Articles

THE MAN WHO'S GOING TO MAKE OUR TV

When television arrives in Canada, probably this summer, much of what comes out on the screen will come out of the bald head of a thirty-three-year-old prodigy named Mavor Moore

PIERRE BERTON May 15 1952
Articles

THE MAN WHO'S GOING TO MAKE OUR TV

When television arrives in Canada, probably this summer, much of what comes out on the screen will come out of the bald head of a thirty-three-year-old prodigy named Mavor Moore

PIERRE BERTON May 15 1952

THE MAN WHO'S GOING TO MAKE OUR TV

Articles

When television arrives in Canada, probably this summer, much of what comes out on the screen will come out of the bald head of a thirty-three-year-old prodigy named Mavor Moore

PIERRE BERTON

AMONG the fading Victorian mansions of Jarvis Street in Toronto, there is a grey shingle barn of a building which once housed new immigrants to Canada. And here, one March afternoon this year, the casual visitor might have encountered a chaotic scene. In a space not much larger than an oversize living room six performers, sweating under the glare of eighteen thousand watts of incandescent light, were going through a complicated twenty-minute routine of dancing, singing, wise-cracking and grimacing that no audience will ever see.

Here, flanking a twisting mass of cables, were settings for seven scenes: a drawing room, an apartment window, two night clubs, a travel bureau, a South American balcony and a porthole. Through these paper-thin façades, jammed around the walls like pictures at an art gallery,

probed the grey snouts of two television cameras moving silently on their rubber rollers.

Weaving in and out of the sets, ducking beneath the cameras and squirming around the tight little knot of perspiring men with earphones, three scantily clad girls in Latin costumes tripped in, did their hit and tripped out again. A woman in evening dress crawled on all fours in front of a camera, came up again, leaned against a papiermaché pillar and began to sing, in a hoarse, bouncy voice: “I’m so-o lonesome ... so very lonesome . . . yes, I’m the lonesomest gal in town.” A man in a plaid jacket squeezed behind the porthole, produced a packet of cigarettes labeled “Old Molds,” wreathed his face in an infectious grin and suddenly said: “Friends . . . don’t be misled by the claims and doubletalk made by other cigarettes . . .”

Behind a glass partition more men with earphones were talking in the strange jargon of a new medium. (“Take your applause down . . . ready for dissolve to Number Two . . .”) Altogether there were seventeen of them in the control booth and on the studio floor, all working at once to keep six performers in front of the camera. In the background were other members of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s new television department-set designers, make-up artists, carpenters, costumers, executives— all caught up by the ravenous appetite of the most complicated entertainment medium yet devised.

And on the sidelines, in a starched white shirt and bow tie, looking more like a scholar than an entertainer, stood an owlish young man with hornrimmed spectacles and hardly any hair, who will have as much to do as anyone with the shape of Canadian television to come.

If television in Canada is great, chief producer James Mavor Moore along with his immediate bosses, program director Stuart Griffiths and Toronto television director Fergus Mutrie — will get the nation’s accolade. On the other hand, if it is terrible, he will get the catcalls and rotten

apples. Moore is in charge of all English-language TV production stemming from Canada’s first television studios soon to open in Montreal and Toronto. To anyone hut a man of parts it might seem a crushing responsibility. But Moore has thus far managed to approach the frightening new monster with the same easy enthusiasm with which he has greeted the hundred and one other projects that have occupied most of his thirty-three years.

The demands that TV makes upon its servants are considerable and it is perhaps fortunate that Moore has the reputation of being what Griffiths, his puckish and brilliant immediate superior, calls “the poor man’s Leonardo da Vinci.” P'or it is undeniable that the new chief producer of CBC television has dabbled in the various arts to an astonishing degree.

Unlike radio, television needs a third dimension of sets and backdrops. Moore, if he has to, can design and paint them. He has been drawing and painting since childhood. TV requires words and music and Moore can give it both. He draws royalties from three published popular songs. TV requires dramatic experience and Moore has this by the bushel. He started his acting career at the age of five, played FalstafT at fifteen and Macbeth at sixteen, and his repertoire runs all the way from Hamlet to Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street. TV requires writing ability. Moore wrote poetry at seven and plays at ten and has written short stories, three-act dramas, radio documentaries, magazine articles, one short novel, several dozen revue sketches and a musical comedy.

