An Anecdotal Memoir
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In May 1969, a spotlight picked up a singer perched on a high stool against a black backdrop. He struck a single chord on his guitar, and to the melody of "Where have all the flowers gone?“ sang:
Thus did the CBC program Nightcap react to the announcement by Maclean’s magazine that I had been named editor-in- chief. The singer didn't know, nor did I, that it would prove to be anything but a "good job".
At the time, the Maclean-Hunter vice president with particular responsibility for the company's flagship publication was R. A. McEachern. He had called the previous Friday to ask if I would join him for dinner Sunday evening at the Rosedale Golf and Country Club. He preferred not to say why. At the table, he greeted me by saying, "I suppose you've heard I'm a pretty tough customer to get along with. "I hadn't. In fact, I knew nothing about him except that he was the man involved in the mass resignations of Maclean’s senior staff in 1964.
McEachern was a short, skinny man, stooped from a chronically bad back. He was in his late sixties, had thinning hair, a cadaverous face and an abrupt manner of speaking. when he wished to be, he was warm and companionable. He had an eclectic mind, was more widely read than anyone I had encountered in business and was a skilled organist who had worked his way through the University of Toronto by playing in Toronto churches. Unfortunately, he was utterly lacking in supervisory skills.
He came immediately to the point. He had invited me to dinner, he said, to offer me the job as editor of Maclean’s. The magazine was in trouble. It needed an infusion of fresh ideas, a sense of direction and a firm editorial hand. Having examined my work at the Star and at CTV, he was certain I was the man needed.
He held out tempting incentives: a salary well above what I was earning at CTV, a leased luxury automobile, free gas, oil, parking and washes at the company garage, a paid-up pension, and if I wanted it, a five-year contract.
I made soundings with some friends, among them Pierre Berton, who had been managing editor at Maclean’s, and with whom I was doing a daily radio show on CFRB. He and others expressed concern about the Maclean-Hunter management. Yes, I should take the job, they said, but only if I could ensure that I would be free to run the magazine without undue interference. I notified McEachern that I would accept but only if I was given an unequivocal commitment that I would be free to develop and pursue my own directions. If Maclean’s did not have sufficient confidence to grant that assurance, I said, I would stay at CTV. The guarantee was given.
I went to Maclean’s intending that it be the job at which I would spend the remainder of my life. As "Canada's National Magazine," it certainly offered scope and challenge, and it provided the opportunity to fashion a journal that would be important in the life of the nation. I said a reluctant and affectionate farewell to friends at CTV, selected from the list of available cars a new Mercury Marquis, expressed pleasure when McEachern told me he was having a drop-leaf rosewood desk made for me (I had admired the one in his office) and, at his suggestion, took a two-week vacation with pay before beginning the new job. It would give him time, he said, to enlarge and completely refurbish my office. "We want you happy here.”
I very much needed a vacation; the pressures at CTV had brought me to the edge of exhaustion. But rather than recoup on a Caribbean beach, I bought a suitcase full of magazines and withdrew to my cottage on Georgian Bay. I had much to learn and I began my education with a crash course. The process revived me and my head began to hum with projects and possibilities. I could hardly wait to begin.
There were early auguries of trouble.
Three days before I was due to start, I received a telephone call from McEachern: could I delay coming for an additional week? The new office, he explained - at which workmen had been toiling around the clock - would not be ready on time. He didn't tell me that when the office was almost completed, someone noticed that it was six inches larger than the office occupied by Donald Hunter, the company president. One of the walls was immediately torn down and moved in eight inches.
I arrived at work the first day to find the magazine being picketed. A group of feminists were circling outside the main entrance to the building. They were protesting an article in the current issue, an excerpt from a new book, Men in Groups, by Lionel Tiger.
I was no sooner seated at my desk than the telephone rang. It was McEachern. "Go down and talk to those women, “he urged.
"I don't know what they're unhappy about, “I said. "I haven't read the article".
"Don't worry about that. I've just had a call from a friend at the Star; they're sending over a photographer. Great publicity for your first day on the job".
