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Feature: Kim ‘Badass’ Bass — Growing Up Young, Gifted & Black in Upstate NY

Born in 1956 in Utica NY to mother Juanita Holmes Bass and father Clarence Bass, Jr., Kim is the eldest son and younger brother to twin sisters Janice and Joyce Bass and older brother to Crystal, Kyle and Carla. Having been born into an already outstanding Black family, Kim’s exceptionalism has only grown over the years.

Kim’s Hollywood accomplishments have been notable. There is no other native born Utican who has achieved the level of success in cinema and television creation, writing, directing and production that Kim Baddass Bass has. However, if you Google famous Uticans, his name does not appear.

That’s why this Black History Month and this Black publication will bring to light some foundational stories of our homeboy’s history.

After attending Sir George Williams University in Montreal Canada, Kim also studied Spanish, French and Italian at MVCC. Kim is adept at English and Japanese, horseback riding, aviation, as a commercially rated jet pilot, martial arts, in karate and laido (samurai sword), writing and directing films and television, dealmaking, traveling the world and getting along with all kinds of people.

Kim left for Japan in 1980 to study karate and samurai sword. He returned stateside in 1985, after a launch in Japanese film and television, to begin his Hollywood career. He got his writing break in 1989 and has never looked back…

From Bleecker Street to Frankfort

Kim Bass with Tia and Tamera Mowry from “Sister, Sister.” (Submitted photo).

It was not an easy transition from our apartment on Bleecker St. to the farmhouse in Frankfort, especially for we three older children. We, my twin sisters Janice and Joyce had our little posse there on the block. We could go out to play on the street in those days and stay out as long as we wanted, so long as we stayed on the block and came in once the street lights came on. From as early as age five we would be safe outside playing and hanging out with our friends, Junior, Terry, Chiquita and ‘dem.

But inner-city life could be rough at times. From time-to-time I’d get into fist fights and “rock wars” with the “White boys” who lived on the block.  One afternoon my sisters and I got chased home from school by some bigger kids, and that was the last straw for my mother, who said to my father, “we are getting our kids out of the city.” The timing was right, as my father had gotten his own business (an adult care home) established and was well on his way to becoming a successful businessman. My parents bought a small farm house in the town of Frankfort that sat on thirty acres of land.  We moved in August of ’63.

Suddenly I didn’t have any friends. There was no sidewalk to play on in front of the house. No street lights. No nearby neighbors.  No people who looked like us. I missed my friends. I missed the block.

It was summer and the crops were coming in. Back then, there was a migrant camp and huge bean fields right across the road from our house. Every year several scores of Black folks would come up from Belle Glade Florida, in a repurposed school bus and a caravan of cars, to pick beans for the season. It was my first experience with Black folks working as agricultural workers. “Bean pickers.”

The camp consisted of one small somewhat dilapidated house (where the leader “Momma Louise” lived with a daughter and a granddaughter), a long, concrete block structure where all the other workers were housed, and a little juke joint-type place.  

I have fond memories of the great soul music and loud, raucous laughter that would emanate from that small, dark, drab space. The migrant workers would only come for a few more years before bean picking went mechanized.  The camp was torn down and our family was once again the only Black people in the town, seasonal or otherwise.

When we moved from Utica, my two older, twin sisters were in the 4th Grade when we transferred to our new school. I was going into the 2nd Grade.  My first day of school at Frankfort Schuyler Elementary was memorable. I was seven and half years old and only several steps inside the new, shiny building when I was approached by a little White girl who asked, “Are you from the nigger camp?” I said no. It was shocking. I hadn’t known what to expect but I didn’t expect that. The girl who asked me that question actually ended up being one of my best friends and her family good friends of my family. But that was my launch into a new education system, where my two older sisters and I were the only children of color.

The town of Bridgewater was mother’s family’s home where she was born and raised. When we moved from Utica she had some level of comfort in a rural setting. My great-great-grandfather Toliver Holmes escaped bondage from Virginia in 1863, made his way north to New York State whereupon he joined the Union Army (26th Regiment of Colored Troops) and went back down south where he fought to free other enslaved people. 

Having survived the war, Toliver settled in upstate New York in the small town of Delhi. His grandson, my maternal grandfather, Everett Holmes, became Mayor of Bridgewater, a similarly small town an hour away from Delhi. My grandfather was actually one of the first Black persons to become a mayor in New York State. He won as an unexpected write-in candidate with over 70% of the vote in a town where the population was over 99% White!  

