Gordon Heath

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.

Gordon Heath
Born(1918-09-20)September 20, 1918
DiedAugust 27, 1991(1991-08-27) (aged 72)
OccupationActor, musician, café owner
Years active1937–81
Partner(s)Lee Payant (1949-76; Payant's death)


Heath was born in New York City, his parents' only child. His father Cyril Gordon Heath had emigrated from Barbados to the US, where he met and married Hattie Hooper.[1] Gordon Heath showed an early talent for both music and art, but opted to pursue an acting career, working on stage and radio.[1] Joining the New York radio station WMCA in 1945 he became the first black staff announcer employed by a major US radio station.[1] In 1945 he appeared on Broadway to great success in the play Deep Are the Roots, written by Arnaud d'Usseau and James Gow, directed by Elia Kazan, and starring Barbara Bel Geddes. The play ran for 447 performances, and when it was subsequently produced in London's West End, Heath reprised his co-starring role in it.[1] After the six-month London run, Heath decided to settle in Paris, France, in 1948.[2]

He also acted in Paris, and in 1950 in London he played Othello on stage and later for BBC Television. He directed an English-speaking production company, the Studio Theater of Paris, for 10 years, from the 1960s.[2]

He and his music and life partner Lee Payant operated a Left Bank café in Paris called L'Abbaye, whose clientele included the actress Rita Hayworth and other celebrities of the era, and Heath and Payant were the entertainers.[3] Many of the duo's folk albums were recorded there, from the 1950s,[3] and released on various international labels, including Elektra Records. Payant died on December 14, 1976.

Heath died in Paris after a lengthy illness on August 27, 1991.[2]


1959 The Nun's Story

Role Notes
1953The Emperor JonesEmperor Brutus JonesTV movie
1950-1954BBC Sunday-Night TheatreRev. Ezekiel Selby / Stanley Atlas / Brett Charles3 episodes
1954Animal FarmNarratorVoice
1955Captain Gallant of the Foreign LegionCharlieEpisode: "The Prayer Rug"
1955Mr. ArkadinPianistUncredited
1955Heroes and SinnersSidney
1955OthelloOthelloTV movie
1956Le secret de soeur AngèleLe trompettiste
1956Man of AfricaNarratorVoice
1958Storm Over JamaicaCoroner
1959SapphirePaul Slade
1961My Baby is Black!Daniel
1962My Uncle from Texas
1966Lost CommandDia
1969The Madwoman of ChaillotThe Folksinger
1970Aladin et la lampe merveilleuseEnglish version, Voice
1972La nuit Bulgare
1972L'aventure, c'est l'aventureLe général africain
1983L'africainLe ministre
1985Asterix Versus CaesarCaesarEnglish version, Voice
1986Asterix in Britain
1989Samuel Fuller's Street of No ReturnBlack Bum(final film role)

Select discography

  • Gordon Heath and Lee Payant Sing Songs of the Abbaye ‒ Elektra (1954)
  • Gordon Heath and Lee Payant Sing Encores from the Abbaye ‒ Elektra (1955)
  • An Evening at L'Abbaye – Elektra (1957)

'Folksongs and Footnotes' -- Abbaye Record 1 'Abbaye Anniversary Album'- Abbaye Record 2 (1959) 'Gordon Heath Sings Spirituals' - Abbaye Record 3 'Chants Tradionnels des Etats-Unis' Editions de la Boite à Musique LD 313


  1. Linda Rapp, "Heath, Gordon", in Claude J. Summers (ed.), The Queer Encyclopedia of Music, Dance & Musical Theater, Cleis Press, 2004, p. 118.
  2. Eleanor Blau (August 31, 1991). "Gordon Heath, 72; Co-Starred in Play 'Dweep are the Roots'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  3. Bruce Eder, Biography of Gordon Heath and Lee Payant, AllMusic.


  • Bourne, Stephen. "Heath, Gordon." Who's Who in Contemporary Gay & Lesbian History from World War II to the Present Day. Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon, eds. London and New York: Routledge, 2001. 183.
  • Breman, Paul. "Obituary: Gordon Heath." The Independent (London) (September 13, 1991): 26.
  • Heath, Gordon. Deep Are the Roots: Memoirs of a Black Expatriate. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.
  • Shipman, David. "Obituary: Gordon Heath." The Independent (London) (September 2, 1991): 21.
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