HOW TO COCK A SNOOT AND LIVE, LIVE, LIVE

NICHOLAS STEED August 20 1966

HOW TO COCK A SNOOT AND LIVE, LIVE, LIVE

NICHOLAS STEED August 20 1966

HOW TO COCK A SNOOT AND LIVE, LIVE, LIVE

A nondescript little man, name of Richard J. Needham, is the expert nonpareil. Call him wizard or weirdo, his daily newspaper column of fables, waspish wisdom and homespun anarchy attracts worshipping women, admiring teenagers and bemused Establishmentarians by the thousands. Funny thing about Needham—he practises what he preaches

NICHOLAS STEED

THERE'S THIS SMASHING-looking girl sitting demurely on the subway minding her own business when suddenly up jumps a nondescript little bespectacled man and — just like that, right out of the blue—he thrusts a bunch of flowers into her hands. Holy white slavers! She blushes deep red, crosses her legs defensively and seconds later, leaps out at the next stop.

Back in his seat, the little man grins fiendishly and glances around for his next victim. Likely enough she too won't recognize her assailant— none other than the great Rudolph J. Needleberry, alias Richard J. Needham, daily columnist-extraordinary of the Toronto Globe and Mail; and, according to the way you want to look at him, saint, pervert, moralist, genius, sage and philosopher, sex maniac and weirdo, Pied Piper of youth, Aesop of our times, or as he sometimes puts it himself, just plain old creep.

His daily column of fables, Needhamisms, homespun cynicism and anarchy is at its best probably the most brilliant feature in Canadian daily journalism. At their normal, preposterous worst, the views he preaches conflict with just about every professed standard of the Canadian Way of Life. And his own personal life would be considered by most people to be totally scandalous.

Yet here he is, six times a week in Canada’s

most respected conservative newspaper; here he is with a fantastic regular following of readers, mainly women and teenagers; at 54, the idol of the working girl; the Don Quixote of suburbia; the Don Giovanni of the Honey Dew restaurants.

To tens of thousands of his readers he’s nothing less than the leading apostle of the New' Morality; the high priest of that nebulous mishmash of ideas which to most people means simply that you should do what you want to do—and to hell with convention and tradition.

He jumps off the subway train at King Street and, cackling happily, scuttles along toward the Globe building, a slight, sensitive figure clad in an old tweed sportscoat, chain-smoking and exuding this extraordinary nervous energy.

Up in his small, monastic cubicle of an office, he starts the day by grabbing the phone to talk to readers who are calling in, all the while scribbling down notes on little bits of paper. His secretary, Francie Kealy, flits in and out with coffee, cigarettes, and flowers — he hands out about $1,500 worth a year — “my way of restoring the art of making affectionate gestures.” Francie is 19, a high-school dropout with long, long hair and a pretty face and a way of saying “Yeah?” very quizzically. She can’t type well, but she’s very good at fetching cigarettes, coffee and flowers.

"Yes, yes,” Needham is saying into the phone. “You've got to come to one of my Saturday brunches . . . biggest floating brothel in Toronto . . . yes, tomorrow, basement of the Lord Simcoe Hotel. Francie, sweetie, look in my diary, what am 1 doing this afternoon—ah—I’m going to Oshawa to hold hands with a girl in the park, we’re going to drink wine, read poetry and tell outrageous lies. But tomorrow morning why don’t you join

AND LIVE

, LIVE, LIVE

me for breakfast, I'm giving a speech to a convention ...”

At 7.45 a.m. the next day, we wait for Needham. Francie and 1, while the convention delegates stagger bleary-eyed into the palatial blueand-gold conference room of a Toronto motel. One of the officials paces up and down outside peering for the cab.

"This Needham.” he says, “boy, were we lucky to get him. I mean, what a writer. Tell me, does he really wear secondhand clothes? And live in a Chinese rooming house? Boy, my wife thinks he’s great . . .”

Suddenly here he is, clutching an old straw' shopping basket, the pockets of his tattered coat bulging with notes for his speech.

The delegates nurse their hangovers over coffee, and the man at the head table says. “Ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Richard J. Needham of the Globe and Mail . . .” He stands up and pushes his sunglasses to the top of his head amid a smattering of applause and a clinking of cutlery.

“I’ve a great interest in what 1 call one-liners,” he says, as he sorts out a dozen or so bits of paper, old envelopes, cigarette packages. “The sort of thing you might hear at a cocktail party, or maybe the ladies’ rest room at Eaton's. This is the sort of thing . . .

“BOAC took such good care of me my wife's suing for divorce.” There’s a faint titter from the back of the room. Most of the delegates merely look astonished. “I'm nothing if not patriotic, and I’m not patriotic,” he says.

There’s silence, and Francie says quietly, "This is what he’s going to refer to afterwards as a creepy audience.”

But Needham ploughs ahead: “The trouble with taking out librarians is that you have to return them in 14 days ... A Canadian is a man who puts his empties in someone else's garbage can . . . If a man stays away from his wife for seven years the law presumes the separation to have killed him; yet. according to our daily experience, it might well prolong his life.”

Now the audience is with it. and him. and they're laughing and the early-morning hangover gloom is lifting.

