It was then that Kelly began his fateful associations with the city’s bar owners, while putting together another hard-hitting investigative series — also aired jointly on radio and TV — alleging corruption at the Boston Licensing Board. Kelly’s reports led directly to then-Governor Francis Sargent’s decision not to reappoint board member John Callahan. And this series also led to the introduction of one Deborah Beckerman, then doing public relations for the Kennedy Hospital in Brookline, to the Combat Zone.
Kelly met Beckerman while doing part-time PR for the hospital and, in late 1973, invited her to accompany him to lower Washington Street. “Jack was doing a story about the Licensing Board,” Beckerman recalled in a Phoenix interview a year ago. “He introduced me to some people, and I concluded that the place was not so bad. I wasn’t mugged or accosted on the street and the show featured attractive young women in beautiful costumes — not a bunch of old ladies with bad bodies doing obscene things as I had expected.”
Kelly also introduced Beckerman to one of his new-found friends — or news sources — that night: a fellow named Teddy Venios, who just happened to control many of the Zone’s operations. “What you need is a good PR person,” Beckerman joked, and she was hired to improve the image of the Combat Zone. Her efforts, of course, came apart in early 1976, when the release of an explosive internal police report and a highly publicized murder in the Zone led to Beckerman’s being fired. She found it impossible to go back into legitimate PR, ended up stripping under the stage name Silver Smith at the Golden Banana in Peabody, and was most recently reported — in Bill Fripp’s Globe gossip column — to have taken her exotic-dancing routine to some dive in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
Kelly, meanwhile, finally hit the big time and the big money. In January of 1974, he was hired away from ‘BZ radio by Mel Bernstein, then the WNAC-TV’s news director, to be that station’s full-time investigative reporter. Bernstein, now vice-president and general manager of Kid Power, a children’s shoe company in Braintree, reminisced last week about his reasons for hiring Kelly. “I liked him immediately upon meeting him,” Bernstein said. “He was a very interesting person to be around. He had an innate desire to be titillating in the kind of stories he did, but he wanted more than anything to be a hard-nosed reporter. I guess a lot of people called him a yellow journalist, but he was resourceful and maybe five of every six things he’d come up with made sense. He kept on driving; he wouldn’t let up.”
And if his associations with questionable characters led Kelly into difficulties — and ultimately to his untimely death — he began seeking them out, at least in part, from a sincere desire to improve his investigative reporting skills. Bernstein remembers that Kelly was a great admirer of Edward F. Harrington, former head of the New England Organized Crime Task Force and currently the United States Attorney in Boston, and says it was Harrington who first suggested to Kelly that if he really wanted to do investigative reporting he ought to develop underworld contacts. “It’s true that he kind of relished those associations,” said Bernstein, “but he always maintained that those relationships were there because he needed sources. I accepted that only on the basis of who he was and what his job was. Every reporter has to have his sources. Who knew it would end up in something like this?”