Wednesday, April 11, 2012
GIL NOBLE of Like It Is Joins the Ancestors
By Gloria Dulan-Wilson
The first time I saw Gil Noble I was a kid fresh out of college, having recently graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He was among the first African American TV reporters, and I thought then, as I do now, wow, that he was so very handsome, he should have been a male model (I later found out that he had been). I was new to New York at the time, and happy to find they had Black people on TV talking about things important to us. At the time I was a college administrator, and an activist, not a journalist. So I made sure my students watched any and all Black shows.
I remember thinking the name "Noble" really suited him, because he always carried himself in a very noble, dignified, professional, yet affable, manner. I wondered whether it was his real name or a name chosen for TV. I later found out that Gil had been NOBLE all his life.
The second time I saw Gil, was when his art director, and my friend, Cecil Brathwaite - a/k/a Elombe Brath, artist, activist, founder of the Grandassa Models, the first Black women to model African styled clothes with natural hair - introduced me to him just prior to a protest to save Michaux's book store from being destroyed to make way for a State Office Building that was to be erected on the corner of 125th and 7th Avenue. At the time the community had made it clear that they wanted a high school to be constructed there so youth would not have to travel outside the community. As you can see, it fell on deaf ears.
Gil interviewed Dr. Michaux, members of the community, representatives from the state. And each time it struck me how professional, genteel, and disciplined this brother was; how well versed he was in issues concerning Black people, and regardless of what was going on, he was determined that it not be buried under either rhetoric or watering down of the facts.
He had just started as news anchor for "Like It Is" (which, for the uninitiated is short for the phrase "telling it like it is"), with actor Robert "Bobby" Hooks as host, and was dedicated to doing just that. When Hooks moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, Gil became the host. His staff was extremely small. ABC did not provide them with a camera van, so 90% of everything was done on foot. Elombe Brath - who in his own right was an activist, artist, designer, and community leader - was instrumental in getting him inside information on issues in the Black community, as well as access to the guests and community leaders who would often appear on the show. (It was Elombe who came up with the signature logo of the Red Black & Green Flag with the African mask in front of it, and the drummers in the background.)
But the monumental thing about Gil, was that he provided the inside information, in depth about our community without condemnation. He appeared to pull himself out of it from a personal standpoint, while at the same time allowing the voice of the community to be heard, the scenes to be viewed - there were no sound bytes here. No snippets of information with a white overlay of misinterpretation. And we loved it, because we lived it; and we loved him for presenting it in a forum that allowed the rest of us to make some informed decisions, or corroborate what we knew to be true (or debunk the lies).
It was always reassuring to see Gil and his cameraman on scene - he was at Riverside Church for the homegoing services for Dr. Betty Shabazz (Malcolm X's widow). He was likewise at Lena Horne's homegoing services nearly 20 years later, still standing tall and on the case at the age of 79. Unlike Eyewitness News, Gil would come and stay. No pretense of giving you 11 minutes and he gave you the world." No! It was letting the world in on events "and issues they may not have had access to otherwise. It was presenting the other, the true face of Black culture, which differed greatly from what so many news reports led you to believe.
When he did the one-on-one live interview at the Apollo with Harry Belafonte, it was the first time I had ever known him to be nervous. But what a thrill! What a tour de force to have these two great minds sitting together, discussing issues of the Black world in particular, the world in general - face to face in front of a packed audience. Wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Gil Noble always had an open door policy at Like It is. His studios were located on 67th and Columbus at ABC Studios. But as the climate changed, and Black issues became passe` in the white world, things around him began to be less hospitable at WABC, who had decided that his show was no longer relevant. During the first of many attempts to cancel his show through attrition, they stripped him of practically all his staff, including Elombe Brath, leaving him with a series of associate producers. But Gil soldiered on. They began to shift around the times the show would air. Originally it came on at 9:00 AM, giving church goers plenty of time to watch before attending Sunday services; also giving us plenty to talk about after church. They moved it to 11:00 AM, prime church time in the Black community; then to 1:00 PM. And, finally, after the community really began to protest, finally settled at 12:00, which is where it had remained until Gil's illness.
To further harass him (and us) they would pre-empt the show with bogus sports reports, as though that was much more important than issues happening the Black community. Or they would truncate it to a half an hour instead of the full hour for which it was allocated. To add insult to injury, Like It Is was the only show that was not promoted during the course of the week - no highlights of upcoming events or guests. We had to find that out on our own, or wait until Sunday to find out. Of course Gil would announce who his upcoming guest would be; but there were no promotional pieces in the interim for a show that was considered a public affairs program (which used to be mandatory under FCC regulations).
You could no longer "stop by" to see Gil, either. They began to set up a series of checks and clearances to visit his studio. Gil had to also fight to maintain editorial integrity with his show, as ABC liked to saddle him with interns and "overseers" who in most cases were only there to try and censor the information coming though his show.