I wasn't overjoyed at the prospect but agreed to go. As I emerged from the building, one of the women recognized me and I was immediately surrounded, all twenty protestors shrilling at me at once. I tried to respond but they weren't interested in explanations. The tumult mounted. As I turned to flee, one of the ladies brought her sign down on my head. At that moment, the Star Photographer arrived. The caption under the front-page picture read: PROTEST GREETS NEW EDITOR.
Back in my office I found two nurserymen staggering under the weight of a magnificent ficus benjamina. Setting it in position, one of the men said he hoped the tree would do well. "They're very sensitive," he said. "If it doesn't like the atmosphere here, it'll die on you.” Within a week it was dropping leaves; within six weeks the branches were almost bare, the leaves shrivelled.
Having hired me, McEachern didn't neglect me. There immediately began a stream of memoranda, as many as half a dozen a day, offering suggestions and drawing my attention to items and articles in various publications. Galley-proofs arrived with negative comments scribbled on the margins about the articles or writers. It became immediately evident that McEachern was not enamored of the magazine's staff. His sharp comments pictured them as lazy, untalented, pseudo-sophisticated and guilty of moonlighting on company time. For the first few weeks I responded to the memoranda but soon found this time-consuming and unrewarding; but even dropping them in the wastebasket didn't stem the flow.
When McEachern hired me, it had been to replace Borden Spears. I had known Spears at the Star where he had been managing editor, and later when he was managing editor of the Financial Post. When I joined Maclean’s, he had been editor for five years, during which time the magazine had moved from the red into the black. McEachern had pressed me to try to induce Spears to stay on as associate editor. It would make the transition smoother, he said. Spears was a good man and I was happy to do so.
Not three months later, a memorandum from McEachern instructed me to fire Spears and to reduce my staff by two. I was troubled. I had urged Spears to stay and he had done so against his better judgment. During the break-in period, his help had been invaluable and his commitment was without reservation. When I discussed the matter with McEachern it became obvious that he had planned from the beginning to dump Spears; the only reason he had been kept on was to avoid trouble with the staff and public criticism. McEachern's claim, however, was that the budget had to be trimmed and, now that I was in command, Spears was redundant.
I believed in the right of management to manage and had no quarrel with the decision to cut the budget by reducing staff. I did feel, however, that Maclean’s had an obligation to Spears and was not meeting it. I suggested that, rather than being dismissed, Spears should be offered a post elsewhere in the extensive Mac- lean-Hunter organization. He had certainly demonstrated his competence while at the Financial Post and Maclean’s. But McEachern was adamant: fire Spears and the others.
I pressed him further. If it was necessary to dismiss Spears, surely some recognition should be given for his contribution to the magazine - at least give him extended severance pay. The answer was a flat no. A day later, he telephoned to say that he had decided to extend Spears' severance pay, and that I should post- pone firing the other two staff members. It was essential, he said, to avoid public criticism about "more firings at Maclean’s.”
As the weeks passed, my problems with McEachern worsened. I had not been on the job a month when his attitude went through a metamorphosis; it became one of master and scholar and his comments were often insulting in tone and content. Overnight, he instituted a weekly meeting with one evident purpose: to question and cavil about what was in the works and what long- range plans were envisioned. I learned that he had asked Doris Anderson, the editor of Chatelaine, to provide a report on what was required to improve Maclean’s. He summoned John Peters, a New York magazine consultant, to scrutinize my plans and to make recommendations to him - despite the fact that Peters came to Toronto once a month for regular consultation. McEachern instructed me, contrary to my recommendation, not to bid for publication rights to excerpts from important books; he made changes in a cover I had approved; he vetoed changes I had proposed for the format of the magazine and then, as he often did, reversed himself a week later.
And the daily memoranda kept flowing, some of the suggestions bordering on the ludicrous: begin a monthly feature on "The Best Joke I've Heard on TV, “paying readers ten dollars for each submission used. Do an article on a man in South Carolina who imports dragonflies to combat a mosquito problem. . . .
