30 April 2015

The Murder of George Brown: He Died with Grit

I could not let National Poetry Month pass without presenting verse by James Gay, Poet Laureate of Canada (self-proclaimed) and Master of All Poets (self-proclaimed, I guess). One of his longer poems, this concerns the tragic death of George Brown.

Not much attention is paid Brown these days, but he once held great sway as unofficial leader of the federal  Liberal Party and editor of the Toronto Globe. Such was his stature that three of the Four Jameses wrote verse about the man. James MacRae, who lived and died in a house not a five minute walk from mine, believed Liberals to be in league with Satan.

It would be inappropriate to quote his verse here.

The Ingersoll James – James McIntyre – wasn't so partisan. His 1884 poem 'Departed Statesman" features these lines:
George Brown, thou man of renown,
Confederation you did crown;
You now are all free from the strife
The wrangle and jangle of political life.
Though I've seen it described as such, Brown's death was not a political assassination. What happened was this: On 25 March 1880, George Bennett, a drunk and disgruntled former employee, walked into the Globe offices demanding a certificate recognizing past service. Brown, who did not know his visitor, suggested he see the foreman. Bennett pulled out a gun. One presumes he meant to shoot his former employer in the chest or head, but Brown pushed down his assailant's arm. The bullet entered the editor's right thigh.

Look up, way up, to the dramatic illustration at the top of this post. Between Bennet's feet you'll see that artist Henri Julien has titled his work "Attempted assassination of George Brown, Toronto". The engraving was published in the 10 April 1880 edition of the Canadian Illustrated News, a little over two weeks after the incident. At the time, Brown was reported to be recovering nicely.

He wasn't. Gangrene set in. One hundred and thirty-five years ago this week he was struggling for life.

Sadly, Brown ended up another victim of those long-drawn-out nineteenth-century assassinations. American readers will remember that President James Garfield hung on for nearly twelve weeks after he was shot.

Brown managed only eight.

I've made you wait enough.

Here it is, our Poet Laureate's tribute:

Poor George Brown is gone at last,
O'er his wound could not surpass;
His politics we don't mind a bit,
Knowing well he died with grit.
Politics with man are no disgrace,
When kept in their proper place;
The best politics ever man possessed
Are truth, honesty, and his mind at rest.
A party man may act civil;
He cannot please God and the devil.
In this poem you may well understand,
No happiness for a party man;
If he wants to enjoy a happy mind.
He must live in peace with all mankind.
I give it to all in my straightforward way—
As the motto of your poet, James Gay.
When on this earth George done his best,
I hope he now has found his rest.
No more wrangle and jangle of political life.

"The Late Hon. George Brown"
James L. Weston
Canadian Illustrated News, 15 May 1880

27 April 2015

Ross Macdonald's Monster Thriller Horror Theatre

A follow-up to last week's post on The Three Roads by Kenneth Millar (a/k/a Ross Macdonald), here I offer speculation and scattered thoughts on an adaptation I've never seen:

Straight to video, but without enough momentum to make it to DVD. I'm guessing I've missed my opportunity to see Deadly Companion. True, there are used VHS copies for sale out there, but who can be bothered? Besides, I can't figure out how to connect our old VCR to the Samsung.

Deadly Companion was a tax shelter film. "Based on the novel 'The 3 Roads' [sic] by Ross MacDonald [sic]", it was offered up by the same Toronto production company that gave us Nothing Personal, a romcom starring Donald Sutherland/Suzanne Somers.

Screenwriter Thomas Hedley (Flashdance) appears to have taken a good number of liberties with his source material. Here's John Candy as John, a character not found in the novel.

And here's John doing lines of coke.

Fellow SCTV cast members Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and Dave Thomas also feature, but it's Candy who shares top billing in the 1994 VHS release.

He gets less than two minutes screen time.

I feel particularly bad for the late Michael Sarrazin – cast as Michael Taylor (Bret Taylor in the novel), he's owed top billing. This earlier video package, issued under the original title, seems a tad more fair:

The adaptation brings things into the 'eighties by having Taylor shed his Second World War naval uniform for a journalist's trench coat. Here he's traumatized not by a Japanese kamikazes, but by Middle Eastern terrorists in aviator sunglasses.

Like the Taylor of The Three Roads, Michael must also deal with the murder of his young wife Lorraine. She's given life here – fleetingly – by Pita Oliver, an actress best remembered for having survived Prom Night.

Of course, she's not so lucky here.

Pita Oliver is billed twenty-fifth in the film's IMDb listing. This too seems unfair; after all, the solution to her character's murder is key to Macdonald's plot. The Three Roads positions Larry Hopkins (Anthony Perkins) as prime suspect, but I'm not sure about Deadly Companion. Here we see an encounter between Taylor and Hopkins.

