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CBS & CBC
My first job in television was as host of my own
weekly series on the CBS network. The
year was 1953 and I was living in Manhattan, where I was Director of Evangelism
for the Presbyterian Church USA. The
new medium of television was just getting established, and programming was in
living black and white. The big names
were Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey, Jack Paar, Dave
Garroway, and that most unlikely television star, a Roman Catholic priest,
Monsignor (soon to be bishop) Fulton J.
Sheen. Berle was "Mr.
Television" then, and it seemed pointless to mount an expensive show in opposition
to him, so the Bishop was dumped into the 8:00 p. m. Sunday time-slot. He became the sleeper of the year and was
soon challenging "Uncle Milty" in the ratings.
National Council of Churches, while not unhappy that religion was primetime
television, was anxious to snatch a piece of the pie for Protestantism. With the active cooperation of CBS, it was
decided to present a religious program aimed at a secular audience, and a
search was begun for a host. I had
demonstrated an ability to attract large audiences, so they settled on me. But churches (and television networks) are
not given to risk-taking, so it was decided to try out the show Sunday mornings
at 10:30. In this slot - chosen because
the religious would be in church or on their way - the program's appeal to
secular listeners could be tested and it might develop a form that would
justify a move to prime-time.
name of the show was Look Up and Live, and the concept was simple: make
the target audience "Unchurched" young people, eschew the look of
religion, let the music be contemporary, bring in "name" entertainers
as guests and let the sermon be rather a brief talk: conversational in manner,
modern in its allusions and
addressed to the mind and the will of the listeners rather than to the
They put under contract a beautiful blonde
pop-singer, Betty Cox. She had subbed for Jan Murray during her frequent
absences from the Arthur Godfrey show and had been featured in a network
series, Broadway to Hollywood. A vocal quartet was formed and named The
Foursome: two black and white to make the point of racial integration. On each
program, show business celebrities were featured: artists such as Sidney
Poitier Maria Tallchief, Ethel waters, Shepperd Strudwick, the actor, George
shearing the Dave Brubeck Quartet and others. They danced or sang or played a brief
scene, after which I would interview them. At the end of the program in a
simulated study, I perched on the edge of a desk or worked at an easel while I
delivered a six-minute sermon.
Variety reviewed the program in typical style: "look Up and live shapes
up as a natural facet of religious programming and the show smacks of smart
programming from the tele (sic) and from the religious standpoint...." The
New York Daily News carried a feature under the heading, TV TO FIGHT JD:
"A Protestant pastor has gone before the cameras to battle juvenile
delinquency in a quiet but effective
way. He's Charles Templeton, a football player and syndicated sports
cartoonist, whose approach is a far removed from the hellfire-and-brimstone
school of preaching...."
The show proved to be a success
(twenty-five years later it was still running) but didn't cause Berle or Bishop
sheen to lose sleep. The transition from the public platform to the television
studio wasn't easy. At the first rehearsal for the initial show, I took a cue
and began my talk; thirty seconds into it the director broke in on the studio
intercom: "Ten minutes, everybody. Mr. Templeton, I'd like a word with
you. I'll be right down."
On the set he said, "How many people
do you think will be listening to you?"
"I'm told two to three
He shook his head."No"
"I give up. How many?"
“You're used to speaking to crowds," he said, "but television
is an intimate medium. The audience may be in the millions but nobody hears as
a crowd. Each person hears you as an individual. Talk to that one person."
It was the best advice a neophyte could receive.
I did the show for three years. In my last season I was joined by
Merv Griffin as co-host. Merv was at the time a band singer who wanted to
expand his opportunities and add to his versatility. He was easy to work with,
amiable, no camera hog, and quickly became a witty and skilful interviewer. My
most vivid memory is of the two of us perched on high stools bantering until we
broke up in laughter - neither of us able to remember the name of the guest we
were supposed to introduce.
As 1957 dawned I faced a dilemma. I had made the decision to leave
the ministry and, in doing so, to quit look Up and Live, but I didn't know how
I might support myself. When I left the Globe and Mail I knew where I was going
- into the ministry -but now I had no idea how I would make a living. I knew I
wanted to return to Canada, but what would I do there? Who would hire a forty -
two-year-old former evangelist?
By chance I read on the front page of Variety that Jackie
Gleason, one of the biggest stars in a television and then at the height of his
popularity, was looking for a story for his first venture into motion pictures.
He had been reading scripts for months, the story said, but hadn't found the
right vehicle. Gleason made no secret of his plans: he would make a big-budget
technicolour film specifically designed to establish him as a major
motion-picture star. I decided at that moment - without considering how
improbable it was - that I would write a motion-picture Outline for
Over the next three weeks I drafted a twelve-page Outline, giving
it the title King. It was the story of a successful television comedian,
a mercurial man, restless in his job of making people laugh .One night he
interjects a note of political comment into his monologue and ,by luck, touches
a national nerve. The response is phenomenal. In subsequent weeks he makes
political comment a part of his shows. His influence mushrooms and he begins to
dream grandiose dreams. In a series of swift developments he becomes the focus
of a people’s revolt against the traditional political parties and, in a bold
move, tries to take over the leadership of one of them, only to be publicly
humiliated. Blinded by ambition, he is driven to acts of near madness, and it
is only his responsibility for the accidental death of his estranged son that restores
him to rationally and to the realization that he should return to being what he
is….. a comedian.
I had an acquaintance who was a sometime theatrical agent. He
assured me that he knew Gleason and would get my outline to him. Six weeks
passed and nothing happened: the manuscript had been resting, undelivered, in a
desk drawer. Apologizing, he said, “Why don’t you get Merv Griffin to get it to
Gleason? They both have the same manager, a guy by the name of ‘Bullets’
Durgom. “I asked Merv if he would read the outline, and if felt comfortable
about doing so, pass it to Durgom. His response was an immediate yes.
A few days later I was entering an auditorium in Columbus, Ohio,
for a speaking engagement, when I called to the telephone. “It’s urgent. A Mr.
Durgom calling from New York City.”
On the telephone he offered me five thousand dollars for the
outline. I hesitated, knowing that if I accepted the money, that would probably
be the end of it. I reasoned that, if Gleason liked the outline enough to buy it,
he might let me try my hand at writing the screenplay. I told Durgom that I
would be in New York City the following Monday and would prefer to discuss the
My instructions were to be at the Park Sheraton hotel on Broadway
at 56th Street at 11:00 sharp on Monday morning. Gleason lived in
and his entourage occupied the entire penthouse floor and most of the floor
below. A receptionist told me to wait. I sat in the anteroom for better than
half an hour, my nervousness growing with each minute, while cronies came and
went and red-jacketed waiters passed through carrying trays laden with Bloody
Marys. Finally, Durgom ushered me into his tiny, cluttered office.
He was an intense, skinny man, balding, stooped and wearing a harassed
look. I learned later that he earned the sobriquet “Bullets” in a Brooklyn
schoolyard, where he seemed always to be ricocheting from one point to another.
