In the exclusive interview, Kennedy wanted to talk to the CEO of a company he likened to the old Johnson Publishing Company; the one that had the trusted publications he grew up with more than 60 years ago. The one he says his mother, father and even grandparents read.
The one led by the late, great John H. Johnson – with whom he had a very warm relationship.
In a calm and measured tone throughout the entire 30-minute phone call, Kennedy, an ordained minister for the past 20 years, wanted to expound upon the Open Letter he wrote recently in response to the lawsuit he filed against Johnson Publications – the new regime – and Ebony magazine in particular, for defamation of his character in their March 2013 Scandal issue.
The article that he says totally neglected archived facts for the sake of gaining revenue. The article he feels was manipulated by a regime with no regard for truth or history; and no connection whatsoever to the integrity of its founder and CEO.
A regime so hungry to be relevant in today’s crowded landscape of sensationalism that they would choose to ignore archived facts developed from an in-person interview coordinated by late founder and CEO John H. Johnson about his 1982 divorce from former wife, actress Jayne Kennedy; and instead, create false information because it fit perfectly in the 2013 issue they developed on “Scandals.”
“Johnson publications, the current Johnson publications and its current fact checkers, knew what they printed in the March 2013 article as a fact was absolutely false…its editors and writers intentionally chose each word,” says Kennedy, as he repeats the verbiage used by the writers of content referencing the so-called “sex tape,” which they claimed Kennedy purposefully exposed following the divorce. During the interview, Kennedy tells LB the tape was stolen from their home and only surfaced in the 90’s, nearly a decade after the couple’s divorce. He implies a conflict in the dates offered by the Ebony 2013 article.
“Viciously leaked,” “pervert,” [were the labels Ebony used] for the purpose of sensationalized commercialism to sell magazines… they did so, as far as I’m concerned, maliciously and with no regards for the name and character of Leon Kennedy,” says Kennedy.
Kennedy, who broke through many barriers in his heyday that minorities today still benefit from, became known in the late 70’s and 80’s for his incredible good looks, and leading man status in an assortment of two-fisted action films and the so-called blaxploitation era. He would go on to become a respected writer and producer in the industry – gifted in raising funds for his films, marketing them successfully, and acting in them too. He and former beauty queen and actress Jayne Kennedy starred in “Body and Soul” (1981), a film for which Leon wrote the screenplay. The two were married for 12 years (1970-82), and were practically glorified as one of the “most physically beautiful couples” of the era.
“This is very big,” says Kennedy, about his feelings on the betrayal of a company he once held in high esteem.
“The current Johnson Publications, its writers and the editors intentionally disregarded what its own Founder and CEO John H. Johnson, and his hand-picked reporters reported, accepted, and printed as fact over 30 years ago. And the truth in those facts, were that Leon and Jayne Kennedy had an amicable mutually respectful divorce.”
Kennedy shares his keen memories of how John H. Johnson himself orchestrated the entire scene for the exclusive interview about the couples’ divorce in 1981 and says that in contrast to the reporters who did that article – reporters who he says “called many times to find out how Jayne and I were dealing with the divorce and dealing with one another” … this 2013 article offered no phone calls nor opportunities to deny or rebut with what was being written.
In the Scandal issue, which shows Kerry Washington – the star of the highly-acclaimed TV show of the same name on the cover – several celebrities are targeted – and it appears that Kennedy is not the only one to call the magazine out publicly due to erroneous allegations.
Ebony also heard from Pastor Jamal H. Bryant of Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore, Md. who, according to The Christian Post, had this to say.
“On page 124 they published that it’s alleged I impregnated a 17-year-old member of my church. This accusation is categorically and completely untrue. To publish this with absolutely no source lends itself to reckless endangerment to my children, my congregation and my community. Ebony is not the National Enquirer. A higher standard is required and the statement jeopardizes my ministry to the youth in my church and community,” the Maryland pastor added.
Within 24 hours of Bryant’s open rebuke, Ebony admitted in an online statement that it “published the outrageous allegation as it was scandalous, not because it was confirmed.”
Unlike Kennedy, Bryant chose to accept the editor’s apology.
Kennedy’s attorney did reach out to the current staff at Johnson Publications to let them know his client was not happy with the article and the magazine offered what Leon calls an “ambiguous and begrudging apology. Which no one has seen,” he adds. “It’s just a little column hidden somewhere.”
Leon says the mere fact that Kerry Washington was on the cover meant that “more people than usual” was going to read Ebony.
“To then get a little one column [blurb] that claims ‘we’re doing an apology’. That’s not enough when you’ve done a character assassination on the name and reputation and persona of a person,” he charges.
Kennedy clarifies – that contrary to what may be popular belief – this lawsuit is not about money. In fact, any recovery manifested from the lawsuit will go directly to charity.
