28 November 2012

Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow and the Bigots of Yesteryear

Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow:

     Trudeau's Master Plan and How It Can Be Stopped
J.V. Andrew
Richmond Hill, ON: BMG, 1977
137 pages

This review now appears, revised and rewritten, 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

Related posts:

25 November 2012

This Year? Bust

Grey Cup or Bust
Tony Allan
Winnipeg: Stovel-Advocate, 1954

23 November 2012

A 19th-century Céline Dion and Her Horrible Hunchback Husband

'The Lane That Had No Turning'
The Lane That Had No Turning
     and Other Tales Concerning the People of Pontiac
Gilbert Parker
New York: A.L. Burt, 1900

This review now appears, revised and rewritten, 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

Related post:

20 November 2012

Harlequin Blondes: Terror Struck Them Dumb

Blondes Don't Cry
Merlda Mace
The Pale Blonde of Sands Street
William Chapman White
Come Blonde, Came Murder
Peter George
A Body for a Blonde
Ken McLeod
Related post:

19 November 2012

The Kidnapping of the President Comes to Canada

Charles Templeton's The Kidnapping of the President was enjoying its sixth month on bestseller lists when the screen rights were sold. This was in April 1975, when $3-million, the announced budget, very nearly counted for something on the big screen. True, 'twas on the low end, but newspapers held the figure high in claiming that this would be the most expensive Canadian film ever made.

Shooting didn't begin until the autumn of 1979, by which time the budget had risen by fifty percent. But even $4.5 million didn't buy much. The film features no rally in New York's Herald Square, there are no shots of a Brink's trunk racing up Broadway, nor is there a stand-off witnessed by tens of thousands in Times Square. Instead the kidnapping takes place in Toronto, with a "Bank's" truck moving at a jogger's pace from one end of Nathan Phillips Square to the other.

You can see all forty-seconds of the chase in this YouTube snippet:


I fall in line with most critics in finding Miguel Fernandes' performance strong and Hal Holbrook's steady. Canadian science fiction novelist William Shatner, fresh off the set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, seems unusually restrained. Van Johnson and poor Ava Gardner contribute kitch as the Vice-President and his wife, but what really attracted my attention was Aubert Pallascio as "the Prime Minister"...

... a character clearly modelled on this man:

The fun continues with unknown Virginia Podesser as "the Prime Minister's wife". An old Canadian Press story reports on her trials:
Strangers in the street demand her autograph. Photographers hound her in clubs and restaurants. Stewardesses stare at her on flights.
     And occasionally, some particularly aggressive fan refuses to believe her assertion that she is not Margaret Trudeau.
     She's not.
     Virginia Podessar [sic], a Toronto model, just looks remarkably like her.
And she did. The accompanying photograph – which captures the uncanny resemblance – comes complete with a Ripley's Believe It or Not-style caption:

The Regina Leader-Post, 15 September 1979
The Kidnapping of the President turned out to be Ms Podesser's only film.

Director George Mendeluk's next two movies were Doin' Time and Meatballs III.

Related post:

15 November 2012

The Kidnapping of the President for Christmas

The Kidnapping of the President
Charles Templeton
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1974
Charles Templeton [...] will probably have some idea by mid-November whether he is launched on yet another successful career, this time as a novelist. His meticulously researched first novel, The Kidnapping of the President (McClelland and Stewart), comes out in October; within, say, 90 days from now he'll know whether he's another Arthur Hailey or just a guy who once wrote a novel. 
— Robert Fulford, The Windsor Star, 6 September 1974
It took at lot less than ninety days.

The Kidnapping of the President entered bestseller lists in the month of its release, then fought Richard Rohmer's Exxoneration and Frederick Forsyth's The Dogs of War to become the top novel of the gift giving season.

Its title pretty much says it all, but I'll expound a bit:

President Adam Scott looks to make gains in the 1978 mid-terms by holding a rally in New York's Herald Square, while Marxist Guatemalan terrorist Roberto Moreno and girlfriend Linda Rodriguez see an opportunity to further their cause. Disguising themselves as Brink's guards, they manage to hustle the President into an armoured truck and race toward Times Square. Linda is dropped off at the subway and, incredibly, manages to blend in with the crowd. Moreno emerges to give himself up, telling the secret service that someone somewhere (this would be Linda) holds a remote control device that can blow up the truck, the President and the ever-gathering crowd.