He treated me with courtesy – bemused that I was a clergyman – talked about
Merv with affection, and then turned to business. He had taken my reluctance on the telephone
as bargaining tactic and opened the discussion by offering to pay me ten
thousand dollars for all rights to the outline. I was tempted but demurred, saying that I would like to try my
hand at writing the screenplay.
you ever written a screenplay?" he asked.
I said. "But then I'd never
written an outline before, either.”
sighed wearily. A buzzer interrupted
and we went in to meet The Great Man.
Gleason was in his shirtsleeves, seated behind a
massive desk, a Bloody Mary in one hand, a cigarette in the other. He looked more youthful than his image on
black-and-white television. He put down
his drink to shake hands, and without any feigning or caution, told me that he
was "nuts" about the outline.
Durgom sighed wearily. For five
minutes Gleason talked about the plot with unrestrained enthusiasm; it was, he
said, exactly the story he'd been looking for.
Then, suddenly, he turned to Durgom.
"Have you worked out a deal?" Durgom, obviously intimidated by
Gleason, assured him that everything was under control. "Chuck's guy and I are going to get
together in the next couple of days and work out the details".
get on it right away," Jackie said.
"I don't give a damn what it costs, get it".
only agent I Knew was the man in whose desk drawer the outline had rested for
some six weeks. When I told him what
had happened, he chuckled and said, "We’re gonna want fifty thou for the
outline.” I told him that I wanted to write the screenplay (vision of Hollywood
danced in my head) but that Durgom had asked me first to expand the outline,
which I did.
agent and Durgom had a number of meetings over the next few weeks without
resolving the matter. Durgom finally
offered a flat thirty thousand dollars for the expanded outline. Counselled by my agent, but with much
trepidation, I turned it down. I was
working twelve to fourteen hours a day on the screenplay, basing the style and
shooting instructions on some borrowed scenarios.
June, Durgom was due to depart for a vacation on a tramp steamer: he would be
out of touch for two months. Gleason
was leaving for Poughkeepsie, New York, where he would spend the summer. His lawyers were tied up in negotiating a
ten-year contract with CBS and Buick.
Durgom made a proposal: he would pay me three thousand dollars for
right-of-first-refusal on the property and we would conclude our negotiations
in the fall. I had just delivered the
screenplay and was anxious to return to Canada
the summer, so I agreed.
mid-August a major motion picture was released. It was called A Face in the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan,
and was based on a story by Bud Schulberg.
It starred a newcomer to films, Andy Griffith, who would go on to
television stardom. I read the reviews
with growing concern. While the plot
and the principal characters were unlike mine, the protagonist was an
entertainer who gets involved in politics.
In late August I received a letter from Durgom notifying me that, for
precisely these reasons, Jackie would not be exercising his option.
retained the three thousand dollars, of course, but lost the thirty
thousand. More important, I lost an
opportunity. My brief dream of Hollywood
up and Live had many unlikely fans. One of them was Harvey Schwartz,
vice-president of the music publishing firm, Bregman, Vocco and Conn. He called the studio and asked me to come
and see him, but wouldn’t tell me why.
office was in the Brill Building, a scruffy ten-storey office building on
Broadway at 49th Street. There was
little evidence that this was now the locale of the fabled "Tin Pan
Alley" and the heart of the popular-music business except for the knots of
musicians hanging about on the street outside the entrance and the sounds of
music filtering from behind many of the office doors.
was a man in his middle years, conservatively dressed in a dark blue pin-stripe
suit. He greeted me cordially, told me
that he watched Look up and Live each Sunday, and was convinced that I should write song lyrics. Had I ever tried it? Would I like to?
was 1956 and the music hit of the year was the socalled inspirational song,
"I Believe.” I accepted Schwatz's invitation and, over the next few weeks,
wrote a dozen or more lyrics, taking to him what I judged the best. He liked one especially, a song titled
"True Happiness," a sentimental thing about God and marriage and
children for which I had written both words and music. He suggested a few changes and agreed to
was convinced that he had a potential hit and put his organization to
work. One of his arrangers prepared it
for publication in sheet music. A
"demo" was cut, with Stuart Foster doing the vocal, backed by a full
orchestra. Promotion materials were
prepared, and Bregman, Vocco and Conn's song-pluggers went to work.
was highvoltage flurry of excitement when Perry Como's A and R (Artist and
Repertoire) man, the scout responsible for recommending new songs, became
interested. The excitement peaked when
Como, his A and R man and Schwartz made an early Saturday morning golf date to
discuss the song. But no commitments
were made, and that was the end of it.
I had been required to join ASCAP, the American
Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, and at the end of the year I
received a royalty payment from them.
As I recall it, my first cheque was for seventy-eight dollars, and the
royalty was smaller each year. However,
I learned an interesting thing about ASCAP; it is a real brotherhood. The tiny royalties I received each year, for
a period of years, didn't reflect the earning of my one published song - which,
so far as I know, earned nothing after the first year. ASCAP has a "pool" into which a
portion of the earnings of all its members are put, and then disbursed to each
member using certain criteria that do not necessarily reflect that member’s
output and earnings. The seventeen
dollars I received in 1960, for instance, included a share of the earnings of
such men as Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael and Burt Bacharach.
returning to Canada I transferred to CAPAC, The Com posers, Authors and
Publishers Association of Canada, in which I continue as a member. Over the years I have written dozens of
lyrics but have done nothing with them.
spend the summer writing television plays, living in a two room log cabin on
Georgian Bay near Lafontaine. The late
fifties was television drama's best period; fine writing being done by Paddy
Chayefsky, Tad Morgan and others.
Spurred on by the apparent success of the Gleason venture I'd decided
that I would try to make television and screenwriting my new vocation.
three and a half months I wrote five plays; in mid September, I drove to
Toronto to submit them to the script department at the CBC. They bought three of them: Absentee
Murderer, a half-hour suspense thriller that was directed by Robert
Christie and starred Joseph Furst, Barbara Hamilton, Peggi Loder and James
Doohan (who later came to fame in Star Trek) and A Matter of Principle,
a one-hour play superbly acted by John Drainie, Lloyd Bochner and Kathryn Blake
and directed by Charles Jarrot. The
third play, the title of which now eludes me, endured many script changes but
finally went unproduced. Both of the
others were subsequently shown on the BBC in England and on the Australian
Weston, one of Canada's great entrepreneurs and head of the multifaceted
Weston's Limited, had decided to confront his opponents and enhance his own
fortunes in a single bold stroke. To do
so, he needed a documentary film made almost overnight. He handed the problem to the head of his Canadian
supermarket operation, George Metcalf, president of Loblaws Limited; Metcalf
hired a Toronto film company, Meridian, and they hired me.
had not long before introduced North American style supermarkets to
Britain. The venture had been widely
attacked, most vigorously by the tens of thousands of greengrocers whose small
neighborhood stores were threatened.
The supermarkets bought in carload lots, sold with small mark-ups and
depended on volume for profit. No
corner grocer could compete with that.
