led him to pursue an acting career.

Karras with Susan Clark in BABE.
Karras cut his teeth on several minor roles before he landed a co-star role in The Babe Didrikson Zaharias Story with actress Susan Clark, who won a best-actress Emmy for her excellent performance. They began performing regularly together and eventually married. In 1979, they jointly formed a Hollywood production company named Georgian Bay Productions.

Their first full length movie project was Jimmy B. and Andre which debuted on CBS on March 19, 1980. It was based on the true story of Jimmy Butsicaris, co-owner with his brother Johnny of the popular Lindell AC (Athletic Club) sports bar. The Lindell AC was frequented by Detroit Lion and Tiger athletes, sports writers, and sports fans from every level of Detroit society. Alex wanted to make a made-for-TV movie about his friend Jimmy B. trying to adopt a nine-year-old, African-American street kid named Andre Reynolds.

Andre was an elementary school dropout who shined shoes at Jim’s barber shop next door to the Lindel AC to pick up some extra money. But an older, local bully named Billy began harassing Andre for his hard-earned cash. Jimmy Butsicaris rescued the ragged, nine-year-old Andre from a beating one afternoon, finding him in desperate need of a bath, a meal, and some guidance. Over a cheese burger, fries, and a Coke, Jimmy learned the boy’s story. Andre’s mother was a widow who was also a heroin addict in poor health. Much of the money Andre turned over to her ended up in her arm. There was also an older sister and brother in the household.

Jimmy took the kid under his wing and gave him work doing odd jobs and a place to stay in the basement storeroom of the bar. Johnny Butsicaris converted a photo darkroom into a safe place for Andre to stay. He lived there for nine years. After the death of Andre’s mother from an overdose, Jimmy tried to adopt Andre but ran into trouble with the boy’s aunt who wanted him and his siblings as dependents to earn extra welfare money.

Detroit Free Press - March 20, 1980.
Undeterred by the court’s decision to deny him guardianship, Jimmy became Andre’s foster father and treated him like a son. As Andre grew into manhood, he called Jimmy “Pop.” To show his appreciation, Andre had a shirt made that read “I Am a Black Greek.” Jimmy took Andre to Detroit Lion and Tiger games and introduced him everywhere as his son. Jimmy helped Andre get back in public school where he earned a high school diploma from Western High School when he was twenty years old.

In the meantime, Karras and Clark pitched their story idea to CBS and sold them on it. Karras portrayed his friend Jimmy Butsicaris as a gruff restaurant owner with a big heart, and Susan Clark played his long-suffering girlfriend Stevie. In the movie, Jimmy keeps finding reasons not to marry her. Karras’ son, Alex Karras Jr, played a cameo role as the bully who beats up the young Andre, the real Andre played a restaurant employee called Bubba, and local Detroit weatherman Sonny Eliot played a drunk in the movie.

The movie project was shot entirely in Detroit at the Lindell AC, Jim’s Barber Shop next door, the Greektown restaurant district downtown, Belle Isle Park, and the Renaissance Center. The film was notable because of the heart-rending performance of twelve-year-old Curtis Yates, a student at Country Day School in Birmingham, Michigan. The real Andre Reynolds said he cried every time he saw the movie about his life and his foster father Jimmy Butsicaris.

Johnny Butsicaris in front of the Lindell AC sports bar.

After Andre’s high school graduation, Jimmy urged him to attend Grand Rapids Community College where he played football for one semester, but at 5’ 9” and 185#, Andre wasn’t big enough for college ball, so he dropped out. When Andre returned to Detroit, he left the influence of his mentor and drifted into Detroit’s drug culture. When he was busted for possession and drug trafficking, Andre served his sentence in Marquette Branch Prison.

In a prison cell at Marquette Branch Prison in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on November 21, 1996, thirty-six-year-old Andre learned that his foster father and mentor Jimmy Butsicaris had died the evening before at the age of seventy-five from a massive heart attack. Reynolds wasn’t eligible for parole, so he couldn’t attend the funeral, but he agreed to be interviewed by Detroit News reporter Thomas BeVier.

Andre Reynolds at Lindell AC in 1979.
“(Jimmy) Butsicaris took me in when I was a nine-year-old, punk kid living in a drug infested environment. I had a few moments of fame when the movie Jimmy B. and Andre came out. I was nineteen and wanted to be an adult, but I didn’t know how to do that. I was paid $15,000 for my story, and I used it to buy two cars and go to Grand Rapids Community College. But along the way, I fell in with a rough crowd and was in and out of trouble most of my twenties. I’m ashamed of the life I’ve lived.”

Andre served his sentence and was released. A few days before Thanksgiving in 2000, Andre Reynolds was brutally attacked by an unknown person or persons who beat and stomped him mercilessly. Detroit Police posited that Andre ran afoul of a local drug gang, but no charges were ever brought in his murder. He spent his final days in a coma at Detroit’s Receiving Hospital before succumbing. His body was unidentified in the Wayne County Morgue for four days before he was buried. What seemed on screen like a promising future for Andre became a nightmare in real life.
Access Jimmy B. and Andre by name on YouTube!