When WABC threatened to cancel the show, CEMOTAP, under the leadership of Bettye Dopson and Dr. James MacIntosh, confronted WABC-TV on his behalf (and ours); and offered to provide the sponsorship money necessary to have the show placed in a better time slot, and to provide the kind of staff he required. WABC refused! Now when is the last time you've ever heard of a TV franchise turning down money?
In other conversations with Gil, he stated that he was not allowed access to the vast collections of his shows dating back to the 70's. He had wanted to syndicate them, and burn them into DVD's using the new technology, to make them available to the new generation of youth; not to mention those of us who were part of that history. They would not release his library to him!
Paralleling Like It Is back in the day was a show called Black News, which later morphed into The McCreary Report, which came on Channel 5, and was hosted by Bill McCreary, long time friend of Gil Noble. The how was a longrunning success before Rupert Murdock bought the station and it became Fox Five Television. Those two shows kept the Black community informed, along with Gary Byrd's GBE (Global Black Experience), Black people in New York and parts of the tri-state area, were pretty much up to date on issues in the community and the world.
However, it was clear that a trend was in place to silence these Black voices. Bill McCreary was excised from Fox Five even though, at the time, he was a sitting Vice President at the station. Protests in his behalf brought him back for a short period of time, but it was clear that Murdock wanted to get rid of the show, and he finally had his way (interestingly enough, under the original FCC rules, you could only own a radio or TV station if you were an American - wonder what happened to change that?) . Later, Gary Byrd's show (which had broadcast live from the Apollo Theatre, giving the community an opportunity to be involved live, on the air, was cancelled for "philosophical differences," ending that era. And Tony Brown's Journal just dropped off the planet completely - totally unannounced - gone!
Gil Noble was our last man standing!! And stand he did!! He stood through all the hostility, sabotage, and just plain crazy-making double-talk they leveled at him. He maintained his ground, his integrity and the quality of Like It is through all that. He stood when they didn't market the show for sponsors; he stood fast when they denied the show Black sponsors. He was/is one of my personal heroes. I know that I could not have done what he did - there aren't many of us who could take it day after day, week after week, year after year, without losing our cool, our tempers and ultimately or job.
But he took it!! Gil was devoted to educating and enlightening the Black community. A lesser man would have thrown in the towel; or groveled at the feet of the TV honchos. Not Gil Noble! He could see through their machinations, realizing that compared to what he was about, they were dust in the wind. It was interesting to me that he and my mom shared the same birthdate, February 22, although my mom will be 90 next year, they both have that determination to see things through regardless of the peril. If they believe in something or some one, nothing will shake them. Challenges bring out the best in them. That's my mom. That was definitely Gil Noble. Go over it, around it, under it, through it, without a complaint - a stoicism that came from the inside out. You'd never see it in their faces, or hear it in their voices. They not only handled the situation - whatever it was - it was so seamless you'd never know there was a problem. Must have really been problematical to Gil's antagonizers to see how he continued on in spite of and because of them.
My fondest memory of Gil, and one of those special bonding moments was when Gil, Kwame Brathwaite, and I were standing together at the back of a sound truck, with cameras in one hand and mike in the other, reporting the low-fly buzzing of Rudy Giuliani's attack squad helicopters over the Million Youth March in 1998! What a day. We had been there from the very first speaker. The event was winding down, and Khallid Muhammad had decided not to speak because he felt the previous speakers had fully expressed all that needed to be said to the audience. The police had set up barricades throughout the street; closed the Subway entrances and exits, re-routed the buses, and had a phalanx of mounted police near Marcus Garvey park, apparently ready to sweep through the crowd. However, much to their chagrin, the crowd had been orderly, and cooperative. They had listened to and cheered the speakers, and had prepared to disburse in an orderly fashion. The sudden appearance of the helicopters overhead totally changed the atmosphere, and Khallid Muhammad then called for the participants to not be subjected to police assaults, but to return violence for violence.
Here we were standing there with our cameras and tape recorders capturing all this. It did not occur to either of us to move or protect ourselves. We were so absorbed in the surreal nature of the moment, not to mention injustice of the whole thing - who in their right mind would buzz a group of youth with helicopters? To do what? When everything finally subsided, we just stood together, looked around and realized that we had come very close to being fatalities ourselves. From that point on, my regard for Gil escalated off the charts! As I am sure it did with the rest of the Black community.
When it was learned that out dear brother Gil had suffered a stroke, I, like so many others, immediately went into prayer mode. I had hoped for one of those miracles where he would have been able to rally and recover completely. But the Infinite had other plans. The reason he lingered so long among us was probably because he was negotiating some final shows to be done in the future.