With typical daring, Weston asked to be invited to
address the greengrocers at their annual convention, aware that he would face
an angry audience and might be booed from the platform. There, he would spring his surprise. He would offer the green grocers the
opportunity to compete with his supermarkets by introducing to the United
Kingdom a Canadian innovation, the co-op.
To make his presentation graphic he needed a film that would show how
Canadian independent grocers had made themselves viable by pooling their
It was Garfield's plan to sell to the new U. K. co-op.
time was short. I would have to produce
a shooting script over a three-day weekend.
Two of Weston's vice-presidents would fly to Toronto on the Monday to
approve the script and to authorize the start of production. Knowing it would mean three days with little
or no sleep. I demanded a high
fee. Early Monday morning I delivered
the script to Meridian and went to bed.
afternoon at 1:30 I sat in the downstairs reception room at Lowblaws with the
two vice-presidents awaiting the summons from Metcalf's office. An hour passed, two and then three. The vice-presidents were becoming
increasingly nervous, interpreting the delay as bad news. As the time passed their faces grew grey
with fear. Coffee cups rattled on
saucers. Ash-trays filled with butts.
Curious, I asked if Weston was a demanding taskmaster, and was told a
series of stories.
Weston was a young man, he was fired from a job. Not many years later he bought the company from which he had been
discharged, hiding his identity through proxies. On the day the deal was consummated, he walked into the
president's office, brushed past his secretary, went to a corner, undid his fly
and urinated against the wall. Then he
turned to the man who had fired him and ordered him out of the office, not
permitting him so much as to empty his desk.
Weston subsidiary in the English midlands was consistently losing money. Head-office personnel and various experts
were dispatched to correct the problem, but the company continued in the
red. Out of patience, Weston stated
that he would turn the company around within six months and went personally to
visit it. Accompanied by the personnel
manager carrying a clipboard, he went on a walking tour of the plant. When he saw an employee idle or involved in
casual conversation, he had the name listed.
Regardless of the employee's ability or length of service, he was
months, I was told, the company moved to the black.
five o'clock the only word from Metcalf's office was that he had been on the
telephone to London for extended periods.
The tension in the waiting room was palpable. I looked at the manifestations of fear around me and suddenly
decided that I would have no part of it.
I announced that I had a dinner engagement, which was true, although the
appointment was not until seven. It was
unthinkable they said. I couldn't just
leave. What if there was a problem with
was no act of courage. I was reacting
to rudeness that had kept us sitting there for three and a half hours without
any word. Beyond that, I refused to be
a part of the object vassalage I was witnessing. No job, no fee was worth that.
If the script needed reworking, I would stay up all night if
necessary. If that wouldn't do, to hell
it happened, the film went forward without a hitch and was delivered on
early September, 1957, I was leaving the CBC building on Jarvis Street, when I
was intercepted by a tall, somewhat awkward young man with a round face, heavy
horn-rimmed glasses and a mound of wavy hair.
In a verbally fastidious way he introduced himself as Ross McLean, told
me that he was the producer of a program called Tabloid, and asked about a book
of mine that had just been published in New York. (I was surprised that he would know of it; was a series of
lectures on evangelism, The Stone Lectures, I had given at Richmond Theological
Seminary in Virginia.) McLean had lost a guest on that evening's Tabloid and
wondered if I would be willing to appear and be interviewed by Percy
Saltzman. A taxi was sent for a copy of
the book, and I scribbled some questions for Percy.
the show, Ross followed me into the hallway and finally onto a staircase, where we held an extended
conversation. That fall, he informed
me, he would be producing a program called Close-up, a Sunday-night
primetime public-affairs show: he offered me a job as one of two interviewers
on the show. (Pierre Berton, whom I
hadn't met, would be the other.) I affected some reluctance, as playwriting
held a greater attraction for me, but called him back in almost unseemly haste
the following day to accept the job.
was a new and exciting venture by the CBC. It was the first important public-affairs
show and blazed a trail for This Hour Has Seven Days, The Way It Is and
Sunday. Frank Willis was host. Patrick Watson was associate producer and
Douglas Leiterman story editor. From time
to time, Joyce Davidson, a prot’eg’ee of Ross's, came over from Tabloid for
a particular segment. The show sought
to entertain as it informed, mostly through interviews and mini-documentaries,
and to break from the self-consciously serious and sometimes pompous patterns
of the past. The first interview I did
was with George Chuvalo, a then-young boxer who went on to hold the Canadian
heavyweight title and fight, among others, Muhammad Ali. During the entire interview, Ross had
Chuvalo skip rope. In the end, I joined
him, and ended up breathless.
and I ranged much of the world for stories.
He was at the time the featured columnist on the Toronto Star and
was not as free to travel as I; as a consequence I got most of the plum
world of public-affairs network television into which I had been so suddenly
precipitated was a sweatbox of fearsome tension. The medium was new in Canada and the people in charge, despite a
brave air of savoir faire, were pioneering. There were few precedents and no rules. Except for some brief filmed segments, programs such as Close-up
were assembled as they were broad-cast, interviews were done "live to
air" and mistakes were irrevocable.
the night of the slow, after a rough run-through, Ross McLean might inform you
that, "You have 8. 47 for your item.” In those few minutes you were
required to get the issue before the viewer, extract the relevant information
from your guest, keep him or her from wandering or fudging, put questions designed
to elicit interesting and pertinent replies and, even more importantly devise
ways to get your guest to reveal something of him or herself. All the while, there is frantic and often
unrelated activity in other parts of the studio, cameras swinging into and out
of position, the floor-manager signaling for you to speed up or stretch until
his final countdown -"Thirty seconds. . . fifteen. . . ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four,
three, two, one," and a motion of his hand as though slitting his throat.
was a peculiarly threatening time for me because I had been away from Canada
for ten years and was out of touch with what had been happening. How many times, on Court of Opinions or
Close-up, did my ignorance rear like a specter behind my chair threatening
to expose itself before the nation.
more fundamental problem was that I didn't know who I was. I had lost an identity and had not yet found
a new one. In the ministry, I moved if
familiar surroundings, comfortable with the people, the customs. Now, suddenly, I was in unfamiliar
territory. The natives were friendly
but foreign. I didn't speak their
language not they mine. I had,
overnight, to learn how to join easily in casual conversation (sometimes
punctuated with obscenities); to go out on dates, to order a drink, to
dance. Seeking protective coloration, I
began to smoke, and it was a dozen years before I was able to quit. It was as though I had been returned to my
teens. I was in a twilight world, a
creature of neither the sun nor the night.
It was almost two years before I walked with any assurance.
on, I was sent with a crew to Europe for a series of interviews, one of the
first being with novelist Evelyn Waugh.
