29 April 2013

Alan Eagleson Shills for W.H. Smith



The National Hockey League regular season ended late last night. Tomorrow hundreds of millionaires will take to the ice in paid pursuit of a trophy intended for Canada's best amateur team. What better time to acknowledge Hall of Fame Builder Alan Eagleson, OC, for helping to make the game what it is today.

This poorly produced advert from the November 1978 issue of Saturday Night, captures the "Ardent Hockey Fa [sic]" as an improbable pitch man for W.H. Smith. "I've always enjoyed reading" says Queen's Counsel Eagleson, "and it's only in the last eight years that I've had time for leisure reading as opposed to legal reading."

I imagine that the amount of time devoted toward "legal reading" increased dramatically during the long fin du millénaire journey that ended in the Mimico Correctional Centre.

Personal note: Cufflinks are gratefully accepted from those who invite me to speak. Gas money is also good.

Related post:

28 April 2013

Our Strangest Book Advertisement?



Following Tuesday and Thursday's posts:

I can't leave Sol Allen's Toronto Doctor without presenting this advert for the book from the 11 March 1949 edition of The Canadian Jewish Review. I know of no other.

A dog's breakfast, is it not? The eyes hardly know where  to begin. I suggest the top right and corner:


The header is a bit of a mystery. The text is correct that Allen's story features Jews and Gentiles, but the former are very minor characters, passing fleetingly, never to be seen again. And while it's true that one character is an anti-Semite, she quickly learns to keep her opinions to herself.

Then there's that cheeky lead, which I'm betting was penned by the author of this self-published book:
To say that this is the greatest novel you have ever read is a trite statement. We won't say it. At least not at the moment.
Shouldn't that be the greatest novel you will ever read? After all, the advert is selling Toronto Doctor in advance of publication.

Never mind. What I find most interesting is this:
The sample pages alongside are a fair indication of the quality and style of this important book. These are no better and no worse than the average of its 386 pages.
I can attest to the veracity of this bold claim, though it needs mention that these aren't pages from the book – the page numbers and lines of type do not match. Oh, and the finished book has 390 pages.

Our strangest advertisement? Our messiest? Our least effective? All three?

And so, I leave Toronto Doctor with a final fun fact. Author Sol Allen held two positions in his family's company:  Secretary Treasurer and Director of Advertising. 

25 April 2013

Our Strangest Novelist?



Following Tuesday's post:

A correspondent asks whether Sol Allen was a gynecologist.

You'd think so, but no; the author of They Have Bodies, The Woman's Doctor, Toronto Doctor and The Gynecologist was in fact a lawyer.

The first hint I had of Allen's chosen profession came on page 164 of Toronto Doctorin which the spotlight shifts abruptly from operating rooms and physicians' offices to unhappy men arguing before the Supreme Court of Ontario.

The case in question concerns the City of Toronto and its claim that a Jewish private school is operating contrary to by-laws. The eyes fairly glaze over... until they land upon this footnote:


A little digging reveals that the lawsuit featured in the novel, City of Toronto v. Central Jewish Institute, is based upon a real case that ended up being argued by the author and John R. Cartwright before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Mr Allen would like to remind us of "the well-known tradition of artistic license", and hopes that certain readers will consider the flurry of footnotes that follow:


In this footnote, the author dispassionately refers to his own participation in the proceedings: 


Sadly, Allen's efforts weren't quite enough to mollify those in power.

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 24 March 1949
In Crown Attorney J.W. McFadden, a sounder mind prevailed:

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 25 March 1949
Frankly, considering the time, I'd have thought that the two, four, six pages that Allen devotes to his gruesome, graphic and grotesque description of Ralph and Guy's illegal autopsy would've been enough to justify a ban on the book.

The matter of City of Toronto v. Central Jewish Institute is jarringly out of place; any editor worthy of the title would've insisted it be cut. However, Toronto Doctor was self-published and —

— and here I'll allow this advert to interrupt, just as it interrupts the novel, bound between pages 222 and 223.


A subject of further research, I won't go into the author's "Psycho-Analytic Holiday Camp for adults [emphasis his]", other than to say that the retreat receives not a single Google hit.

And, um, Psycho-Analytic Holiday Camp? Shouldn't that be PAHC, not PACH?

I suppose I might as well add that the Albion Building, in which PACH had its offices, still stands as a gay bar called Zippers. Ladies welcome.


Returning to Sol Allen, I'm going to hazard a guess that his appearance before the Supreme Court on behalf of the Central Jewish Institute marked the pinnacle of his legal career. He spent nearly all his adult life working for the Premier Operating Corp Ltd. A family firm founded by his father, at its height Premier Operating owned more than forty movie theatres in Canada and the United States. According to Greg Gatenby, when Toronto Doctor was published Allen was managing the Hollywood Theatre on Yonge Street, just north of St Clare.


