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Warner LeRoy's Interesting Obit

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It sounds like Warner LeRoy was an interesting guy.


NY Times Article from 2001:


Warner LeRoy, Restaurant Impresario, Is Dead at 65


Published: February 24, 2001


Warner LeRoy, a son of Hollywood pioneers who combined show business glamour with circus ballyhoo to create New York restaurants like Maxwell's Plum, Tavern on the Green and the new Russian Tea Room, died Thursday night at New York Presbyterian Hospital. He was 65.


The cause of death was complications of lymphoma, the family said.


Mr. LeRoy brought drama and entertainment to a business focused on cooking and hospitality. He envisioned restaurants as stage sets and threw everything into his designs, with the aim not merely of decorating but also of animating customers. The swinging singles of the 1960's came to life in Maxwell's Plum, the first and perhaps the most significant of Mr. LeRoy's dreamlands, which achieved a social significance in its era that rivaled that of the Stork Club of the 1940's and 50's.


Some said that his taste for rococo shimmer and dazzle was just noisy kitsch, that his pursuit of the fantastic sometimes crossed the line from exuberance to wretched excess. Others thought of him as an artist -- Paul Goldberger, writing in The New York Times, once called him ''New York's mad genius'' -- and, in fact, architecture and design writers seemed more interested than food critics in his restaurants. But no matter who was critiquing, his emphasis on production values transformed how restaurants looked and how people felt about them.


''Nobody can out-showbiz Warner in a restaurant, and probably nobody would want to, but in defining the edges so authoritatively, everybody took notice,'' said Danny Meyer, a New York restaurateur. ''He forced the rest of us to reckon with how people are going to feel in terms of the drama of our atmosphere. You cannot open a major New York restaurant today and not be aware that showbiz will play a role.''


Mr. LeRoy had a wizard's touch, waving a stylish and expensive wand to transform the mundane into fantasy. When he took control of Tavern on the Green in 1973, it was a rustic little money-losing pub. After three years of renovations with enormous cost overruns, the restaurant reopened as a vision of dazzling carved wood, molded plaster ceilings and shimmering glass, with crystal chandeliers, statues and murals. It became one of the top-grossing restaurants in the country despite its mediocre food.


''It is all, on one level, absurd; and yet it is all, on another level, quite wonderful,'' Mr. Goldberger wrote of Tavern in 1976. ''Mr. LeRoy's creation, as a piece of design, goes beyond the conventional limits of taste to create a new and altogether convincing world of its own.''


When Mr. LeRoy opened the new Tavern in 1976, it was with hoopla worthy of a big-city Harold Hill, with bands, balloons, models in bikinis and what was billed as the world's largest ice-cream sundae.


Twenty-three years later, the trombones sounded again when Mr. LeRoy took hold of the Russian Tea Room, a beloved but frumpy dowager of a restaurant.


The regulars were shocked when the Tea Room's longtime owner, Faith Stewart-Gordon, sold the restaurant to Mr. LeRoy in 1995. He closed it for renovation on New Year's Day in 1996, and as delays mounted rumors swirled like sightings of Anastasia. They alluded to overly grandiose plans, bankruptcy, health problems and other personal crises. Many people thought the Russian Tea Room would never open again, but open it did.


A visual riot of spangles, bangles, glass dancing bears, mirrors and gold, the new Tea Room attracted an onslaught of photographers on opening day. The food? In a 1999 review, William Grimes of The Times referred to it as ''dreary slog'' and awarded the restaurant a ''satisfactory'' rating. But as spectacle, it crackled.


Despite the fanfare surrounding these latter-day crystal temples, they simply followed in the wake of Maxwell's Plum, an explosion of brass, wood, fresh flowers and Tiffany glass at First Avenue and 64th Street that opened in 1966 and closed in 1988.


The smart set -- Bill Blass, Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty and Julie Christie -- all came to Maxwell's, whose name, too, seemed a typical flight of 1960's fancy. The restaurant was set up like a three-ring circus, with a main dining room raised so that diners could view the singles' action at the substantial and elegant mahogany bar. The bar, in turn, was above a casual cafe.


The menu ranged from hamburgers and chili to snails and stuffed squab. The restaurant also housed his staggering collection of Tiffany glass and Art Deco and Art Nouveau furnishings and objects.


''It is one of the true paradoxes of the city's night life,'' Peter Benchley wrote of Maxwell's in 1970 in an article in The New York Times Magazine on chic spots. ''By being consciously -- almost self-consciously -- democratic, by avoiding all pretense to exclusivity, it has become one of the most smashingly successful places in the city, attracting everyone from movie stars to restaurateurs to -- yes, even the fabled Brooklyn secretary. And contrary to the social imperative, they all seem to coexist in relative bliss.''


Before opening Maxwell's Plum, Mr. LeRoy dabbled in the arts, achieving modest renown as a producer, writer and director. In restaurants, he found his calling.


''A restaurant is a fantasy, a kind of living theater in which diners are the most important members of the cast,'' Mr. LeRoy said in 1976. ''It is one of the few creations that appeal to all of the senses, and one with which I can create my own world.''


