25 May 2010

The Messy World of Ronald J. Cooke

The House on Craig Street
Ronald J. Cooke
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949
158 pages

This review, revisited and revised, now appears in my new book:
The Dusty Bookcase:

A Journey Through Canada's

Forgotten, Neglected, and Suppressed Writing
Available at the very best bookstores and through

24 May 2010

Victoria Day Poetry Disaster

Poems of James McIntyre (Ingersoll, ON: Chronicle, 1889)

Returning to James McIntyre – for the final time, I think – this poem inspired by the 1881 capsizing of the Victoria. The horrific event took place 129 years ago today, by sad coincidence Victoria Day, on Canada's River Thames, just outside London, Ontario. It remains one of the country's greatest maritime disasters, and like so any of the others was entirely avoidable. One likes to think that with current regulations such a thing could not happen. Perhaps. But on 24 May 1881, no law prevented a poorly-designed paddle-wheeler from accepting 600 passengers, 200 more than capacity. The captain, Donald Rankin, seemed able; he recognized the vessel was in trouble. His attempt to beach the Victoria was thwarted by a race that had begun by two members of the London City Rowing Club. Enthusiastic spectators rushed starboard to watch, the boiler rolled off its mount, the upper deck collapsed and hundreds of passengers were thrown in the river.

All took place within 30 metres of shore, yet at least 182 people died – infants and children who couldn't swim, ladies who were pulled to the riverbed by their long, heavy dresses.

The loss of life approached one percent of the population of London.

It was Victoria's 62nd birthday. She sent her condolences.

22 May 2010

A Dutch Treat

De Venusberg [Under the Hill]
Aubrey Beardsley and John Glassco [Werner Cranshoff, trans.]
Amsterdam: Uitgeversij de Arbeiderspers, 1971.

17 May 2010

From the Public Library to Mine

There will be some unpleasantness.

This past week I spent a few hours volunteering at the semiannual St Marys Public Library book sale. 'Twas good work for a worthy cause. No gems, I'm afraid, though there were many deals to be had. And then there were the unwanted books that were shed in the library's most recent cull. Fifty cents. There were few takers.

Library discards are great for reading in the bath, at the beach or while eating spaghetti, but unless particularly rare they have no place in a decent private library. I count the number of discards I own on one hand: there's a British first of Flappers and Philosophers, a Canadian first of Morley Callaghan's 1929 A Native Argosy, a signed first of Radclyffe Hall's The Master of the House and that inscribed copy of Laure Conan's The Master Motive. These last two come from Montreal's sadly missed Fraser-Hickson Library. Neither book cost more than fifty cents. I'd have gladly paid more.

My most recent ex-library acquisition, Edwin Lanham's 1937 novel Banner at Daybreak, was bought six years ago for use in researching the forthcoming Glassco biography. A veteran of the Butte County Free Library, it was at some point defaced by a pessimistic, Old Testament teetotaler.

That's right, a pessimistic,

Old Testament


Mercifully, ex-library books are a pretty rare sight in used bookstores, but they do litter the web. Anyone looking to buy a Canadian first of Marian Engel's 1968 debut No Clouds of Glory, as I was yesterday, must take care not to step in the five discards found amongst the 17 copies currently offered online. The most expensive of these comes from a Hamilton bookseller who asks US$50 for something described as "Mild ex-library". "Very Scarce", he adds. Compare this to another, untouched by librarians, listed online for one dollar less: a Fine copy in Fair dust jacket, signed by the author (who died in 1985).

Very Good copies of Engel's novel hover around US$20, roughly the same price being asked by those flogging ex-library copies. "Rebound in sturdy library binding", one vendor says of his discard. Tempting. The cheapest of these library refugees – US$16.95 – is described as follows:
Longman's Canada, Toronto, 1968. Hard Cover [sic]. VERY GOOD+/VERY GOOD- First Edition (stated), 1st Canadian Printing. A gorgeous ex-library copy: exceptionally clean and tight, all pages FINE. DJ in mylar, the ring stain on the front panel is part of the book's graphic design. First novel from this award-winning Canadian author. Written with piercing wit, poignant satire, and eloquence, this book established Marian Engel as an uncommonly gifted writer.
The concluding sales pitch is irritating and ill-advised, but what I really take exception to is the description. "A gorgeous ex-library copy"? Ain't no such thing – but then the same the bookseller uses adjectives like "beautiful", "handsome", "superb", "excellent" and "exceptional" in describing his many other ex-library offerings.

