31 October 2013

The Harlequin Horror That Just Won't Die!

Vengeance of the Black Donnellys
Thomas P. Kelley
Toronto: Harlequin, 1962

Winnipeg: Greywood, 1969
Toronto: Modern Canadian Library, 1975
Toronto: Firefly, 1995
Canada's most feared family strikes back from the grave!

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30 October 2013

New Brunswick Boy in Number 10

Here's to Bonar Law, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who took his final breath ninety years ago today. No one was much surprised by his passing; a diagnosis of inoperable throat cancer had forced his resignation just five months earlier. Law holds an unenviable record as the shortest serving British prime minister of the 20th century. Still, his 209 days as a PM (23 October 1922 - 22 May 1923) is far longer than Kim Campbell can claim. In this respect, Law is in Joe Clark's league.

I mention Campbell and Clark because Bonar Law, also a Tory, holds the distinction of being the only British prime minister to have been born on Canadian soil; in fact, he's the only person born outside the British Isles to have held the office. The son of a Presbyterian clergyman, Law drew his first breath in Rexton, New Brunswick, where he lived until the age of twelve.

Law's forced retirement was much to brief for him to pen his memoirs; he had no ghostwriter or "editorial consultant". The longest piece I have by the man comes in the form of a two-page Preface to Canada in Flanders (Toronto: Hodder & Stoughton, 1916) by friend Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, a fellow Presbyterian pastor's son and native of New Brunswick.

Two of Law's sons would be killed in the Great War, losses that followed the death of his wife and a stillborn child. For all his political successes, the 20th century wasn't kind to Law, yet he embraced it. Here Law "marks an epoch in Cinematography" in the first cabinet meeting to be filmed "within the historic and sacred walls of No. 10 Downing St."

"A fine study of the quiet and yet steadfast dignity of the New Prime Minister," reads one of the cards. I see a man looking uncomfortable before the camera. A shy smile breaks through in the last seconds.

Look carefully and you'll see members of this very same cabinet in this Pathé newsreel twelve months later. I recommend watching with the sound off.

Andrew Bonar Law
Rextion, New Brunswick, 16 September 1858 -
London, England, 30 October 1923

25 October 2013

P is for Plus ça change...

National Post Editor-at-Large Diane Francis has been making the rounds flogging her latest. I've felt some sympathy. Her book, Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country, landed in the midst of the government shutdown in the republic to the south. Ever the capitalist, Ms Francis did her level best of capitalize on the sorry mess, beginning her interview with Evan Solomon thusly:
If we were to merge like quickly, like East and West Germany, we'd be 35 million Democrats and the Republicans wouldn't get anywhere in the House or in the White House. So there you go.There'd be no more logjams.
That Ms Francis, a born and bred Chicagoan, thinks Canadians would flock to the Democrats en masse suggests that she has much to learn about her adopted country; that she believes Canadian children would be granted the right to vote suggests that she knows nothing at all about the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Ms Francis began with the very same assertion when speaking with Anna Maria Tremonti, which leads me to think that it also features in the book itself. I don't know for certain because I just can't be bothered to check it out of the library.

Hers is a tired, old idea (see: Smith, Goldwin), one that comes around every couple of decade or so. As with Encke's Comet, no one much notices – but the few who do, like her publisher's jacket designer, find little in the way of inspiration.

Looking through my library I see that I've bought only one volume on the topic: Canamerican Union Now! Published in early 1978 by Griffin House, it's the lone book by D.K. Donnelly, a computer industry consultant from Toronto. Canamerican Union Now! was very much a knee-jerk response to the November 1976 election of the Parti Québécois. The author considered the months – months, I tell you – of handwringing that followed, before throwing up his own right and left in frustration.

Canamerican Union Now!

Diane Francis surrenders because, as she put it on Power & Politics, the Russians and Chinese are "wolves at our door." The author repeated the same words on The Current, in her National Post column, and in numerous  albeit identical  online posts.

Griffin House pitched its book as an open discussion, but it would seem that the computer industry consultant was talking only to himself. Though Merger of the Century, a HarperCollins lead title, ranked 8,358 on Amazon.ca at the time of this writing, I believe Ms Francis has done a bit better. Her newspaper's website has comments on the book from several dozen people, including the author herself. What's more, Amazon has three customer reviews! Someone calling himself "Interested American" informs: "the numbers and data (and new ideas) are presented here for us to take in, especially about the Arctic NW Territories [sic] I had little awareness of, and consider in light of a changing world." Jared Nova chimes in with enthusiasm: "I'm an American who's always had a great interest in Canada. But this book helped me realize how much I didn't know."

