The Secret of Jalna
Toronto: Paperjacks, 1972
I remember Jalna... rather, I remember The Whiteoaks of Jalna. The television adaptation of Mazo de la Roche's sixteen-book soapy saga ran on Sunday nights from January through April in 1972. A nine-year-old aspiring architect, I'd lie on the floor, sketching the house by the glow of our Viking colour TV. My mother, much more attentive, did her best to follow along with the aid of a Whiteoaks family tree she'd clipped from the pages of Weekend Magazine.
The Whiteoaks of Jalna was to have been our Forsyte Saga. CBC Television Drama poured nearly everything it had into the project, draining resources and, ultimately, crippling future productions. With a total budget of $2,000,000, 'twas such a big deal that even an elementary school student such as myself knew it was coming. The Secret of Jalna, thrown together in anticipation of the series debut, captures some of the excitement. Here, for example, is the book's poorly laid-out reproduction of an undated Toronto Star headline:
"Jalna pilot bombs" would have sufficed.
Polite company does not speak of the series. In Turn Up the Contrast, her history of CBC Television drama, Mary Jane Miller devotes all of two paragraphs to this most of monumental of flops. Still, I think she sums things up nicely: "The problem was that Jalna readers, who wanted their old familiar story, were treated to an ill-conceived experiment in narrative structure complete with flashbacks, multiple plot strands, and intercut time frames, all edited in haste as the air date approached. Of course they were frustrated by this. Viewers unfamiliar with the novels were simply confused."
Blame belongs, in part, to lead writer Timothy Findley.
The Whiteoaks of Jalna never made it to beta, VHS, laserdisc – you won't find it on DVD, Blu-ray or Netflix. YouTube has no clips, and there are not more than a couple of images online. I'll add this photograph, drawn from the book, capturing the wonderful Kate Reid in hideous 'seventies attire.
The series aired for a second and final time two years later. Windsor Star critic Ray Bennet speculated: "The great fiasco may have some camp appeal by now." He was wrong. But then camp appeal grows with time.
How soon is now?