Biography

Pioneer

Headley, Leonard D. "Len"

(1900-1992)

Leonard D. Headley was born in Leicester, England, and emigrated to Canada in 1915.  He joined Federal Radio Corporation in 1925 as branch manager.  In 1930 Len became Manager of Brunswick Radio Corporation, a long-since discontinued record label.

In 1933 he left the music business to become a branch manager for Montreal Life Insurance but in 1938 he returned to Toronto as manager of the RCA Victor recording studios.  A few years later he opened the RCA recording studios in Montreal.

Len applied his energy to helping many young artists. At the RCA studios in Toronto he conducted auditions in his own time for aspiring announcers and actors.  Lorne Greene and Fred Davis were among those he helped who later became household names in Canadian broadcasting.

While the RCA studios were available for the making of music records, their primary role was for the production of programming and commercial announcements by advertising agencies for radio campaigns placed on private Canadian radio stations. The programs were recorded on what were known as electrical transcriptions, mostly on 16-inch discs that revolved at 33.3 r.p.m. Most radio stations depended financially on this programming and attached advertising. The process also generated pay for Canadian actors, announcers, musicians, writers and producers on an increasing scale as advertising by radio gained acceptance over the years.

The first RCA Victor studios were on the top floor of Toronto’s posh Royal York Hotel.  Celebrities usually stayed at the hotel, recollected Len's wife, Pat, who was then his assistant/secretary. “Because our studios had two of the best Steinway grand pianos in the country (owned by the Royal York), many of the visiting artists asked if they could rehearse there.  So many talented and famous people were in and out of the studios that I lost count.  When we outgrew our facilities at the Royal York, Len negotiated on behalf of RCA to buy the original CHUM radio studios on Mutual Street.  Many of RCA's visiting artists were entertained by us at the studios when they were in town performing. We gave parties for the press and radio/tv people to introduce them to people like Harry Belafonte, Eartha Kitt, Perry Como, Miriam Makeba.  Every Christmas Len hosted a party for people in the broadcasting and advertising industry.  It was one of the most popular events of the year and invitations were much sought after... One of Len's fondest memories was the night at one of these parties that Oscar Peterson jammed with a young Canadian classical pianist who was well known at the time."

In 1945, Len became manager of RCA's custom record department and in 1959 he was made general manager, record division.  In the spring of 1963 he was appointed a vice president of RCA, the first Canadian appointed to this position in six years.  Four or five weeks later he resigned.  He was escaping to St. Lucia with his new wife, Pat. One of his associates at NBC New York sent him a cable saying: "What a spectacular escape - tell ME how to do it," Pat said.  "I think they were all so envious that he was taking up a new life on a tropical island in the Caribbean.  I know this is the dream of many but Len was someone who had the courage to achieve the dream."

At the age of 63, Len started a new career. For seven years he and Pat managed the St. Antoine hotel while Len used his energy and PR expertise as president of the St. Lucia Hotel Association, a director of the Caribbean Hotel Association and a member of the St. Lucia Tourist Board. When Len was 70, he and Pat bought an historic British military building in St. Lucia and turned it into Top of the Morne self-catering holiday apartments.

In Canada, Len had applied his talents to a multitude of charities and boards. He was founder in 1946 of the Radio Committee for Crippled Children with its national Easter Seal Show.  He received many awards, among them the Beaver Award in 1946, along with comedians Frank Shuster and Johnny Wayne.  (Dick Lewis, founder of the trade magazine Broadcaster, presented annual Beavers for excellence in broadcasting.) 

Len was also vice-president of Pine Grove Amusements, a company that ran the Mart Kenney Ranch located north west of Toronto near Kleinburg.  The ranch had a large restaurant and lounge where Mart and his orchestra, The Western Gentlemen, were the featured act.

When Len Headly died, he left his wife Pat and a daughter, Marilyn, by his first marriage.

Written by Jerry Fairbridge - January, 2003

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