So, they knew my mother’s family in Bridgewater, but this was Frankfort and we were the first Black people who came to live on a permanent basis. We were the first Black people the folks of Frankfort would truly come to know. And most became good, if not great friends and remain so to this day, nearly 59 years later.

But that is not to say it was always some kind of perfect, harmonious paradise and that there were no repugnant racial incidences. There was another N-word incident at school my second year there when I was eight or nine years old. I vividly recall a big White kid about 10 years old cupping his hands around his mouth and yelling out as loudly as he could (in the middle of a crowded hallway in my direction) “NIGGER!!!” 

Kim Bass
Kim practicing katana. (Submitted photo).

I dropped my books and went after him. He ran but not fast enough. I caught him and punched him so hard in the belly he dropped to his knees. Then I kept on punching him and kicking him in the head until some teachers pulled me off of the kid and dragged me to the school principal’s office.  

My parents were called. While waiting for my father to arrive from his office, the principal lectured me on how bad I was for fighting. When my dad showed up, the principal went on and on about violence being unacceptable and how my father should discipline me. Finally, my father turns to me and asks, “What happened Kim?” I said to him, “he (the “White boy”) called me that name, Daddy.” My father turned to the principal and said, “If my son came home and told me he let some little White boy call him a nigger and didn’t beat his ass, then I would discipline him.” My father then said, “C’mon son. Let’s go home. I think you’ve had enough school for today.”

There would be other racially ignorant/insensitive incidences as the elementary school years past. Some hurtful and some even humorous… When being assigned a character in a school play my teacher made me play an Indian brave, which I thought was pretty cool.  But she named me “Black Feather” when the other boys (all White) who played braves were given names like, “Running Wolf” or “Flying Eagle.”

In one particular music class the music we were to be introduced to was Negro spirituals. When the class was singing the teacher singled me out by saying, “C’mon Kim! Sing out!” That caused the other kids to turn and stare at me while we were all making a mess of the “Negro spiritual.”

On another ocassion, when I was in the 4th or 5th Grade, I decided to have a little fun and go on offense when a teacher was talking about George Washington being the first President of the United States and the father of our nation.  I raised my and hand and exclaimed, “Abraham Lincoln was the first president.” To which the teacher said, “Kim Bass, you know very well that George Washington was the first president of the United States. To which I responded, “Not my United States.”  

Frankfort Middle School, 7-8th Grade; 

Terrorist Teacher #1

Kim Bass with Danny Aiello and Jackie Chan on set. (Submitted photo).

That was 1968 and there was this 7th Grade teacher, who was up from the deep south, Mississippi or Alabama I think. He had a southern drawl and was a big supporter of George Wallace when he ran for president in ‘68. The teacher was a big, burly, ham-fisted, twisted kind of guy. If he caught you talking in class he’d make you stick out your tongue and then smash you under the chin to make you bite your exposed tongue. The man had terrorist teaching tactics!

Serious culture wars and political change were going on back then. One day the “terrorist” teacher asks me, “Is your old man going to be voting for George Wallace?” I said, “I don’t know. I’ll ask him.”

So, that evening I asked my father who said, “You tell your teacher that your daddy said, “I hope Wallace gets it. I hope he gets it right between the eyes.” I was very happy to deliver that line to that teacher, who responded by shouting over the laughing students, “George Wallace is a good man!” Blah, blah, blah…

On another occasion the same Wallace-loving, terrorist teacher got back at me with a slur that stung. It was after I had been in a fairly serious bicycle mishap. I had badly injured my face and hand which kept me home from school for a few days, under doctor’s orders. 

When I finally returned to school, it was with skin abraded and torn to pink flesh exposed under my right eye. When I went up to the front of the class to give the teacher my doctor’s note, he looked at the note then at my face and said, with glee, “Well you managed to scrape the Black right off of you didn’t you?” He chuckled and smiled triumphantly.

Terrorist Teacher #2 

Kim Bass (right) on set during production. (Submitted photo).

We had a real sadist of a teacher in the 7th or 8th Grade. He was a big-bellied fat-ass of a man who would dig in his ear with the cap of a Bic pen, look at it, and when he thought no one was looking, he’d eat it. He smoked cigarettes and drank coffee and had dragon’s breath. He was a vulgar and cruel man.

Like some sort of prison guard, he used to wield a yard stick, a really thick, three-sided, heavy, wooden, yardstick. He would twirl it and smack it on things for effect. It was his weapon.

There was one kid in our class who was overweight. On one particular day when we were taking a quiz. This teacher was walking around the classroom twirling his weapon, looking at student’s answers and making comments, like “I can see who didn’t study last night,” and slam his yardstick on their papers. Like the Wallace-lover, this teacher was a terrorist too.

