“My whole life has been in dressing rooms”….Maurice Hines
By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
Seventy-six-year-old Maurice Hines is the older brother of the late dancer and actor Gregory Hines, and they are both a subject of a documentary by director John Carluccio titled “Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back.” The documentary is ending a run in the 24th Annual American Black Film Festival, and I was able to screen it via the festival’s virtual event, which wraps up on August 30.
The documentary stars Maurice Hines, Gregory Hines, Chita Rivera, Debbie Allen, Mercedes Ellington, Charles Randolph-Wright, among others, and presents an intimate portrait of an outspoken showman who with humor and grace has navigated the highs and lows of a seven-decade career, and a complex relationship with his superstar brother.
The documentary seems to posit that Maurice was the leader of the two brothers, but the documentary also introduced me to “Hines, Hines and Dad,” the headlining trio that included the two Hines brothers when they were very young, led by their father, Maurice Hines, Sr. They made numerous television appearances and performed throughout the United States and Europe to enthusiastic audiences. This was during a time that Gregory, via archival footage, described as when “the Black family was coming under much scrutiny.”
During the 60s, when the trio was performing, the two brothers were performing not just because they loved dancing, but to also help put food on the table, according to the documentary. “They danced to support the family,” said Daria Hines, Gregory’s daughter.
Black cultural treasure Debbie Allen, who served as one of the executive producers of the documentary, which also had the “spirit of Gregory Hines,” said that Maurice “is one of the most energetic and alive people that I have ever known.”
Gregory Hines died in 2003, and the United States Postal Service honored him with a Black Heritage stamp in 2019, which paid tribute not only to his tap-dancing career but his career in movies. One such movie in 1984, “The Cotton Club,” starred both brothers, after Maurice was cast and there was a need for someone to play Maurice’s brother in the film. He advocated for Gregory to join the cast—and the surreal part of their appearance together in the film was that they were estranged in real life, just as they purported to be in the film.
“We had a brotherly thing, but we were truthful with each other,” Maurice said. Gregory had admitted on a network television program that “We had a stormy relationship,” even though the documentary never offered a reason for the discord.
A Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance as Jelly Roll Morton in “Jelly’s Last Jam” was in the cards for Gregory after so many previous nominations, after he won in 1992, but he didn’t even mention his brother in his acceptance speech.
The two did reconnect years before Gregory died, and the younger brother’s death pained Maurice, as could be expected. “I couldn’t imagine my life without him,” he said.
It was a joy to behold watching Maurice and Gregory dance together, and Maurice admits that they studied the greats who had come before them, such as the Nicholas Brothers and Henry Le Tang. However, a long career is wearing on Maurice.
“The business is getting me down, and I don’t like it anymore,” Maurice, who is suffering from short-term memory loss, said as he approached his 75th birthday in 2018, while reflecting on his life and sharing that he was “ready to leave this hard life.”
Randolph-Wright told Maurice, “You don’t own all that you have given society,” after Maurice had grown unsure about his contributions to the arts. Maurice may have felt this way because Gregory seemed to shine a bit more and gained more recognition within the world of entertainment and the big screen. However, Maurice had “people in his feet,” according to Chita Rivera.
Seven decades in an industry that is as rife with racism as when he started could make one feel melancholy, Maurice suggested. “A Black dancer and actor goes through much racism, and I was advised to not make waves or discuss unacceptable subjects, like being gay in the business.”
However, a friend of his for more than 40 years encouraged him by saying, “If you’re not constantly making adjustments that come with being older, you’re constantly concentrating on more of what’s missing than what you have.”
It was a great way to start a “quarantine” Saturday. Maurice Hines seems to be such a delightful person.
For information about “Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back,” visit [www.mauricehinesmovie.com].