Waugh was notoriously difficult; he specified in his acidulous way that
the fee would be five hundred dollars for the first thirty minutes, an
additional five hundred if we went one minute beyond the half hour and five
hundred more if we went one minute beyond the hour. We had hoped to record the interview at his home, but he quickly
scotched that: “A BBC crew was here last week," he said. "They trampled the flower bends, mucked
about on the lawns and left the premises like a pigsty.” It would be done at
our hotel, he said, or not at all, and at a time of his choosing. All his demands were hastily agreed to -
anything to get Evelyn Waugh.
prepared for the interview carefully and with much trepidation. I'd read four of his books; I bought another
three in paperback and holed up in my hotel room. In the course of my preparation, someone told me a story about
Waugh's irascibility, thinking that it would provide insights into the
man. It only added to my
story had it that Waugh was on the executive of a London literary society that
had decided to honor a writer with whom Waugh had clashed and whom he
detested. Waugh asked to be excused
from the head table but acquiesced when it was pressed on him as a duty. On the night of the tribute, he arrived
carrying a large copper ear trumpet. As
the business of the evening began, he put the trumpet to his ear, and listened
through it during all the preliminary speeches. When his hated rival was introduced and rose to respond, Waugh,
with elaborate deliberateness, removed the trumpet from his ear, placed it on
the table before him, crossed his arms, closed his eyes and, with a beatific
expression on his face, sat back in his chair.
arrived for the interview punctually, dressed in impeccable Saville Row
style. He was shorter than I'd expected
and a bit corpulent. He had the face of
a kewpie-doll, the rosy nose of a drinker and round, robin's-egg-blue
eyes. He moved immediately to introduce
himself; first, to Bob Crone and his wife, Vi, our 109 camera crew. Bob, an amiable fellow, when asked what his
job was, said he was a cameraman. Then,
reaching for some contact with the author of The Loved One, He added
that he had once been an undertaker's helper.
"Ah," said Waugh.
helper - surely you mean mortician's assistant?" Crone nodded vigorously,
eager to please. "Why, then,"
Waugh continued, "having done such important work, have you descended to
working as a journalist?"
was by my chair, at a table, microphone attached, waiting for him. He ignored my outstretched hand, said
nothing, at down and didn't so much as look at me. The lights were turned on, the sound man called out,
"Speed," someone banged the clapper and read the data on the slate,
the director said, "Action, "and I, my voice a trifle unsure, began.
responded to my opening questions with only a word or two, and seemed in no
mood to expand on them. After we'd been
going a few minutes, he fixed me with his cold, unblinking blue eyes and asked,
"Me. Templeton, have you read any
of my books?" I said that I had and continued my questioning. A few minutes later, he said again. Are you sure you've read my books?"
Yes, I said, mentioning some of the titles.
He shook his head as though puzzled and said, "Very well,
then. Continue." In posing a question,
I referred to his being a satirist. He
stopped me short. "I, a satirist?
Whatever would give you that idea? Are you certain, Mr. Templeton, you
have actually read my books?” At one point I asked him about his children. He responded by saying that "Once a day
I allow them into my presence for ten minutes.
Just after tea.”
it went, a protracted agony. By the end
of the interview I was in a rage that led me to refuse his preferred hand. Doubtless that pleased him.
appeared at first that the day would end as badly as it had begun. After the Waugh ordeal we went backstage at
the Hay-market Theatre in London to interview Ralph Richardson. Sir Ralph is one of the most eminent of
English actors, famed equally for his contributions to the theatre. I expected arrogance, but found instead an
astounding insecurity. He came from the
stage and went with hardly a word into the shower. Ten minutes later he was back in a white terrycloth robe begging
off. He paced the small confines of the
dressing room, cluttered with our lights and cameras, wringing his hands. "Look, chaps, you really don't want to
interview me. I'm a dull stick. I have nothing to say. Can't we just forget the whole thing? I'd
much rather not go through with this.” This celebrated, gifted man was, quite
obviously, nervous and frightened.
After perhaps ten minutes of entreaty, he assented. He proved a fascinating subject.
London, we went off to the Riviera for an interview with novelist Somerset
Maugham. Maugham lived with his male
secretary-companion on a magnificent estate at Cap Ferrat, near Antibes, in an
embittered loneliness, soured by the judgments of the critics and his
peers. On our arrival, we were shown
to a flastone patio adjoining the great house. When our tangle of cables, lights and cameras was ready, Maugham
joined us. He was eighty-four then,
with dessicated skin, sparse straight hair, hooded eyes and a wide down turned
slash of bloodless lips, but was undiminished in intellectual vigour. He greeted us with warm cordiality.
frequent problem in filmed interview is the subject's nervousness. Often, a guest is at his or her best while
the lights are being adjusted, sound levels checked ant technical problems
resolved. Knowing that the cameras
aren't yet rolling, he or she is relaxed, ready with quips and observations and
full of sprightly small talk. But once
the interview begins, that ease may disappear and the public persona will take
over - guarded, controlled and dull.
had heard that Maugham Tended to tighten up during an interview and planned to
begin filming without his knowledge. I
began with casual conversation and Maugham made his first response. As he did, he paused. in mid sentence, his jaw set and there was
a pause. The pause was broken only
when he whacked the palm of his hand on the arm of the chair. For a moment, I was dumbstruck: the man
obviously suffered from a severe stammer.
As we continued, I glanced at director, who rolled his eyes skyward,
shoved his fists deep in his pockets and turned away. There was nothing to do but to go ahead and, between pauses and
whacks, try to get the story .
interviews are not as they seem. Most
are heavily edited. The interview may
take as much as an hour, but after an editor has pieced together the newsworthy
and interesting statements, it may be reduced to as little as five to twenty
minutes. If the editing is skillfully
done, viewers are not aware that what they are seeing is no more than snippets
and patches of what was originally recoded.
the conversation with Maugham continued, it became obvious that the stammer and
the banging on the arm of the chair would make the interview virtually
impossible to edit. In a counsel of
despair while a film magazine was being changed, we decided that we would not
use close-ups, and that Maugham should be seen in the setting in which he
lived. He and I would be filmed at a
distance as we walked through his estate.
Later, the sound portions of the interview would be overlaid and it
would seem that the conversation was taking place as we went.
hours later, the shoot was completed, delayed by the inevitable technical
problems that are a part of working with film. We were full of apologies as we packed our gear. We said our good-byes and there was a
general round of handshaking, but Maugham didn't leave. He stood to one side, frowning, apparently
went to him and said, "Thank you again, Mr. Maugham. You've been marvelously patient and we
looked at me and said, almost pathetically, "Don't you even want to see
where I write?"
our preoccupation, we'd forgotten to ask.
following day we were scheduled to interview Minou Drouet, a most extraordinary
child who, at the age of eight, was being hailed by the leading literary
figures in France as a prodigy. Hers
was an astounding story.
