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Canada's man of many parts
He made his name as an international evangelist and then
turned his hand to politics, inventions,
broadcasting and to writing a string of popular novels

DONN DOWNEY
With a report from staff.
Friday, June 8, 2001

TORONTO -- It could be said that Charles Bradley Templeton, who died yesterday in Toronto at the age of 85, spent his career in communications, but that does not begin to describe the scope of his endeavours.

He was, according to his own calculation, "a newspaper sports cartoonist, clergyman, television playwright, host of a half-dozen network television shows, managing editor of a major newspaper, candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Ontario, president and treasurer of an advertising display company, director of news and public affairs for a television network, editor of a national magazine, full-time inventor, radio commentator and broadcaster."

So he wrote in Weekend Magazine in 1975, the year he turned 60. He added that "I am also the author of four books and a screenplay."

It was, by any measure, a checkered career and it prompted some to conclude that while Charles Templeton was a jack-of-all-trades, he was also a master of none.

Certainly, he had his failures. His three patented inventions, -- a design for a northern pipeline, a cigarette filter and a child-proof cap for medicine containers -- did not earn him a nickel. He failed in politics, defeated in an Ontario byelection and in a bid for the Liberal leadership. An unhappy career as editor of Maclean's magazine ended after seven months.

It is a long list of failures, but Mr. Templeton countered with a longer list of successes. He was a successful cartoonist earning the astronomical salary of $85 a week with The Globe and Mail while still a teenager.

But he quit to answer a call from God, undergoing a penurious apprenticeship to become known as "the bobby-soxer's Billie Sunday."

He became a friend and shared billing with Billy Graham and was host of the CBS television show Look Up and Live. In 1955 he was appointed secretary of evangelism for the Presbyterian Church in the United States and in 1957 was approached by New York's Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church about becoming its senior minister.

But "doubt had deepened to the point where faith languished and died," he wrote in Weekend.

So at 44, he quit and returned to Toronto and in the next five months sold four plays to the CBC. This led to his first stint with author Pierre Berton when the two were interviewers on Close-Up.

In 1959, The Toronto Star beckoned and Mr. Templeton signed on as executive managing editor. "But a challenge presented itself" and he quit in 1964 to contest the leadership of the Ontario Liberals. He was, by this time, working with Mr. Berton on CFRB radio's Dialogue.

He spent $26,000 of his own money in his leadership attempt but he lost to Andrew Thompson with no regrets. In 1975, he wrote that the five months of the campaign was a time "when I was more fully alive than at any time in my life before or since."

Mr. Templeton was working for his own company, Technamation Canada, which specialized in visual advertising, when CTV came courting in 1967. He joined the network as director of public affairs. In 1969, he quit to go to Maclean's.

After Maclean's, he turned to inventing and writing novels that never found critical acclaim. Still, they were well-received by the public and allowed Mr. Templeton the luxury of a country retreat on Georgian Bay.

His first novel, 1975's The Kidnapping of the President, was dismissed as "the literary equivalent of a frozen TV dinner" but it was successful enough to warrant a screen adaptation.

Others followed, including Act of God, The Third Temptation, The Queen's Secret and World of One.

Mr. Templeton took particular exception to The Globe's review of a World of One. Terry Goldie, identified as a teacher of English at York University, wrote that "Charles Templeton is an interesting man who has had a fascinating career. He now writes novels, but he hasn't become a novelist."

Mr. Templeton wrote in a letter to The Globe that his novels are read around the world, have been translated into seven languages and published in 27 editions.

Mr. Templeton was born in Toronto on Oct. 7, 1915, and attended Parkdale Collegiate Institute until 1932 when he quit to work for The Globe and Mail as a sports cartoonist. He earned $15 a week for drawing a daily "Sportrait" and when it went into syndication, his income increased to $85 a week.

One evening, he returned home after having a few drinks and discovered that the rest of the family had been to a revivalist meeting where they had undergone a conversion experience. Later that night, he, too, had an experience that "absolutely changed me and it took me 20 years to recover." He continued to work at The Globe but polished his skills as an evangelist. In 1936 he quit The Globe. His first congregation was a handful of people who had gathered at a tiny church in upper New York State. He was there for a week and his audience grew.

For the next 2 years he travelled through 44 states, preaching in churches, halls, tents and the open air. In 1939, he met a singer who had turned down a chance for a movie career in favour of evangelism and that same year he married Constance Oroczy.

They returned to Toronto and in 1941 rented, for six months, St. Paul's Avenue Road Presbyterian Church, getting permission from the Church of the Nazarene to start a congregation. Soon, he was attracting so many people that they had to arrive an hour early to get space in a pew.

He met Mr. Graham in Chicago while he was there for Youth for Christ International. They worked together for a number of years but grew apart in the mid-1950s when Mr. Templeton lost his faith.

"I think what he preaches is puerile now, but I still like him," Mr. Templeton told a reporter from The Times of London in 1978. "We don't talk religion. I'm an agnostic and there's no way I'm going back there and there's certainly no changing him."

Mr. Templeton did not graduate from high school and felt that he needed to strengthen his theological foundation, so through the influence of some high church officials, including the moderator of the United Church of Canada, he was accepted at Princeton University's theological seminary. He was ordained a minister of the Presbyterian Church and was later given an honorary doctorate from Lafayette College.

He remained a charismatic evangelist and even when he was secretary of evangelism he would draw crowds of 30,000 a night.

His loss of faith drove him to a log cabin on Georgian Bay where he wrote six television plays in four months. He was delivering the script for one of them to the CBC when he ran into Ross McLean, the producer credited with inventing public-affairs television in Canada. He asked himto fill in for a guest who failed to show for an appearance on Tabloid. After the program, Mr. McLean followed Mr. Templeton out of the building and offered him a job as an interviewer on Close-Up, a show that was launched in the fall of 1957.

It gave Mr. Templeton exposure across the country as did his presence on CFRB and later CKEY radio. He won an ACTRA Award for "integrity and outspokeness in broadcasting." His critics acknowledged that his task was almost impossible -- he and Mr. Berton had to make private radio think -- but they dismissed his work as "always controversial, never offensive."

After 18 years of marriage to Constance, they divorced and in 1959 he married singer Sylvia Murphy. That marriage also ended in divorce.

In 1980, he married Madeleine Helen Stevens Leger, an author. An Anglican minister presided. Until 1984, they lived at their retreat on Georgian Bay and then moved to a penthouse apartment on Don Mills Road in Toronto.

Although Mr. Templeton had been in poor health for some time, he was arcticulate to the end, Mrs. Templeton said.

"He always remained focused on whatever he was doing," she said. "He always talked about his next book, knowing there would never be another."

His last book was Farewell to God, in which he declared his apostasy, loss of belief and his reasons for leaving the church. The book was recently reprinted by McClelland and Stewart.

Besides his wife, Mr. Templeton leaves his children, Michael, Deborah, Bradley and Tyrone.
This obituary was prepared by Donn Downey, who died earlier this year.




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