Hayseeds will appreciate these visual aids from first edition:

Robert Fulford described The Kidnapping of the President as a meticulously researched first novel. Therein lies its greatest flaw. The author shares a whole lot about the Constitution of the United States, its Twenty-fifth Amendment, and the construction of armoured trucks, but this only serves to slow the pace; expending three of 237 pages on presidents who died in office and their respective vice-presidents seems a needless waste.

Though The Kidnapping of the President was written with an eye on the massive American market, Canadians will find some things with which they can relate, like the upbringing of the Saskatchewan born Director of the FBI, the Vice-President's Newfoundland fishing trip and the acknowledged ingenuity of the RCMP. Templeton had a bit of fun with news anchor Robertson Kirk and, I think, Art R. Eagleson, whose chick hatchery the Secretary of Agriculture is visiting on the day of the abduction. I really don't know what to make of Gerry Regan, "Special Agent in Charge of the White House Detail", who in 1974 shared his name with the Premier of Nova Scotia.

This first edition of Templeton's first novel features three blurbs, the first of which comes courtesy of political strategist Dalton Camp. "I guess this must be the biggest caper in Canadian fiction...", writes my favourite Red Tory.

Guess so.

Camp was no literary critic, but I think he had this book pegged. Nearly four decades after it was published, The Kidnapping of the President remains the great Canadian caper novel... but that's not saying a whole lot.


Q: How tempting is this?


A: Not tempting at all.

Trivia (personal): Amongst those tasked with guarding the President is Secret Service agent Gil Busby. He very nearly thwarts the kidnappers' plan with his suspicions about Moreno, but is sidetracked by a collapsing barricade from which he rescues a young girl.

Good man, that Busby.

Agent Busby is only the second character with my surname that I've encountered in Canadian literature. The first, whistling Sgt Calvin Busby, is found in Earle Birney's Turvey (1949).

Object: A slim hardcover, my first edition – signed by the author – I purchased my copy in 1991 from a Montreal Salvation Army Thrift Store. Price: $2.

Access: The Kidnapping of the President is long out of print – the most recent edition I could find was Seal Books' 1980 movie tie-in – but it still makes a great Christmas gift. The McClelland and Stewart first edition can be had in Very Good condition for one dollar. Expect to pay more – but not much more – for the 1975 Simon & Schuster American first, the 1976 Quartet British first, and the mass market editions from Avon (1975) and Seal (1980). There are dozens of copies to be had for under five dollars. Ignore the bookseller trying to sell a "Good" copy of the Simon & Schuster edition for $74.99.

Related post:

12 November 2012

About Those Old New Canadian Library Intros (with some stuff on Martha Ostenso's Wild Geese)

Before I'm accused of being ungrateful, allow me this: The old New Canadian Library was good for this country. As a university student, I was happy to ignore its abridgements, poor production values and ill-advised selections. The introductions, however, were hard to stomach. I was then new to Canadian literature – we did not study such things Quebec's public schools – and yet could already see that many of the NCL intros were inept, inaccurate and factually incorrect.

Answers as to why so many were so flawed are found in New Canadian Library: The Ross-McClelland Years, 1952-1978, Janet Friskney's invaluable study of NCL's best days. The author tells us that founder Malcolm Ross was adamant that there be introductions, quoting: "I thought it would be useful even for teachers, many of whom were teaching Canadian books for the first time and who had never studied Canadian literature."

As Prof Friskney notes: "in many cases, an NCL introduction was one of the earliest, and sometimes the first piece of critical analysis to appear about a particular work."

Such a sad state of affairs. The blind led the blind... and yet things did improve. In 1962, Hugh MacLennan wrote Ross that the NCL was on its way to becoming "one of the most important things in Canadian publishing." He went on to praise the series for making available the previously unavailable and scarce, adding: "These, with the introductions, are building a true body of relationship between critic and author and the public."

