19 April 2011

Margaret's Marriage in Mass Market

Margaret Trudeau: The Prime Minister's Runaway Wife
Felicity Cochrane
Scarborough, ON: Signet, 1978

Anyone needing a reminder of the crap once thrown at Margaret Trudeau need only look to Kate McMillan and the comments made under cover of pseudonym at her Small Dead Animals blog. Revelations of Mrs Trudeau's decades-long struggles with bipolar disorder have brought neither compassion nor reconsideration – but did serve as more carrion to chew, digest and defecate.

Published after the stuff first hit the fan, Margaret Trudeau: The Prime Minister's Runaway Wife is a product of a more civil time. It presents itself as a sympathetic account, while promising to dish the dirt. In the end, however, this is a book that teases, but never delivers. "The full, completely uncensored story of Margaret Trudeau's relationship with the different members of the Rolling Stones," ends up being little more than an overview of the seating arrangements at the 1977 El Mocambo gigs. Felicity Cochrane wasn't there, yet she still manages to paint a memorable scene:
This was the Stones' first club appearance since 1964, and as in the past, Jagger eventually whipped up the crowd into a convulsing hysteria with jerks of his hips, thrusts of his pelvis, and grasshopper-like gyrations guaranteed to induce mass orgasm.
Sounds messy.

The author next provides details of the painstaking preparations made to fête Peter Rudge, "manager of the Stones" (touring manager, actually) on his birthday. Mrs Trudeau didn't attend the party, but never mind.

Want to know why Pierre Trudeau didn't marry until his 53rd year? The cover copy promises the answer. And here's what Ms Cochrane has to say: "It has always been a mystery why Pierre didn't marry. It will always be open to speculation."

Thin stuff for a thin book; there's nothing hadn't already been reported at the time of its August 1978 publication. And yet, the author tells us that she spent "almost a year in interviews and research". Cochrane can't tell us who she spoke to – "for obvious reasons" – but does express appreciation for the Greater Vancouver Convention and Visitors Bureau. I doubt this was reciprocated. Here's the author on Margaret Sinclair Trudeau's birthplace:
Vancouver, where the Sinclairs settled, is a port city in the southwest corner of British Columbia, on what is now called the Pacific Rim. It was discovered by a British naval officer, Captain George Vancouver, in 1792, became a British colony in 1859, and was admitted into confederation in 1871. The original name of the city was Granville, but this was changed to Vancouver in 1886.
I count five factual errors. How about you?

We're also told that Vancouver has a daily called the Providence, its West End is comprised of highways and modern shopping complexes, and that the "famous Lion's [sic] Gate Bridge links West Vancouver to the lower mainland."

Great swaths of this 174-page book are devoted to the Canadian parliamentary system, the office of prime minister, and the early history of Simon Fraser University (also located in the southwest corner of British Columbia, on what is now called the Pacific Rim). Cochrane quotes liberally – no pun intended – lifting passages from dozens of news stories, all the while criticizing journalists for not having been more dogged in their pursuit of scandale.

Strange this, because without the uncredited, unacknowledged work of the fourth estate Cochrane would have had no book. She brings nothing to the table, and yet she had once been a reporter for Newsday. A Progressive Conservative, in the 1965 federal election she challenged veteran Liberal Stanley Haidasz in Toronto-Parkdale. Cochrane placed a very distant second, but made the news anyway by breaking her leg in a fall down some slippery polling station steps on election day.

The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, 10 November 1965

Cochrane jetted around the globe promoting Canadian honey, cheese and maple syrup for the Federal Department of Trade and Commerce. She also served as chaperone for 1966 Canadian Dairy Princess Gaylene Miller, but I think that the most interesting point in her career began in 1970 with her role as "personal manager" for Dianna – Dianna Boileau – whom she billed as "Canada's first sex change". Two years later, Cochrane wrote Dianna's story, Behold, I Am a Woman. It was published by New York's Pyramid Books, whose copywriters penned this pitch: "The story you are about to read will quite possibly shock you in its brutal frankness and graphic descriptions. It will startle you as it reveals a way of life and a way of sexual being that seem beyond the range of the normal imagination. And it will move you to a new kind of realization of the torments a sexual deviant must suffer in our society – as well as the hope that new medical techniques offer a person like Dianna, to at last find fulfillment."

Margaret Trudeau was Cochrane's second and final book. Not a happy experience, it seems. Even as the paperback was hitting the stands, Ms Cochrane was complaining that Signet's lawyers had made her take out the juiciest bits. Could Margaret Trudeau have been a better book? Had Felicity Cochrane dug up anything new? Shall we give her the benefit of the doubt?

Nearly four decades later, we know that it wasn't Margaret and Mick, but Margaret and Ronnie – both have said as much in their respective autobiographies. Should we have read anything into this?
The following day, a small get-together was held in the Rolling Stones' suite at the Harbour Castle Hotel. Margaret joined the group, sitting on the edge of the bed, and proceeded to watch the hockey game on TV, at the same time playing with Ron Wood's seven-year-old son. One guest who was there recalls that the little boy gave the impression he already knew Margaret quite well.
Object and Access: An unattractive mass market paperback, Signet claimed that the book was reprinted three times, totalling 170,000 copies. I've yet to find a one that indicates it is anything but a first printing. Very few booksellers have listed the book online; it's hardly worth the trouble. They're dreaming of sales ranging from $2 to $6.50. Six copies are held in Canadian libraries, academic and otherwise, but that's it. A French-language edition was published the same year by Éditions de l'Homme.

Related post:


  1. "Margaret and Ronnie – both have said as much in their respective biographies."
    Autobiographies, surely

  2. Absolutely correct, Roger. My thanks for catching the error.

  3. Kudos on telling the story of this awful little book and its author. I'm trying to imagine Signet's editor and lawyers as they worked on the manuscript and asked themselves "how did it come to this?"

  4. I wonder just how long the lawyers delayed release. The acknowledgements are dated "January 1978". The text brings Margaret Trudeau's life up to the very same month, yet the pub date is August 1978. I've seen a G&M article indicating that it was released in the United States, but didn't hit the Canadian market until that November. And yet it has the look and content of an instant book.

    Interesting to note, I think, that Ms Cochrane followed another Margaret Trudeau, a crummy mass market paperback (also largely drawn from newspaper articles) by Arthur Johnson (Paperjacks, December 1977).