In what I take to be a later scene, the two are involved in a dust-up.

Taylor also takes on Dellassandro (Al Waxman). Same camera angle.

Waxman's character doesn't feature in the book, nor do any of the five played by the SCTV cast. Fourth-billed Howard Duff portrays some guy named Lester Harlen. He's not in the book either.

The film has Hopkins shooting Harlen though a doorway…

…allowing Perkins to do his thing.

Leonard Maltin's review runs two sentences: "Confusing, annoying thriller with mentally tortured photojournalist Sarrazin attempting to track down his wife's murderer. Sarrizan is his usual bland self; Clark is wasted." The few souls bothering to weigh in at IMDb appear to agree:
This murder/mystery makes little sense.
– sgt619-1
The film simply does not make sense even after seeing it twice
– cfc_can
In "Double Negative Developing" (The Globe & Mail, 10 February 1979), critic Jay Scott suggests chaos on the set. He quotes actress Susan Clark on the script:
"This is one of the things that's in progress, so it's a big question mark. The three writers [Hedley, Janis Allen, Charles Dennis] seem to be coming from three different places. We have improvised; the locations have stayed the same and so has the intent of the individual scenes but…"
The ellipses are Clark's… Or are they Scott's?

The Globe & Mail, 10 February 1979
I was hundreds of kilometres away in high school when all this was going on, and yet I realize, all these decades later, that I'm just one degree of separation from several of the key players in this drama.

Who can be bothered.

Forget it, Jake, it's Hogtown.

The Globe & Mail, 2 May 1979
A bonus:

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20 April 2015

Discovered Vile

The Three Roads
Kenneth Millar
New York: Dell, [n.d.]

The Three Roads is a psychological thriller of the type in which Margaret Millar excelled. Here husband Kenneth, writing under his true name for the last time, falls a bit flat. But only in comparison.

This story from Millar, mari, concerns Second World War veteran Bret Taylor, a naval officer made amnesiac by the loss of his ship and his wife. Now hospitalized, he's visited by Hollywood screenwriter Paula West. It was only a couple of years ago that determined Paula, a divorcée, saw a second husband in Bret. They'd met at a vacation resort and had shared nineteen nice enough days together. No bed, true, but twenty-something navy man Bret was a virgin.

Months passed before they were able to meet again. When they did, Bret drank too much, felt pressured to perform and propose, and fled to Los Angeles. Forty-eight hours later – or was it seventy-two? – he found himself married to a nineteen-year-old barfly.

"Fast moving" pitches Dell.

Sure, but not 'til the second half.

The earliest chapters of The Three Roads have Bret lagging behind, struggling to recall what the reader already knows. I spoil little in disclosing that his young wife was victim in the "murder in sunny California" referred to on the back cover.

Bret saw her naked dead body beautiful and passed out.

See front cover.

Credit goes to psychoanalyst Theodor Klifter for kicking this novel into gear. He hands over newspaper accounts of the murder, Bret springs to his feet, "irises shining grayly like small spinning wheels", and we're off!

Nose to ground and grindstone Bret starts sniffing out the killer of the wife he can't remember. First stop is the Golden Sunset Café, a dive at which she spent her penultimate hours. But Bret's no detective. He ties one on, gets into a fight and ends up in the bed of some guy named Larry Miles. I made the made too much of this; Larry's interest in Bret isn't at all sexual:
The way things were going he and Taylor might end up as bosom pals. And that would be a belly laugh of the first water. He was a card, all right, a real wag out of the top drawer with bells on.
Or am I wrong?

Look, I'm no psychologist, nor am I a psychoanalyst. That said, I recognize The Three Roads as very much a post-war work – not because of the conflict, but for its focus on psychopathy. It's no accident that the Dalíesque cover of Knopf's 1948 first edition brings to mind Hitchcock's Spellbound. Herr Doktor Klifter is one of two – two – psychoanalysts who chew up page after page with theories as to the source of Bret's psychosis, Interesting stuff, I guess, but it was much more fun to read about Bret's bar fight.

It seemed more real, too.

To Margaret [Millar]
For now am I discovered vile, and of the vile. O ye three roads, and thou concealed dell, and oaken copse, and narrow outlet of three ways, which drank my own blood
– Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus
Trivia: In 1980, the novel was made into what looks to be a particularly bad Canadian film known variously as Deadly Companion, Double Negative, Killer aus den Dunkel, Kauhun pierre and Imagem Dupla.

The subject of a future post.

Object: A 222-page Dell mapback with cover illustration by Bob Stanley. I purchased my copy for $7.50 this past January at London's Attic Books, a mere three kilometres down three roads from the University of Western Ontario, Millar's alma mater.

Access: Published in 1948 by Knopf, for a fourth novel from a major house the first edition isn't cheap. We're well over US$300 before we find a copy in decent dust jacket.

