"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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Catching Up 2002

29 Dec 2002

Dave Thomas (Jan 8, 2002)

I first heard the news while eating breakfast in the Basma Hotel in Aswan, Egypt. Cracking open a hard-boiled egg, I felt a catch in my throat until it was explained to me that the deceased was Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's, not Dave Thomas, beloved Canadian comedian of SCTV fame. I should have figured it out. It's just barely plausible that news of Thomas' death might reach us in what should have been a warm and sunny corner of the world. It's flat-out unlikely that, even if anything had happened to Thomas (SCTV), that it would have reached my ears there, unless the word had come from a fellow Canadian. Which it had. 

When I returned to the arctic waste I call home, the local Wendy's had put the following message on its outdoor sign: "Founder, friend. We will miss you, Dave." Thomas was 69.

Dave Thomas, not dead. Dave Thomas, dead.

Frank Shuster (Jan 13, 2002)



Frank Shuster. Photo: CBC
Walk down any street in Canada, and ask someone what it means to be Canadian, and they will, with enough prompting, cough up the name Frank Shuster. Or rather "Wayne and Shuster" including Johnny Wayne, the other half of the comic team responsible for "Rinse The Blood From My Toga", "Shakespearean Baseball" and other much admired comedy routines, although routines is the wrong word for what they did. Skit seems to trivialize it. Essay comes closer -- extended gags that just happened to last 15 minutes or more. Any half-decent description of their work will use the words "literate", "groundbreaking", and always "Canadian", which might be an oblique way of saying that though they were literate, and groundbreaking, the did come up with a fair number of clunkers too. But let's leave them aside for now.

My memories of Wayne and Shuster start in the mid 1970's when they made a number of comedy specials for CBC television. I watched on our 14" black and white set, transfixed. Mom and Dad would watch too, though I suspect it was more to keep an eye on what I was watching. "Wayne and Shuster, again?" they'd moan. But I didn't care. It was new to me, and funny.  Nothing else about it counted. Or counts. 

I listened to "Rinse The Blood From My Toga" just after Shuster died -- that's the one where the story of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" is hijacked by a Sam Spade wanna be (Wayne) who has been hired by Brutus (Shuster) to solve the murder of "Big Julie".  Being more sophisticated now compared to the 10 year old me, listening to it for the first time, I notice the impeccable timing, but more importantly, it's still funny. 

You can read more about Frank Shuster at the CBC's web site.


Peter Gzowski (January 24, 2002)



Peter Gzowski
In 1980 (or thereabouts), I got a tape recorder for Christmas. The neat thing about it was that it had a radio built in, so you could record right off the air. The first thing I taped was a segment of a CBC radio show called Morningside. Its host in those days was Don Harron. He would leave the show in 1982 to be replaced by Peter Gzowski who, astoundingly, sounded the same then as when he did last year. 

Morningside was a reason to turn the radio on in the morning. Some random memories:

  • Moxy Früvous appeared on the show a number of times. Once, when I was in University, I heard them sing the theme to Hockey Night In Canada with revised lyrics: "We'll feel all warm inside on Morningside, yeah." 
  • Staying in the car after an already long drive to listen to the end of the "Red River Rally" (May, 1997), a benefit aired in the usual Morningside timeslot. The shows that usually followed it yielded their time to it when it began to run long.
  • 2 November 1996: The CBC open house in Toronto. I arrived mid-morning, expecting to see a few dozen other CBC listeners, but found the Barbara Frum Atrium packed. Together we watched live radio being made, including Gzowski hosting a hootenany, Quirks and Quarks, Double Exposure, and Basic Black. Later in the afternoon, I took a tour of the radio studios, saw the white boards where the shows were planned, and the office where the great man himself worked, replete with manual typewriter. It was one of those days, the memory of which only shines brighter and brighter as seasons pass, new shows come, and old shows go.
  • When Morningside wrapped up in 1997, I took the day off work to do one of my favourite things: Stay home, drink coffee, read theG lobe And Mail, and listen to Morningside.

This year, I read an anthology of personal essays on addiction called Notes From The Belly Of The Beast. In the company of other Canadian writers and poets, Gzowski wrote about his struggle to give up smoking. It's affecting reading, and is just the thing a non-smoker like me would think could convince a smoker to stop. Knowing an ex-smoker though, I have to wonder at the cavalier attitude they as a group have towards their mortality. 

Peter died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, due to emphysema.

You can read more about Peter Gzowski at the following CBC web sites:

On air personalities (CBC)
Web One (CBC)


Princess Margaret (February 9, 2002)


Princess Margaret. Photo: BBC
My interest in Princess Margaret is one I cannot possibly be proud of:
  • I included her in my Death Pool for 2002 (along with Bob Hope, Ronald Regan, Pope John Paul, and the Queen Mother). 

You can read more about Princess Margaret at her memorial web site.


The Queen Mother (March 30, 2002)



The Queen Mother. Photo: PA Photos
My interest in the Queen Mother (Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon) is one I cannot possibly be proud of:
  • I included her in my Death Pool for 2002 (along with Bob Hope, Ronald Regan, Pope John Paul, and Princess Margaret). 
  • I enjoy telling a bit of fakelore which I heard a couple of years back -- that every month, the BBC ran though a dress-rehearsal for the Queen Mother's funeral. Camera people would take their places, announcers would bone up on anecdotes about her life, the communications network would be tested. Heavens knows whether there was any truth to this, or if there was, how long this has been going on for.

You can read more about the Queen Mother at her memorial web site.


Chuck Jones (February 23, 2002)



Check Jones. Photo: www.chuckjones.com
Saturday mornings, at 9:00. (1970's -1980's)

Saturdays, at 5:00 pm. On Global (from 1977 to 1980-something)

If you wanted to find me in my misspent youth, you could find me in either time period mentioned above, in front of a television set, watching the Bugs Bunny - Road Runner Hour. Sixty minutes of cartoons by Friz Freling, Robert McKimson, and Chuck Jones. These are the people who made the Warner Brothers' cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the rest of the Loony Tunes crew. From here, you can trace my appreciation for being clever (Bugs), and the pitfalls of being too clever for your own good (Wile E. Coyote). For satire ("What's Opera Doc?"), cautionary tales ("One Froggy Evening"), and self-referential silliness (the cartoons where Daffy Duck talks to the artist who is drawing him).

Jones also gave us the original How The Grinch Stole Christmas!, text by Ted Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss)  with the vocal talents of Boris Karloff. I think this is very nearly a perfect animated story: the characters are developed, the timing is impeccable, and what do you know -- it's not about selling anything. What a refreshing change that is.

 


Tom Kelly (March 23, 2002)



Tom Kelly. Photo: Newsday/Bill Davis
Tom Kelly was the chief architect of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), mankind's first true spacecraft. It's the vehicle which was landed on the moon six times between 1969 and 1972.

 


Yousuf Karsh (15 July 2002)



Yousuf Karsh. Photo: Youssef Karsh
I have very little facility taking pictures of people. Unmoving ancient artifacts are much more my thing, and so when I do photograph someone, I try to remember the one thing I learned from Karsh: make sure you can see the person's hands. My results are seldom spectacular, and can be summed up by pronouncing, "Well, they're not Karsh." But it's good to have a standard to which you can aspire.

With the exception of Korda's picture of Che Guevara, Ottawa-born Yousuf Karsh has taken just about every decent portrait in the 20th century -- including ones of Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and Ernest Hemmingway.