The naysayer – tellingly, I think – is the sole Canadian, who observes that "the US nearly gutted itself financially and nearly took down the rest of the western economies", then dares add that "Canada's pragmatic mix of capitalism and socialism protected us from most of the blowback." He also notes that we don't kill each other nearly as much.

"The above critique is infused with anti-American bigotry", responds South Carolina's "C.I. Kendrick", who also believes Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory rates five stars. "A new Classic!"

I was greatly disappointed by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory myself... and, truth be told, I've never taken to the idea of a union between Canada and the United States. It's not that I don't love my American cousins, but that I see their country as being, well, foreign.

Those few campaigning for union, like self-described "Canadian-American" Diane Francis, may blame my father, whose record collection introduced me to the idea before I began elementary school. From The Brothers-in-Law Strike Again! (Arc, 1966):

            Oh, we share a common border with a country that you know,
            Just take a look at your atlas, it's the one that's down below.
            There's fifty states in the union and something should be done
            To forget the War of 1812 and make it fifty-one.


            There'll be color television,
            Social security,
            Racial segregation,
            And the Birch Society.
            You can cheer for Jimmy Hoffa,
            You can join the Klan today.
            You can even burn your draft card
            When we're Canada, USA.


Now the ladies... 'cause with 35 million more Democrats an Equal Rights Amendment might finally get passed.

Note to American readers: Canada now has color television. We spell it "colour".

Trivia: The first Brothers-in-Law concert took place on 22 November 1963, the day the United States suffered its twenty-fifth political assassination.

There's a cultural difference for you.*
* "I have this great quote in the political chapter. Peter Drucker – who's the business guru of gurus, the late great Peter Drucker – and he said 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast.' So, I get it, but I'm a business person, I deal in facts and reality." 

21 October 2013

Sugar-Puss Returns!

Sixty-three years after it disappeared from drugstore spinner racks, Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street is finally making its way to bookstore shelves. This is not your grandparents' Sugar-Puss, but a brand new edition with Introduction by Will Straw. Reset and printed on FSC certified paper, unlike the News Stand Library original this baby is built to last!

Much has changed since the story of young, innocent, farmette Gisele Lapine last saw print. Dorchester is not a street but a boulevard. No longer a centre of the city's nightlife, it's now a bloodless artery lined by some of the city's blandest buildings. Even the name is gone. The honour conferred upon Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester, the man credited with saving Quebec from the Americans during their Revolutionary War, has been stripped and given to a former United States Army liaison officer.

Enough. This is not a time for speeches. In celebration of her return, I present a Sugar-Puss Top Ten – favourite passages from the novel, beginning with the very first sentence:

1 - Dorchester Street spews out almost within shadow of the Harbour Bridge in Montreal’s slummy, crummy East End. Her spawning ground is wedged solidly between vermin-ridden tenements where French and English meet – but do not blend – and the greasy waters of the St. Lawrence River.

2 - Her eyes were large and softly brown as was her skin thereby hinting of a strain of Basque blood. Her breasts were large and firm; a legacy of her Norman ancestry. Long legs tapered off from well-rounded thighs to shapely ankles. Her feet were small and beautifully formed as are those of most French Canadian women.

3 - Bewildered Gisele looked at her newly acquired, giant-sized and self-appointed protector. He smiled back at her through a cloud of smoke. "It's okay, Honey. I'm Jim Schultz. I own this flea trap and you're safe here as you are in yah mudda's arms. Safer unless yah mudda'sgot cauliflower ears."

4 - The girl slouched against the bar beside her. "My name's Trixie. Helluva name that. Pop said he named me after a mongrel that died but Ma said it was a burlesque broad he used to sleep with."

5 - He turned slightly and looked down at her. The lamp cast a bluish glow across her flat stomach. It was like television, he thought.

6 - He didn't trust himself to speak. Instead he drank slowly looking into the light until his eyes blurred.
     She whimpered like a spaniel. "Please, Jimmy."

7 - "Today, Gisele," she told herself, "you are a woman." She paused for some time reliving every one of the precious moments of the night. "You are," she said, "a young woman in love – and what's more you look it."

8 - "Gisele ma petite bebe you are the greatest thing to hit show business here since Fifi D'Orsay. You are superb, magnificent, you are – shall we say – tres, tres? A combination of Pavlowa and Mam'selle St. Cyr. You were great."