Drouet's mother was a prostitute and her father a field hand. As an infant she was taken into the home of
a middle-aged woman, whose ambition to write well exceeded her talent. She adopted the child and raised her with
love, surrounding her with music in a home dedicated to literature. It appeared that Minou was retarded. At six she hadn't spoken a word. The judgment of four doctors was that she
would never be normal.
day, her mother played a recording of a Brahms symphony for her. Minou swooned. When she was revived, she spoke perfect French in complex
sentences. Shortly thereafter she
began to write poetry. Some of the
poems were published and immediately provoked debate. It was said that no child of six could possibly have such
thoughts, much less express them so profoundly. It was argued that, unlike music, poetry demands an experience of
life, experience that no child so young could have had. It was charged that her adoptive mother - a
poet herself who aspired to recognition but had been judged second-rate - was
the author of the verses.
controversy became a cause celebre.
The French Academy of Arts and Sciences decided on an experiment to
validate or to dismiss the claims made for the child. Minou was placed in a room behind one-way glass. She was provided with paper and pencil, and
after she was alone and incommunicado, given three subjects to write
about. She did as she was instructed
and the results were scrutinized.
There could be no question; the poems were the product of a prodigious talent.
Jean Cocteau, the eminent writer and film-maker, commented: "She's
not an eight-year-old child, she's an eight-year-old dwarf.”
my interview with Minou Drouet, a picnic hamper had been purchased and a
colourful blanket found. Minou and I
were filmed under the Riviera summer sun at an idyllic location over looking
the Mediterranean. She was an
extraordinary child: beautiful, outgoing, animated, aware, coquettish
serious. There was one problem: no one
our team had troubled to find out if she spoke English. She didn't, and I retained only the residue
of two years of high-school French.
camera a followed us to the spot selected.
I spread the blanket and together we laid out the food. Minou thought it great fun and was
especially delighted when she discovered that some "Co-ca Co-la"
had been included. She chattered on
animatedly and I responded gauchely, straining for the appropriate words, often
to her outbursts of laughter.
Fortunately, there was enough communication to get us by, and my lack
was more than compensated for by her unspoiled charm and vivacity.
it was time to end the shoot, I took her hand and said a halting good-bye. She kissed me and said. "Bon jour mon ami du soleil,"
and went off with her mother, leaving me enchanted for days.
were other interviews abroad:
spent an afternoon with writer and critic Rebecca West, who talked with me on the
terrace of her country home on the outskirts of London. Pointing off toward the city, only visible
on the far horizon, she described watching bombs erupt soundlessly on Loudon as
the Battle of Britain was fought in eerie silence above the barrage balloons. To this day, I see it happening as though I
had been there.
another stripe was a session with Lady Iris Docher, a wealthy and wildly
eccentric Englishwoman, whose strawberry pink eyelashes and uninhibited
escapades were scandalizing the nobility and delighting the feature writers on
the Fleet Street tabloids. We
interviewed her on the deck of her yacht where, to the delight of our film
crew, she refused to proceed unless I personally pinned the hidden microphone
on the inside of her well-filled sweater.
I demurred, and finally Vi Crone did the loners.
Braden welcomed us to his handsome home; surrounded by the evidence of his
enormous success in English television.
He talked nostalgically of Canada and the CBC, hinting that he might
give it all up to return home. But, in
the meantime, there was a party for Lauren Bacall at the Milroy night club in
Hamilton Place, hosted by Sir Laurence Olivier and Lady Vivien Leigh, with 150
of London's show-business nobility in attendance; a new sports car to be picked
up and a successful new television season underway. Braden was a talented and charming guest.
so charming was Lucky Luciano's number-one lieutenant, whose name I can't
recall. He had been deported to his
native Italy with Luciano and was managing to make out with a few little
"deals" he had going. I
spent most of two days with him in Rome, much of it hanging about in a sidewalk
espresso-bar open to the street. In
all that time, I don't think he ever looked directly at me. His eyes searched the passing traffic, and
every once in a while he would interrupt our conversation to go into the
street, and with a sleight of handshake, pass narcotics to his customers.
spent much of a day and an evening with Madame Antonina Olivetti, an
international beauty and the estranged wife of a member of the wealthy Olivetti
typewriter family. In Roman Catholic
Italy in the 1950s, she was valiantly and almost single handedly fighting for
birth control and abortion. On the
evening of the interview she showed me the Rome tourists don't see: some of the
great homes and estates of her friends; unexpected enclaves of crumbling
beauty, redolent with history; smoky, hole in-the-wall nightclubs where
American jazz was played. Two days
later, as we waited for the plane that would return us to Londone, her
chauffeur presented me with an Olivetti portable typewriter.
in Rome, an invitation came from the Canadian ambassador to the Vatican:
"Would I like a private audience with the Holy Fater, Pius XII? If so, it
was possible.” I leaped at the chance.
Vi Crone pleaded to be included, and the arrangement was made.
went at the appointed hour to a massive wrought-iron gate beneath Bernini's
colonnade. One of the Swiss Guards
ushered us through marble halls to a magnificent upstairs room. It was Renaissance in style: square, with a
lofty ornamented ceiling, crystal chandeliers and pilasters of pale green
marble. The walls were hung with
enormous, intricately wrought tapestries.
was surprised to see others there. In
my ignorance I hadn't known that " a private audience " isn't
necessarily private – we were two of a group of fourteen. Viand I stood to one side, talking in
nervous whispers. The others were doing the same, looking
about, ill at ease. They seemed to be
mostly Europeans. A priest came and
arranged us in a line that turned at a ninety-degree angle, placing me near the
end, and telling us that the Holy Father would soon arrive.
found myself in a ridiculous dilemma: how should I greet the Pope when I was
introduced to him? My parents were Protestant Irish and, while not
anti-Catholic or bigoted, were not kindly disposed toward the church. In my childhood, my father had regaled me
with stories of his childhood in Ireland.
He was the son of a Methodist clergyman who as was the custom of the
Methodists, was moved to a different parish every three years. Dad described in detail the pitched battles
on "The Glorious Twelfth," when men and boys fought in the street
with paving-stones, pickets ripped from fences, any weapon that came to
hand. When I was a boy in Regina we
called some of our schoolmates Catlickers and Dogans and Arsies, and sometimes
threw stones through the windows of the parish hall at Holy Rosary
cathedral. We didn't know why; it was
simply something we did. Moreover, my
father (and later, the New Testament) had drummed into my head that you
"Bow the knee to no man.” And now I was about to meet the Pope.
was a sudden ringing of bells and, preceded by a half dozen cardinals and
others in full regalia, the Holy Father swept into the room and began to move
along the line. I had ample opportunity
to observe him for he took two or three minutes with each person. The women dropped to a deep genuflection and
kissed his ring; the men went to one knee and did the same. I was torn by a mounting anxiety: how should
I react when the holy Father reached me? I felt respect for the man, for what
he symbolized, and for his personal accomplishments (among other things, he
spoke a dozen languages), but all my upbringing was warring with my
reason. Surely, on the ground of simple
civility, I should follow the example of the other men and go to one knee. But I knew I couldn't do it, and the Pope
was drawing near.
he had reached the woman to my left. I
was surprised at how small he was, almost diminutive. He looked was and tired and liver spots speckled his skin, but
his face was full of animation. He was
speaking fluent French, looking directly into the woman's face.
he came to me. Involuntarily, I put out
my hand. Without a moment's hesitation
he shook it, holding it for just a moment, and I knew that I had been a fool
for debating the matter; obviously it had happened hundreds of times
reference to a note and without being prompted by the cardinal who hovered at
his elbow, he called me by name, as he had those who preceded me. But he had been mistakenly briefed and took
me to be a teacher. I didn't correct
him. In slightly accented English, he
spoke about the importance of teachers, about the trust imposed in them and
about the fact that they write tomorrow's attitudes on the minds of their
charges. He urged me to take the
calling with great seriousness, made the sign of the cross and passed on. Afterwards, we were each given a medal to
commemorate the audience.
months later, in Windsor, Ontario, I was guest at a small, private party in the
home of a couple who were devout Catholics.