Above all TV requires seasoned direction and production. Moore’s talents are such that he has been offered top jobs in television and radio by both the National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting System. He has decided instead to cast his lot with Canadian television. Now he has become part of the prehistoric era of TV in Canada, an age which will undoubtedly be looked back on with the nostalgia now reserved

ALL THESE MEN ARE MAYOR MOORE, ACTOR

for the days of the silent movies and the crystal set.

But the prehistoric period is almost ended. Already, Moore and his colleagues are moving out of the grey rabbit warren which has housed TV in Toronto for two years, and into the square steel block of the new television building. The first programs are slated to begin this August, probably in time to cast part of the Canadian National Exhibition and almost certainly in time to catch the World’s Series, if the razor-blade company which sponsors it can be persuaded that Canadians want to look, feel and he sharp. The Grey Cup football final and the hockey games will probably be telecast, too.

This remote control broadcasting, while it will provide the very marrow of early TV, poses less of a problem for chief producer Moore than the more complicated and expensive studio shows. Since January he and his colleagues have been testing studio television in all its forms and last March’s twenty-minute variety show was one of a series of experimental “dry runs.” The programs have varied all the way from a quiz program called The Seven Lively Arts to a psychological drama by playwright Len Peterson called The Kind Landlady in which the actors stepped out of their roles and discussed their own problems with a psychiatrist.

This experimentation is still going on and no one knows yet what the exact shape of TV will be in Canada. No auditions have yet been held for either writers or performers, though many are hammering at the gates. Moore spends much of his time warding them off. “I’ve got a girl does tricks with her eyes,” one woman said, plucking at his sleeve. “She’ll he a natural for TV.” Moore gently explained that the CBC wasn’t yet ready to interview performers. “Maybe I ought to take her to a doctor instead,” the woman said dubiously.

Actually, Moore won’t know until midsummer what specific programs will first go out on TV. “We have been experimenting so far with an open

George Bernard Shaw gave the name of .Moores grandfather, who was an atheist, to the Rev. James Mavor Morell in his play Candida. His Riel was

from the play by John Coulter; Slephano from The Tempest; Gayev from Chekhov s The Cherry Orchard. He was Antonovich in the Inspector General.

mind,” he said the other day, “and I think this open mind is a very important thing. It would be wrong for us to make up our minds too early about what programs we are going to do.”

He made this statement during a television clinic held recently by Mayfair magazine. Moore has found that a good deal of the prodigious extracurricular activity in which he engages is now tied to television. He has been making speeches, giving radio talks and writing magazine articles about the new medium.

Nonetheless he still finds time for other interests. He is at present blocking out a stage version of his successful radio musical The Best of All Possible Worlds, based on Voltaire’s Candide. He is researching material for a play about Sir John A. Macdonald. He is planning to do a musical comedy based on Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches. Last month he spent his holidays directing and helping to write the New Play Society’s annual musical review Spring Thaw which opened May 9 in Toronto for a minimum run of four weeks. Moore wrote some of the lyrics and scored the music. On May 24, while others head for summer cottages, Moore will chair a panel discussion at a United Nations conference on education for peace. He is vice-president of the Toronto branch of the UN association and chairman of its National Radio Committee. Somewhere along the line he may find time to paint a picture or so.

This great diversity of interests has been both an asset and a liability to Mavor Moore. Because he is always committed to do more than he has time for he is invariably late for appointments. When he was lecturing in drama at the Academy of Radio Arts, the director Lome Greene advised the students not to bother arriving for Moore’s nine-thirty period until ten to ten to avoid needless sitting around. The students, at year’s end, made a movie lampooning their instructors. Moore was presented as a man dashing across Jarvis Street with a sign on his back reading, “Sorry, I’m late.”

He could be maddening at rehearsals during the years when he acted in various CBC dramas. Moore is a man unable to sit about twiddling his thumbs. While waiting for his lines to come up he would busy himself making phone calls, working out crossword puzzles, reading magazines, designing costumes, drawing elaborate stage sets and even planning entire hypothetical productions of difficult plays. As a result, he was known to miss cues.

On the other hand, his colleagues have always appreciated his gusto and enthusiasm. “Mavor has a great glee in whatever he’s doing,” says Andrew Allen who has directed him in scores of radio plays. Allen considers him a consummate actor, especially in character parts. Moore played the title role in the thirty-two-week CBC adaptation of Pickwick Papers three years ago and dH it so well that Allen says: “It became impossible, during the show, to think of Mavor as Mavor. You could think of him only as looking like Pickwick, so much so that when you suddenly realized it was Mavor out there, it actually came as a shock.” Moore is one of the few actors whose friends cannot recognize him in radio character parts.

