Jack Kellum, producer of WGB, Codco, 22 Minutes, dies at 77
Kellum was 'passionate defender of Newfoundland culture,' says Rick Mercer
Television producer Jack Kellum, who played a pivotal role in making shows like The Wonderful Grand Band, Codco and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, has died at the age of 77.
Kellum died Friday.
"I just find it so amazing that this man who grew up in rural Ontario, in tobacco country, he took a chance, him and his wife, and they went to St. John's, Newfoundland, and he became such a passionate defender of Newfoundland culture," said comedian Rick Mercer, who began working with Kellum while developing 22 Minutes.
In his 45 years producing shows for CBC Television, Kellum brought Newfoundland and Labrador's musicians, comedians and actors to a national audience, and supported a generation of entertainers.
Mercer said Kellum was a supportive producer and a kind man who loved Newfoundland and Labrador.
"He was one of the good guys, and he was just a lovely man and a lovely gentleman and always someone that you enjoyed being around.… You felt like he always had your back."
Mercer said Kellum's work to bring folk musicians Ryan's Fancy to a national audience in the 1970s started a line of productions that paved the way for his career, and many others.
"His goal was to create a show in Newfoundland about Newfoundland and Labrador and get it on the national network, and he did that with Ryan's Fancy," he said.
"There's a line that goes back to getting Ryan's Fancy on national television.… We stand on the shoulders of giants. That's why we're allowed to do what we do — it was because of people like Jack that enabled that to happen."
Mercer compared Kellum to "a heavyweight cabinet minister" who advocated strongly for Newfoundland and Labrador and its artists.
"I don't expect the average person in St. John's to know Jack's name or know what he did … but the average person does know Ryan's Fancy, and they do know the Wonderful Grand Band and they do know Ron Hynes and they do know 22 Minutes and Codco and the Grand Band, and Jack had his fingers in all of those things."
While Kellum's work was influential and wide-reaching, Mercer said he wasn't one for the spotlight himself.
"Jack was not the guy that wanted to grab the award and get up in front of the microphone. He was happy to be there. He was so proud to be bursting with pride, but that was not what he wanted to do," he said.
He never asked people to change their act. He just supported them.- Rick Mercer
But behind the scenes, Mercer said, Kellum had a great skill for championing the artists he worked with, including defending their more controversial material when necessary.
"Jack would be the guy who would have to take the calls, take the calls from outraged members of the public, which there were, but he would also have to take the calls from the senior CBC executives who'd be saying, 'Good God, what's Andy Jones doing?'" Mercer said.
"He would be getting it from all sides, and he never asked people to change their act. He just supported them."
'A very kind person'
During his career, Kellum moved to Halifax, where he grew the East Coast Music Awards into a national program and developed the Halifax Comedy Festival as a television production. Codco and then 22 Minutes were produced at studios in Halifax.
22 Minutes star Mark Critch described Kellum as a family man who cared deeply for the people he worked with, who carved a path for performed while taking the time to mentor them.
"Jack was the most humble person you'd ever meet, but also a very kind person.… He'd come up to you, take you aside, chat with you, make you feel comfortable, make you feel very welcome, make you feel as though your voice was heard and needed," he said.
"After tapings, once I got on [22 Minutes] and I had a little dressing room … Jack would come into my little dressing room there and sit down and we'd listen to some music, always a Newfoundland album or something like that, and have a chat, and I just peppered him with questions about the old days."
Kellum helped to build up the people he worked with, Critch said, and was selfless in his support of them.
"He was just the perfect kind of person to nurture and grow, very much like a gardener who had this incredible green thumb," he said.
"Jack's whole career was letting other people shine, and giving them the tools to do it and taking a step back and just making sure it was going to happen for them."
According to Critch, his influence is still felt by the current generation of up-and-coming artists.
"A lot of the acts coming up now, I look at some of the younger comics and musicians and stuff, many of them are still navigating channels that Jack dug," he said.
"I mean, any writer who comes in through our 22 Minutes writing room. I mean, that's certainly a house that Jack built."
Bringing Newfoundland to the world
Critch also credits Kellum in bringing the Wonderful Grand Band, Ron Hynes, CODCO and others to a wide audience.
"I feel like [people] often say, 'How come there are so many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians on CBC and on TV and on radio? You have such a small population, why is there so many of them?' Well, Jack Kellum, that's why," he said.
"I don't think we ever had a better supporter of or better patron or bigger fan of East Coast entertainment than Jack Kellum.… He had a love of Atlantic Canadian art, and he shared it with the whole country and then the world."
Not long before Kellum's death, Mercer said, he visited him at the home where he retired in Fergus, Ont. He said Kellum was fond of his time in Newfoundland and Labrador and pleased with what he helped to create.
"I know talking to him around Halloween, it was a bit reflective because he wasn't well," Mercer said.
"He had a good life and he was quite well aware of it. And he was very, very proud of his work."