Just as fame was about to eclipse the rumpled, soft-spoken ALex Haley last year, he attended a Washington blueribbon preview of the television adaptation of his book, "Roots." At the reception were Ben Vereen and LeVar Burton, actors from the series, a handful of congressmen, and Joan Mondale, but Haley was clearly the star of the evening.
Standing by watching the signs of the mania yet to come, were the writer's younger brothers, George, a lawyer, and Julius an architect. "He's bigger than life," Julius Haley remembers thinking, both facetiously and lovingly, that night.
No one at that point realized that Haley, and the written and video products of his search for his ancestors, would become a worldwide phenomenon. Certainly, the shy, retiring Julius Haley did not expect the fallout of fame on his own life, one spent out of the spotlight.
In the year since an estimated 130 million Americans watched some parts of "Roots," Julius Haley, 47, nine years younger than his famous brother, has, by his own admission, "come out of my shell." The other Haley siblings - George, a gregarious former politician, and Lois Ann Blackstone, a stepsister, who teaches music in Annapolis - have not basically changed.
Alex Haley, who has been fighting exhaustion and juggling lawsuits, as well as writing a sequel to "Roots," says the last year has brought the family closer together, and "Julius has come out of his quietness. He actually spoke 500 words last year."
Much fallout has been inevitable as Haley became, for a time, a household word. Julius Haley, as well as George Haley, who also lives in the Washington area, autographed books at work, Julius Haley and his wife, Delores, were interviewed for their job publications. Once Julius Haley was trying to buy a suit in Sears and the salesman asked him if he was related to the author, but didn't believe him. His students at Lacaze Academy, where he teaches drafting three times a week, bring him clippings of his brother.
Still, Julius Haley's lifestyle is an ordinary, quiet one. Every morning at 7 a.m. he drives his 1976 Aspen to his job as a supervisory architect at the Naval Ship Research and Development Center in Bethesda, where he was worked for 16 years. In the last year, however, Julius Haley, his wife, and their two college-aged sons, have moved from city to the suburbs. The couple, according to friends, have become more conscious of their image.
The naval facility is a stark setting, light years away from the Beverly HIlls digs and Hollywood stage sets of his brother's life. Julius Haley's drafting table in his plywood cubicle has only a few newspaper clippings that hint of his famous connection.
"Alex has always been, and still is, the big brother I admired a lot. He enhanced himself by giving me money from time to time, but always he was my big brother," says Julius Haley. As he talked about last year some excitement did seep through the understated exterior. He was curious, for example, about whether he would show up in tonight's ABC-TV special, "Roots: One Year Later."
During several family gatherings, including the brothers' widely publicized trip to Senegal and the Gambia last spring, the television crews were recording every move. "At times they couldn't find me because I was off looking at the architecture and other designs," says Julius Haley in the measured, hushed speech of his birthplace, Henning, Tenn.
"Sometimes I'm on guard, when someone brings up Alex's name, Sometimes I just want to hear the other person's opinion, without affecting it, but, generally, I am cautious because you want to measure up to the other person's expectations. You don't want to disappoint," says Julius Haley.
As campus brats, all the Haleys were used to comparisons. Their parents taught at a series of black campuses, from Elizabeth City. N.C., to Pine Bluff, Ark. "You were always being watched always being compared," says Julius Haley. "I would sit in the audience and hear people talk about my mother and father. This period, with Alex, has reminded me of that."
After serving in the Army in Korea, Haley moved to Washington enrolled at Howard University's school of architecture, worked nights at the Pentagon as a security guard, and worked briefly for Hillyard Robinson, a well-known black Washington architect, before joining the Navy Department.
Over those years, his older brother (who was a journalist in the Coast Guard, and before "Roots," best known for the 1965 workd, "The Autobiography of Malcolm X") visited Washington sporadicaly, communicating, mainly, through long, reminiscing letters.
When a preview copy of the book arrived, he read it from the back - the contemporary chapters - Julius Haley recalls, smiling. "I looked for me, first. Then I looked for what he said about the family people I knew. Then I read it from the beginning."
The attention he receives - when he is introduced at a dance as "the brother of" - still surprises him. "I have tried to maintain a low profile. I have tucked away all the things related to 'Roots' and the mosque I have designed for the village of Juffure in the Gambia, in a folder. I only talk about it, especially at work, when it is brought up," says Haley.
Only once did his brother's fame come close to causing him any grief. Alex Haley had promised to speak at the high school graduation of Christopher, one of Julius Haley's two sons, but the family was never sure he would make it because of his packed speaking schedule.
"I really relaxed when I picked him up at the hotel and drove him to the National Shrine," says Julius Haley. "Afterward, the students and parents crowded around him, like the people always did. And what was really amusing to me, a Catholic, was that the bishop was standing around, just like everybody else."