03 August 2009

Gay and Withdrawn

Gay Canadian Rogues: Swindlers, Gold-diggers and
Frank Rasky
Toronto: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1958
Bought for a buck twenty years ago, Gay Canadian Rogues has stayed with me from Montreal to Vancouver to Toronto, then back to Vancouver and, finally, the picturesque town of St Marys. Cover and title have ensured its survival during those nasty culls that invariably accompany moves.
It's a fast read, not much more than a collection of disjointed chapters, each dealing, more or less, with the sorts of folk described in the subtitle. They're not particularly gay, in any sense of the word, nor are they necessarily Canadian. A few fail to meet any definition of the word 'rogue' – and it is here that the author may have dug himself into a bit of a hole. In 1000 Questions About Canada, John Robert Colombo writes that Gay Canadian Rogues was withdrawn by Thomas Nelson & Sons 'within weeks of publication':

The publishers were responding to the threat of legal action. The author of the book, journalist Frank Rasky, had devoted one chapter to Igor Gouzenko, the Soviet defector. Gouzenko did not object to the innocent use of the word 'gay' in the title – it had yet to take on other connotations – but he did object to being lumped in with rogues, swindlers, and gold-diggers. Once withdrawn from publication, the book was never reprinted.
Hmm... Not to quibble, but Rasky devoted two chapters to Gouzenko, and the book was reprinted... by Harlequin... that very same year... with a cover that owed everything to the original.
Assuming Colombo is correct about the withdrawal of the first edition, I'll add that it really is a shame; particularly since the Gouzenko chapters – 'Gouzenko, and Whisky, and Wild, Wild Spys' and 'Gouzenko's Escape from the Red Atom Spies' – rank with 'Dog Detectives of the R.C.M.P.' as the weakest. There's much better payoff in reading about Cassie Chadwick or the author's account of the time he infiltrated a farcical gang of Vancouver juvenile delinquents. Readers of Canadian literature are directed to Rasky's writing on Red Ryan, the criminal cause célèbrewho inspired Morley Callaghan's More Joy in Heaven. The author tells us that Ryan had been signed to write Crime Does Not Pay, a biography that was left unfinished when he was gunned down by members of the Sarnia Police Department. I wonder where that manuscript is today.

Object and Access:
Well-bound, printed on heavy stock, it's saddled with a dust jacket this is thin and fragile. The book isn't common, but it's not expensive either. Four of the eleven copies currently listed online include letters from the author to various members of the media and can be had for under C$40. At the high end we find one Toronto bookseller offering the book – sans letter – for C$75. Condition is not a factor. A Calgary merchant goes even farther in attempting to flog a copy – again, sans letter, and with 'heavy wear on dust jacket' – for C$100. But then, this same bookstore is asking C$2,500 for a 1995 bargain book about cats. No joke.

1 comment:

  1. There's no way you had this book at Concordia. No way we would have ever called ourselves, or anyone else, Three Cool Cats if Gay Canadian Rogues had been available.

    And "the cull" is a perfect name for the process in question. A tense but rewarding activity, like getting your hair cut too short.