I slipped out of the party, went to my hotel room and got the
medal. As I was leaving I called the
couple aside and gave them the souvenir, explaining the circumstances under
which I was given it. The husband took
it in his hands and examined it, his eyes shining. His wife looked at it closely, sat down abruptly and put her
hands to her face to cover her tears.
in Canada there was good news: the prime minister's office had approved a CBC
request to be permitted to do an extended interview with the prime minister at
home at 24 Sussex Drive. Mr.
Diefenbaker had agreed that I do the interview with him and that Joyce Davidson
talk to Olive, his wife. The broadcast
would be done live on New Year's Eve.
cameras had never been allowed to originate a broadcast from the official
residence, and so far as I’m aware, have never been since. The arrangement was that Mrs. Diefenbaker
would show Joyce about the house, pointing out things of particular interest;
after twenty minutes she would hand off to me for the remainder of the
hour. There was one specification, the
prime minister insisted on knowing in advance what my questions would be. Normally, this was an unacceptable
condition, but because of the unprecedented nature of the opportunity it was
went with Ross McLean, Joyce and a lighting-technician to 24 Sussex Drive to
meet with Mr. Diefenbaker. We conferred in a pleasant sitting room on
the lower level. Olive was there, as
was Diefenbaker's political mentor, now a senator, Allister Grosart. One by one I read the questions I intended
to ask, twenty-four in all. One by one
Diefenbaker objected to them: "No, I've told that anecdote too often.” I
don't think we ought to get into that.” No, no, that's too long a story; we
won't have the time.” I think not; the facts don't reflect well on the people
involved.” Buy the end, he had vetoed all but three of my questions.
was about to remonstrate when Olive - who hadn't said a word but had been
perched on the back of a small sofa - interjected. "Now, John, she said, "Just stop that!" Her voice
was sharp but the tone wasn't. It had
been obvious in our conversation that there was a loving relation between the
two of them. Diefenbaker immediately
accepted the reproof.” Read the question again," he said.
restored all but three and the telecast went without a hitch.
a few weeks back in Toronto doing less exotic interviews, I was dispatched with
a crew to Los Angeles. The prospect was
exciting. Among those scheduled were
Oscar Levant, Zsa Zsa Gabor, James and Pamela Mason, Hermione Gingold, Aldous
Huxley, Art Linkletter and, possibly, Bugsy Seigal, the Hollywood and Las Vegas
hood. And there were plans to beam to
Canada a live telecast that
McLean ironically titled “Maturity in Hollywood.” I bought a new sports jacket
and slacks and packed my bag time for the interview with Levant
approached. Having talked to him on the
telephone a number of times, Ross convinced himself that he was the person to
do it, a judgment not entirely vindicated when he and Levant sat down to
interview was done in the living room of Levant's home, a sprawling,
ranch-style house, designed - as so many are in southern California - in a kind
of bastard Spanish. While the crew was
setting up, Levant and I fell into conversation. He was a major celebrity at the time. A prominent concert pianist, he had become a film star of sorts -
as he put it, the guy who always loses the girl - through his work in
such pictures as An American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue. He was best known to the general public as
the enfant terrible on the popular radio and television show, Information
Please, where his encyclopaedic knowledge and caustic wit had made him
autographed photograph of Harry Truman sat alone on top of his grand piano, and
when I ventured the view that Truman was demonstrably one of the three greatest
American presidents, he immediately agreed and we got into an extended
back at the hotel, there was a message from Levant to telephone him. Did I Know any women? "No," I
said, "I'm a stranger here. This
is your territory.” He sighed and said, "Ah well. Come out to the house and we'll talk. Next to women, conversation is best.”
talked for about two hours, when he suddenly seemed to tire. During the afternoon filming session he'd
shown the same sudden fatigue and, during a break to reload a camera, he had
excused himself "to get a glass of milk for my ulcer.” He returned a few
minutes later, bright-eyed and visibly revived. I learned later that he was heavily on drugs. Now he returned to suggest that he call Zsa
Zsa and that we drop over to see her.
(She was his next-door neighbor. ) But Zsa Zsa had a date for the
evening. Another phone call and he
announced that we were going to James Mason's.
It proved to be a most eventful evening.
Mason was married at the time to Pamela Kellino, no mean actress herself and,
like her husband, a lover of cats; they were frequently pictured in the press
surrounded by half a dozen or more Siamese.
(Which commended them to me.
I've had Siamese and Himalayan cats continuously for thirty-seven years.
) I Was disappointed when I discovered that, in all of their sprawling,
luxurious home, there wasn't a cat in sight.
and Oscar fell immediately into an animated conversation that ranged from small
talk to contentious banter to the trading of amiable insults to the latest
Hollywood gossip. I was drawn into the
conversation from time to time but mostly listened. What I heard was an astounding recital of recent love affairs
among the famous, of assignations, of marriages in trouble and of studio
all this was going on, James Mason was seated to my left, cross-legged on a
couch, looking handsome, listening impassively and saying absolutely
nothing. He spoke no more than a few
dozen words through the evening. Every
once in a while he would stir himself to enquire in that extraordinary voice if
my drink needed freshening. He would
then provide the same service for Pamela and Oscar and resume his seat and his
some time, I'd been aware of a noisy banging from downstairs at the rear of
the house. Now there was also the sound
of a man's voice, angry, shouting.
Pamela said off-handedly that it was
a lover of hers she had just cast aside.
I recognized the name. He was a
six-foot-three, red-haired Irishman, who had been a prominent sportscaster in
Chicago during the early 1950s. He was
a volatile, controversial broadcaster, a reckless commentator who had drawn the
ire of Frank Norris, then-owner of the Chicago Stadium, the Black Hawks and a
stable of prizefighters. It was
commonly rumored that some of Norris's friends were in the Mafia; and the story
went around Chicago that Norris had had the sportscaster run of town. For whatever reasons, he'd departed for Los
Angeles, where he soon found another job on television and became enamored of
told a detailed story of the affair, while James sat sphinx-like,
listening. All the while, the man
downstairs was trying to kick in a door.
