Melissa Walsh

Tony Perkins

Gale Group | Tony Perkins

Perkins, Tony 1959(?)— Contemporary Black Biography Tony Perkins 1959(?)— Television personality

Tony Perkins became a nationally recognized personality when he joined ABC as one of the pillars of Good Morning America’s (GMA) on-air staff as part of the successful effort to boost that show’s ratings in 1999. ABC management recognized in Perkins the talent and charm his fans and coworkers in Washington D.C., had appreciated for the prior decade and a half, during which he was a local radio and television celebrity. His style, humor, and warmth have touched audiences–locally in Washington, D.C. and nationally on ABC–and proved to be of great value to the broadcast operations for which he has worked, as his pleasant nature, gentle spirit, and comic wit draw viewers.

Born with a Microphone in His Hand Tony Perkins was born in New York City to Constance Bellamy Perkins and Tommy Perkins. The couple met in a shoe store in New York, where Tommy Perkins worked. Perkins’s father was employed in several varying occupations after he and Perkins’s mother were married and settled in the South Bronx. When Perkins was five, he, his parents, and younger brother, Scott–who as an adult went on to work for CNN as an art director–moved to Washington, D.C., where Tommy Perkins worked as a promotions representative for WDCA-TV. He became well-known in the community for his work in promoting musical and theatrical events, and he became involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the 1960s as well. Perkins commented about his father’s career in an article appearing in the Washington Post by Lloyd Grove, “You name it, he pretty much did it. He was what they now call and entrepreneur, but back then they didn’t have a word for it.”

When Perkins was 11, his parents divorced. Going back to her maiden name, Constance Bellamy was employed as a telephone operator and night clerk at the post office. Struggling financially, the family could only afford to live in the poorer neighborhoods of D.C. Gradually Bellamy was able to elevate the family a bit economically and moved herself and her sons into a trailorpark in Alexandria, Virginia, and later to a townhouse.

Perkins’s mother recognized in her son at an early age

At a Glance… Born Anthony Perkins in New York City, c. 1959; married Rhonda in 1994. Education: American University, B.A., communications.

Career: Desk assistant, ABC News, Washington, D.C., early 1980s; radio producer and on-air personality, The Donnie Simpson Show, WKYS-FM, Washington, D.C., 1985-92; stand-up comedian, various clubs and campuses in eastern United States, 1985-92; television producer and host, DC 20 Breakaway, WDCA-TV, Washington, D.C., 1986-88; comedy writer and performer, Comic Strip Live, WTTG-TV, Washington, D.C., 1989; radio show co-host, The Morning Crew, WKYS-FM, Washington, D.C., 1992-93; television weatherperson, Fox Morning News, WTTC-TV (Fox affiliate), Washington, D.C., 1993-97; news co-anchor, Fox Morning News, WTTG-TV, Washington, D.C. 1997-99; weather-person, Good Morning America, ABC, New York City, 1999-.

Selected awards: Emmy Award, 1988.

Addresses: Office –Good Morning America, ABC, 147 Columbia Avenue, F1 6, New York, NY 10023-5900.

a calling into the spotlight. She remarked to Grove, “Anthony always had a microphone in his hand, or whatever resembled a microphone, even before he could talk. He would imitate the game shows on television. In fact, he took his first steps walking to the TV set during the old ‘Price Is Right’ show.” Later, in high school, Perkins displayed confidence and skills in leadership. A student of strong academic achievement, he was also a sort of star in school extracurricularly as leader of the video club, honors society, and student newspaper. Overall he was extremely popular among his classmates. However, among the small group of African American students, he was sometimes ridiculed as acting white. Perkins’ explained the situation in the Post article, “There was a feeling that if you were doing the things I was doing, you were kind of leaving your own community and living in the quote unquote ‘white world. ‘ That bothered me quite a bit and was difficult to deal with. There were times when there was an attitude towards me that was not the friendliest. You know, ‘What are you trying to do, act white?’…” Perkins graduated from Mount Vernon High in 1977.

Perkins’s father, known throughout his life as a charming, outgoing person, committed suicide in 1992. He was in his early fifties. He was survived by his sons Tony and Scott and three daughters he had during two marriages following his marriage with Perkins’s mother. He described to Grove the hardship of getting through the kind of grief his father’s death brought on, “I don’t think anyone ever fully gets over something like that. It was a pretty shattering experience.… It’s difficult to talk about because I don’t think there’s anything that you can really say that conveys the sadness and grief and the anger and all the different emotions you go through.…one of the things that’s been difficult for both my brother and me, and for the family, is that during these last several years there’s been a certain degree of success which has been very, very exciting. And I know that my dad would be thrilled.…”

Success on the Airwaves of Radio and Television After graduating from the American University with a bachelor of arts in communications, Perkins landed a job with ABC News ’Washington bureau as a desk assistant. Perkins first met Charlie Gibson, with whom he would later work with on Good Morning America, during his tenure at the Washington desk. Gibson offered a reminiscent anecdote in the Post article, recalling, “Tony was a very bright, very amusing young fellow.” Gibson and Perkins only worked together briefly at the Washington desk, but Gibson was deeply impressed with Perkins’s production and writing skills. When Gibson left Washington to join the GMA team in New York, Perkins had already left ABC to work in radio. Gibson contacted Perkins to contract production work from him. “And he very politely said no,” Gibson detailed, “‘Why not?’ And Tony said, ‘Because I want to be on the air.…’”

In 1985 Perkins joined the locally popular The Donnie Simpson Show on WKYS-FM in Washington. Remaining with the show until 1992, Perkins amused and impressed listeners with his comic sharpness, speed, and brilliance. Donnie Simpson lauded him as “very funny.” he explained to Grove, “.. .and he allowed me to be funny. Most of the time with comedians, if there are two of them in a room, they’re always trying to get off the last line. But Tony always gave me room.…” As well as performing on the radio show, Perkins wrote and produced comedy spots for which the show was so highly rated. In 1992 Perkins left The Donnie Simpson Show to be a cohost of The Morning Crew radio show on the same station.

