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Gordon Heath & Lee Payant

andrew potter
Gordon Heath (September 20, 1918 - August 27, 1991) was an African-American actor and musician who narrated the animated feature film Animal Farm (1954) and appeared in the title role of The Emperor Jones (1953) and Othello (1955), both live BBC telecasts, respectively directed by Alvin Rakoff and Tony Richardson. Heath found racial and sexual attitudes in Europe to be more tolerant than in the US, particularly regarding his white boyfriend, Lee Payant. The two had met in America in 1947. He and Payant settlend in Paris.

In 1945 Gordon Heath became the first African American staff announcer at a major US radio station, WMCA in New York. Later that year he starred in the play Deep Are the Roots, playing a returning war hero facing racism in American South. The play ran on Broadway for fourteen months, and then transferred, with Heath remaining in the lead, to London's West End.

He and Payant, operated a Left Bank café in Paris, France, called L'Abbaye where many of the duo's folk albums were recorded and released on various international labels including Elektra Records. They entertained enthusiastic Parisian audiences as a folk-singing duo for nearly thirty years.

Despite his early success, Heath found work as an actor only sporadically in later life. He narrated the 1956 animated Animal Farm and had a supporting role in The Madwoman of Chaillot.

Heath discussed his sexuality in his fascinating autobiography, Deep Are the Roots.

Payant, born in 1924, died on December 14, 1976. Heath died in Paris after a lengthy AIDS-related illness on August 27, 1991.


Gordon Heath was an African-American actor and musician who narrated the animated feature film Animal Farm and appeared in the title role of The Emperor Jones and Othello, both live BBC telecasts, respectively directed by Alvin Rakoff and Tony Richardson. Heath found racial and sexual attitudes in Europe to be more tolerant than in the US, particularly regarding his white boyfriend, Lee Payant. The two had met in America in 1947. He and Payant settlend in Paris and operated L'Abbaye.




L'Abbaye was featured in a 1952 issue of National Geographic for an article on the 2000th anniversary of Paris. Correspondence and cables from the magazine's photographers document the research process for the article. (By Emily Oswald | Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries, 2011: http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/story/heath.htm)


Heath and Payant at l'Abbaye, March 1950. (By Emily Oswald | Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries, 2011: http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/story/heath.htm)


Heath and Payant sing by candlelight in an undated photograph. (By Emily Oswald | Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries, 2011: http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/story/heath.htm)


Heath and Lee in the window of their apartment in Paris, February 1957. (By Emily Oswald | Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries, 2011: http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/story/heath.htm)


An undated shot of Heath and Payant at their apartment in Paris. (By Emily Oswald | Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries, 2011: http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/story/heath.htm)


An undated photograph of a typical music-work session at home with Lee. (By Emily Oswald | Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries, 2011: http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/story/heath.htm)

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Heath

Further Readings:

Deep Are the Roots: Memoirs of a Black Expatriate by Gordon Heath
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Univ of Massachusetts Pr (April 1996)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1558490205
ISBN-13: 978-1558490208
Amazon: Deep Are the Roots: Memoirs of a Black Expatriate

This strongly written memoir is a welcome addition to the literature of a sad chapter in American arts. Heath, 1918-91, was a black, gay American actor. His deeply etched memories re-create a world of black New York in the 1920s and 1930s that is clear and passionate. Heath's family, friends, influences, ideas, tastes, and an awareness of self are fully drawn. The title comes from Heath's major success as an actor on Broadway: Elia Kazan's Deep Are the Roots. The production of Deep traveled to London in 1947, and Heath settled in Europe, whence he returned only occasionally. Talented black American actors, writers, and musicians all too often find no comfortable home in the U.S. arts. This memoir may help to explain why. For most theater and black study collections. - Thomas E. Luddy, Salem State Coll., Mass.

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