The Pioneer of Porn

What do you say to a naked lady? For more than 30 years Leroy Griffith has been saying, "You're hired!"

After the Paris (which he sold in 1986, took back after its owners failed with the glitzy nightclub Paris Moderne, and sold again recently to Big Time Productions), he acquired the Roxy, further up Washington Avenue at Fifteenth Street. He generated publicity there when, in 1967, he publicly invited city officials to a screening of a film called Man and Wife. "It was advertised as the art of making love 49 different ways," Griffith recalls. "I don't remember inviting them, but I vaguely remember the incident. I think that was the first hard-core movie ever shown down here." According to press accounts at the time, the officials seemed to think the movie was boring, but not obscene.

Eventually Griffith came to control as many as nine theaters in South Florida alone -- the Paris, Roxy, Gayety, 21st Street, Cameo, and Carib in Miami Beach; the Pussycat in Miami; the Dixie along U.S. 1 in South Dade; and the Paramount on Flagler Street downtown. Today he runs the Pussycat, Deja Vu at the old Gayety location, the Roxy, and Hollywood's Pussycat, plus another club in New Orleans. None of the properties, however, is in his name, a technical maneuver not unusual in the business world.

When you add it all up, the 30 years of investing and buying and selling and promoting and staging has left Griffith well off. He lives in the exclusive walled community of Bay Point, just a couple of miles south of the Pussycat along Biscayne Boulevard. The Miami Herald once called the residents of Bay Point "the cream of Miami's crop." Griffith isn't so sure about that, but he concedes that his family -- four children and two grandchildren -- is "not hurting for anything."

Griffith says he gets up about 10:00 a.m. each day, has breakfast, goes to his office, takes care of business until about 7:00, picks up his wife, and they go out to dinner, then maybe to a movie or something else normal people do. His vices are limited to a fondness for card playing (he and a partner, the late Bill Berger, once extended a gin game over fifteen years) and having fun. "I love to gamble," he says, adding that he takes occasional junkets to places such as Atlantic City, and that he'd like to run a casino, if the State of Florida would legalize them. "But I don't do drugs or smoke or drink. Never have." He pauses to take a phone call. It's his wife, Linda, asking about their dinner plans for the evening. "My best friend, I would say, is my wife," he continues. "We've been together now for about 22 years, [legally] married, let's see, it'll be four years in June. I wanted to make sure Linda was taken care of, the family was taken care of, and that's why we got married."

Griffith's efforts to take care of his eldest son, however, have consumed him. Thirty-two-year-old Charles Leroy Griffith (born from a previous marriage) is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. The highly publicized incident took place seven years ago, when Charles shot to death his young daughter as she lay hospitalized in a vegetative state following a freak accident. A tragically misguided attempt to end the child's suffering, Charles's action and its aftermath haunt Griffith every day. He constantly monitors his son's situation in prison and the efforts to win clemency from Governor Chiles and his cabinet. Just two weeks ago Griffith's attorneys presented new evidence to the state clemency board in hopes of gaining a hearing before the governor.

Griffith welcomes the man from the awning company, invites him into the office to talk. "I've been trying to get this guy out here for weeks," Griffith remarks. He wants awnings built around the building that houses DejÖ Vu and Wolfie's and a few other businesses. He wants nice awnings, and he wants the job done right. There is some talk about how to negotiate through the city permit process, but Griffith's real concern is this: "This area is filthy, dirty. With these awnings, with the place well-lit, we might get rid of some of these people who hang out around here. I want to clean up the area, make the neighborhood better."

If that sounds like an indirect criticism of police efforts to control the criminal element that has long plagued the neighborhood around 21st Street and Collins, so be it. Besides, Griffith says, attention from law enforcement doesn't bother him. "When you're not doing anything wrong," he observes, "you don't have to worry about it. The cops would rather sit down inside and watch these movies themselves than go out to a schoolyard and get some guy for selling drugs to schoolchildren."

He said virtually the same thing when popular radio-show host Neil Rogers was arrested outside the Gayety one year ago, and the Herald elicited a quote from Griffith: "It's great to live in a city where there is no crime and police have the time to go into these theaters and watch movies." The Herald opined that Griffith's comment was made sarcastically. "Well, why did they arrest him outside?" Griffith asks now. "If you see somebody about to shoot someone, you don't wait until they pull the trigger and walk away before arresting them."

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