Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Remembering Leroy Haynes

By Michael 'Biltmore' Ferguson
     Restaurateur turned actor Leroy Haynes (not to be confused with another African-American boxer of the same name - 1911-1990), was one of a number of American servicemen who choose to stay in Europe after the war rather than return home. During the boom years of the 'Spaghetti Westerns' he joined the growing ranks of actors such as Dorothy Dandridge ("Uncle Tom's Cabin" which she turned down & the unmade John Ireland film "I Killed Jesse James"), Al Hoosman ("Beyond the Law"), John Kitzmiller ("Uncle Tom's Cabin"), Edith Peters ("The Tramplers" & "Two Mafia-Men in the Far West"), Archie Savage ("Death Rides a Horse") and Woody Strode ("Once Upon a Time in the West"). Like Josephine Baker before them, they found that war-torn Europe offered more acceptance and a greater social freedom than their homeland did. Still other 'European' based black actors, who have yet to be identified, found work and went uncredited in many films, as they weren't members of the acting guilds and unions.
     Leroy Haynes was born Leroy Howard Milton Haynes, son of Robert Haynes and M.C. Curine Lena, on January 7th, 1914, in Clinton, Kentucky. Early on his family relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where his father's family worked for the infamous bootlegger Al Capone. In later years Haynes loved to regale his customers with stories of his younger self meeting up with the legendary gangster. Having graduated from high school he went to the prestigious, but segregated Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. There he received a Master's degree in both Arts and Sociology. Some of the school's other alumni have been Martin Luther King, film director Spike Lee and future spaghetti actor Samuel L. Jackson ("Django Unchained").
     The athletic Haynes found football to his liking and quickly earned the nickname of 'Roughhouse'. When War broke out he enlisted in the army and saw action in the Pacific. After the war not wanting to return stateside Haynes traveled throughout France and Germany. During these years he taught 'American-style-football', rather than soccer to the GI's that were still stationed overseas. Upon his discharge from the service he found work as a bartender in a local restaurant in Paris. There he met and soon after married the love of his life, Gabrielle Lecarbonnier (1928 - ). In 1949 the newlyweds opened Paris' first American soul food establishment, 'Gabby and Haynes' which was located on rue des Martyrs, around the corner from Place Pigalle. The restaurant quickly attracted not only homesick GI's, but also writers, students, musicians and film people who found themselves in ol' Paree. Haynes must have felt right at home amongst his clientele such as Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr. Paul Newman and Anthony Perkins.
     Leroy and Gabby divorced in 1960. Soon after he opened a second 'American' restaurant 'Chez Haynes' on rue Clauzel, around the corner from his first eatery, which his ex-wife had kept open with the help of their son, Richard. During the next decade while running the new restaurant, Haynes married a second French nationalist, Elizabeth Barthelemy, and they had two girls, Dorothy and Sophie. Once again the marriage faltered and in 1972 they divorced with Elizabeth taking the two girls to live with her in New York.

At the urging of his 'cinema' patron's Leroy in 1962 made his film debut in Maurice Labro's "The Deadly Decoy /  Le Gorille a mordu l'archevêque". In between running the restaurant and preparing meals, Haynes found time to continue doing little cameos in such films as Jean Girault's "Le Gendarme à New York" (1965), Marcel Carne's "Trois chambres à Manhattan" (1965) and Jean Becker's "Tender Voyeur" (1966).  It wasn't until a few years later that he got to make spaghetti history by being ask to go a few uncredited rounds with Bud Spencer in Giuseppe Colizzi's "Ace High". Here Haynes comes across rather effectively as the aging prize-fighter who just won't quit. Surprisingly he wasn't snapped up by some enterprising producer for a series of his own films. Mr. Haynes appeared in a second spaghetti-western Christian-Jacque's light-hearted "The Legend of Frenchie King" (1971). Much to his delight on the night of 'Frenchie's' Parisian premiere the two female stars, Brigitte Bardot and  Claudia Cardinale, and the director dined at 'Chez Haynes' restaurant.
     A year before his death Haynes remarried on April, 1st, 1985, to Maria Dos Santos, a young Portuguese woman who was living in Paris. Sadly this union would be short lived as he died at the age of 62 during the month of April, 1986 in Paris, France. His body lay at the Cimetière Père Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris, until 2005 when his third wife, Maria had him moved to the suburban cemetery Jardin Cinéraire de Thiais outside Paris.  Like 'Gabby' before her Maria kept Leroy's dream alive by keeping the second restaurant open for the next two decades.

     Today we remember Leroy Haynes on what would have been his 100th birthday.
 ETBP: Your father, Leroy Haynes, was a Paris legend. So was his restaurant on rue Clauzel. What are your memories of the restaurant?