But no one seemed perturbed, no one called the police, and no one went
down to send him away. After perhaps
ten minutes the din ceased.
bed I found myself wondering: could the entire evening have been a kind of
charade? Was it possible that the conversation - with all its salty details,
startling candour and outrageous gossip - was simply a show put on to shock the
hinterlander, a gleeful acting out of the "wild and wicked Hollywood"
legend? I’m certain that it
the morning Oscar was on the phone. It
was planned to beam the live telecast to Toronto that evening. It would feature Zsa Zsa, Hermione Gingold,
Pamela and James Mason. Oscar wanted to
be part of it and pressed me to urge Ross to include him; "Mason's hopelessly
dull. I'll liven things up.” He might
have been in need of money and he was insistent. I spoke to Ross, who was at first reluctant (perhaps because of
his budget), but then changed his mind.
I went to the studio that afternoon anticipating a lively time.
Zsa was first to arrive. She was at
time a Grade-A celebrity and known to be difficult. I had watched the director lighting the chair in which she would
sit. There were endless adjustments, a
sitin and live cameras to assure him that all was ideal. Zsa Zsa entered, looked at the set and
crossed to sit down. "Not there,
Miss Gabor, but here," the floor manager said, sychophancy oozing. "I'll sit here," Zsa Zsa said and
director came from the booth and introduced himself to Gabor, who seemed not to
notice him. He explained how the
lighting had been carefully prepared and how he was certain she would be
happier with the result if she sat in the chair prepared for her. "I'll sit here," she said,
examining herself in a large hand mirror passed to her by the make-up
girl-in-waiting. There were sideways looks
of dismay and shrugs of despair. Not
five minutes later, as a lighting-man was at work rearranging things at the top
of a ladder, Gabor got up and, without a word, moved to the chair first
prepared for her.
took the moment to study Zsa Zsa who, preoccupied with her preening, was
indifferent to everything else.
Conceding that she looked like a glossy and expensive confection, I must
say also that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I was told that she took three hours to
prepare herself to go out in public; however long, it was worth it.
Under the lights her skinn waas flawless and seemed almost
transparent. Her hair was carefully
fashioned, soft and shining. Her eyes
were a startling blue. She continued to
work with the mirror - touching her hair, stroking her eyebrows, cheeks and jaw
line, turning her head this way and that.
She spent at least five minutes flouncing her skirt so that it fell
pleasingly and, in doing so, leaned forwards to reveal a more than generous
decolletage. At one point Ross passed
behind my chair to say sotto voce," Charles, we're all worried
about you, so recently out of the ministry.”
other participants joined us, and as the floor manager shouted, "Thirty
seconds!" the tension - as was common in live television - grew almost
palpable. I took my opening cue,
introduced the guests, put my first question and became almost immediately
redundant. Sparks began to fly, with
Levant striking the flint. When Zsa Zsa
spoke grandly of the growing maturity in Hollywood, Oscar interrupted to
suggest that she was indeed an authority on the subject: "More than
anyone in Hollywood, Zsa Zsa, darling, you've discovered the secret of
perpetual middle age.” This kindled a continuing argument between the two of
them. Hermione Gingold, an English
comedienne famous for her abrasive wit and comically flexible voice, tried a
number of times to enter the discussion.
Finally Oscar turned to her and said, "Yes, Herman"
emphasizing the male name - "We've all admired your boyishness
across the many years.” Fireworks.
Shouting. I tried to guide the
discussion from time to time but little attention was paid.
suddenly, the time had expired and the floor manager was counting me down to a
wrap-up. I turned to camera, muttered
something about our having witnessed a sample of the level of maturity in the
film capital, and spoke my out cue.
Even as I was doing so, the battle was being rejoined behind me. Off the air, Hermione proclaimed her umbrage
and then took a strip off me for allowing it.
Oscar and Zsa Zsa adjourned to the corridor outside where they exchanged
insults for another ten minutes. It was
not television's finest hour but it was a good show.
Huxley lived on top of a Hollywood mountain, and I approached our appointment
with him beset by something approaching awe.
Grandson of the celebrated scientist and educator, Sir Thomas Henry
Huxley, brother of brilliant biologist and writer, Julian, half-brother to the
research scientist and Nobel winner, Andrew, Aldous Huxley had himself achieved
international renown through his novels and social criticism. His best known book, Brave New World,
made Shakespeare's phrase part of every-day language. From the time he was eighteen he had engaged in a fight against
blindness. In his later years he had
grown cynical and disillusioned about western society. Gearing our cars up the road that led to the
peak of the mountain, we were all worried about how the interview might
go. It didn't go at all.
was not Huxley's fault; he greeted us cordially and offered the crew every
possible help. He was a tall, gaunt man
with a shock of wiry grey hair and thick-lensed glasses that greatly magnified
his eyes. For all his sixty-four years,
there was about him an intense, brittle vitality and an almost childlike interest
in the cameras and sound equipment.
all was ready, he and I took our places.
He had only begun to answer my first question when the sound-man
interrupted: "Sorry, Sir, there's a buzzing on the line. Shouldn't take more than a minute to clear
it.” It took, as I recall it, better than an hour and a half.
developed a mystery. Each piece of
equipment was carefully checked, but there remained a constant, overriding
buzz. The master switch controlling the
house's lighting was thrown; it made no difference. The sound-man put earphones on Huxley, explaining that unless the
source of the interference was found and eliminated it would be on the sound
track and would make the interview inaudible.
But the reason for the buzzing couldn't be found. There was a KXLA transmitter tower not three
hundred yards from the house; that must be the problem. But it wasn't. When a technician pointed a live microphone at the tower and
passed it through an open window, the buzzing stopped. When he drew it back into the house it began
again. The problem was inside the
had been watching with growing interest and evident excitement. Finally, he pulled me aside, and whispered,
"You've got a poltergeist.” (Those who investigate the occult hold that a
poltergeist, literally, a "rapping ghost", is a mischievous spirit,
which manifests itself by various knockings, tossing crockery about and moving
furniture. It is commonly believed that
a poltergeist is active only when children or teenagers are present. ) In his
later years, Huxley had become much interested in the occult, and now seized
upon it as the reason for our difficulties.
He drew my attention to a young lad who had been hired to help carry the
equipment. "There's the
problem," he said flatly.
the end, having tried every solution short of banishing the boy, we had to
abandon the interview. Huxley was
gracious, promising an appointment in New York City three weeks later. His last word to me as we went out the door
was a whispered, "Poltergeist.”
was some time later that we learned what the actual cause of our problems
was. Huxley's house, though
refurbished, was an old one, and unused wire, circling the living room behind
the baseboards, formed an inductive coil and produced the interference our
sound equipment had picked up. I was
disappointed that the solution was so prosaic.
New York City some weeks later, I interviewed William ("Call me
Bill") Zeckendorf, the man who built the spectacular Place Ville Marie in
Montreal. Zeckendorf was the
entrepreneur's entrepreneur, and energetic, ebullient, tough-minded pragmatist
with a talent for showmanship. His very
going to work each day was a production.