9 - Madame Lapointe had given the nearest possible example of a human being sparked with atomic power.

10 - "So she's still in the city," he thought grimly, "and so are a million and a half other souls – plus a few heels."

The Gazette, 2 November 1949
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19 October 2013

O is for OW!! OW!! OW!! OUCH!!! OUCH!!!!

A glimpse of Jazz Age Montreal published ninety years ago today in The Axe, John H. Roberts' much-missed muckraking tabloid.

"HE-SWEETIES HAUNT HOTELS" is pretty great, but I much prefer the sub-headline. Click to enlarge.

The Axe, 19 October 1923

18 October 2013

Eleven Earth and High Heavens

It's been a week since the celebration of Gwethalyn Graham at the Writers' Chapel, which isn't to say that she is no longer on my mind. Looking through my collection, I'm beginning to think that nearly all Anglo Montreal families once had a copy of Earth and High Heaven. That pictured above, published in 1948 by Bantam, was ours. I picked up my own, the Lippincott first American edition (below) from the "FREE" box at Cheap Thrills. Like Lionel Shapiro's The Sixth of June, there was a time when it was pretty thick on the ground.

Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1944
I like the Lippincott cover because it reminds me of Charles Addams; those trees are most certainly his. The English Jonathan Cape edition, which I understand to be the true first, doesn't have nearly as much going for it:   

London: Jonathan Cape, 1944
The edition I've always wanted was given away to Americans serving in the Second World War. Cheap, so cheap, it was not designed to survive – Lippincott didn't want thousands of used copies flooding the market in peacetime – but they are out there.

New Delhi: Editions for the Armed Services, 1944
Much more rare is Entre ciel et terre, the French translation. I've never seen a copy. The image below was found in my online wanderings.

Entre ciel et terre
Paris: Tallandier, 1946
Odd to think that this novel of Montreal – one that dominated bestseller lists, one that is still studied university – should have enjoyed just one printing in French translation... from a Parisian press.

Welcome to the depressing world of Canadian literature.

Outside the English-speaking world, it's the Germans – yes, the Germans – who have paid the most attention to Graham's novel.

Im Himmel und auf Erden
Nürnberg: Nest Verlag, 1948
The novel has also found a home with the Dutch, the Danes and the Finns.

Maa ja korkea taivas
Helsinki: Otava, 1947
In the nearly seven decades since Earth and High Heaven first appeared, it's pretty much retreated behind Canadian borders. The novel that once topped the New York Times Bestseller List was last published down south during the Johnson administration:  

New York: Paperback Library, 1965
While Earth and High Heaven has had more legs in Canada, this didn't mean much for its author. Graham received a $100 advance on royalties in 1960 when the novel joined the New Canadian Library. Four years later, the author received a further three dollars when it earned out.

Gwethalyn Graham died in 1965, so was spared witness to the ugly New Canadian Library editions credited to "Gwenthalyn Graham".

Two bucks will buy a copy from a Yankee bookseller. That said, he has "McClulland and Stewart" as the publisher, so I can't be sure it's the same.

Never mind. The one you want is the 2003 Cormorant edition:

By far the most attractive edition ever published in this country, it has an Introduction by Norman Ravvin.

Buy it!

With Norman Ravvin, Claire Holden Rothman and the Venerable Linda Borden Taylor
The Writers' Chapel, Montreal, 11 October 2013 
Credit: The image of the NCL "Gwenthalyn Graham" edition was lifted from the very fine Chumley and Pepys on Books blog

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15 October 2013

Beware the Savage Jaw of 1981

Red Maple:
  How Canada Became the People's Republic of Canada in 1981
Kenneth McDonald
Richmond Hill, ON: BMG Publishing, 1975

A few years ago, Preston Manning published a short piece of fiction titled "2018: The new health care" in the pages of the Globe and Mail. It was a fantasy in which the former Reformer imagined a series of fantastical events leading to the abolition of Medicare. Think of those letters of old to Penthouse Forum: the dorm room was Alberta, cancer gave body to the blonde sorority girl and the Supreme Court was cast as her twin sister. George Pepki ignores the tie hanging on the doorknob and Julian Assange comes in for sloppy seconds.

At the time, I called it porn.

Kenneth McDonald's Red Maple is something altogether different. A horror novella, its Randall Flagg is Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the evil philosopher king who within thirteen years transforms an industrious constitutional monarchy into a lazy socialist republic.

