Native son makes quick visit to his hometown Host: Montel Williams comes to promote the opening of Port Discovery, see his folks and grab a crab cake. And to take some time to chat about the success of his daily talk show.

December 11, 1998|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's Montel Williams was not in town long, but he wasn't going to let you forget he was here.

"There are station managers around this country who wouldn't put on my show," says TV talk show host Williams, who doesn't like to see things in black and white, but says that sometimes there just isn't any room for color.

"I think it is the attitude of the last bastion of people from the 'old school' who don't want to see an intelligent black man on television everyday," he continues. "I am the first black man to have and own his own show in daytime. Arsenio was there for late night. Nat "King" Cole was in the '50s. Some people have forgotten that Bill Cosby was the No. 1 show 10 years ago, and you, no matter what race, wanted him as your father.

L "But look. When I look back ... I can hold my head up high."

As each word stabs at you, there appears to be some anger and hurt that Williams, who, by all accounts is a wildly successful, intelligent author and entrepreneur, still has to fight for acceptance. He isn't angry or loud or even keyed-up. He just sounds as if he is.

"The only thing I can do is do what I'm doing," he says. "I'm not a victim and people will change."

They'd better, because Williams won't.

Baltimore-born Williams breezed back into Charm City yesterday to promote the opening of the city's new downtown children's museum, Discovery Zone. Soon he would hop back on a Lear jet and off to another city. He's an important man, flying off to London, then to New York and then to only his scheduler knows where.

He was able to slow down enough to hob-nob with his mom and dad -- chief of the city's fire department Herman Williams -- for a few hours at the gala event.

"I only get down here two or three times a year," Williams says. "When I come, I see my cousins, aunts and uncles. The minute I stepped off the plane, I went to the hotel and then walked around looking for a crab cake. I didn't find one ... but I will get some crab cakes before I leave here tonight."

Has Williams been gone so long that he's turned into a typical tourist?

No, he says. But though Baltimore may be home, he doesn't get around town much anymore. It has been practically forever since he tooled around his old neighborhood of Cherry Hill.

"I did speak at a school there about eight years ago, before I got my show," he says, trying not to sound like a visitor.

But the sad news, Baltimore, is that he pretty much is. The glitzy grip of New York and Hollywood have claimed him now, and he doesn't seem like he will pry himself away anytime soon.

"I will keep talking as long as people want to hear what I have to say," he says.

The youngest of four children, Williams grew up in Cherry Hill in Southwest Baltimore, a segregated neighborhood designed for blacks migrating from the South, and then moved to Glen Burnie when he was 6.

Williams was bused from his neighborhood to attend Andover High School in Linthicum. The school, he says, was 99 percent white. Yet he graduated in 1974 as class president.

In 1976, he became the first black Marine to attend the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I. That year, 40 hopefuls entered the class; he was one of only four who graduated. He went on to the U.S. Naval Academy and in 1980 earned a bachelor of science in engineering. He also learned to speak Mandarin Chinese and Russian.

Soon he tired of the military life and became a full-time motivational speaker. With his bombastic, heartfelt style, he won attention from Hollywood. In 1991, he was rewarded with his own talk show. A book, "Mountain Get Out of My Way," and a short stint as a television drama star followed.

Not surprisingly, his talk show does quite well in Baltimore.

Here in Baltimore, where "The Montel Williams Show" is aired on Channel 2 at 4 p.m., he draws slightly better ratings than he does nationally, said Steve J. Gigliotti, the station's general manager.

In the last November sweeps, his was the third-rated show in the hour with a 4.1 rating. (Each ratings point in Baltimore equals about 10,000 households.) He scored less than half the audience of perennial leader Oprah Winfrey, and was a hair behind "Real T.V." and "Hard Copy," both half-hour shows.

The real surprise is that while Baltimore loves to claim former WJZ-TV anchor Winfrey, not everyone knows Williams is a true Baltimorean.

"More people ought to know I'm from Baltimore," admits Williams.

The folks at Channel 2 agree.

"I wish he came in town a lot more often," said Gigliotti.

Pub Date: 12/11/98

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