The Knopf and Dell editions are the only to have been published under Millar's real name; the others – Cassell, Bantam, Corgi, Warner, Virgin, Allison & Busby and Vintage/Black Lizard – employ his more famous nom de plume. That last, the Vintage/Black Lizard edition, is in print at US$15.95/C$17.95.

While Americans are well-served, we Canadians starve. The only library copies I see are held by the Kitchener Public Library, the Toronto Public Library, the University of Toronto and the University of Calgary.

The University of Western Ontario does not have a copy.

As with most Millar/Macdonalds, translations abound: French (La boite de Pandora), Dutch (Drie wegen), German (Der Mörder im Spiegel), Italian (L'assassino di mia moglie), Portuguese (Vitória amarga), Polish (Troista droga), Czech (Rozcestí), Finnish (Valheen pitkät jäljet), Russian (Tri dorogi) and Japanese (三つの道).

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17 April 2015

Remembering Ron Scheer… on a Friday

Ron Scheer died this past weekend. He was my teacher. We never met.

A son of Nebraska, for more than four years Ron served as a patient guide through the frontier literature of a century past. His blog, Buddies in the Saddle, opened the eyes of this cynical easterner so that I might recognize that these weren't simple novels of cowboys and Indians, but of commerce, railroads, mining, farming, timber, politics, suffrage, temperance, religion and racism.

Early last year Ron was diagnosed with brain cancer. Buddlies in the Saddle took a turn toward the personal. Ron's posts on books were now punctuated by musing on life, health, beauty, family. Family was the subject of his final post.

Ron posted his last book review seven weeks ago. His subject was Blue Pete: "Half-Breed", a popular 1921 novel by Ontarian Luke Allan (né William Lacey Amy).  The Canadian Encyclopedia has no entry on Allan, nor does The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, nor does W.H. New's Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada; everything I know about the writer and his work comes from Ron.

In the four years and nine months of Buddies in the Saddle, Ron tagged thirty book reviews with the word "Canada". Most were written by Canadians, while others had a Canadian setting. Some covered contemporary writing, but most came from the days of great and great-great-grandparents:

The Outlander – Gil Adamson
Blue Pete: "Half-Breed" – Luke Allan
The Blue Wolf – William Lacey Amy
Alton of Somasco – Harold Bindloss
The Boss of Wind River – A.M. Chisolm
Desert Conquest – A.M. Chisolm
The Doctor – Ralph Connor
The Story of the Foss River Ranch – Ridgwell Cullum
Woodsmen of the West – Martin Allerdale Grainger
A Man of Two Countries – Alice Harriman
The Promise – James B. Hendryx
Out of Drowning Valley – Susan Carleton Jones
The Stone Angel – Margaret Laurence
A Daughter of the Snows – Jack London
Scarlett of the Mounted – Marguerite Merington
The Lost Cabin Mine – Frederick Niven
Northern Lights – Gilbert Parker
The Backwoodsmen – Charles G.D. Roberts
Breaking Smith's Quarter Horse – Paul St. Pierre
Smith and Other Events – Paul St. Pierre
The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses – Robert W. Service
The Trail of '98 – Robert W. Service
Raw Gold – Bertrand W. Sinclair
Big Timber – Bertrand W. Sinclair
Wild West – Bertrand W. Sinclair
The Prairie Wife – Arthur Stringer
The Last Crossing - Guy Vanderhaeghe
A Good Man – Guy Vanderhaeghe
Frontier Stories – Cy Warman
The Settler – Herman Whitaker

So many neglected titles. Small wonder that Ron was a regular at Friday's Forgotten Books, that weekly round-up hosted by mystery writer Patti Abbott. His was a unique voice. Friday's Forgotten Books will not be the same without him.

"I read old books so you don’t have to," Ron wrote more than once. The thing was that he made you want to read them. His enthusiasm was infectious. He was a dogged researcher; I suspect he often had a hard time moving on. Ron's thoughts on Raw Gold by British Columbian Bertrand W. Sinclair spanned two posts. His longest review, it begins:
I have this funny habit when I hold an old library book. I wonder how long it’s been sitting on the shelf in the stacks untouched, then of the different hands that have turned its pages over the years.
I share the very same habit. Now, picking up Ralph Connor's The Doctor, I can't help but think of Ron.

Ron read this novel. 


08 April 2015

Collard's Cock-up (and a curious coincidence)

Edgar Andrew Collard seems to have been a pretty interesting fellow. A Montrealer armed with a M.A. in history from McGill, in 1942 he found to work in the Gazette library – eleven years later he was editor-in-chief. Robertson Davies, once a newspaperman himself, wrote of his tenure: "I follow about 25 Canadian editorial pages day by day, and I see nothing to compare with this work, either in subject or in treatment."