Pierre Trudeau with Margaret Thatcher, 4 October 1981.
Its narrator is Alan Tremayne Jackson, the hardworking son of a hardware store owner. Dad dies, or so we surmise, leaving Al a thriving chain of stores and political opinions that date from the time of the Winnipeg General Strike. Fed by the former, blinkered by the latter, Al outlines the series of steps that resulted in the People's Republic of Canada.

At its heart, this is a political novella, which is not to say it lacks romance:
I met Gail about that time [1955] and though we saw as much of each other as we could I was working almost seventy hours a week and she was working, too, so one way or another it wasn't until 1962, six years after leaving university, that we got married.
Gail will be mentioned later, fleetingly, as a travelling companion. The lone image Al provides of the woman with whom he has shared the past two decades places her at a sewing machine in the family's guest bedroom. "We're very close, in that offhand, wholly Canadian way which avoids putting feelings into words," Al tells us.

The most complex character in McDonald's novella is Lester B. Pearson, but this is largely because Al is inconsistent in his portrayal. The hardware store heir first paints the former prime minister as a jovial incompetent, a man suited for nothing more than a life of drudgery within the civil service. Pay no mind to the opinion of the Nobel Committee, the man was a diplomat, and we all know that diplomats are nothing but parrots who repeat whatever governments tell them. Still, Al blames Pearson for setting Canada on the road to socialism. Could it be that Pearson was hiding his true persona and abilities? Might it be that he was in reality a clever, devious, evil man? Al can't be sure.

Trudeau is more of a cardboard cut-out. A man of immense ego who cares not for country but power, this unholy spawn of Quebec is part of a trinity that includes lifelong socialists Jean Marchand and Gérard Pelletier. Al considers Red Tories, men like Robert Stanfield and Bill Davis, to be "fellow travellers". Look not to Peter Lougheed as a saviour, he revealed himself as a socialist through the purchase of Pacific Western Airlines and in leveling "crushing royalties on Alberta's resource companies."

For the most part, the truly productive members of society, by which Al means businessmen, are too busy supporting their families to counter the growing threat. Besides, speaking out only draws further attention from increasingly hostile government agencies. True heroes are hard to find in this novella; I counted six, including John Bulloch (who wrote the Foreword to Red Maple) and Winnett Boyd (who joined the author in founding BMG, publisher of Red Maple). Gail should be jealous of the amount of space Boyd takes up in her husband's story.

Those who have read Red Maple – publishing history suggests there are many – may quibble with my description of the book as a novella. In response, I point out the obvious: Claude Wagner did not win the 1976 Progressive Conservative leadership race, Bell Canada was not nationalized, the country has never funded guerrillas to fight South Africa's Apartheid regime and our press is not controlled by a government body known as the Ministry of Information. The perceptive reader will note that fabrication is not limited to what at time of publication was the future. McDonald takes liberties with past events and one of the two – and only two – references is simply false. The most succinct example of Al as unreliable narrator might be this: "Canada itself had been at one time a haven of relative labor [sic] peace, particularly in the Quebec of Duplessis."

When reading any work of political fiction it s particularly important to keep in mind that the narrator is not necessarily the mouthpiece of the author. When Al expresses resentment towards those who would apply the word "racist" to Apartheid South Africa, we must remember that he and Kenneth McDonald are not one and the same. Not really. Likewise, Al's description of pre-colonial Canada as "an empty land" should not be taken as the author's. McDonald's BMG Publishing gave us Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow (1977) and Immigration: The Destruction of English Canada (1979), but that is not to say that he agrees with the views of bigoted authors J.V. Andrew and Doug Christie.

Remember, this is a work of fiction.

Best passage:

Object: My copy was a gift from Wollamshram of Wollanshram's Blog. A slim trade-size paperback. Nine of its 117 pages are taken up by an edited list of undergraduate courses offered students at York University in the 1974-75 academic year. "I don't think that I'm oversimplifying to read into the content of these courses an undue emphasis on negative factors," says Al. "There was certainly a shocking absence of constructive approaches."

Here's an example of the type of course that so disturbs our narrator:

Access: Library and Archives Canada, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, the Toronto Public Library and most university libraries have a copy or two.

About a dozen copies are currently listed for sale online, most going for under ten bucks. One hopeful American bookseller is offering an ex-library copy for US$193.70.

