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

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