As an actor Moore is a fast study, and also, as he admits somewhat ruefully, “a fast forget.” His most remarkable feat was learning the title role for King Lear in three days. This was one of the productions of the New Play Society, founded by his mother Dora Mavor Moore, and the whole show was got up in ten days flat. Moore attended the initial rehearsal then fell ill with laryngitis. He didn’t appear again until the dress rehearsal, which he managed to croak his way through. Nonetheless, the show was a success.

Moore often forgets his lines on the stage -possibly because he has too many other things on his mind. Thus he has become an expert ad libber. He can ad lib in Old English and he can ad lib in iambic pentameter. During the cave scene in Lear he discovered that a stool on which he was supposed to sit was missing from its accustomed place. Without missing a beat of the Shakespearean cadence he

Con~nuedonp1A~e 73

HOW A TELEVISION SHOW LOOKS IN THE STUDIO, ON THE SCREEN

Continued from page 9

turned toward the wings and said:

Wlrere is the stool, fool?

Fetch me yonder joint stool

And you and I shall jointly sit upon’t.

Or another occasion Moore forgot his Ines completely and realized he simply must get a look at the script offstige. The scene was a cocktail party so Moore put down his glass and remarked: “I don’t know about the

rest of you, but I’ve had too much champagne.” He walked offstage and consulted his lines, picking up his next cue on time. The stratagem not only succeeded but got a laugh as well.

G. B. S. Plays a Prank

As might be expected of a man with so much on his mind, Moore’s ancestry is varied and brilliant in an eccentric sort of way. One forebear was James Watt, who invented the steam engine. Another brought the first electricity to the city of Glasgow. A third invented the three-wheeled bicycle, lost all his money and promptly made a fortune in Ceylon tea. A fourth was a missionary in India. A fifth served in the Japanese navy. Some were in the theatre and the late English playwright, James Bridie (Storm in a Teacup), was a 'cwuavTx «Æ Mv/e/rUs TivoAYveT.

But perhaps the most extraordinary member of this dynasty was Moore’s maternal grandfather, James Mavor. His close friends included George Bernard Shaw, Prince Alexander Kropotkin, William Morris, the great Fabian artist and writer, and Leo Tolstoy. Mavor was an atheist and Shaw as a

prank put him into his play Candida, where as the Rev. James Mavor Morell he has achieved a certain immortality. His grandson and namesake recently played the part in Toronto.

James Mavor’s own interests were as catholic as his grandson’s. It was he who was instrumental in bringing the Doukhobors to Canada, through the offices of Tolstoy, and he was their spokesman in this country during his lifetime. He founded the department of political economy at the University of Toronto, but it was said that he lectured in everything but economy, a failing that so enraged the history department that one young rebel tried vainly to have him suspended. The rebel turned out to he William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Mavor’s interest in the theatre was more than casual and it was he who brought the first professional theatrical troupe to the campus. The troupe was headed by Sir Philip Ben Greet and the thespians so impressed the professor's teen-age daughter Dora, that she ran away to New York to join the company and didn’t return home until she had become a leading lady.

She married a Toronto Anglican minister, the Rev. F. J. Moore and brought her three boys up in an atmosphere heady with grease paint. Mrs. Moore’s colleagues included Leo G. Carroll, Sybil Thorndyke and Sydney Greenstreet, even in those days an actor of massive bulk. On one memorable occasion, playing the banished dvike in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, he suddenly sank through the flimsy stage when Orlando entered with sword drawn. Greenstreet, his chin just resting on the table top, was unperturbed and picked up the next line without hesitation: “True is it that we have

seen better days . . .”

Young Mavor Moore got these tales

with his baby food. When he was nine his parents separated and his’ mothei brought up the boys alone in a rambling house in north Toronto crammed with spears, shields, armor, wigs, costumes and all the paraphernalia of the stage.

It was Ma vor who inherited the family taste for the theatre. (His elder brother became an aeronautical engineer and his young brother went inte the permanent army.) He played his first role at five in a missionary play which his mother took around the churches. At seven he was composing poetry and bringing home sketches that he had done while watching the D’Oyly Carte opera company. At eight he wrote his first piano composition. “Mavor has never wasted his time since the days when he was a small boy,” his mother remarked recently.

