JEAN LEON – A larger than life character!
Ángel Ceferino Carrión Madrazo [Jean Leon’s real name] was born in Santander in 1928 – one of nine children. In 1941 a devastating fire destroyed much of Santander and the family left for Barcelona in search of a better a life. In 1947 he crossed the Pyrenees on foot and did whatever work came his way. During this time he was conscripted into the Spanish military, but refused to enlist – so keeping a promise he’d made at the age of 12 that he would never serve General Franco. Of course draft evasion was a criminal offence, which meant he could never go home to his family.
He frequently tried to get to Central America but was repeatedly discovered - luckily he was always deported to France and not Spain. Finally succeeding in stowing away on a ship he believed was travelling to Guatemala, but was actually headed to the US, he was discovered by an African American sailor who, instead of reporting him, fed and taught him English.
He changed his name to Jean Leon to improve his chances of succeeding in the US – it was the name of a contemporary French painter and sculptor whom he admired. Settling in New York, Jean took on many jobs, including driving a cab. Later he found work in Hollywood, waiting tables at night and driving a cab during the day. Working at Villa Capri which was owned by Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio he quickly became one of Sinatra’s most trusted assistants, and Jean was soon rubbing shoulders with many of the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, including Natalie Wood, Grace Kelly, and James Dean – in fact Jean forged a close friendship with Dean, who became his child’s godfather. Jean and Dean planned to run a restaurant together, but this plan was put on hold after the untimely death of Dean in 1955. However, Jean decided to forge ahead alone and La Scala opened its doors in 1956, quickly becoming a gathering spot for the era’s most influential names in Hollywood, the music industry, politics and high society, including Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Marlon Brando, and many others. Jean Leon and La Scala became so famous that bestselling romance novels written by the likes of Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz featured him as a character, and the restaurant as a setting, in their books.
The restaurant had an underground wine cellar that housed around 25,000 bottles, including many of the world’s finest wines, and Jean’s vision was to make a wine on a par with his select clientele at la Scala. This dream was realised in 1963, when, after traveling the world looking for an area with specific characteristics that would allow him to produce a signature wine with a unique personality and identity, he decided that Penedès in Spain’s Catalonia was the perfect location.
Jean Leon is now run by the acclaimed Torres winery, who continue the story of a self-made man who fought tirelessly for his dreams!
The 3055 Range