A "VERY GOOD+" book in "VERY GOOD-" dust jacket with "FINE" pages. Are we to assume that the ink on those pages is AS NEW?

Too harsh? Perhaps, but does this really fit anyone's definition of gorgeous?

15 May 2010

Glassco en français

The recent publication of Daniel Bismuth's new French translation of Memoirs of Montparnasse is as welcome as it is unexpected. I believe I'm right in saying that Glassco's masterpiece now holds the distinction of being the only English language Canadian book to have been twice accorded the treatment. Comparisons are unavoidable. Of the two translations, I think Bismuth's Mémoires de Montparnasse, is the superior. This is no slight against Jean-Yves Soucy, whose Souvenirs de Montparnasse appeared in 1983 – Bismuth is a translator, Soucy is a writer.

Equally gifted in both fields, Glassco was a rare talent. He translated close to two hundred French language poems, including all of Hector de Saint Denys-Garneau's verse (then struggled for years to find a publisher). Garneau's Journal was Glassco's first translated book. In later years, he returned to prose, bringing into being English language editions of Monique Bosco's La Femme de Loth (Lot's Wife), Soucy's Un Dieu chasseur (Creatures of the Chase) and Jean-Charles Harvey's Les Demi-civilisés (Fear's Folly).

He lived to see his books translated into Dutch and German, but not French; Soucy's Souvenirs de Montparnasse was published two years too late. Nearly all the French translations published during Glassco's lifetime are found in the 1974 Alain Grandbois/John Glassco issue of ellipse. It's here that we see the very earliest translations of Memoirs in excerpts taken on by Sylvie Thériault and Marc Lebel. The same issue features four translated passages from Harriet Marwood, Governess.

Dutch and German readers have been enjoying Harriet and Richard's love story for nearly four decades. Here's hoping M Bismuth will consider Harriet Marwood, Governess for his next project.

An aside: That's not Glassco on the cover of Mémoires de Montparnasse. Library and Archives Canada holds several photos of the author that were taken during his Montparnassian adventures, yet none have been featured on the now six cover treatments. Another missed opportunity, I'm afraid.

13 May 2010

Serving Up Louis Riel

A few final words on Swan Publishing. The company put out only four books by Canadian authors, but this wasn't one of them. A shame we can't claim it; Fanny aside, Strange Empire was the best book on their list. Author Joseph Kinsey Howard was a Montanan, a local historian whose interests clearly recognized no borders. The biography a very strong work and a good read, though it suffers greatly from a lack of references. Strange Empire was first published by Morrow in 1952, a year after Howard's death of a heart attack. He was 45 years old.

Swan's cover image comes from Riel, a 1961 CBC drama that featured Bruno Gerussi as the Métis leader. Forgotten today, it was a big deal at the time. One reviewer described the actor's performance as career defining, likening it to countryman Raymond Massey's portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. In other words, we should be remembering Gerussi as Louis Riel, not log scavenger Nick Adonidas. Still, is the image not an odd choice? The programme aired four years before the book appeared, so it could hardly be considered a tie-in. What's more, the future Beachcombers star looked nothing at all like Riel. Swan seem to have figured all this out when reprinting the book in 1970, replacing Gerussi's photo with text, text and more text – even the title is longer. As far as I've been able to determine, the reprint marked the end of Swan as a publisher.

Digestif: Writing this I was reminded of Celebrity Cooks, the show Gerussi hosted at the height of his fame. I never watched the thing – as a kid I had no idea who these people were. Mary Travers? Wilf Carter? Judy La Marsh? The only name that meant anything to me was Margaret Trudeau. Eartha Kitt one week, Peter C. Newman the next, it was such a mixed bag. That said, the years have passed – older, taller and wiser, I long to see these episodes. YouTube only whets the appetite, offering nothing more than opening credits and eight minutes and eleven seconds of champagne-swilling celebrity cook Toller Cranston.

Interesting to see that the figure skater dressed the same whether on or off the ice. Then again, it was the 'seventies; Gerussi's ensemble is all that different.

