There are, as we know, highly endangered species on the planet Earth. There is the duckbill platypus. And the three-toed wombat. There is the honest public relations man. Not to mention the politician who knows how to make a 20minute speech. Most rare, however, is the Fiftyish Professional Bachelor, a cherished specimen that should be preserved in aspic and—as anthropologists of sexology will attest—must be mourned when it passes from existence.
There was one such passing last week, the demise of one of the flowers of the breed. Craig Oliver, the burbling presence of Canada AM and CTV Ottawa bureau chief, bit the dust. Went to his fate. Walked down the aisle, thereby cancelling bets in every press club in Canada, astonishing not only himself but his bride and her parents,who had almost given up hope.
Those of us who attended the fateful ceremonies (mainly worried about our bets) applauded the nervous groom’s final ability to chew the bullet. It was Dr. Johnson who said the definition of a second marriage was the triumph of hope over experience, but Craig, white of face in terror, marched into the teeth of hell with good humor, knowing that the honest dollars of our transcontinental bets rested with him.
My favorite Craig Oliver story (of which there are 1,000) is when he was a young radio announcer in Prince Rupert, from which he whelped. His mother, who was then driving a taxi, was cruising the docks one day when up pulls this humongous white yacht and, staggering down the gangplank, come who else but Bing Crosby and Phil Harris. They went up the B.C. coast every summer, salmon fishing.
Craig’s mother waltzed them around on their chores, the liquor store and other vital matters, and allowed to them that her tender little boy worked at the local station and if they dropped by, pretending to know him, it would speed his progress to stardom. Of course, said the besotted Hollywood twosome. They walked into the station and the station’s staff goes mouth agape. Guess what? It is Craig’s
day off. “It took me five more years to get out of that God damned town,” he remembers.
The way to measure a man is by his friends. Oliver’s buddies are all here, the men he takes every summer on an arduous canoeing expedition through uncharted rivers in the Canadian North. His boss at CTV, Tim Kotcheff. Denis Harvey, a CBC vice-president. Ted Johnson, a former Pierre Trudeau aide. David Silcox, a deputy minister in the Ontario cultural ménage. One P. Trudeau Himself went on one of the hazardous jaunts. It is evidence of Oliver’s reach that the canoe clan involves two other guests—John Macfarlane, Financial Times editor, and his now-rival John Godfrey, editor of the Financial Post.
It is, the recurring joke of the festivities over the champagne toasts, “the world’s longestplanned marriage”—as one of the telegrams phrased it. Oliver, whose hair is receding more rapidly than his wit, claimed that he proposed
just two years ago—on a beach in Tahiti, at midnight, under a full moon, on her birthday, with a ring bought at Tiffany’s.
The beauteous Anne-Marie—than which there has not been a more stunning bride this annum—in her speech said that was a palpable lie. It was, in fact, 27 months, and the wedding dress had been mouldering for two years and was in imminent danger of disintegration. There was a telegram from a Mulroney, and Kotcheff, as best man and emcee, reminded the groom that the 100 assembled guests should not be regarded as onlookers but as witnesses.
Among the assembled was longtime friend the elegant Iona Campagnolo, another Prince Rupert native. “She’s sent me a cheque every month for years,” the groom told the champagne drinkers, “in return for not revealing that she was ahead of me in high school.”
The best thing, aside from the wit, was the setting: the McLean House on the grounds of Sunnybrook Hospital, it being the pleasant, oak-filled mansion of meat baron J. S. McLean. A “house built on baloney,” as someone present mentioned, mindful of all the media guests.
My second favorite Craig Oliver story is that when he first took up his Washington posting seven years ago before recently abandoning it for Ottawa, the hottest rock jock in town was a teenage idol by name of Craig Oliver. Our lad, introduced at parties, was immediately swooned over—since no one ever knows what a radio personality looks like. Once back in his pad, they discovered the truth, that this was an unknown Canadian and not the real thing. And then? “Not to worry, they had half their clothes off by then anyway.”
His father once gave him some very good advice. It was that whenever he sat down to a poker game, look around, because there was always one sucker at the table. If he couldn’t pick him out, get up and walk away—he was obviously the sucker.
Craig’s son has flown in from Israel for the wedding, a young man with an exceedingly intelligent and sensitive face. There are tons of women, all giggling as the men still exchange bets, the odds shortening, 20 minutes before the march up the aisle is to begin. Much at discussion is the proposal that some wives are actually to be allowed at next summer’s pistol-brandishing, polar-bear-dangerous expedition to the frigid waters of some arctic river.
The groom can portage with a horrendous pack on his back and a canoe on his head and mix martinis by the light of a fire—but can he take out the garbage?
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