At this stage of his journey, Kennedy appears to be more concerned about what is being said about him; what is left behind when he is gone. He is concerned at what people 10 or 100 years from now will read and states: “Especially with social media and everyone Googling” they will be looking at what Ebony wrote.
In his Open Letter, sent via email to EURweb he states,
“Since this article [March 2013] several television shows have quoted this Johnson lie.”
He shares with LB: “When you reach a certain age, and your contemporaries are passing on. Every week or so one of our contemporaries has passed on, so you reach a certain age and all you have left is your legacy. You want to be remembered for ‘who you really are’ and ‘what you really did’. “
“Jayne and I have had a wonderful friendship in all these post 30 years of this divorce. I don’t think that she… or Bill, her husband would not have allowed me to be around them or their family if they thought I was a “pervert” as this 2013 article stated or insinuated. I don’t think they would have allowed me to have been around them if they thought I did this. I just wanted to call you (Lee Bailey) because I have known you for a long time and you’ve known me for a long time and add these things.”
Kennedy tells LB how in his entire 50 years in show business he has worked to live a decent life. He stands proud in the fact that his name has never been associated with things such as prison, drunk driving, drugs or the like and says this article was hurtful to him.
“It seems to be their attitude ‘We’ll write whatever we want about you and anybody. If we’re called to task we’ll just apologize. And if you say ‘No, an apology is not enough’ – well then we’ll say ‘we’re sorry, there’s nothing else that we can do’. To me they have to be held accountable for what they did. This particular issue generated millions of dollars at my expense and the expense of other people that they wrote about. ”
Kennedy says that this is not the Johnson Publications that he knew and loved.
To this day, Amazon is selling the ‘Scandalous’ issue new starting at $9.95
“The Johnson Publishing company that I knew and loved built the community up; especially black men. They were the only voice that we had for a long time,” Leon emphasizes.
“This issue was just tearing people down, especially me, for no reason,” he adds.
Interestingly, Jamal Bryant said the same thing.
Kennedy says the fact that they had the true information in their archives and didn’t use it just added insult to injury.
And if you are wondering what first wife, Jayne Kennedy, who married Bill Overton in 1985 thinks about all of this, Leon Kennedy says he has spoken with her and her husband, and they both “understand” what he is feeling and why he feels he has to file the lawsuit.
As for the Statute of Limitations on this particular issue, Kennedy, who started searching for legal representation immediately after seeing the article, says the SOL would have been up in March; which is why he had to file the lawsuit now.
The minister, whose lawsuit claims the article cost him thousands of dollars in invitations to minister at other churches, also responds to EURweb readers who posted comments from the previously published Open Letter article. He tells LB that he would ask those readers who say he is suing just for the money, etc. What would you do? How much is a persons’ name and reputation and legacy worth?
Kennedy is passionate as he reiterates that “There…are families involved. For this to just happen to be brought up again, this is a whole new generation they put this lie out to.”
“People refer to this as a ‘sex tape’ he continues.
“This was a tape that was done between a husband and wife in the privacy of their own home. It was for our eyes only. We were not going out intentionally to make a sex tape. This was just a private moment. We were in our 20s Lee, at that particular time, if I recall correctly it was on our fifth wedding anniversary. We are now, this is forty years later, so we weren’t doing a tape like some people have done in recent times…to jump start their careers. This was for our eyes only. It was stolen and later exploited and enhanced and sold…Other people turned this into a sex tape.”
Kennedy describes Jayne as a woman who has always been the epitome of a lady…the epitome of class; the epitome of beauty.
“And not just outside beauty, Lee,” he adds. “She has an inside quality. She’s one of the finest human beings that I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. And that’s why it’s even more hurtful to be accused of me trying to or insinuating that I’m trying to ruin her life or career because I have the utmost respect and love for her and her family.”
Kennedy says he also respects himself too much to do the things the Ebony article accuses him of.
”I was so young Lee, I always had to be extra on top of things just to be accepted so I always was disciplined…I’ve always tried to conduct myself with a certain responsibility and dignity so for anybody to think that I would expose something like this so that other people can ridicule you and laugh at you behind your back…they absolutely do not know me,” Kennedy adds, perplexed by the fact that news items such as the great Smokey Robinson once crediting him with saving his life doesn’t get this kind of media attention.
“I don’t see them writing about that,” he concludes.
This story was written by DeBorah B. Pryor, an entertainment journalist with more than 400 published articles to her credit. As an entrepreneur, she created and teaches the original workshop “Public Speaking for the Private Person.” She is also an independent associate for LegalShield, a company that provides people with access to top law firms nationwide without worrying about the cost. Visit her at www.dpryorpresents.com.