The show spawned Celebrity Cooks, Recipe Book I (Vancouver: Initiative, 1975), Celebrity Cooks, Recipe Book II (Vancouver: Initiative, 1977) and The New Celebrity Cooks Cookbook (Agincourt, ON: Methuen, 1979). I'll be on the lookout for these. What better way to wow dinner guests than to serve them Toller Cranston's cheese cake. He calls it "Tolly's Folly".

Later that same day: YouTube has removed Toller Cranston's Celebrity Cooks appearance, thus depriving my daughter of the joy of watching the catsuited figure skater down glass after glass of bubbly. A coincidence? I like to think so – though it was on the site for nearly three years. Dare I try a second clip? Yes, I dare.

Related posts:

10 May 2010

Gay Swans

John Cleland never wrote a sequel to Fanny Hill, nor did he publish a book called Memoirs of a Male Prostitute. What we have here is nothing but another shameful attempt by Toronto's Swan Publishing to mine the rich vein of controversy. Misinformation abounds, and is repeated and expanded upon by a good number of today's online booksellers. The "scarce sequel to Fanny Hill", says one; "the famous sequel to Fanny Hill", declares another, adding: "first edition". Yes, a work of 18th-century English literature that first saw print in 1965 with an obscure Canadian publisher of cheap mass market paperbacks.

Don't you believe it.

The novel that Swan offered in "the original complete uncensored edition" was first published in 1751; in it's 259 year history it has never expurgated or suppressed. The thing is no more a sequel to Fanny Hill than The Beautiful and Damned is the continuation This Side of Paradise. What's found between the covers of Memoirs of a Male Prostitute is Cleland's second novel, Memoirs of a Coxcomb. Fop, dandy, popinjay, perhaps, but "male prostitute" is hardly a synonym of "coxcomb". Consider this more false advertising.

Memoirs of a Male Prostitute was Swan's third book, and the first of a very small number to feature the address of an office located in the publishing hotspot of Wilmington, Delaware. This sudden southern presence is curious because four of the books that followed appear to have been co-published with New York's Paperback Library, meaning that Swan's new American office couldn't sell what would soon become the better part of its list. Curiouser still were the four titles involved. No great number, but they place Swan as the preeminent Canadian publisher of gay literature in the 'sixties.

The first, published in 1965, was Kenneth Marlowe's "Adult Autobiography" Mr. Madam: Confessions of a Male Madam. Oft-reprinted, the 1970 Mayflower edition set me back 25 cents. Worth every penny, if only for the cover copy: "Queen of a beehive of pretty little homosexual slaves who brought in the honey by submitting to the erotic demands of an exclusive Hollywood clientele. This is his story. Kept by a Sugar-Daddy in his teens. Called-up by the Army; used by its personnel. A female impersonator in strip shows. Hairdresser and general factotum in a New Orleans brothel. Keeper of a Call-Boy house. Hair-stylist to some of the world's most celebrated women."

In 1966, Swan published three more gay themed books, including two by James Barr. The first, Quartrefoil, an "adult novel of a love between two men that defied society's strongest taboo", was first published in 1950, but the second, An Occasional Man, was a paperback original. The cover art for both – indeed all of Swan's gay titles – appears to have been drawn from the Paperback Library editions.

Can a novel written by a woman about a gay man be considered gay literature? Was Deborah Deutsch even female? I'll leave these questions for the academics while I look forward to an entertaining read: "What happens when a twilight man marries a woman? Long before handsome, muscular Hilary Jay met Linda, he knew he was attracted to other men. Yet because he loved Linda deeply, he dared to marry her, hoping his need for her would keep him true in spirit – and body. At first Hilary found it easy to be a devoted husband and a passionate lover. But soon he felt his desire for men returning. The strange compulsive attractions of the twilight world of sex tempted until he surrendered. Torn between the demands of his flesh and the dictates of his heart, Hilary wrestled with the agonies of his abnormal passion. Until the terrible moment came when he had to decide between the one woman he loved and the many men he desired."

Hilary Jay meet Stephen Gordon. Now there's an idea for a sequel.

Coincidence?: In 1950, Toronto's Ambassador Books published Quatrefoil, likely as a co-pub with New York's Greenberg. The following year, both published Barr's short story collection Derricks.