When the teacher finally gets over to the overweight kid’s desk, he starts poking the poor kid in the side with the yardstick, talking about his poor answers. The kid couldn’t get away as he was wedged in his desk. The teacher kept poking him. The whole class was wincing and cringing as he yells out, “And why don’t you lose some weight Fatso? Why are you so fat?!”  He emphasized the verbal assault with a painful whack to the kid’s side.

I couldn’t believe I said it, but out of my mouth came, “Hit him back!”

All the other students gasped. The teacher sneered, and cool as a cucumber said, “He doesn’t have the guts to hit me back” then saunters around the classroom towards me, twirling his weapon.  

Once in front of my desk he looks down and says, “What about you Bass? Do you have the guts to hit me back?”

To which I responded, “You hit me for no reason, I’ll hit you back.”  He hauled off and hit me hard in the shoulder. It hurt. A lot.  

Kim’s grandfather, Everett Holmes. (Submitted photo).

The teacher then stared down at me with a smug look, twirled his weapon before he offered it to me. I looked down at the yardstick and then looked up at him. I took his precious instrument of intimidation, stood up, reared back, and hit him across his shoulder as hard as I could, and broke the damn thing over him. 

The students gasped again. They and the teacher were shocked by my actions! Red-faced, humiliated, and angry, the teacher grabbed me, dragged me out into the hallway, slammed me up against a wall and was all up in my face with his disgusting dragon’s breath yelling, “That wasn’t very smart was it?!” I’m gonna send you to the principal’s office!”

I responded by saying, “Good!  I’m gonna tell him [principal] what you did! And when I get home I’m gonna tell my father what you did and he’s gonna come to school and beat your ass!”

That was the last of that teacher’s cruelty in our class. And to his credit, I suppose, he didn’t go all racial and he gave me a good grade. So, there was that.

On To Catholic School—Notre Dame

Kim Bass practicing Karate. (Submitted photo).

I was pretty much a terrible student at Frankfort. I was bored most of the time and did a lot of doodling and daydreaming in class—always about making movies, flying airplanes, and horseback riding. For high school I ended up at Notre Dame.

We were four Black teenagers going into the freshman class. It was the Cooper twins, Tyrone Dawkins and myself. Prior to going to our first classes (which were separate) we were given a speech by the vice principal about how our other classmates were not used to going to school with “colored” boys and that we would need to be a little patient with some of them.

Once I entered one of the first of my classes, one of the White boys shouted out, “Oh Look. We got a jungle bunny in our class” and everybody laughed. I didn’t say anything but made my way to an open desk and put my stuff down. I walked over to the kid who had made me the butt of his joke, grabbed him and threw him over towards the wall. He ended up lying in a heap.

I pointed to him and said, “If you or any of the rest of you mess with me, I’ll burn your houses down with your families in ‘em. I’ll even kill your G-damn dogs! Don’t mess with me!”  

I then took my seat as the teacher walked into the classroom wondering what the heck had just happened. The loudmouth came up to me sheepishly at some point and said, “Sorry about what I said. That’s the way my old man talks about you people.”  I said, maybe your “old man” should meet mine. We shared a laugh and that kid became one of my basketball buddies.

How I Discovered the Martial Arts

Kim Bass with his mother, Juanita. (Submitted photo).

So back in our freshman year there were regular high school dances. There were two other Catholic girls high schools in Utica: UCA and DeSales. Tyrone Dawkins and I decided to go to the DeSales CYO dance one night. We were fifteen years old. We had been dancing and having a good time. When we took a break we decided to get something to drink in the cafeteria, suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by seven White boys who told us they don’t like us dancing with their girls.

Now, Tyrone lived in North Utica at the time and was constantly being harassed by Whites boys when walking up Keyes road to his house. His parents put him in karate school to help him feel a sense of security. By the time he was fifteen, he was a Jr. black belt champion. While surrounded and facing insurmountable odds, Tyrone says to me, calmly and coolly, “We’ll fight back to back. I’ll take four and you take three.”

Born with the gift of gab, I said, “I have to warn you, my friend here is a black belt champion. His hands are lethal weapons.” One of the boys remembered seeing Tyrone in a local newspaper article and suddenly their plan to teach us a lesson about what happens to Black boys who dare to dance with White girls, on their watch, was abandoned. They now just wanted to fake nice.

I spent that night at Tyrone’s house. I told him we would have gotten killed. Tyrone said, “Yeah, they would have gotten us, but I would have messed up a couple of them pretty bad.”  I asked him to show me some moves. He said I should just start coming to karate class. And that’s exactly what I did. That’s how it all started with me and Martial Arts which, from that day forward, has been a big part of my life.