In 1971, Collard stepped down. Youngsters like myself remember him only as a columnist. From August 1944 to August 2000 – the month before his death – Collard's "All Our Yesterdays" appeared each and every weekend. With titles like "When Dominion Square Was a Cemetery", "Was Dr. James Barry a Woman?", "Strange Experiences of Colonel Ham" and "College as the Ruination of Girls", they focussed on the more colourful aspects of Montreal's past. Several hundred were collected in books like Montreal Yesterdays, Montreal: The Days That Are No More, All Our Yesterdays and 100 More Tales from All Our Yesterdays, but this column on the country's first political assassination isn't one of them :

Saturday, 16 November 1963
(cliques pour grander)
Writes Collard:
Did D'Arcy McGee foresee his sudden death at the age of 42? He did. And he wrote about his fate in a poem entitled "Forewarned."
"Forewarned" meant nothing to me; it doesn't figure in the 612-page Poems of Thomas D'Arcy McGee. A quick search reveals that the verse isn't by McGee at all, rather it belongs to Irish novelist, poet and playwright Gerald Griffin (1803-1840). You can find all 64 lines beginning on page 395 of The Life of Gerald Griffin (Dublin: James Duffy, 1872), written by brother Daniel.

I wonder if Collard ever realized his mistake. As far as I can tell, he never issued a correction. Published the following weekend, Collard's next column dealt with the sculptures gracing the Bank of Montreal Head Office.

Here's that day's front page:

Saturday, 23 November 1963
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07 April 2015

'Erin's Address to the Hon. Thomas D'Arcy McGee'

Verse on the 147th anniversary of the assassination of the great D'Arcy McGee. "Erin's Address to the Hon. Thomas D'Arcy McGee" precedes "Death of D'Arcy McGee" as the first of two poems to the politician in Nora Pembroke's Verses and Rhymes by the Way (Pembroke, ON: S.E. Mitchell, 1880).


O thou son of the dark locks and eloquent tongue,
With the brain of a statesman sagacious, and strong,
And the heart of a poet, half love, and half fire,
Thou hast many to love thee and more to admire;
But I bore thee, and nursed thee, and joyed at the fame
Which the sons of the stranger have spread round thy name,
I am Erin, green Erin, the "Gem of the sea."
Listen, then, to thy mother's voice, D'Arcy McGee.

Since the crown from my head, and the sceptre are gone
To the hand of the stranger, who held what he won,
I have borne much of sorrow, of wrong and of shame,
I've been spoken against with scorning and blame;
But still have my daughters been spotless and fair,
And my sons have been dauntless to do and to dare;
For as great as thou art and most precious to me.
Still thou art not my only one, D'Arcy McGee.

At the bar, in the senate, in cassock or gown,
Our foes being judges, they've got them renown;
On the red field of battle, of glory, of death,
They've been true to their colours and true to their faith;
And where bright swords were clashing and carnage ran high,
They have taught the stern Saxon they know how to die.
Well, no wit, poet, statesman or hero can be
More dear to my heart than thou, D'Arcy McGee.

Wild heads, may plan glories for Erin their mother,
Weak plans and wicked plans chasing each other;
To me worse than the loss of a sceptre and crown
Is a spot that might tarnish my children's renown,
'Tis the laurels they win are the jewels I prize,
They're the core of my heart and the light of my eyes;
For my children are gems and crown jewels to me,
And art thou not one of them, D'Arcy McGee!

I had one son, and, oh, need I mention his name!
He who well knew where lay both our weakness and shame;
His true, tender heart sought to measure and know
This thing, most accursed, formed of babbling and woe;
And his life did he dedicate freely, to slay
The monster that made my bright children his prey;
In the place where the wine cup flows deadly and free,
The bane of the gifted, oh D'Arcy McGee.

For so well hath the father of lies tried to fling
A false glory around it, so hiding the sting,
Saying wit gets its flash, and high genius its fire,
From the fiend that drags genius and wit through the mire.
Ah! it biteth, it stingeth, it eateth away,
And our best and our brightest it takes for its prey,
'Tis the bowl of the helot, no cup for the free,
As thou very well knowest, my D'Arcy McGee.

Hast thou risen my loved one and cast from thy name
All the shadows that darken thy life with their shame;
Thou hast raised thyself up, against wind, against tide,
Thou art high, thou art honoured, my joy and my pride;
Now the song of the drunkard is chased from thy place,
And my pride is relieved from this touch of disgrace.
Thou wilt help to make Erin "great, glorious and free,"
And I bless thee my silver-tongued D'Arcy McGee.

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05 April 2015

'The Easter Parade, 1915' by Robert Stanley Weir

Lines from a century past found in Robert Stanley Weir's After Ypres and Other Verse (Toronto: Musson, 1917).

With Easter wishes from the Chaplains of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

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