He was then living at 14 Highbourne Road, Toronto...


... but later moved to 282 Forest Lawn Road...


...at which he died on 7 January 1968.

The Globe & Mail, 8 January 1968
Sol Barney Allen
1902-1968

23 April 2013

Our Strangest Novel?



Toronto Doctor
Sol Allen
Toronto: Rock, 1949

This could be the only Canadian novel to open with the description of a gynecological examination. If I appear unsure, it's because I haven't read the author's other titles: They Have Bodies, The Woman's Doctor and, lastly, The Gynecologist.

There are good many Toronto doctors in Toronto Doctor – most, but not all, are gynaecologists; most, but not all, exist only in the author's imagination. Anyone starting in on this novel is well-advised to keep pen and paper at the ready so as to record the names, relationships and occupations of the many dozens of characters, real and imagined, that populate its 390 pages. Note the title: Toronto Doctor, not The Toronto Doctor. The novel's greatest weakness is that it has no central figure; the second greatest is that it lacks a narrative arc. As in Doctor's Diary of old, patients come and go, never to be seen again. The same can be said of most of the gynecologists, but a few have real staying power:
  • Roger T. Walsh, the most respected gynecologist in Toronto. A cautious and honest individual, he's haunted by the realization that his wife is nearing "the unlovely age of hot flashes and cold perspiration".
  • Guy Fowley, Roger's best friend. An arrogant go-getter, he "knows everything about his profession except when not to operate."  
  • Paul Hutchison, a closet misogynist with a weak professional reputation. His industrialist father-in-law, A.J. Hollis, is working behind the scenes to place Paul as head of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Toronto's Metropolitan Hospital.
Doctor/patient relations are professional; talk of sterility, marital relations and female problems is couched in clinical terms. The rich
atmosphere outside the office is charged with sex. Thoughts of made-up married women drift toward the bedroom as they gaze upon others' husbands at dinner parties. When sitting alone before vanity mirrors, these same matrons fret over fading youth and desirability.

Mrs A.J. Hollis will flirt with any man who sits at her table, but it's Guy Fowley who holds the greatest attraction. I found it curious that she would make a point of consulting gynecologist Guy when confronted with her own female problem.

Meanwhile, Roger Walsh's wife fantasizes about both Guy and pitted-faced lawyer Sam Logan:
Unlike Roger, they both possessed reserves of character that made them exciting and hard to fathom. Poor Roger, on the other hand – she had often taken to thinking of him with the adjectival prefix – poor Roger was like an open book. When you read a few pages or chapter you knew exactly what was coming. Lying in bed with Roger, you knew exactly how things were going to begin and end, but with Guy she didn't know how she would react – or whether things would end at all. Once more she had a crawling sensation all the length of her spine.
The ladies of Toronto Doctor have much stronger libidos than the men, though it should be noted that when dining with Roger's wife Sam experiences the sensation of nettles in his nether regions. I should also mention that Paul makes out with Roger's daughter at an otherwise genteel gathering. The real focus of Paul's lust is his mother-in-law. While this has much to do with Mrs Hollis' looks – she's as beautiful as her daughter is plain – role play in his marital bedroom hints at an Oedipus Complex. It's all quite vague... intentionally so, I think.
  
Allen was no stranger to censorship. His first novel, They Have Bodies (New York: Macaulay, 1928), was seized by Toronto police for its depiction of depravity amongst the city's privileged. At first blush, he appears to have shown no greater caution with Toronto Doctor. While there are no affairs, and nothing more than a few kisses feature, Allen dares include several prominent figures as characters:


Former premiers Hepburn and Drew, justices of the Supreme Court and others move through imagined situations, carrying on conversations with people who simply never existed. I expect Allen's ability to dodge lawsuits had much to do with advice received from novelist Philip Child, politician Alex Ross, and lawyers Fred Catzman and John R. Cartwright (himself a future Supreme Court justice).


What physicist Leopold Infeld brought to the table is anyone's guess, but I'm thinking that it was Messrs Catzman and Cartwright who had something to do with the novel's numerous footnotes.


E.B. Joliffe's comment on the dust jacket's back cover shows that Allen displayed further caution in sending out proofs for comment:


Unlike Desmond F. MacAuliffe – who he? – this reader never once thought of Flaubert and Huysmans. What's more I just can't agree that Allen's phrases are unforgettable, or that they "sear [sic] the mind like a knife being drawn across the hesitating and reluctant flesh." I will say, however, that one week after finishing the novel disturbing images linger. Allen's description of operations are graphic, no doubt supported by colour provided by Dr "X".