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12 October 2013

The Foster Poetry Conference at Fifty

Irving Layton, Milton Wilson, Leonard Cohen, Eli Mandel and Aviva Layton,
Foster Poetry Conference,, October 1963
Off to the Eastern Townships this morning to celebrate the publication of The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco:
Brome Lake Books

265 E Knowlton Rd

Knowlton, QC 
12 October 2013, 2:00 pm
And what better day than today? 'Twas fifty years ago – 12 October 1963 – that Glassco's Foster Poetry Conference opened at the Glen Mountain Ski Chalet. With Glassco, F.R. Scott, A.J.M. Smith, Irving Layton, Louis Dudek, Ralph Gustafson, Eldon Grier, D. G. Jones, Leonard Cohen, Leonard Angel, Kenneth Hetrz, Henry Moscowitz and Seymour Mayne, it remains the greatest gathering of Quebec's English-language poets.

Three days of poetry, comradeship and drink, even the most subdued reports paint it as a great success. Scott was so fired by the experience that he pressured Glassco to edit the proceedings for McGill University Press.  

Glassco agreed to take on the project, but soon came to recognize that the contents failed to capture anything of the exuberant nature of the conference. The late night conversations, the raw exchanges, the drinking – almost all that had been informal, spontaneous, and dynamic had been left unrecorded. What's more he found work on the book a "horrible bore." On 4 May 1964, he wrote Jean Le Moyne: "I shall never be an editor again: this is the work for professionals who have secretaries, electric typewriters, photocopy machines, the co-ordinative faculty and endless patience: but the book is now ready for press."

When the galleys arrived Glassco found the quality so poor that the November 1964 publication date had to be scratched. For months the anthology hung over his head as he awaited, with dread, the reset galleys. What arrived was much improved and he moved quickly to clear the sheets from his desk. Then, just when his work appeared to be finished, Glassco discovered that he'd been saddled with the task of distributing payments to the twenty contributors. The irritation was only compounded by the small sums. Leonard Cohen received three dollars, barely enough to purchase a copy of the book.

My work in editing Glassco's letters was much more pleasurable.

11 October 2013

Tonight: Honouring Gwendolyn Graham

All are welcome.

Speaking will be
Norman Ravvin, Associate Professor and Chair, Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies, Concordia University
Claire Holden Rothman, author of Salad DaysBlack Tulips
and The Heart Specialist.
The Venerable Linda Borden Taylor will officiate.

Friday, 11 October 2013, 6 p.m.

Church of St James the Apostle
1439 St Catherine Street West (Bishop Street entrance)

A wine and cheese reception will follow.

07 October 2013

N is for Nablo News

All kinds of activity here this past weekend in preparation of Friday's Gwethalyn Graham plaque dedication and Saturday's John Glassco event, but I somehow managed to slip in a bit of work relating  to James Benson Nablo. I can now report that The Long November, the Niagara Falls writer's only book, will be returning to print this coming spring as part of the Véhicule Press Ricochet Books series.

I could not be happier.

Set in Toronto, Chicago, Moreland Lakes (read: Kirkland Lake, Ontario), an unnamed Italian village and the author's hometown, The Long November is one of the most interesting novels of the post-war period. News Stand Library pitched it as "a tale of passion and virile drive". It's all that and more.

One of the unexpected pleasures of this exercise, this stroll through the neglected writing of our past, is that it has often brought contact with the children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces of the writers concerned. It was my good fortune that the daughter and grandson of James Benson Nablo spotted my posts on The Long Novemberthe novel's paperback history and the author's career in Hollywood.

So it is that I spent an enjoyable few hours yesterday reading through five James Benson Nablo manuscripts on loan from Nancy Vichert, his daughter. As far as I've been able to determine, all are unpublished and have no connection with the stories that were adapted by Hollywood: Drive a Crooked Road, A Bullet for Joey, Raw Edge and China Doll.

After the success of The Long November five editions in six years! – the native of Niagara Falls made his way to Hollywood. The duo-tang for one of the of the manuscripts features an address that places him within walking distance of Laurel Canyon Boulevard, not too far from Chateau Marmont:

8401 Ridpath Drive, Hollywood, CA
(cliquez pour agrandir)
James Benson Nablo's time in Tinseltown was not long, but he left his mark. Drive a Crooked Road, adapted by Blake Edwards and Richard Quine, was Columbia Pictures' great attempt to turn Mickey Rooney into an adult star. A Bullet for Joey places Edward G. Robinson and George Raft in Montreal as, respectively, a French Canadian detective and infamous gangster.

Nablo's talent was such that further adaptations appeared after his untimely death at the age forty-five.

I'm pleased to be involved with the return of The Long November. It's been more than a half-century. Long overdue.

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