He was reading Shakespeare at nine and producing his own plays at ten in the children’s section of the Deer Park Library where he also gave lectures, for fifty cents, on the best books to select. At eleven he wrote and produced Pandora’s Box, a play in verse which he now finds ‘‘dreadfully embarrassing.”

At fourteen he got his first radio acting job and from the age of seventeen was able to support himself entirely. His first show was a radio serial called The Caruso Boys and Moore made sure it stayed on the air by garnering stacks of box tops for the breakfast food that sponsored it and shipping them in to the radio station.

Misses Own First Night

He breezed through University of Toronto Schools, a preparatory school, became literary editor of the school magazine, got a scholarship for play performances, won the chief literary prize and copped a gold medal for public speaking. In his spare time he designed sets for his mother who was teaching dramatics at Forest Hill School.

His enthusiasm for the drama was so great that his body rapidly became covered with the scars of his trade. He gashed his thumb on a bottle in Henry IV, Part I, suffered a sword thrust in The Rivals and took such a beating in Macbeth that he needed eleven stitches in his scalp. The school cheered him as he took his curtain call with blood streaming down his face.

He finished high school a year ahead of schedule simply by writing two sets of final exams in one year. He was awarded a fellowship at the University of Toronto and plunged into such a round of activity on the campus that he foundered in his first year and failed in his second, losing the award. He changed his course, repeated his year, made up the lost money with radio acting.

He went down to the Art Gallery and asked for a job to help with university fees. The curator asked him if he could type. Moore averred that he could and got the job. He rushed home, rented a typewriter and taught himself. He astonished the curator one day by wandering into the print collection and identifying a picture that had baffled four specialists. The National Gallery offered him a free education in art restoration work at the Courtauld Institute in London but a trip to EIngland that summer changed his mind.

On his first night in London Moore, thanks to his cousin Bridie, the playwright, met both John Gielgud and Dame Edith Evans, then, as now, the toasts of the West End theatre world. In the ensuing month he managed to see thirty-two plays and eleven movies. He was now irrevocably a captive of the stage.

At university he produced in two successive years plays that won the Cody Award for drama. He wrote songe and lyrics for the U. C. Follies, directed at the time by Wayne and Shuster, became editor of the University College magazine, president of the Players’ Guild and the Philosophical Society. In his final year he managed to write and act in radio, fulfill the office of resident master in English and drame at Crescent School, and head the year in his subject.

In the decade since then, Mavor Mooie has never slackened the pace. In the army he was a captain in the psychological warfare section of Intelligence. In peacetime he moved from CRC Toronto, to CRC short-wave in Momreal to CRC Vancouver. He went back to Toronto to teach radio acting and free-lance. He went to New York to work as executive producer for United Nations radio. He came back to Toronto and TV. In between he serve! without pay as general manager of his mother’s New Play Society and he his been actively associated with forty-nine of its fifty productions.

In Moore’s year as manager the society produced ten plays, five of them written by Canadians. One of these was Moore’s own Who’s Who. Rut he never saw it played. On opening night he was struck down by appendicitis and rushed to hospital for an emergency operation thus becoming, as his friend Don Harron put it, “the only playwright to have two openings in one night.”

On closing night Moore, restless in hospital, determined to see his play. He got dressed and was just putting on his coat when his heart started to pound and he passed out. He had two clots on his lung and was flat on his back for another six weeks. Many of his friends are amazed that Moore, who has been subject to more than the average number of human ailments, can maintain the pace he does. He suffers badly from sinus and his eyesight is such that he can hardly see to make himself up without glasses.

“I Was Largely Wrong ...”

Yet he is a remarkably calm man. He seldom gets angry. He seems to have none of the temperament usually associated with the creative personality. Friends who know him well say he has drilled himself to maintain this outward placidity. “Mavor is a creature of intellect,” says one. “He handles himself as he writes and as he acts—with his head, not his heart.” On the other hand, he is an optimist, an enthusiast and a romantic. His love songs are light and fluffy and somewhat sentimental. Recently Moore’s head outdid his heart in this respect and he wrote a song called Perfectly Lovely which was meant as a satire on other love lyrics. It was used in The Rest of All Possible Worlds and opened like this:

Perfectly lovely Simply divine You are so perfect I wish you were mine;

One glance in the blue At the loveliest star Convinces me you Are more perfect by far!