His offices were the penthouse of the Chrysler Building, which he had
recently purchased. Each day, he drove
from his home in the country to Manhattan in a chauffeured limousine, license
ZECK-1. As he went, he kept his office
alerted as to his exact whereabouts in traffic, lined up his schedule for the
day and dictated to his secretary. The
doorman was poised for his arrival. A
private elevator was standing by to convey him nonstop to the top where his
staff stood in readiness.
had been arranged that we would do part of the interview during a lunch in his
office. A table was elegantly laid,
gleaming with linen and silver and imported china. From the rooftop patio that surrounded his office, Zeckendorf
pointed out the sights of the city and their height relative to the Chrysler Building. He took me into his office to show off a
lighting system he'd installed in a cupola above his massive desk.
this," he said, putting his fingers on a small console. "When somebody comes to see me and he's
trying to sell me something, I change the lighting so that the office is
predominantly blue or green - some cold colour.” He pushed a few but tons. The feeling of the room changed. "Now, if somebody's coming in who I
want to sell, I go to the yellows and the oranges. It sets the mood.” He gave a pleased, boyish laugh. "Why not?"
interview went well. Even more
interesting was a story he told me off camera before he left. He had wanted to buy the entire block
between Macy's and Gimbel's, New York City's two bestknown department
stores. His plan was to refurbish the
street floor and lease it to Woolworth's, so that when shoppers went from
Macy's to Gimbel's, they would pass through Wool worth's, and this would surely
be good for business. Using proxies to
hide his intention, he bought the space needed. Only one obstacle remained: and old and decrepit fire hall in the
middle of the block, which the city refused to sell. It seemed the entire project was going to founder on this one
he bought a piece of property one block away and build a modern fire hall,
complete with sleeping quarters, a recreation room and showers for the
firemen. He then offered it to the city
for one dollar. They took it, of
course, and Zeckendorf completed the deal for, as he put it, "the biggest
damn Woolworth store in the world.”
first two years back in Canada had been pleasant, filled with hard work made
enjoyable by its variety. In addition
to doing Close-up, from 1957 to 1959, I filled in frequently on Tabloid
and on a long-lived CBC radio program, Court of Opinions, a quiz
show moderated by Neill Leroy and featuring panelists Lister Sinclair, Pierre
Berton and Dofy Skaith. Four of my
television plays were produced. I had
written and narrated a documentary on sports cars for Meridian Films, made a
film for the government introducing OHIP to Ontario, and come summer, would go
overseas with a Close-up crew to make a one-hour documentary, Sweden's
Morality, an expensive project that would never be shown to the Canadian
public because of prohibition in the Broadcast Act – a concession to the Roman
Catholic church by the Liberal party forbidding the discussion of abortion and
birth control. In the first year, I won
the Maurice Rosenfeld Award for Best Newcomer to Canadian Television. The following year, belatedly, I won the
Liberty Award for Best Newcomer to Canadian Television. I sent it back.
the trip to Sweden I had received a telegram from Connie telling me that our
divorce would be granted later that day.
We had been married eighteen years.
It was like receiving the news that a very dear friend had died. I cancelled the filming, unable to work, and
went for a long, aimless walk through the streets of Stockholm. It was a chill, dark day with grey layered
clouds cutting off the tops of the buildings and seeming almost within
reach. I walked for an hour or more,
drenched but uncaring, my mind seven thousand miles away in a tiny courtroom in
had hankered to try my hand at acting, not with any intention of pursuing it as
a career but simply "to have a go.” Consequently, I was intrigued to
receive a telephone call from Paul Almond, already recognized as one of
Canada's premier film directors, asking me to read for the lead in a one-hour
television play he was directing for the CBC's G. M. Presents. I read for him and he hired me, informing me that the female lead
would be played by the featured singer on the Jack Kane's Musicmakers show,
learned later why he had cast the two of us - I who had never acted and Sylvia
who had no experience beyond high school.
The play was A Face to Remember - as Almond described it
later," a dog he'd been handed by the drama department.” Even a superb
production would not hide the fact that it was a mediocre property, so Almond
had decided to cast it with performers whose work in real life was similar to
the protagonists' work in the play: I played a television newscaster; Sylvia, a
cast first met in a barren rehearsal hall on Sumach Street in downtown
Toronto. There were no sets, no lights,
no cameras; just masking tape on the floor to indicate the general layout. After introductions and a walk around the
"set," Almond called me and another member of the cast onto the
floor, scripts in hand, and said, "Act One Scene Three. Give it a try and see what happens.”
looked at him. "No instructions?
shook his head.” Just start in. See how
not going to tell us what to do?"
grinned and said, " Maybe later.
Just read your lines and we'll see what develops.”
was a difficult play, even for a professional.
The performance would be live (videotape was still in the future) and I
was in every scene save one. At the
close of each scene I was required to leave one set and race to the next,
sometimes removing a jacket and tie or putting on a topcoat en route. After a day or two, Almond began to guide
the performances, and when we moved onto the actual set for final rehearsals,
there was a growing confidence.
one scene, Sylvia was seated in a Corvette convertible. I was to kiss her, getting lipstick on a
handkerchief, which would later betray me.
(Yes, the plot was that bad. ) There were problems with the lighting,
and it was necessary to run through the scene a number of times. Almond was aware that Sylvia and I had been
having dinner together after rehearsals, and each time I bent to kiss her, he
yelled, "Cut!" I obeyed, of course, but after he'd done it a half
dozen times, I said, "The hell with you Paul," and kissed Sylvia for
the first time. Within six months we
the day of the performance, I awoke with a head cold. It wasn't enough to incapacitate me, but it posed a problem. Either I had to blow my nose frequently,
which removed the make-up from the area, or I had to sniff a lot. It didn't improve my sanguinity or my
performance went smoothly. The
nightmare that I would freeze or forget my lines didn't come true, but when the
credits had rolled and the screen went to black and I knew the ordeal was over,
I was surprised by a rush of tears.
Everybody kissed and hugged everybody else and called each other by
endearing names common practice among actors
- and we all piled into cars and went to a cast party.
reviews were favorable but restrained.
Bob Blackburn wrote in the Ottawa Journal: "Charles
Templeton's performance in the lead will have somewhat less impact on the
theatrical world than, say, Barrymore's Hamlet. "In the Toronto Star, after some faint praise, Gordon
Sinclair wrote, "If Charles intends to do more of this kind of thing, he's
going to have to learn to act below the eyebrows. "I wasn't sure what he meant but knew it wasn't a
was an amusing footnote. When we met,
Sylvia was engaged to a Montreal man but had decided to break it off. However, she hadn't yet removed the ring
when she was interviewed on Close-up by Joyce Davidson. Joyce saw the diamond and asked about
it. Sylvia hadn't notified her fiancé
and had no option but to say, yes, she was engaged, and when Joyce pressed her
for the details, had to chatter on coast to coast about the man whose ring she
was about to return. He was watching
the show, and it made her task no easier when, later that night, she called to
tell him that the wedding was off.
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