Where’s the Pilot?

Piloting is just one of Kim Bass’ many accomplishments. (Submitted photo).

Bleecker St. School (in Utica) was my first school and it was pretty raggedy. There were bats that would come out of the vents and end up the toilets in the girl’s bathroom. There was no gym. No real cafeteria—just a basement with a cement floor covered in ugly brown paint.  And there was no library. So one day our 1st Grade class was taken on a field trip to the Public Library. Once there our teacher told us we were to pick out a book that had to do with what we wanted to be when we grew up. I chose a book about astronauts. My teacher told me that “little colored boys can’t grow up to be astronauts” and that I should put that book back and choose another one. It really bothered me. Having my dreams crushed as a first grader was not fun.

I asked my paternal grandfather if it’s true that colored boys can’t be astronauts when they grow up. He said, “That’s right. There ain’t no colored astronauts.” Still not wanting to give up my dream, I asked my maternal grandfather if what I had been told was true. He responded, knowing I needed some kind of a lifeline, “well that’s not exactly right. He said, there are colored astronauts, but when they find out where they’re goin’ they get so scared they turn White!” He laughed. And so did I, saying “I ain’t gonna be scared.” I decided to be a pilot and then someday maybe even an astronaut.

Flying High

By 1996 I suppose one could say that I had met with some measure of success in Hollywood. After two seasons writing on the hit sketch comedy show “In Living Color,” and having been given an overall writer-producer deal at Fox Studios, I created “Sister, Sister,” follwed by “Kenan & Kel,” and was an executive creative consultant on the animated series “Men in Black: The Series.” At one point all three of those shows were on the air at the same time. For my 40th birthday I took a flying lesson. It was called a ‘Discovery’ flight and I was hooked. I loved it. After only four and a half hours flight training I bought my first airplane. It was a single-engine, high performance airplane.

After a couple of years of flying and achieving my private, instrument and commercial pilot’s certificates, I bought a twin-engine airplane. I continued to take advanced flight training eventually achieving my multi-engine, instrument, commercial pilot’s certificates.  

I loved flying and would fly my beautiful bird from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay area, to Las Vegas, to Arizona, etc. I often flew with friends but many times alone. 

On one particular day I flew by myself to one of my favorite places for breakfast, San Luis Obispo, CA. I landed and taxied to the parking area guided into a space by a linesman who was White. I shut down my engines and exited my plane. The linesman looked at me then back inside my plane and asked me with a dumbfounded look, “where’s the pilot?!”  I responded by saying, “I don’t know. I flew here to look for him.”  

I continued my flight training… One of the proudest days of my life was when I became a certified jet pilot. It’s not the same as being an astronaut, but on a star-filled night flying a jet at 41,000 feet, it feels pretty darn close.

Macro and Micro Aggressions in Hollywood

Toliver Holmes, Bass’ great-great grandfather who escaped his bondage. (Submitted photo).

I once did a big pitch for an animated film at one of the major Hollywood studios. It was a story filled with Black characters in a warm and wonderful inner-city neighborhood that was going to be destroyed by the construction of a freeway overpass. It was a good pitch. Described by the big wig studio executive, as one of the best pitches he’d ever heard. He said “I only have one question. Where are all of the White people?” I walked out of the meeting and headed to the elevator.

I had an agent who called me one day in tears asking, “Is this what it’s like?” I asked, “what is what like?” (Racism).

She told me she had submitted my name for an open writing assignment for a studio film project. It was a comedic-action story. Right up my alley. My agent, who happened to be a White woman, told me she received a call from a development executive at the studio who wondered why I had been submitted for the open assignment. My agent said because he’s perfect for project. To which the studio executive asked, “But isn’t he Black?!” My agent said, “Yes. But what does that matter?” The studio executive continued by saying, “Well, can he write White…? Look, do yourself a favor and just submit another writer. Kim Bass won’t be considered.”

Then there was the action-comedy re-writing assignment that I was offered because I am Black. I walked away from that one when I was told the studio only wanted me to re-write the Black character’s half of the screenplay. A segregated re-write?! No thank you!

“Sister, Sister” was arguably the most well-known show with which I am associated. It was my original concept that I developed and for which I wrote the original pilot after pitching the show to ABC. As conceived the father (played by Tim Reid) was more successful than a limousine company owner. He was a multi-millionaire.  