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: Before my sister and I were born, my father and mother were married about 8 years. I have early memories of the restaurant. We would play within the doorways of the famous place, darting about as kids do. I loved the smell of the spices that came from the kitchen; the cave-like restaurant with its red checkered table clothes had a homey feeling. I remembered sometimes Leroy would occasionally spend his down time reading what I believe was the Chicago Tribune and reacting to the articles he would be reading. It made no sense to me what he was saying, at that time I spoke only French. My mother worked in the restaurant as well as her brother, Uncle Jacques.
ETBP: Your mom moved you and your sister Sophie to New York City when you were four years old. Tell me what you remember about your life in Paris prior to moving there.
Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: Prior to living in New York, life in Paris was busy and comfortable. My mother took the responsibility for caring for my sister and me. At the time, we lived in a small flat a few doors down from the restaurant. We were enrolled in a French Pre-K school that was serious, strict and organized. I enjoyed the structure of the little school and found the experience very positive. I remember the teachers gave us a strong sense of being French with little talks about how important it was.
ETBP: Your mother made sure that you returned to Paris during the summer. Tell us about this experience.
Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: It would be about four years before we would travel back to France after leaving Paris in 1972. My sister and I stayed with our father at his house. He had a building next door to the restaurant — a huge two-level space where my brother, Richard, shared an apartment with his girlfriend Candy. It was a great place to be as a kid. It had old stairs leading up to the second floor and many rooms to venture into. I remember really enjoying the back yard and playing with my sister.

 Elizabeth Barthelemy and Maria Haynes at the restaurant on rue Clauzel
                 [Image courtesy of Dorothy Haynes-Griffin]

ETBP: You mention a brother, Richard. Tell us more about your family.

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: My sister Sophie and I have the same mother, Elizabeth Barthelemy. She was Leroy’s second wife. My brother Richard is the son of Gabrielle, who was my father’s first wife and the one well known for opening the first restaurant with him on rue Manuel. When visiting, I would spend a lot of time with my brother and always wished that we could live closer to each other. Maria Haynes was Leroy's last wife. She was from Portugal, and as a young lady, she caught the eye of Leroy while married to my mother. They never had children. Maria had a daughter from a previous relationship. They stayed married, working together in the restaurant until his death in 1986.

                                           Young Richard Haynes

                         Image courtesy of Dorothy Haynes-Griffin

There were several times in New York were my sister and I were awakened in the late night to hear "Your father's on TV - wake up," and my sister and I would come running into the living room to see our father shooting at some guys on television. It was funny.

ETBP: Is the fact that you are Leroy Haynes’ daughter important to people in the U.S. today?

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: I think for some it is interesting that I am Leroy’s daughter. I have met a lot of older black Americans that remember Leroy well, and they remember the experience they had at the restaurant, the food etc. I am always greeted with a funny story that includes memories of Leroy’s generosity. Younger people, unless they've had the opportunity to travel or research the lives of expatriates, don’t know who Leroy was. That's why what you do (ETBP walking tours) is very important.

I love that Leroy touched so many people, as I can still get a sense of that through the stories that are told to me. It turns out that one of my closest friends, Delorys Welch-Tyson, knew Leroy. He helped her out with changing her American currency to French Francs. It was an ironic moment when she discovered I was his daughter. This kind of thing has happened a lot over the years. Another friend and actress, Juliette Farley, had a father in the military who ate at the restaurant and knew of Leroy during the war. Mr. Farley also married a French woman and they now live in Texas. In a lot of ways, I have built on friendships that were originally started by Leroy.

ETBP: Did Leroy's "fame" impact your life as a child?

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: Leroy’s success was a story that I connected to the more I researched his early life in America. Because of a huge generation gap, family members in America were never really mentioned. I spent some years piecing together the puzzle of his early life that gave me a bigger picture of him. A lot of his family members were much older and had passed by the time I became really interested in our genealogy. One of his uncles was James “Bigstick” McCurine who played for the Hartford Giants, Chicago Lincoln Giants, Chicago Brown Bombers, Chicago American Giants and retired suddenly after an arm injury. There was his mother, Lena McCurine-Evans, my grandmother who lived in Chicago and was a vowed Christian. She spent her older years devoted to her church in Chicago called the Greater Union Baptist Church. I never did meet ol’ Lena!

ETBP: When did Leroy pass away?

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: April 1986. I was on the M104 bus coming home from junior high school. I sat next to a woman who was reading a magazine named "Chocolate Singles," a known black single's magazine at the time. As the woman turned the page I saw a full article on my father and Chez Haynes Restaurant. I saw the picture of Leroy in the middle of the article. He looked so old and unhealthy and I had a sudden panic attack when I saw it. A few weeks later, my brother called to tell us Leroy had died. There were many calls from Paris, from my brother. Sadly we were unable to go to Paris that year.
His resting place was Cimetière Père Lachaise until 2005. Then he was moved to the Jardin Cinéraire de Thiais by his wife Maria.
ETBP: What is your fondest memory of your father?
Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: It was the early afternoon and Leroy and I sat at a table in the restaurant, the one by the door and the very big windows covered in white lace. I was about 7 years old, and somehow we landed on a conversation about food. He asked me what I liked to eat (he was trying to figure out what to cook for me); I replied I was a vegetarian. He disappeared to the restaurant’s kitchen and returned several minutes later with a fried zucchini…delicious!
For further reading please go to 'ruedescollectionneurs' and see 'Chez Haynes, 60 ans d'un Americain'  by Jean Segura, and then to 'Entrée to Black Paris' and see 'Leroy Haynes: Memories of My Father' by Dorothy Haynes Griffin.

A big thank you to Michael W. Anderson for his help

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