A little over a year ago, I wrote that Ted Allan's original Love is a Long Shot featured one of the darkest, most horrific scenes in any Canadian novel. I stand by those words, adding that there is something in Toronto Doctor that made my hesitating and reluctant flesh crawl a far greater distance. This scene, taking place in the funeral home of a man named Murchison, involves an illegal autopsy in which Roger and Guy remove the ovaries from a cooling corpse. Those with weak stomachs will not want to click on the pages that follow.


Throughout the remaining two-thirds of the novel, I expected to see the gruesome, clandestine operation, so vividly described, come back to haunt Roger and Guy; I truly believed that the law would appear at some point. But no – minor deviations aside – things proceed just as before: patients come and go, dinner parties take place and businessmen pull strings. The novel's ending is a surprise in that it comes at the beginning of a scene. Walking into a consultation room, Mrs Hollis is just about to accuse Guy of misdiagnosis when:
"THE END"
The abrupt conclusion is followed by a page that had me wondering whether I hadn't been wrong in thinking that there was no central character:


There was no Toronto Surgeon. Whether the story of Guy and the others in the "set of characters" continues in The Gynecologist, Allen's next and last novel, I can't say.

I'm no more certain as to whether Toronto Doctor is our strangest novel. Could be. But then I haven't read any other Sol Allen titles.

Object: An expensively produced hardcover in black cloth. Just look at that blind stamping!


I expect there were savings to be had in recycling the uncredited cover image used on Allen's previous novel, The Woman's Doctor, published in 1933 by Macaulay.


The dust jacket on my copy is second issue. I have Patrick Campbell and bookseller Nelson Ball to thank for this photo of the first:


I'll bet very good money that Rock Publishing, the house behind Toronto Doctor, was the author's own. The only other book bearing the proud Rock imprint is The Gynecologist, which was published sixteen years later:


Yep, the very same cover image. Again, courtesy of Patrick Campbell and Nelson Ball.

Access: The Toronto Public Library has four copies, as do the University of Toronto's libraries. Eighteen more are held in libraries across the country, but not our cherished, dying Library and Archives Canada.

A dozen or so copies are being offered online, most lacking dust jackets. Expect to pay twenty dollars or so. One copy with the first issue dust jacket is listed: "VG+/VG+" at US$34.50. At more than three times the price, a New Jersey bookseller offers a Fine copy in Very Good second issue jacket. "A novel written in collaboration with one of Canada's leading gynecologists", he writes. "If you buy it we'll expect a full report."

Doesn't sound like much of a deal.

Related post:

18 April 2013

Remembering la Corriveau



Executed 250 years ago today, Marie-Josephte Corriveau – la Corriveau – was a survivor. Just thirty at the time of her death, she'd long outlived her ten brothers and sisters, all of whom died in childhood. Marie-Josephte also survived her first husband, Charles Bouchard, the father of her three children. Widowed at twenty-seven, in 1761 she married Louis Étienne Dodier who, like Charles,was a farmer from St.Vallier on the St. Lawrence, just south of Ile d'Orléans. A little over eighteen months later, poor Louis was found dead in the barn, his head nearly caved in. The horse was to blame... or so it was thought at first. Then the rumours began to circulate.

In the spring of 1763, Marie-Josephte and her father, Joseph, were brought before a military tribunal. Joseph was found guilty of the murder and was sentenced to death. Marie-Josephte would've been flogged and branded as an accessory had it not been for her father's confession to a priest. Seems she'd been more than willing to see dear old dad swing for a crime she had in fact committed. At a second trial she confessed.


After Marie-Josephte was hanged, her body was placed in a gibbet – quite possibly the one pictured above! She was then transported across the St Lawrence and was suspended for five weeks from a post at the intersection of what are today Rue St-Joseph and Boulevard de l'Entente in Lévis.


Now, watch those property values soar.

An Anglo Quebecer, I first read of la Corriveau as a teenager in Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé's Les Anciens Canadiens. Her presence in English-language Canadian literature is negligible, though she did get off to an early start; William Kirby featured Marie-Josephte in his 1877 novel The Golden Dog. Here la Corriveau is a poisoner for hire, a direct descendant of Catherine Deshayes, the 17th-century serial killer known as la Voisine.

The Golden Dog: A Romance in the Days of Louis Quinze in Quebec
William Kirby
Toronto: Musson/Montreal: Montreal News Co, n.d.
Others, historians included, have added to the legend. Charles, her first husband, has come to be seen as one of her victims; in some tales,  five more ill-fated husbands are added to the mix. And what about the ten dead siblings?

The 20th-century brought more novels, a ballet, and plays by Victor-Lévy Beaulieu, Anne Hébert and Guy Cloutier.. She lives on in this century:



There's even something for the kiddies:


Were I not so far away, I'd make the effort to attend this evening's Marie-Josephte Corriveau Commemoration in Quebec City.


