These Days Broadway Showman Gregory Hines Is on Tap—Even for Hollywood Roles
With two movies and a Broadway smash running concurrently, Gregory Hines is, at 35, living proof that a good dancer can have his cakewalk and eat it too. Of course Hines can also act, sing, play drums—and steal the spats off any tap dancer alive. On Broadway, he’s high-stepping in Sophisticated Ladies, a tribute to Duke Ellington’s music that’s been near-SRO since its March premiere. And Greg has major roles in the current horror flick Wolfen, helping Albert Finney fight murderous monsters, and History of the World Part I, Mel Brooks’ Bronx cheer at the past.
The irony is that not long ago Greg thought he’d retired his taps for good. In 1972 he was entering his third decade of nonstop performing, most recently with his father and older brother, Maurice, as the song-and-dance team of Hines, Hines and Dad. “I had everything that is supposed to give you happiness,” Greg recalls. “A wife, a baby, a beautiful apartment, a dog, a car. And I was miserable.” So he broke up both his family and the act and fled to the beachfront town of Venice, Calif. to eke out a living. Among other jobs: rock guitarist, karate teacher and busboy.
There he found support for his eventual comeback from two women: theatrical associate producer Pamela Koslow, 36, his wife since April, and Daria, his 10-year-old daughter by his first marriage, to dance therapist Patricia Panella. Greg and Pam met in California when he was hustling work and she was growing disillusioned with her second marriage and her job as a high school guidance counselor. “It was instantaneous love,” she later recalled. “A friend introduced us, and that was that. We spent the next year in bed.”
While Greg tried in vain to sell the songs he was writing, she paid the rent for two years by distributing head shop paraphernalia out of a station wagon. If Pam steadied Greg, it was daughter Daria who indirectly restarted his career. During the mid-’70s the girl spent most of the time with her mother in New Hampshire, and when she later moved to New York Greg “realized that I was losing touch with her.” In January 1978 Hines went East with $40 in his pocket. The very next day he found work with a musical revue.
Which should come as no surprise. Greg was born in Harlem, raised in Brooklyn and can’t remember a day when he was “not dancing—almost as soon as I recognized what life was, my older brother Maurice and I were performing.” Indeed, when their sons were 5 and 3, Maurice Hines Sr., then a soda salesman, and wife Alma enrolled them with famed Broadway tap teacher Henry Le Tang. As soon as Greg turned 5, the Hines Kids began appearing in nightclubs. In 1954 the boys made their Broadway debut in The Girl in Pink Tights. The next year Tallulah Bankhead caught them in Las Vegas and presented Greg with a set of drums. Puberty changed the name of the act to the Hines Brothers and then, in 1964, to Hines, Hines and Dad, a trio that toured internationally and played Johnny Carson’s Tonight show 26 times. Muses Greg, “At 18, 19, I thought, hey, this is not going to stop.” But it did. “My brother and I weren’t getting along,” says Hines. “One day in San Francisco, I saw Maurice coming toward me and actually crossed the street to avoid him.” Soon thereafter Greg located in Venice.
The play Greg joined on his return to New York, The Last Minstrel Show, closed in Philadelphia. But his next, 1978’s Eubie!, resulted in a Tony nomination; Comin’ Uptown, though a flop, led to another nomination. This summer Greg made his movie debut in History (co-star Madeline Kahn, having met Greg on a TV talk show, suggested him to Mel Brooks) and followed it with Wolfen. And, of course, there is his triumph in Sophisticated Ladies, for which he was a Tony nominee once more (losing to Kevin Kline of The Pirates of Penzance).
Today Greg and Pam live in a Chelsea apartment they share three days a week with Daria and a different three days with Pam’s daughter Jessica, 8, by a previous marriage. Greg is fully reconciled with brother Maurice, who is writing dramas, and his father, who is a Vegas maître d’. In the future Greg hopes for more movie projects, perhaps a bioflick on dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Meanwhile he’s committed until November to Sophisticated Ladies, in which one of his showstoppers is Ellington’s classic I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So. But in Gregory Hines’ case, luck has been only one ingredient.