Coincidence!: By far the best edition of Memoirs of a Coxcomb is published by Broadview Press of Peterborough, located a mere 140 kilometres from what were once Swan's offices.

Related posts:

08 May 2010

Anything for a Buck (or Thereabouts)

Well, will you look at what I found at the local Salvation Army Thrift Store. You don't see much erotica in charity shops; I'm pretty sure this is the first I've come across. Do they weed out these things? Or is it that no one thinks it appropriate to donate grandpa's porn collection? Maybe they just haven't found his stash.

Whatever the case, this particular Fanny is a good example of the rush to cash in on The Queen v. C. Coles Co. Ltd. It was a bit expensive for its day, but was priced identically to the seized Putnam edition that had caused all the fuss.

Thrown together at the end of 1964, Swan's Fanny went through four printings, helping to launch a peculiar publishing program that lasted at least six years. There were few titles; sixteen, if one includes Canadian Indians Colouring Book and Stag Party Humor, their one-off digest. Looking at the list, it's evident that Fanny Hill was no anomaly; Swan seems to have always been on the prowl for something to exploit.

Just look at this quickie memorial from 1965.

Forty-four pages of photographs, eight "suitable for framing", along with a chronology of his life. Hard to argue that 1874 to 1965, the years the man was alive, weren't his greatest.

And Bond... Bond's hot, right?

Fleming wasn't two years dead when this appeared, but Swan had already been beaten to the bookstores by Henry A. Zelger's Ian Fleming: The Spy Who Came in with the Gold (1965). Such a tortured, needlessly confusing title – Fleming, LeCarré, Leamas, Bond – Ian Fleming: Man with the Golden Pen (1966) is an obvious improvement... so obvious that another Fleming biography was published the very same year with the title Ian Fleming: The Man with the Golden Pen. First time in paperback, claims the cover. True enough, though there never was a hardcover edition. While the Pelrines didn't collaborate on another book, Eleanor went on to write a second biography: Morgentaler: The Doctor Who Couldn't Turn Away. Just as timely as it was when first published by Gage in 1975.

More Swan anon.

Related posts:

06 May 2010

Jack Kent Cooke in Extra Innings

Looking into The Chartered Libertine I was surprised – shocked – to find that The Canadian Encyclopedia has no entry on Jack Kent Cooke. In fact, Mel Hurtig's baby contains not even a passing mention of the man. What gives? Yes, he left Canada in 1960... sure, he became an American citizen... but Cooke was a Hamilton boy born and bred. Self-made, before heading south he'd come to own the most listened to radio station in Canada. His Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs led the International League in attendence. What's more, bucking stereotype, this high school drop-out turned Saturday Night into the best Canadian literary magazine of its day. Robertson Davies was one of his hires.

So, why no entry? Cooke underwrote the first Ali/Fraser fight, built the Los Angeles Forum with his own money and owned of the Lakers, the Kings and the Redskins. I mean, c'mon, the man bought the Chrysler Building.

In Toronto, Cooke was a very powerful man; Ralph Allen, who relied on print media for his livelihood, was brave in taking him on. The reader of 1954 would've had no problem in identifying Cooke as the inspiration for Garfield Smith. Cooke owned CKEY, Smith owns CNOTE; Cooke made the Maple Leafs a success with gimmicks that are similar to those used to sell the Queens d'Amour. Then there are the lesser known things; like his model, Smith has an enviable library and an appreciation of fine art.

Reviewing The Chartered Libertine in the Globe and Mail, William Arthur Deacon displayed a certain caution, complimenting Allen on his use of "imaginary characters". The novel itself features no disclaimer – you know the type: "...any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental." Allen covers himself by having Smith twice mention Cooke as a talented business rival. He also provides no glimpse of Smith's personal life... that is, until the very end of the novel, when he marries between innings in a game against the Cincinnati Barmaids. The bride, Queen d'Amour Honeybear Rodney, served as Smith's male assistant before agreeing to change sex as a publicity stunt to help sell tickets.

Barbara Jean Carnegie Cooke and Jack Kent Cooke, Maple Leaf Park, Toronto, c. 1954

Cooke's own marriages were only a touch more conventional. Where
The Canadian Encyclopedia is silent, Wikipedia steps in. The entry is awkward and repetitive, but the facts are spot on:
Cooke's first marriage, his longest, lasted 45 years. He and Barbara Jean Carnegie married in 1934, and were divorced in 1979. Carnegie was awarded what was then the largest divorce settlement in history - $42 million. The presiding judge during the bench trial was Joseph Wapner, who later became famous as the judge on television's The People's Court. Cooke and Carnegie had two sons: John Kent Cooke and Ralph Kent Cooke.