It was changed when a big, studio executive gave the note to dial his level of success back. That the American audience wouldn’t buy that a Black man was a millionaire; I assume inferring that a Black man couldn’t be so successful. 

I ultimately did not remain on the show as an executive producer. I moved on and pursued other creative endeavors, including creating “Kenan & Kel” and writing or rewriting various screenplays for films. Martin Lawrence’s “A Thin Line Between Love & Hate” was a fun rewriting assignment.

Coming Home from Japan

Upon return to US and knocking around Hollywood for about a year, it was clear that my limited success acting in Japan had not transferred into any meaningful acting gigs and certainly not into stardom stateside. The biggest reason was that I am not a very good actor. We all have our gifts. I readily admit acting ain’t one of mine. Once my savings began to run out, I decided to get a “civilian” job and went to an upscale employment agency. Gary Perlman, my best buddy, who had been a teaching colleague in Japan, had come to visit me in LA. He decided to check out his career options too. He came along with me and filled out an application at the employment agency. Our applications were very similar. We both had been to college and were fluent in Japanese, with similar typing and writing skills, etc.

The White female manager of the agency came out of her office to speak to the both of us. She looked at Gary, who happens to be White and Jewish, and said, “You speak Japanese.  That’s wonderful!”  She looked at me and exclaimed with disbelief, “And you speak Japanese. That’s amazing!” She went on to say that it would be no problem placing Gary in a good position at a Japanese company, but that would not be the case for me.  She said, “Not that I am, but Japanese people are very prejudiced and wouldn’t hire you. Submitting you would be a waste of time.”  I asked the woman to submit me any way and lets just see what happens.  She shrugged and said, “All right, but don’t expect any interviews or job offers. 

Gary ultimately returned to Japan, where he still lives today. And I not only got three interviews, each company offered me a job.  The employment agency manager was just as stunned by that as she was that I could speak Japanese.  She said, “Everybody wants you. I can’t believe they want you!”

I told her, I had already found employment and was no longer looking for a job. Then I called the Japanese company that I wanted to work for and told them that the firm had racially profiled me and demeaned Japanese people as racist and discriminatory. That I wanted to work for them, but I didn’t want that company to be rewarded for getting me the job she said I wouldn’t get because you wouldn’t give it to me. To please interview me again and hire me without their input. And that is exactly what happened.


Kim Bass—is an Emmy-nominated, NAACP Image Award-winning, screenplay and
teleplay writer who became a member of the Writers Guild of America West in 1989
after selling sketch comedy material to the HBO news parody show, “Not Necessarily
The News” and optioning his first screenplay.

Also, in 1989 Mr. Bass was selected as a participant in the prestigious Warner Brothers
Studio Sitcom Writers’ Workshop. During the past twenty-five years, Mr. Bass has
worked as a writer for most if not all the major Hollywood studios and television
networks as well as many prominent and independent film and television production
companies including: Warner Brothers Studios; Twentieth Century Fox Studios; Disney
Studios; Sony Pictures Studios; Paramount Studios; Dream Works Studios; New Line
Cinema; Film Roman Productions; Act III Productions; Savoy Pictures; The JacksonMcHenry Company; Image Entertainment; HBO; ABC; WB; UPN; FOX Television
network; Nickelodeon.

Mr. Bass has sold over two dozen screenplays. Mr. Bass has been hired to rewrite
several screenplays including “A Thin Line Between Love & Hate” starring Martin
Lawrence. Mr. Bass has consulted on or rewritten more than fifty teleplays. Mr. Bass
has been nominated for an Emmy Award for “Best Writing” and has received an NAACP
Image Award for writer on “Best Comedy Series” for the ground-breaking FOX network
sketch comedy series, “In Living Color.” Mr. Bass is the creator of the Cable Ace Award-winning Nickelodeon series, “Kenan & Kel,” and he conceived the ABC/WB hit
syndicated sitcom, “Sister, Sister” for which he shares a “Created By” credit. Mr. Bass
was an executive creative consultant for two seasons on the WB network’s animated
series, “Men In Black—The Series.”

Currently, Mr. Bass is in post-production on his latest film, “HeadShop” (an urban
comedic drama) and in pre-production on a faith-based Christmas film, “Mother
Johnson’s Miracle Christmas,” scheduled to begin principal photography in the spring of
2022. In addition, Mr. Bass’ film, “Tyson’s Run” (family drama) is scheduled to open
theatrically, nationwide on March 11th.

Mark Ziobro
Mark Ziobrohttps://uticaphoenixnet.wpcomstaging.com
Mark is the current Managing Editor for The Utica Phoenix, and a Central New York Native.

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