(MacLennan's Barometer Rising had already found a place in the series, and would soon be joined by Each Man's Son.)

All this brings me to Carlyle King's Introduction to Wild Geese, Martha Ostenso's big book, which I reread just yesterday. The intro first appeared when Wild Geese joined the NCL in 1961, and was reprinted until 1996, when it was replaced with an afterword by David Arnason.

Thirty-five years.

I first read these words from Prof King in 1986:

Where to begin? How about with that third sentence, in which King describes the literary landscape of 1923 Canada:
Callaghan was on the Left Bank in Paris among the American expatriates, trying his hand at stories for the little magazines of experimental writing...
No, Morley Callaghan was then studying law at the University of Toronto. It was in 1929 that Callaghan first visited the Left Bank, by which time he was a published author comfortably installed within Charles Scribner's stable.
...Grove, who had written for twenty years in the intervals of an itinerant farm-hand's existence, did not get a first novel into print until 1925.
It was in 1905 that Frederick Philip Grove – or, as King seems to prefer, "Philip Grove" – published his first novel. The "itinerant farm hand's existence" included a stretch in Austrian prison, bohemian living in Berlin and Paris, drinks with Andre Gide and H.G. Wells... and I won't go into his crossdressing wife with the birdcage bustle.

The truth about fraudster and faux-Swede Grove – German Felix Paul Greve – was revealed in 1971 through the sleuthing of D.O. Spettigue. While King cannot be faulted for his 1961 Introduction, one wonders that it continued to be used as the new millennium approached.

Carlyle King informs that Grove, Callaghan and Ostenso stand outside "the Sunshine School of Canadian fiction", in which "human nature is fundamentally noble and Rotarian morality always triumphs. The main characters are basically nice people. Nobody ever suffers long or gets really hurt or says "damn.'"

Oh, dear.

In 1923, the most recent of "Louisa [sic] M. Montgomery's long series of 'Anne' books" was Rilla of Ingleside (1921). A novel set during the Great War, it sees one of our dear Anne's sons taken prisoner by the Hun as another is slaughtered on the battlefield. It's true that the latter is "killed instantly by a bullet during a charge at Courcelette", but I'm not at all convinced this is what King meant in writing that nobody ever suffers long.

Can we at least agree that in this case a character "really gets hurt"?

A good many characters are killed in Ralph Connor's The Sky Pilot in No Man's Land – some suffering long before they die.

And "damn"?

There's a whole lotta cussin' goin' on in the novel, much of which comes from the sky pilot himself:

Yes, there's venereal disease, too.

Is it any wonder that no reference to "the Sunshine School of Canadian fiction" is found outside Carlyle King's writings?

Related post:

11 November 2012

Remembrance Day

A Canadian Twilight and Other Poems of War and Peace
Bernard Freeman Trotter
Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1917

06 November 2012

Of War and Methodism (but mostly Methodism)

Neville Trueman, the Pioneer Preacher:
     A Tale of the War of 1812
W.H. Withrow
Toronto: William Briggs, 1900
252 pages

This review now appears, revised and rewritten, 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

01 November 2012

Exclamation Marks Abound!

The Soul Eater
Thomas P. Kelley
Uncanny Tales, vol. 2, no. 17 (May 1942)

Thomas P. Kelley bragged that when sitting down to write a novel he had "absolutely no idea what [would] happen, how the plot [would] unfold or how the yarn [would] end." I imagine the same was true when writing shorter pieces. Kelley claimed that he could produce three 4000-word stories a day with no rewrites or revisions.

"The Soul Eater" provides a good example of his galloping style. Anything that might slow the onward charge is brushed aside as "difficult to pen," a thing that "defies description". Elements that perhaps should have been mentioned earlier are treated thusly:
There was that one matter – that one important matter I have hitherto omitted – the wondrous flash and glitter that sparked the sky, and which we had plainly seen the previous evening – a glorious glitter of indescribable beauty, rising to the heavens and awe-inspiring – like the scintillating wonders of a thousand sunsets!
Typical Kelley, the plot is stereotypical pulp fiction. It's premise will be familiar to millions. The narrator, Prof John Carruthers, records his story while holed up in a New England mansion. Exactly ten years earlier, with the aid of a large inheritance and a map left by a Chinese mystic, he set out for the Gobi Desert in search of the Valley of Diamonds, "often discussed by the Ancients of China" and, I add, readers of Marvel comics.