Cooke's second marriage, to Jeanne Maxwell, lasted only 10 months.

Cooke's third marriage, to Suzanne Elizabeth Martin, was even shorter: 73 days. During that brief marriage Martin, age 31, gave birth to a baby girl whom the couple named Jacqueline Kent Cooke. At the time of Jacqueline's birth, Cooke, her father (age 74), was 43 years older than Martin (age 31). Martin in the divorce action sought $15 million from Cooke.

Following Cooke's death, it was revealed that his final wife, Marlene Ramallo Chalmers - a former drug runner from Bolivian who was 40 years his junior - had been cut out of his will. Cooke and Chambers had married in 1990, divorced in 1993 (after she made headlines in May 1992 by accidentally shooting herself in the finger and in September 1993 by driving drunk in Georgetown with a man pounding on the hood of her Jaguar convertible), and remarried in 1995. Chambers filed suit against Cooke's estate and reportedly received $20 million in a settlement reached about a year after Cook's death.
To the good folks at The Canadian Encyclopedia: Please don't make me have to turn to Wikipedia again.

03 May 2010

Baseball in Panties, of Course

The Chartered Libertine
Ralph Allen
Toronto: Macmillan, 1954

As a young man I placed Ralph Allen with Thomas B. Costain and Thomas H. Raddall; Canadian writers whose book club editions choked church bazaars, thrift stores and library sales. Raddall, I would learn, was a perfectly fine writer; The Nymph and the Lamp was one of the more enjoyable novels read during my undistinguished university years. And Costain? Well, I could never get through more than a few pages. I didn't touch Allen, which is a pity because The Chartered Libertine is one of the cleverest satirical novels to have come out of this country

Timely and timeless, it concerns attacks on the CBC and its struggle for survival. At the centre is businessman Garfield Smith, "sole owner and president of radio station CNOTE, part owner and business manager of the Toronto Daily Guardian, chief debentures holder and Editor Emeritus of True Blue Revelations Magazine, and non-stockholding past chairman of the board of the rather disappointing Drive-in Dentistry Inc." Smith's newest acquisition is a failing women's softball franchise called the Swansea Lady Slugerettes. He brings the team to Toronto, renames it the Queens d'Amour and clothes the players in new uniforms consisting of "scarlet bodices and long opalescent pantaloons".

No fan of public broadcasting, Smith has been content to limit his attacks to station identification: "This is CNOTE, a station that is listened to and makes money." The trouble begins after the CBC refuses his cash offer to air Queens d'Amour games in place of cultural programming. Working under cover of anonymity he sets out to destroy the broadcaster through the League for the Incorporation of Godly and Humanistic Training (LIGHT), folks who don't much care for Shaw and take great objection to mention of unwed mothers on the radio.

The Globe and Mail, 29 May 1954

There's a good deal of noise, but no culture war. With an eye on the polls, the Conservative-Liberal PM orders the crown corporation sold, thus outmaneuvering the Liberal-Conservative leader who had always hoped to do just that... not that he'd ever let on.

You see, he had a hidden agenda.

Trivia: Robert Fulford, amongst others, has identified the model for Garfield Smith as Jack Kent Cooke.

Object: A nicely bound hardcover, it belonged to my father, a CBC employee.

Access: Easy enough to find in our university libraries. As far as I've been able to determine, there was just one Macmillan printing, and no paperback edition. The book was also published in the United States by St. Martin's – one wonders what American readers made of all that stuff about the CBC and Canadian party poltics. No surprise, I suppose, that one Yankee bookseller is selling the book as a "different kind of baseball novel". There are a few Very Good copies currently listed online in the C$15 to C$20 range. Of these, the real gem is one signed by blurb contributor Northrop Frye. And at only US$19.95! Then we have the sad example of an Ottawa bookseller who asks US$100 – four times more than anyone else – for a jacket-less copy with previous owner's signature. Priced fairly only if that previous owner was Jack Kent Cooke... and features his annotations.