Today many more doors and opportunities are open for minorities in front of and behind the camera. Additionally, many more opportunities are enjoyed by African Americans, Hispanics and Women in all of today’s media. – But it was Kennedy, the kid with a dream from Cleveland, with no help from agents, managers, or any support system, who opened many of those doors.
Leon is a child of the media – one of the rare few, creatively blessed to write, produce and perform in all aspects of radio, television and movies.
Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, while some inner city kids were taking drugs and getting involved with gangs, Leon was only 15 years old when he sounded crazy to some of his friends for announcing — that he had decided to be a Movie Star! Writer! Producer!
Even at age 15, knowing how to dare to dream and overcome reality, Kennedy realized there was not much opportunity for Blacks. So he formulated a plan. “I’ll be a disc jockey… then become a big time air personality … then get my own television show … then do movies!”
Immediately working on his plan, by the time he was 16 Leon made history by becoming one of the youngest disc jockeys in a top ten market.
Still working on “his plan” Leon had his first TV show “Teen-A-Rama” by age 19.
Leon was promoted from Teen Weekend DJ in Cleveland, Ohio – to full time in an even bigger market, Detroit – Motown!
It was in The Motor City that Leon started to become a radio legend as Leon The Lover!
Almost 45 years later fans still ask about Leon The Lover and his classic Leon’s Lover’s Lane! Some say it was his voice, others say the poems he personally wrote – to go with his theme song and slow jams as Leon sometimes charmed – sometimes made them cry – certainly made them tune in.
As recently as Berry Gordy’s Motown Musical opening, while exchanging hugs legendary performer, Gladys Knight reminisced how she and her cousins, The Pips – would sit out on their front porch – and listen. It was like every house – every car radio – was listening to Leon The Lover!
Leon reminisced, what better place for a young teen to grow up as a top disc jockey than The Motor City?
While others my age were just beginning college, I was friends with all of the Motown Legends.
When Leon made personal appearances or played records at a club – lines for entrance circled around the block. Modestly Leon laughs, “It wasn’t just to see me; on any given night – Dennis Edwards or the great David Ruffin from The Temptations might sing and my dear friend, Stevie Wonder – judged Leon’s Pretty Leg Contest. Living and DJ’ing in Motown I made lifelong friends in a slice of time and history that can never be replicated.”
Still pursuing his dream Leon moved onto Washington, D.C. doing both radio and television.
The wonderful Businesswoman and Entrepreneur, TV One’s Cathy Hughes remarked, “Leon, with his great talents and Lover’s Lane, took Black radio to a higher level of class and talent.”
Leon next took on Houston, Texas wherein he hooked up with one of his mentors and great friends, Disc Jockey Extraordinaire, Mike Payne.
Not content to be just an on the air personality, Leon with Mike – Wrote – Produced and Co-Hosted “Outta Sight”!
Leon was the driving force that syndicated this “Laugh In” type comedy show. Think of “In Living Color”, only 20 years earlier.
Always the pioneer, Leon again made history. Prior to “Soul Train” it was Leon with “Outta Sight” that had the nation’s first Black Syndicated TV Show.
His last stop as a disc jockey – Hollywood! Yes, still following his plan, Leon had worked his way to The City of Dreams! Now it was time to do other things!
• Chips – I was cast as a Regular – but left the show when the movies hit.
• The Hitchhiker – Leon remembers this one because he starred with Gene Simmons, from “Kiss” fame.
• Off The Minnesota Strip – A TV Movie of the Week – Starring Mare Winningham – Hal Holbrook – Guest Starring Leon Isaac Kennedy
• Numerous other appearances
Writing and Producing
Leon values his Writing and Producing skills as much as in front of the camera experiences.
• 90 Tonight Show – was the youngest Writer-Producer for KNBC.
• My Buddy – Co-wrote and Co-produced ABC Television Pilot for Top Star, Redd Foxx.
• Numerous other credits
By age 25, Leon was producing Major Motion Pictures. Leon has written and/or starred in and produced such major classics as “Penitentiary I”, “II” and “III”; “Body and Soul” with Muhammad Ali and Jayne Kennedy; “Lone Wolfe McQuade” with Chuck Norris, and many others. Leon’s films have generated Hundreds of Millions of
Known for his classic action flicks, Leon is known as a Pioneer in Independent Filmmaking.
Leon is looked upon as a Filmmaker’s Icon. One of Hollywood’s First Minorities to take a project from the Idea Stage – Script It – Raise the Financing – Produce and Star in the Project.
Kennedy explains, “It’s not that I’m so talented; it’s what I had to do just to be able to generate work. Back then, there was no luxury or opportunity of being able to go from film to film as there is now – so I generated my own.
Unlike many Hollywood products, Leon was not a manufactured studio star. He created his own product, his own image – his own good!
However, if Kennedy had no creative talents, he’d still have to be considered a major force in the industry due to his proven abilities for making money – promoting products – and being able to bypass agents and managers by having direct access to key industry talents.
To fund his various film projects, Kennedy had to not only be creative, but learn and provide financing. To raise financing Kennedy was one of the First Minority Filmmakers to travel to the Cannes and Mifed Film Festivals – and was one of the few Minorities there at the inception of the American Film Market.
He traveled throughout the world to countries such as Russia – China – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, etc. – and was one of the first Minorities to deal directly with the Foreign Film Buyers – thus dispelling the myth that Black Films have no overseas commercial value.
As a result of his initiative and pioneering efforts, Kennedy’s Films have played in virtually every country in the world and opened many doors for today’s Minority Filmmakers.
Once cast as “Martel Gordone” (Too Sweet) in “Penitentiary” by Jamaa Fanaka, Kennedy became an immediate bona fide star. Fan magazines named him, along with John Travolta, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, and others … “Box office Stars of the 80’s”. And Box Office Sex Symbol –for three consecutive years.
“Penitentiary” was the number one independent film of the year! “Penitentiary”, starring Leon Isaac Kennedy was not the number one Black film, but number one independent film period! An amazing feat from minority filmmakers.
Kennedy and “Penitentiary” broke box office records all across the country. Back then ticket prices were $3.00 and in some Black theatres 99¢. In today’s market — Penitentiary represents a $80 million film done for less than $500,000!
The “Penitentiary” series has become a cult classic. They still play continuously worldwide!
When “Penitentiary” was released there were very few Black films playing. The so-called Black Exploitation era had been over for years, thus very few Black films were financed, much less receiving distribution.
Studio’s, distributors, and movie exhibitors follow “the green”. “Penitentiary’s” success forced open the doors for minority financing and distribution and gave minority actors, writers and directors inspiration that they too could have success!