I could not believe what was happening. I had planned to devote an entire issue to a critical analysis of the news media: radio, television and newspapers. The lead article had been assigned to Peter Gzowski, a former Maclean’s managing editor. McEachern ordered me to cancel the feature and to pay Gzowski off. Although he had not seen Gzowski's piece, he was certain that it would make trouble. He said he had received a telephone call from someone (he wouldn't say who) who had threatened that, if we carried the article, he would sue for libel. This despite the fact that it hadn't yet been written. *
Serious problems arose related to Le Magazine Maclean, a French-language monthly published by Maclean-Hunter in Montreal. As Le Magazine was losing money, McEachern decided that it was to be reduced to simply a transition of the English-language Maclean’s and that I was to be its editor. The staff would be reduced to Mario Cardinal, the present editor, and one assistant; the entire operation was to be moved to Toranto.
I had no quarrel with the decision to cut losses and was willing to assume the added responsibility. I did point out that, with the growing nationalism in Quebec, the decision might be a mistake, a mistake that could be bad for the company's image and for anglophone-francophone relations. I did a study and suggested changes that would put Le Magazine on at least a break-even basis, urging that the maximum French-Canadian content be maintained. A week later I was instructed to proceed with the original plan, but to implement it in stages in order to avoid repercussions in Quebec.
Cardinal flew to Toronto. As we talked it became clear that, although he was being urged to stay on as associate editor, he had been told nothing about Le Magazine becoming a French-language echo of Maclean’s, or that the operation was to be moved to Toronto, or that his staff was to be cut to one. He had been told only that Le Magazine and Maclean’s would carry no more editorials - some-thing I hadn't been told. (McEachern told me later that he hadn't liked the political tone of the editorials in Le Magazine, which voiced Quebec aspirations, albeit moderately, and that there would be less criticism if I dropped Maclean’s editorials at the same time).
An impasse was reached. So many differences had arisen that McEachern and I had come to the ridiculous situation where we were no longer speaking to each other. Such communication as was unavoidable was done through memoranda. I had appealed to McEachern to let me run the magazine, telling him what I had told Beland Honderich: if I am capable, leave me alone. If I am incompetent, fire me. The plea was unavailing.
Each magazine at Maclean-Hunter has what is categorized as a "publisher". His responsibility is to supervise all aspects of the magazine other than the editorial. MacLean’s excellent publisher, Gerry Brander, came to see me.
"Charles," he said, obviously nor relishing his task, "we've got a ridiculous situation here. Two grown men - a vice president of the company and the editor-in-chief of our most important publication and you're not speaking to each other.”
"Like two little boys," I supplied.
"Exactly," he said. "Look, we've got to straighten this out. If I can get Mr. McEachern to agree, will you agree to a face-to-face meeting, with me present to resolve the problem?"
"I'd welcome it," I said.
In his office, McEachern was seated behind his desk, apparently at ease. I took a chair to one side, not at all at ease. Brander cleared his throat nervously and began.
"Now, Ron and Charles, we find ourselves with. . . with a problem. That problem is making the production of the magazine exceedingly difficult. Without apportioning blame or responsibility, I would like to try to get it resolved here and now. Perhaps each of you would like to say what you think needs to be done. Ron. . . ?"
McEachern was all reasonableness. "I really don't know what the problem is. I don't have a problem. From the day Charles arrived, I've done everything in my power to help him. I've consulted. I've forwarded suggestions. I've worked with him to solve his problems. " He turned to me. "I'll be candid - and I don't say this in a critical manner, Charles - but I'm at a loss to understand what your problem is.”
Brander responded. "Charles is of the opinion that he is not free to put out the magazine.”
McEachern shook his head, an aspect of sad bemusement on his face. "I really don't understand it. My purpose - and I'm sure it must be Charles'-is to produce a first-class magazine. Everything I've done is to that end.”
Brander turned to me. "Charles?"
I shook my head slowly. "I don't know what to say. Ron sees it as a non-problem. Why are we meeting?"
"No, no," Brander said. "The point of our getting together is for each of us to speak his mind, to clear the air. Ron has said what he thinks. Now you say what you'd like him to do.”
"In a sentence - "I said -" to do what he promised to do when he hired me - to get off my back.”
McEachern was asked if he had anything further to say, and so was I. Nothing was added and I left.