In many ways, Mr. LeRoy's world was one of endless creation. Warner Lewis LeRoy was born in Hollywood on March 5, 1935, the son of Mervyn LeRoy, who had directed ''Little Caesar'' and would go on to produce countless other films, including ''The Wizard of Oz.'' His mother was Doris Warner, the daughter of Harry Warner of Warner Brothers Studios.


Young Warner grew up in a world of movie sets and movie stars. ''We had a screening room in the house -- all our friends did -- with a popcorn machine and a cotton candy machine,'' Mr. LeRoy recalled last year. ''Paintings in my dad's fine art collection lined the walls, and the movie projectors were behind one wall. He'd push a button and the bottom of a Picasso painting would lift up to allow a movie to be projected.''


Mr. LeRoy's parents divorced when he was 7. He attended high school in Switzerland, where his classmates included the future Shah of Iran and the Aga Khan. Later, Mr. LeRoy studied drama at Stanford University.


Not long after, Mr. LeRoy moved to New York City, where he produced and directed plays on and off Broadway, including Tennessee Williams's ''Garden District.'' He also wrote plays, including ''Between Two Thieves,'' a dramatization of the trial of Jesus, which he adapted from an Italian production.


Mr. LeRoy's drama career never took off. In the late 60's, he was managing a theater at First Avenue and 64th Street when an adjacent corner coffee shop closed. He gave up the stage and began dreaming up Maxwell's.


Mr. LeRoy was a big man who in his earlier years as a man about town favored elaborate brocade jackets. As he grew older, he turned to a more subdued velvet. In photograph after photograph, he flung his arms wide open, a characteristic pose that seemed to declare both his possession of all you could see and his eagerness to share it with you.


He amassed not only a staggering collection of decorative art but also works by Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Louise Nevelson and Frank Stella. He was particularly attached to his collection of espresso cups and to a series of birds made of silverware. At his estate in Amagansett, N.Y., he kept a collection of rare trees.


Though he and his second wife, Kay LeRoy, had a long and public divorce battle, they reconciled shortly afterward. In addition to Ms. LeRoy, he is survived by their three children: Carolyn, Max and Jennifer. He is also survived by a daughter, Bridget, from his first marriage, to Gen LeRoy, a writer, which ended in divorce; a sister, Linda Janklow, chairman of the Vivian Beaumont Theater; two half brothers, Brian Vidor of Los Angeles and Quentin Vidor of Rhinebeck, N.Y.; and three grandchildren.


Business partnerships often resulted in lawsuits and disputes, most famously with David Bouley, the chef with whom he originally planned to re-open the Russian Tea Room. Unlike his marriage, his partnership with Mr. Bouley ended in a permanent separation.


Mr. LeRoy's visions included several that never moved beyond his imagination. He spoke from time to time about building a restaurant in Bryant Park, behind the main building of the New York Public Library, and said he wanted to build ''a permanent world's fair'' at Liberty Park in New Jersey. Several times he proposed a restaurant for the southeastern corner of Central Park and offered plans for an elaborate crystal palace restaurant at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. He tried to buy Fouquet's, a belle époque bistro on the Champs-Élysées, and at one time wanted to take over Windows on the World.


And not all his completed projects were successful. A second Maxwell's Plum, which opened in San Francisco in 1981, was criticized as ''an explosion of vulgarity.'' (It closed after a brief run.) In 1986, Mr. LeRoy opened Potomac, a $9 million, 850-seat restaurant, the biggest in Washington history. The restaurant was a typical LeRoy extravaganza, with 24 immense chandeliers and a ceiling with 800,000 pieces of jeweled glass set in swirling patterns. Mr. Goldberger, the architecture critic, called Potomac ''not only ornate but monumental.'' But the restaurant closed after only a year.


While he got most of his attention for his restaurants, Mr. LeRoy's flamboyant tastes found other outlets. He created Great Adventure, a combination amusement park and safari of more than 1,500 acres in the pine barrens around Jackson Township, N.J., stocked with 2,000 animals. Mr. LeRoy sold his interest in the park to Time Warner in 1993.


Throughout his life, Mr. LeRoy never forgot his Hollywood roots, re-creating in his New York apartment a little movie theater that could seat 50 or 60 people. Mr. LeRoy's life did not always go according to the storybook. Mr. LeRoy's father had produced ''The Wizard of Oz,'' and it was young Warner who, after the movie was finished, inherited Toto, Dorothy's little terrier. Unlike Dorothy, who clutched Toto to her breast, Mr. LeRoy was not fond of the dog, referring to it later in life as the ''nasty little creature.''

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Warner LeRoy was born this day on March 3rd, 1935! I am sure he is having a great big piece of birthday cake in a really loud plaid suit somewhere!



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It males me wonder what GADV would be like if he still owned it, even if the whole plan was never carried out, just if SF never bought it and it was still owned by him. :rolleyes:



That has probably happened in some parallel universe. Happy B day LeRoy.

Edited by The Master

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