Leon & Cynthia (first published in BE 1999)

When he first laid eyes on her, he saw a very beautiful, classy woman.  “She looked like me!” he exclaimed.  “It’s like when you go shopping for clothes and you try on a coat and it’s a perfect fit, you know no matter what the cost you are getting it. That’s how it was when I first saw her.”

Lunching in Soho during a break on a modeling assignment, he walked by and she thought “there goes, cutie-pie!”  She recognized him from his movies.  It was a year before they saw each other again, at a BET fashion show.  He was determined not to let this opportunity pass and so introduced himself.  A mutual friend told him that she was a model and arranged for her to have his telephone number.  They finally spoke over the telephone and she told him that she was in a relationship, the timing was wrong but she would love to keep in touch.  A friendship developed over the phone and when the relationship with the other man ended they had their first date – a week in Jamaica where they fell in love!

He claims Jamaica as his second home and people who meet him thinks he is Jamaican.  After all, he successfully led the Jamaican bobsled team into the Olympics in the movie “Cool Runnings,” has hosted several Reggae Sumfest concerts in Montego Bay and has emceed “Jamaica Jamboree,” a free annual reggae concert held in Central Park which supports the Jamaica Tourist Board and benefits AIDS.  He also owns Mama Coffies Bar and Grill in Montego Bay as well as performs with a reggae band, The Young Lions at Shine Restaurant in Soho.

Whether he is playing the role of Russell in Terry McMillan’s “Waiting to Exhale,” David Ruffin in The Temptations, Kinette a ruthless killer in “Cliffhanger,” or the basketball player who falls prey to crack in “Midnight Caller,” Leon’s performance is one you will remember with great clarity.  He is currently in “tryouts” for the role of “daddy” to a bundle of joy who will soon steal the hearts of the many fans her mom and dad share.

Noelle Forde Robinson weighed in at 8lbs 7oz on November 9, 1999 to Noel’s fiancée, Wilhelmina-model Cynthia Bailey.  Leon mischievously offered that Noelle was conceived on a trip to the Image Awards last Valentine’s weekend.  Cynthia concurred that her doctor was able to accurately calculate the baby’s due date from this trip.  When asked if this was a planned pregnancy Leon responded to the unspoken question, ‘what about safe-sex?’  “After many discussions, we realized we were ready for the consequences,” he said.  Leon then admits his initial response to the news was, “Am I ready?  It’s not like I didn’t want it.  I was hoping to meet someone to have a child with for a while.  In a perfect world, we hope that it is planned.  However, if one comes upon you it is time to make the adjustment.  As much as I shoot for the top, I am not idealistic!  We are learning and we are doing a good job.  I am lucky to have her,  she has been an absolutely wonderful momma.  I knew that, which was the reason I wanted to be with her.”

Cynthia knew she was ready to handle the responsibility of having a child because she knew she was with the right person and it was the right time.  “I prayed that career-wise it would work for me and it has!”  she smiled.  Four and a half months after Noelle’s birth she was back to work.  A diet of no “heavy carbohydrates,” but, meat, fish, chicken, fruits and three months of intense cardiovascular exercising helped her to regain her svelte body.

It is a tribute to her genes and beauty regimen that she has maintained the cover girl allure that keeps her busy these days doing fashion catalogs, advertisements and being a mom.  She has been in New York for about 12 years and doesn’t hesitate to tell her age, 33!  Fashion writer, Walter Green, pointed out that Cynthia is affectionately known as the “face” amongst fashion insiders. “Her face epitomizes natural black beauty,” Green added.

His parents are ecstatic about the baby even though she was born out of wedlock.  “It’s more important to them, who I am having my child with and the kind of relationship we share,” said Leon.  “For all intents and purpose, I am married.  I have a family with whom I live and we support one another.  The only thing that we can have now is a party.  Which is all a marriage is,” he laughs, “a party and we plan on having a party.  Nothing is gonna change.”  To the question so you are planning on getting married, he replied with mock exasperation,  “I think she has a diamond on her finger, right?”  Then he skillfully changed the subject by offering his shoe size – 12 and his underwear size – 34!  Cynthia blushingly interrupted with, “when I read about someone I want to come away from that story knowing more about their journey.”

And so she shared her journey which began in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where Cynthia was determined to break the cycle of poverty into which she was born.  After competing in a beauty pageant in Atlanta, a friend encouraged her to go to New York to become a model.  “I had never been on a plane or been to a big city.  But I knew I had to make some money to help my mom.”  Cynthia grew serious as she spoke about the domestic relations between her mom and her step-dad.  “With my earnings I was able to buy her a home so that she could leave him and I believe that this may have saved her life.”