We were now at the point of no return. I had no option but to resign. The situation was deteriorating daily. There was seating unrest among the staff. I had not discussed my problems with them but there are few secrets in an office filled with reporters. McEachern's interference had been obvious. The treatment of Spears rankled. The eviscerating of Le Magazine Maclean and the cavalier treatment of Cardinal had stirred anger. The arbitrary canceling of the in-depth examination of the news media because of outside pressure had inflamed. The office was awash I rumors and little work was being done.
I decided to take the matter to the president of the company, Donald Hunter. He was in Calgary at a convention and I reached him at his hotel. I gave him a swift rundown of the events of the past five months and told him, regretfully, that unless changes were made, I could not continue as editor of the magazine. “You can't have two editors," I told him. "Mr. McEachern wants to decide the content of the magazine and its tone. That's his prerogative, but if he continues to do so, I will have to leave.”
Hunter promised to look into it and call me back within the hour. A day passed. After leaving half a dozen messages, I finally reached him. He was oddly diffident. I told him that there was a swiftly burgeoning revolt and that Maclean’s was about to have another mass resignation of staff. "The problem is," I said, "exactly what it was in the earlier firings and resignations: Mr. McEachern is, for all his undoubted ability, temperamentally unable to supervise journalists.” I suggested that, in the interests of the magazine, a change be made at the level of the board of directors, with someone else being made responsible for Maclean’s.
His only response was to gloss over the problem. I offered to fly to Calgary for a meeting. I suggested a three-way conference telephone call with McEachern. He preferred to wait until he was back in the city the following week. It became evident that he was stalling, trying to paper over the rift. He again promised to call me the following morning but didn't.
It was now obvious that I would be fired at a moment convenient to the company - I had observed that this was the way Maclean’s often dealt with staff problems. But I had never resigned from a position in anger. I had gone to Maclean’s planning to stay, and I very much wanted to. And there was, of course, the question: where would I go?
There was another larger concern: Maclean’s is "Canada's national magazine," but another internal row and staff walkout might deal it a mortal blow. If that was followed by the resignation of Cardinal and his staff, it might be impossible to find a journalist of stature to save the magazine. And that would be Canada's loss.
I pondered the matter long and painfully and finally decided on my course. I would resign but would simultaneously release to the media a statement detailing my reasons. it was important to do so: the issue was editorial independence and the survival of the magazine. By making public the details of the impasse, the board of directors would be forced to deal with the essential problem- the inability of the vice-president to work congenially with the editor and staff of the magazine. McEachern's disdain for journalists and his arbitrary actions had led to irreconcilable differences and resignations by other senior staff. Now it was happening to me. It must be dealt with. I drafted a detailed press release.
A delegation of ten staff members came to see me, asking if it was my intention to resign. I told them it was. They then informed me that they had decided to resign en masse. Cardinal added that he, too, would leave, as would his staff. I argued that their leaving would not be in their own best interest or in the best interest of the magazines, and I elicited a promise that they would postpone any action.
I made one last attempt to save the situation. I wrote my resignation to Hunter but left it unsigned. It was on his desk on the Monday morning when he returned form Calgary. I waited through the day for a response. There was none. With a profound sense of sadness, I instructed my secretary to issue the press release. As I did, she handed me a press release that had been prepared by the editorial staff:
In the considered judgment of the undersigned MacLean’s staff, Mr. Templeton and Mr. Cardinal are justified in their resignations. Mr. Templeton has been subjected to destructive harassment for several weeks. Mr. Cardinal, editor-in-chief of Le Magazine Maclean, was misled into believing that the company would retain a measure of French-Canadian expression. Both men handled an impossible situation with dignity and principle and stand high in the esteem of their colleagues. In the interests of the magazine, Mr. Templeton has asked his staff to remain at their posts. Members of the staff will make their individual decisions on his request; those decisions will depend largely on the degree of editorial independence accorded by management to Mr. Templeton's successor.
The statement was signed by Philip Sykes, managing editor, and by Alan Edmonds, Walter Stewart, Douglas Marshall, Marjorie Harris, Jon Ruby, Courtney Tower and other.
Late in the day we all repaired to a nearby Chinese restaurant on Elizabeth Street and held a wake.