As it is, I'll be raising a glass, if only in recognition of the contribution she made – unwittingly – to the country's literature.


A black oatmeal stout with ruby highlights, la Corriveau seems the obvious choice, but like the lady herself, it's rarely seen in Upper Canada.

A bonus:

Just look at what the sorry souls at VDM Publishing have on offer:


15 April 2013

The Ugliest Canadian Book Cover of All Time


P.E.T. and his unesrthly adventures:
an illustrated history of Trudeaumania

Jude Waples
(Cover illustration: Jude Waples)
Toronto: Avon, 1983

Related post:
The Greatest Canadian Magazine Cover of All Time

12 April 2013

Bad Poets


The Vancouver Sun, 21 February 1966
Poetic Burglars Hit Again
The poetic burglars have struck again.
   For the second time in a week, police found a poetic message while investigating a break-in.
   The message discovered early today at Canadian Trailmobile, 2650 Slocan, read:
   "You think we are fools, because we borrowed your tools. It's not very funny, because we also took your money. The Human Termites, Batman and Zorro."
   A small amount of cash was taken from the office.
   Police said the thieves entered the premises by smashing a window.
   Last week, police found a similar note while investigating a $400 break-in at a downtown restaurant.

08 April 2013

Did Arthur Stringer Incite the Bolshevists to Blow Up Wall Street? Maclean's Dares Ask the Question!



Myth: On 11 September 2001, President George W. Bush told Americans to go shopping.

Fact: He told them to go to Disney World.

Terrorism sells. Ten years ago, it was duct tape and plastic sheeting, eight decades before that it was issues of Maclean's:

The Regina Morning Leader, 15 November 1920
(ciquez pour agrandir)
"Did Arthur Stringer incite the Bolshevists to blow up Wall Street?' The question is absurd, is it not? How would the Reds have known of an unpublished novel that had been submitted to a Toronto general interest magazine? Besides, are we really to believe that no one had ever thought of blowing up New York's financial district?

My questions can't keep up with the fast and furious of the advert: "Who did it? Was it an accident? The bomb of a Bolshevik? Or merely ordinary insanity?"

Let's consider the Maclean's questions one at a time:

Who did it?

We don't know. What we do know is that at noon on Thursday, 16 September 1920, a horse-drawn wagon carrying roughly 100 pounds of dynamite was brought to a halt across the street from the offices of J.P. Morgan. A minute later, the horses and wagon were no more. Thirty-eight people were killed – most instantly – and who knows how many people were injured. The driver is thought to have fled the scene just before the explosion.


Was it an accident?

No, though a whole lot of people considered the possibility. Initial police investigations focussed on the sloppiness of businesses that sold and transported explosives. However, by the next day investigators had come to the conclusion that the carnage had been intentional. The give-away: an estimated 500 pounds of iron weights that had been mixed in with the explosives.


The bomb of a Bolshevik?

Doubtful. Early in the investigation police came upon a cache of flyers from the American Anarchist Fighters. "Remember, we will not tolerate any longer", read the text. "Free the political prisoners, or it will be sure death for all of you."


Or merely ordinary insanity?

Oh, there was insanity. Take New York Law School graduate and one-time tennis star Edwin P. Fischer. Mr Fischer had sent postcards to friends and relatives warning them of the devastation that would be brought upon Wall Street on 15 September, the day before the actual blast. He was picked up the next day in Hamilton, Ontario.

The New York Times,18 September 1920
Under questioning, Fischer at first appeared uncertain as to how he'd known about the coming carnage, telling Magistrate George F. Jelfs that a message had come "through the air". However, he soon became more certain:
I have lived a life of helpfulness and unselfishness. I have never held a grudge against anyone, and have always tried to do good to everybody. For this reason I think that God, perhaps, has given me a power that has not been given to those who lead selfish lives.
When the magistrate asked how he knew exactly where the explosion would take place, Fischer replied, "I knew because Wall Street is the centre of evil in the world."

Not so insane after all.


Fischer had not only entered Canada illegally but had threatened some of our finest millionaires in Toronto's Queen's Hotel, and so was deported. He returned to New York's Grand Central Station clothed in two suits over tennis whites,  at the ready for a chance match. The poor man would end up being institutionalized in the Amityville Insane Asylum.

Despite all the publicity, Stringer's The City of Peril did not appear in book form until 1923, when it was published by McClelland & Stewart and Alfred A. Knopf. I've yet to come across a copy myself, but Kathleen K. Bowker's Canadian Bookman review has me sold:

March 1923
Trivia: Edwin P. Fischer was 1895 Ontario Tennis Champion.

More trivia: The Wall Street bombing very nearly ruined Anti-Straw Hat Day:

The Globe & Mail, 16 September 1920
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