Cynthia’s first magazine cover was for BE, shot seven months after her arrival in New York.  “I was so proud of it,” she exclaimed, “and so was my family.”  Her father, like many people in the South, did not understand the entertainment business and was not supportive of her move to New York.  “In his mind, me telling him I am going to New York to become a model was the equivalent to saying I’m going to New York to become a prostitute,” she exclaimed.  “He just didn’t know there was even a fashion industry because we did not have that kind of exposure in Alabama. However, once they saw the pictures and that I had clothes on and it was beautiful and it was lucrative, then of course, they were ‘wow!’ There was also the issue of me leaving college to do this because you have to do it while you’re young. ”

Cynthia once considered being a journalist, “…a black Barbara Walters.  I wanted to travel, interview people who were doing things and go into their homes.  Not so much celebrities.”  But she feels the most logical step would be to pursue acting.  “Living with an actor gives me a great deal of respect for that art.  When Leon took the role of Little Richard, he became Little Richard.  I lived with Little Richard for three months!” she exclaimed.  Cynthia’s modeling career took off following moderate reviews for her role as the alter ego of Sandra Bernhard in the film ‘Without you I am Nothing, Sandra Bernhard.’  There was an extensive search for a beautiful black model to play the role and Cynthia won the part eliminating top models, including Naomi Campbell.  This brought her to the attention of Italian designer, Isaac Mizrahi.

Cynthia’s advice to young women and men who aspire to sashay the catwalk is to have “strength of character, determination, the ability to deal with rejection, and a support system, whether it is family, a spouse, or God.  Success demands focus and smarts. You need to have a lot of self-control.  Growing up in the South there were no drugs around me, but I have seen it hurt and kill many people in the fashion industry.”

“I think it is bad when you don’t have role models, or people to encourage you to dream.  I did not get a lot of that.  I am sure my parents regret not being able to give that but they never got that, either.  I felt, that could have held me back, but I let it motivate me!  I am going to make sure that I give that to my children.”  “Yes,” she colored slightly, “we do plan to have another child although it’s not etched in stone!”

Leon interjects at this point; “A funny thing about role models – we don’t set out to be a role model to others.  I try everyday to be my own role model and to be happy with myself.  But I stumble and I make mistakes and I learn.  I’d hate for someone to be looking at me so closely that I can’t have my own faults.  And I think that happens a lot to people who are in the public eye.  We need to stop criticizing each other at every turn.  If we spend more time working on ourselves the world would be a much better place in which to live!”

Leon’s celebrity came as a result of his consistently good work as a leading man with more than fifteen feature films, ten made-for-television shows and Madonna’s controversial music video, “Like A Prayer.”  The six-foot three, matinee-idol was born in the Bronx and raised in Mount Vernon.  It was at Loyola Marymount College where he was on a basketball scholarship he got his first taste of the celluloid screen. Several years later, in 1993 specifically, Leon appeared in films that collectively grossed over $400 million worldwide and made him the top African-American box-office actor that year.

“I have been an actor that has pursued roles solely for artistic reasons,” he said.  Fatherhood, however, has changed him considerably.  “We don’t realize how selfish we are until we have a child.  You know, just the little things we take for granted.  When you look at that child everyday, the future is so present.  She has to able to live a good life.  Your approach to what you are doing has to be different.”  His future plans include producing and developing his own projects.  “I am an actor because I am a story teller.  And so, naturally, I will produce so that I can be in charge of the story,” he chuckles.  “I listen to the public.  I am the public’s actor and I want to tackle new roles.”  When asked about secret ambitions, he quietly stated, “I want to run for Senator.”  Then he broke into a smile revealing the charm that won him yet another fan.

Since Noelle’s birth, Cynthia has found that the bond between them makes it easier to deal with the admiration of his sometimes overzealous fans.  “You have to let him continue to be out there and let women grasp and hug him because he took that on when he decided to become an actor.  He is mine in my way and he also belongs to the world. I just don’t like seeing love scenes with him, ” she admits, “but I know its work.”

They share a mutual respect for each other’s work and adoring fans.  “I notice guys and girls checking her out when we are out and I am very comfortable with that.  I was probably the only person who did not know who Cynthia Bailey was but I am glad I didn’t because I probably would not have had the impression I had when I first saw her.” said Leon of his statuesque ‘baby mother.’  With wedding plans set for Labor Day weekend 2001, Leon yearns for a home for his family, outside the city, backyard barbecues, people dropping by and little ones running around screaming, ‘daddy, daddy, daddy!’  Until then, they are quite content living in their 2000 square-foot loft in the city that never sleeps!

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