Accompanying Carruthers' are a promising young archeologist, a disgraced sea captain and Ace Morgan, a boozing boxer who coulda been a contender. There is hardship to be endured, but things really go wrong when they near the valley and Carruthers has a wet dream. Or has he been visited by a succubus? Never mind. He awakens to find the sea captain missing!
"Captain Farley!" I ejaculated. "He's – he's gone!"
Convinced that the captain has been abducted by someone or something from the valley, the remaining members of the team race onward to find Farley dead. The archeologist is next to disappear, but he's soon discovered alive in an ancient temple:
   In the centre of that mighty hall was a raised, altar-like dais of stone, across which lay the bound body of young Reid. And standing over him, a wild joy of triumph lighting her features, was a naked, yellow-skinned woman, of such a weird, indescribable, barbaric beauty, as to be almost terrifying!
   A tall, nude yellow-skinned woman whose glorious body, in the glow of two nearby torches, seemed as living gold, that flowed and rippled in symmetrical motion with her every movement. A tumbling mass of wavy, jet black hair, fell almost to her ankles. Her shapely breasts, large and firm, seemed as living, yellow globes, and were adorned only with the two huge diamonds clasped to their high tips. And even as we made our silent entrance, she threw back her head in a wild, barbaric laugh, that revealed her white teeth; to gloat over the helpless man before her, then speak in the tongue of ancient China – a language I understood.
   "And so, now you know, rash intruder. Yes, I am Su-Ella, Queen of The Black Star, who comes from that distant world at irregular periods to seek my victims here, and fears only the sunlight. How I am able to pass through the dark, cold wastes of space is a secret known to me alone!"
Next thing you know, Su-Ella is hovering over the young man in bondage and, "her nude breasts rising and falling, her shapely body quivering with desire," sucks his soul from his mouth. Professor and pugilist both take flight. Of the two, Ace proves the faster runner – perhaps because Carruthers can't help but be distracted by Su-Ella's hot bod – and yet it's Ace who gets it: "With arms whipped tightly around him her naked body crushing his". Still running, Carruthers hears "a gurgling, moist and bubbling sound" and turns to see the former boxer "limp in her arms". Just when it looks like Carruthers himself will go flaccid, dawn breaks, the evening is over, and Su-Ella flies away.

Sue Ellen
A mistake in Kelley's story is that Su-Ella is really quite regular. One minute she's telling the men of her  "irregular periods", the next she's on about how she swings by every ten years. Gentlemen, set your watches. A decade having passed, the procrastinating professor scrambles to get down his story:
I must write faster – faster! The hands on the nearby clock are both well on to four o'clock in the morning, and I must finish my story. Already the first streaks of gray are beginning to creep up in the eastern sky. But that same gray not only heralds the approaching dawn – it – it heralds my death! It heralds my ending in a manner so utterly and unthinkably horrible as to be brain-reeling!
Students who have pulled all-nighters will recognize this panic.
     And as I write I wonder. Could it be that she can find me, even in this distant land? It is possible that even at this late hour her hellish power could bring her to me, or me to her? I wonder if – if –
     What – what's that I hear? It sounds like the flapping of wings! It – it is wings! Yes it is – and they are coming closer – closer to the open window. In the name of sanity – oh! oh, my God – what's coming through the wind—
There is one matter – one important matter I have hitherto omitted – the valley was indeed filled with diamonds. 

Personal note: Kelley's ending took me back to my student days, time served as a clerk in two Montreal video stores, and this image from Media Home Entertainment's packaging for Sleepaway Camp:

A second note: Following last year's post on The Queers of New York, this marks the second time that I've reviewed a work that is not in my collection. I have Wollamshram of Wollamshram's Blog to thank for sending "The Soul Eater" my way.