09 August 2010

The Naked, the Queer and the Starlost

A sharp-eyed friend sends this photo of The Queers of New York, spotted a few days ago in a Toronto used bookstore. Can't say I'm tempted – not at $50 – though I do appreciate the effort. Leo Orenstein's 1972 novel is, I believe, the most sought after Pocket Canadian Paperback Original. Easy to understand why. Who couldn't use a book that features both gay and Yiddish glossaries? For now, I'm happy just to see the cover, which Orenstein himself provided. Not bad.

When I first learned of this novel back in February, I made a bit too much of the fact that Orenstein directed Chekhov, Ibsen and Shaw – pretty much every director working in the early days of CBC television did much the same. The only film the man directed was Have Figure, Will Travel, a low-budget travelogue about three young women who sail a luxury yacht from staid Canada to nudist colonies in the United States.

Orenstein was far more active as a producer than a director, putting together one-off television dramas by names like Ted Allan, Hugh Garner and Arthur Hailey. For the most part, these appear to have been well-received, though this 25 May 1966 Globe and Mail review by Dennis Braithwaite is worthy of note:
I don't see how we can put all the blame on Barry Morse for what happened on Show of the Week Monday night. Morse is an actor and therefore by definition a ham: give any actor his head, free him from all directorial restraints, say to him. "Do as you like, have a ball." give him a plot so sketchy and inane that it can't possibly by hurt, turn him loose on the set with a make-up box and a drawing account on the wardrobe department, close your eyes and ears to the results, and well, if you saw It's Murder, Cherie, you know what will happen. Leo Orenstein produced this show; I want that information prominently displayed.
Could it really have been as bad as all that? Does anyone remember? I ask because it wasn't long after this review that Orenstein stopped working as a producer for the CBC. In fact, this man who had been there right from the medium's earliest days seems to have left television entirely. He returned only briefly, directing two episodes of The Starlost, CTV's 1973 science fiction series. Here's the beginning of the first, "Lazarus from the Mist":

By Canadian standards it was a pretty big deal, though no one seems to have noticed. After the devastating 1966 Braithwaite review, Orenstein's name didn't appear again in our newspaper of record until he died in February of last year. He was eighty-nine.

An aside: An "audacious television concept" says star and pitch man Keir Dullea. Those with who bask in nostalgia and young folks wondering what all the fuss was about may find the Starlost promo to be of interest.

The screen captures of Have Figure, Will Travel come from Canuxploitation, which has an excellent write-up on the film.

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  1. The Queers along side the Skipper and Gilligan too. Only in Canada. I have a space in the library ready for "Queers".

    I see Orenstein produced some of Export's authors. Small world.

  2. I hadn't thought of the connection with Export.

    Now you've got me wondering about Arthur Hailey.

  3. An Arthur Hailey connection with Export is plausible. There are well over a dozen Export authors that as far as I can tell were only published by Export - almost certainly pseudonyms.