I also prayed for the rest of us in the Black community as well. Not only has a great voice been stilled, it had been stilled at a crucial point, when there was no heir apparent to step in and fill those considerable shoes of his - Gil was not only very handsome, even at the age of 80, he was 6'5" and walked like a giant. His soft spoken ways carried a lot of weight.
Some had speculated his son would be able to take the reigns; others recommended Gary Byrd, a great choice and a great voice for the community; still others viewed Milton Alimadi (publisher of the Black Star News), who was a frequent visitor to the show, and a great friend, as the next host. Years ago, I had spoken to Gil about having a co-anchor who could be written into the contract at some point, so there was no gap, in case he wanted to take a break. He said he had considered that, but had not worked out the details of who it would be and how often they would be on. He also felt it would be an uphill battle getting WABC to agree to it. At the time he was still trying to get control over his past shows.
Interestingly enough, when Mike Wallace left 60 Minutes, his son Chris Wallace was able to step in and maintain continuity. CBS apparently didn't have a problem with making it happen. (By the way, Condolences to the Wallace Family; Mike Wallace was also a great journalist in his own right. It was clear that both he and Gil Noble loved and cared deeply for what they did. They were Icons in the industry of news and public affairs.).
Isn't it strange that WABC-TV couldn't have managed to make that happen for Gil Noble and Like It Is, and their Black viewership as well? But then, if their past actions are any indication, they have long been trying to kill the show; Gil's demise has now made this possible. WHAT!!! I'm just saying....! They've concocted some show entitled "Here and Now" to fill that time slot, rather than do the "noble" ethical thing, and extend Like It Is under a new anchor, it so that the essential voice for the Black viewers can be preserved and expanded. In the parlance of TV those kind of shows are evergreen - like Saturday Night Live, or 60 Minutes. When you have such opportunities, and you have a following, you obviously don't want to kill it. You would want to expand that market - not truncate it, or supplant it.
Over the last 44 years that Like It Is has been on TV, Gil Noble has brought into our living rooms the likes of Desmond Tutu, C. Vernon Mason, Rev. Al Sharpton, Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte, Muhamnad Ali, Bill Cosby, Nelson Mandela, Dr. John Henrik Clark, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Cong. Charles Rangel, Dr. Joy deGruy Leary, Regent Adelaide Sanford, Adam Clayton Powell IV, and so many, many others. He was and is an Icon of Black Reportage. There should be classes in journalism taught based on his style of reporting and interviewing. There should be standards of ethics and professionalism extrapolated from his example. He was the epitome of cool under pressure.
But we can't just let it go there, and say that this is it. Gil's transition should not spell the end. Maybe a comma (,) or a colon (:), but not a period (.). We owe something back to Gil Noble for the nearly 50 years of service he dedicated to us. Not an empty monument or a statuette. We owe him a living legacy. We owe him the solid backing of the extension of his show on WABC, or move it to a station that will honor the right and necessity for Black journalism and cultural reportage. We owe him to ensure the syndication of his work so that we and our youth can have access now and into the future. Others, such as Tupac, Biggie , etc., have been given more credence and support, and yet have not made nearly the contribution that Gil Noble's Like It Is has done. This debt, this obligation rests with us, his Black family, his viewers. We, who have benefited so greatly from all that he has said, been and done, can do no less than to make sure all his work does not go unheralded, and unpreserved. And I'm just telling you "like it is:" Our job is to keep Gil Noble's legacy alive!
Gil Noble won 7 Emmies for his work, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award. This gentle giant, former jazz artist, father of five, has been an integral part of the fabric that goes to make up the tapestry of the Black community. His family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the GIL NOBLE ARCHIVES, PO Box 43138, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07403.
Condolences to his wife Jean, his four daughters, Lisa, Lynn, Leslie, Jennifer and his son, Chris. It must have been special growing up in that family. Blessings to them and his eight grandchildren. There are so many of us who loved Gil as much as his family did. We know that they were the wind beneath his wings that made it possible for him to come out each day and face those battles.
The wake and viewing will be held at Abyssinian Church, on Thursday, April 12, 2012 from 7:00pm til 10:00pm. Gil's homegoing services will take place Friday, April 13, at Abyssinian Baptist Church, 10:00am.
And for those of you who are saying "rest in peace" to Gil, disabuse yourself of that concept right now. I guarantee you that has already set up some interviews with people like W.E.B duBois, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Duke Ellington - his dream interviews with cultural Black Icons of the past. After all, we are talking about Gil Noble. Just because he's made his transition to the next plane of action does not mean that he's going to stop doing what he loves: telling it "LIKE IT IS" - even in Heaven.
Stay Blessed &
Posted by Gloria Dulan-Wilson at 12:19 AM
Labels: Gil Noble, LIKE IT IS, Mike Wallace, WABC-TV
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