While working his day job at WKYS, Perkins performed stand-up comedy, touring the eastern club and campus circuit. Perkins recalled the sense of accomplishment he felt when he read his first comedy review in a Baltimore paper, “…it called me a black Johnny Carson, which to me was high praise. There was some ‘black material,’ but I really didn’t do what a lot of the black comics at that time did–you know, ‘I got roaches in my apartment’ and all that kind of thing.” Like Carson, Perkins did not reveal much personal information in his comedy.

Perkins was active in the field of broadcasting in various other ways as well while simultaneously working for WKYS. He wrote and performed for Comic Strip Live on WTTG-TV. Between 1986 and 1988, he produced and hosted DC 20 Breakaway for WDCA-TV, for which he won an Emmy Award in 1988.

In 1993, Perkins left WKYS and joined the Fox Morning News on Channel 5 in Washington, D.C., as the weather forecaster. His entertaining delivery of the weather news brought him even greater notoriety in Washington. In 1997 he began co-anchoring Fox Morning News, which entailed broadcasting the news, interviewing notable personalities, reviewing movies, and delivering feature stories. When Shelley Ross, executive producer of Good Morning America, viewed a piece about the Scottish Tourist Board on Perkins’s resume tape, she was moved by good laughter into offering him the position as GMA’s weatherperson. She explained to Grove how impressed and amused she was by Perkins’s humor, “Once I saw Tony in a kilt, and I saw those knobby knees, I just knew he had to be ours. I’ve had a couple of conversations with him and he brings warmth, comfort and family feelings–and that’s really what this broadcast is about.” Perkins’s colleagues a Channel 5 were disappointed to see him leave the station for GMA. Fox Morning News anchor Lark McCarthy revealed to Grove, “Between my sobs, I have to say that I’m sorry to see him go.” The day news of Perkins’s departure from channel 5 was announced to viewers, Perkins reported receiving 84 voicemail messages from fans expressing their enjoyment of his work.

Joins the GMA Revival Team When Perkins’s mother received word of his move to the national celebrity as GMA’s weather personality, she treated the change as “very natural” for her son. According to Grove, she viewed it as “his calling.” Perkins himself, however, nevertheless felt a bit anxious over the move up to a national show and over the mandate by ABC management that he be part of a force to turn viewers from the number-one rated Today Show on NBC to the third-spot GMA. Perkins expressed his anxiety this way in the Grove article, I’m thinking thoughts of ‘Good Morning America,’ ABC, what this means, what’s it going to be like and all that kind of thing. I think the anticipation makes me pretty nervous. I’m anxious. I really am.” In an earlier Washington Post article, however, he expressed more confidence,” [ABC is] obviously going to be putting a lot of time, attention, and effort into the show. The show has obviously seen better days, but clearly their focus is to get it back on track. What folks are about to see is a new energy at ‘GMA.’ If I didn’t believe this I wouldn’t be leaving this very good situation at WTTG to go there.”

Good Morning America had been struggling since the mid-1990s in the ratings due to strong competition from the Today Show’s new look and format. ABC imposed a few on-air personality shifts that did not bring about the desired results in ratings advancement. In 1997 ABC management ousted longtime host Joan Lunden, replacing her with Lisa McRee, who did not previously have a national presence on the tube, and in 1998 Charlie Gibson was replaced by Kevin Newman, formerly the news anchor for GMA. Weatherperson Spencer Christian was the only celebrity left from the old guard, but he opted to leave and take a position with a station in San Francisco. Shortly prior to Christian’s departure, McRee and Newman were dumped from the show. Management warmed up to Gibson again and brought him back to the show with Diane Sawyer as co-host, a television personality with deep and wide national admiration among America’s viewership. Shortly after Gibson and Sawyer were in place, ratings increased by one percent.

With Christian’s absence, finding a weatherperson that could measure up to Christian’s charm and warmth was critical. ABC announced the addition of Perkins to the GMA on-air team in January of 1999. On March 8, 1999, he was in place in front of the weather map. He was also given the responsibility of travelling throughout the United States to interview community leaders and notables and to bring to the airwaves special features on various American communities and events.

By April of 1999, GMA’s ratings were up by 23 percent since January. Finding on-air personalities that Americans would feel comfortable inviting into their homes at such an intimate time of the day–the morning–, albeit via the television set, was crucial. ABC News President David Westin explained that Perkins, along with Gibson and Sawyer, contributes to making the show comfortable and enjoyable for Americans to watch in the morning. He admitted to Grove in February, “…we are trying to recast ‘GMA’ in part along the lines of what once was a truly great show, smart and warm. When it comes to Tony, both of those adjectives apply. He is smart, very good with people, very warm and very comfortable.” Commenting on Perkins’s ability in reacting quickly in a humorous, light way, as he did during his career as a radio personality, Westin added, “He’s very quick on his feet.”

Sources Periodicals Jet, May 3, 1999, p. 15.

Washington Post. January 21,1999, p. C07; February 19, 1999, p. C01; April 13, 1999, p. C01.

Other Additional information for this profile was obtained from a biography on Tony Perkins on Good Morning America’s website at www.abcnews.go.com/onair/GoodMorn-ingAmerica/perkins_tony_bio.html.

–Melissa Walsh