Moore was considerably amused to find that of all the songs in the show this one caught on best and that radio critic Gordon Sinclair called it, “as catching a ballad as ever came from the piano of a Cole Porter, Noel Coward or the great Gershwin.”

As a jack-of-all-arts Moore finds himself continually torn between the heart and the head. “I’m a bit of a schizophrenic,” he confessed the other

day. “I always feel myself pulled on one hand by the demands made on me as a responsible member of society and on the other by the desire to run away from it all and do what I want to do.”

“Mavor,” says one acquaintance, “would dearly love to wear a cape. He’d like to be a Rohemian, in the true sense.”

Rut Moore looks more like a professor than a thespian. He started to lose his hair at nineteen and at thirtythree he has to be careful that billiards players do not shoot him into a sidepocket. The baldness, plus his horn-

rimmed spectacles, give him an elderly look which has undoubtedly conditioned his personality. He wears sobtr business suits and bow ties and the onlyconcession he makes to Rohemianism is a floppy tweed hat which he alternates with a black homburg.

His expression is both quizzical and earnest and there is no doubt about the sincerity of anything he does. In a craft where omniscience is the norm, he is sometimes willing to admit hi is wrom. As director of the New Play Society on the lookout for Canadian originals he declined to produce Lister

Sinclair’s Socrates because he didn’t think it would play well. This winter a new group, Jupiter Theatre, did the play. Moore, after seeing it, sat down and wrote Sinclair a letter of congratulation: “I was largely wrong. The

play was bloody good ... it should be a lesson to me . . .”

He has brought some of this sincerity with him to television and it is shared by program director Stuart Griffiths. Griffiths and Moore worked together in Montreal for the CRC’s short-wave International Service and Moore was ‘he first man Griffiths thought of hiring

I when he was appointed to the post. Moore came at considerable financial loss (he turned down a fifteen-thou! sand-dollar-a-year television job at CBS) but as full of gusto as ever. He and Griffiths work more as a team than as junior and senior, under Fergus Mutrie whose duties are largely executive.

Moore and Griffiths have a pact that they will remain with the CBG’s television department only as long as TV is put to a serious purpose. They do not want it to follow the American pattern where so many of the programs are dominated by marching cigarettes, whirling glasses of beer and other distracting gimmicks.

There will still he a good deal of commercial advertising in Canadian television hut if Moore and Griffiths have their way, the commercial concept will not dominate programing as it tends to do in radio. They hope to he able to exert as much influence over sponsored programs as they will have over sustaining ones and it is quite likely that Canadian TV will follow the pattern of magazines and newspapers, in which program material will he prepared by the CBC, just as editorial matter is prepared by editorial staffs—and the advertisers are handed it as a fait accompli. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the CBC won’t accept good commercial shows from the U. S.

They are also determined that Canadian live talent shall not he submerged under a Niagara of Kinescope recordings from the U. S. If plans now maturing are carried through, the fee structure of Canadian television will be such that the sponsor will find it as expensive to import foreign film as to employ live talent.

No Radio With Picture

Finally, both Griffiths and Moore are insistent that television shall remain a flexible medium. They do not view it as “radio with pictures.” And although initial plans call for only two hours of TV a day, both men want to have enough elbow room to cast shows at odd hours if necessary. It’s quite possible that in the future there’ll be some TV in the afternoon, then a silent space at the meal hour, then more TV later in the evening. “That’s so people won’t be faced with the problem of tearing the kids away from the set,” Griffiths explains. Such things are still in the idea stage but they indicate that Canadian TV will proceed on its own and not on its neighbor’s terms.

Whatever the outcome in television, Mavor Moore, “the old young man,” will continue to be heard from. In his home on Blythewood Avenue in the northern residential part of Toronto, he flits from piano to television set to typewriter. His wife Dilly (for Darwina) and his five-year-old daughter Teddy (for Dorothea) decline to be astonished at the spectacle of fivepronged genius at work. Dilly Moore, who got to know her husband when both were playing with his mother’s Village Players, is a costume designer on the side. As for young Teddy, she has announced that she intends to be a cowgirl, a nurse, a hopscotch dancer and an under-water ballet dancer all at the same time.

Moore looks on this latest evidence of the family talent for diversity with fatherly indulgence. “She sties no conflict whatsoever between the simultaneous pursuit of these careers,” he remarks of his daughter. Undoubtedly the day will come when the daughter, who has already shown signs of the Moore precocity, will make a similar remark about her old man. ★