"One has this awful choice in husbands,” he’s saying. “Too true to be good, or too good to be true . . . When will Toronto men discover that a fully-dressed woman across the table is more interesting than a naked one up on the stage? . . . A man's annoyance when he discovers his wife having an affair is exceeded only by his astonishment that anybody finds her attractive . . . Ah, it’s marvelous being a woman in Toronto. You get to meet so many interesting women.”

He sits down to hearty applause and several women immediately surround him. “Oh, Mr. Needham, Eve always wanted to meet you but you don’t look a bit like I expected ...”

The convention chairman offers to pay for Needham’s cab and. to please the man, Needham takes it as far as the subway. Here, packed among the sweating strap-hangers, he feels he can relax. “These are the real people,” he says. “Not the bloody politicians and / continued on page 31

continued on page 31

£6

ON MARRIAGE: Marriage is

a romance in which the hero dies in the first chapter.

ON WOMEN: You will never

understand women until you realize that physically, psychologically, or both, their underwear is held up with safety pins.

ON MATING: Every girl's

looking for two men—one to take home to her parents, and the other to take home.

ON POLITICS: You begin to understand world history when you realize that the qualities needed to obtain power are the precise opposite of those needed to use it wisely.

ON EDUCATION: Our social, economic, political and educational system has accomplished something which no system ever accomplished in the world before. It produces young people who are bored.

ON CANADA: Canada is a country where a dirty story is one dealing with some manifestation of human love.

RICHARD NEEDHAM continued from page 19

continued from page 19

“One of the world’s lon3^ anyone says or

thinks about me”

big businessmen who're too concerned about their images to be human. The waitresses, the secretaries, the girls who sell flowers, the housewives — they’re what count...”

He gets off at Wellesley station on the fringe of downtown Toronto and enters his home of several years— Mrs. Chin’s $12-a-week Chinese ¡rooming house. His dingy little room is furnished in contemporary Salvation Army and he takes a fierce pride in its semi-squalor. “I can’t preach the simple doctrine unless I do it myself,” he says. “Anyway, I have lots of loneliness up here when I want to, which is essential for a writer—hell, what else does anyone need anyway?” He rummages around in a massive old steel filing cabinet which dominates half of the room, finds what he wants, and heads back on the subway to his office.

Francie has been busy; large sheets of paper are pinned on the wall scrawled with such messages as DEATH 70 DOYLE and DOYLE IS A CREEP. Doyle, the editor of the Globe and Mail, turns up frequently in Needham’s columns as Dietrich Doppelgänger, a sort of sinister bête noire who’s always reminding Needleberry of his human fallibility. Today Doyle was foolish enough to send Needham a memo congratulating him on a column.

The result was this massive retaliation. “Can't understand memos,” says Needham to no one in particular. “Keep telling people I've discovered a fantastic alternative means of communication—the human voice—but they don’t understand.”

The phone rings. “Yup,” he says. “Hi! How are you! Yep, yep, yep. Okay. ’Bye.” He puts down the phone. “That’s my wife Mavis. In this damn world the first thing anyone wants to know is. Are you married? So I’ll tell you. I've been married 30 years but I've been separated now for years. We still have a good relationship and I go and see her often.”

The three children of the marriage are now grown up. One son is 27 and runs a finance company’s branch office in the Maritimes; the other son is 19 and a student in Toronto; the daughter is 30 and a nurse, also in Toronto.

“Yeah!” he says, “one of the loneliest places in the world can be a double bed. Most people don’t grow old together, they just grow old.

“I know lots of women, I always have. I’ve known some of them for 25, 30 years. Yes, friends. Hell,

people want to flatter me. I'm 54 years old. Some woman called me up the other day and asked me my age. I told her and she simply said, ‘My God,' and hung up. And money, that’s the other question they always ask. I just take what the Globe gives me and I give most of it to my family. Even so, what's left over is more than I need. Hell, a library card costs 10 cents, and $25 a week is ample.”

It wasn’t always that way. Needham grew up in grinding Dublin poverty; his parents were so poor they used newspaper for tablecloths and. as a result, he learned to read before he

great. He's got a number of the g.sbötiS' ranging from hiring an and ^ to wr*te tbc name of the be-

schoE 'n S^’ t0 Proiect'në their .‘e on the back of Toronto's new

did w*13" at N°w weaves

. . into his column, referring all out tc , . . ... ,

. , me to his extensive lues, where

, .oards thousands of snippets of worki

went

news stories, philosophical quotes, thoughts, observations and pretty well anything that catches his fancy.

“I'm usually just a couple of columns ahead,” he says. "But in my mind — my real bank — I'm 100 or so at least ahead.”

He’s preparing to leave for the day now—for his evening rounds of

wandering the streets, taking girls out to meals in cheap restaurants, and the loneliness of the rooming house.

“You know,” he says, “I don’t give a damn what anyone says about me or thinks about me. But there’s one thing I sometimes hope isn’t true about me. and that’s that I’m a phony. I'm just a man living his life the best he can and the way he wants to and I'm not lousing up anyone else's life, which is more than most people can say.” ★