THE DAY that sixteen-year-old Marilyn Bell swam across Lake Ontario was a cold, sunny ninth of September. The small, tousle-haired Toronto schoolgirl swam forty miles from a log retaining wall in Youngstown, New York, to a slimy concrete breakwater off Sunny side, Toronto’s merry-go-round area, and thereby collected for herself whatever immortality awaits pioneer marathon swimmers, plus approximately $50,000 in contracts, prizes and gifts from Canadians who were moved by her courage.
While the lustre of her achievement cannot suffer, the swim will be best remembered by those who watched it firsthand for the petulance and undignified bickering of the officials around it and for the weird newspaper war it provoked between the Toronto Star and the Toronto Telegram. No other human interest event in Canada since the Moose River mine disaster has stirred a reading and listening public so deeply and no other event has had such a bizarre and hectic setting for its drama.
At one point, with the girl’s heavy, aching arms flogging the water between them, and her brain almost unconscious with exhaustion, a Canadian National Exhibition official and Marilyn’s trainer engaged in a sharp, shouted debate over the most advantageous spot for her to land; at another point, Star and Telegram reporters pushed and connived for possession of the stretcher and ambulance that would carry the pale, shaking swimmer from the dock. Every now and then, rarely and wonderfully, someone showed real concern for Marilyn Bell.
Marilyn’s swim had been planned by the Canadian National Exhibition sports committee as a crowd-drawing spectacle to demonstrate the prowess of Florence Chadwick, a 34-year-old American considered by many to be the world’s greatest woman swimmer. The CNE paid Miss Chadwick a $2,500 advance of the $10,000 she was to collect if she succeeded in swimming the lake.
Two Canadian swimmers, Winnie Roach Leuszler, 28, who had swum the English Channel three years before, and Marilyn Bell, 16, dove into the lake behind Miss Chadwick to demonstrate something or other to themselves and their friends. Neither expected any reward if she failed but Mrs. Leuszler had hopes that a large hat would be passed among CNE spectators if she succeeded. Marilyn Bell, who was the first woman to complete a 25-mile swim eight weeks before off Atlantic City, expected nothing.
The expenses of both Canadian swimmers, including a $700-a-day rental for the two boats to shepherd them across the lake, were being paid by the Toronto Star, which could not fail to cause havoc on the other two Toronto papers, the archrival Telegram and the morning Globe and Mail. Marilyn’s coach Gus Ryder had offered the Telegram an opportunity to sponsor his swimmer at the same time as the Star but the paper refused.
None of the imperfections in the drama of the race were evident around four o’clock in the afternoon of the day it happened, when Toronto learned that Marilyn was the only swimmer left in the lake. Half-hour bulletins on two Toronto radio stations, CKEY and CKFH, relaying broadcasts from boats beside the swimmer, suddenly whipped the city into a frenzy of excitement. The highly vaunted Flo Chadwick had been pulled out of the water, sick and retching, at four-thirty in the morning; strong, heavily built Winnie Leuszler had quit in agony from cramps ten hours after her second start. A five-foot-one, 119-pound child was still swimming seventeen hours after entering the water at Youngstown, New York.
Offices began to empty and a traffic jam formed between downtown Toronto and the grandstand the CNE had built overlooking the lake. Radios everywhere were tuned to those stations which offered live coverage. Toronto’s two publicly owned CBC stations, which had remained aloof from the swim, began frantically to pirate news bulletins. Marilyn Bell’s Grade XII classmates at Loretto College School, who had been fretting through History, Latin, Geometry and French, had already been dismissed in the middle of Chemistry so they could buy flowers and take them down to the lakefront to meet Marilyn.
In the CNE’s press building near the lake phones were jingling. One report, from an air-force navigator, claimed that Marilyn was five miles out; another, from the official press boat Ned Hanlan, claimed two miles. Most people preferred to believe the press boat.
Down at the lakefront several thousand people were gathering on the plank seats of the grandstand. Most were in summer clothes, with their arms crossed over their chests to keep off the cold wind from the lake. A hoarse voice on the public address system was intoning a description of a water skier performing between the breakwater and the shore. “Watch him, watch him, ladies and gentlemen. See how beautiful the boat rides. He’s still on a single ski but in a minute you’ll see ...”
“They’ve got a lot of nerve, putting on skiing now!” said a fat lady in a polka-dot dress indignantly as she pushed her way to the wire fence at the water’s edge and squinted at the horizon.
Far out on the grey water was a smudge that some people thought was a group of boats. A newsboy cried: “Read all about it— Marilyn only an hour away!” Pink flares, sent up by the CNE, cracked high in the sky to guide the swimmer in. A pink Telegram fluttered in the stiffening wind. “2 MILES TO GO!” screamed the headline.
Beside one of the grandstands was a floating wooden dock and a small square of lawn fenced off and guarded by policemen. Inside, reporters, cameramen, CNE officials and television crews were milling around in a swelling excited babble of conversation. Fragments of talk spilled over the fence.
“I just talked to a guy who’s got a brand-new thousand-dollar bill he’s going to give Marilyn,” said Dave Price, a radio and television sports commentator. “Everyone wants to give her something.”
The donor, a jeweler named Ernest Fine, was showing the bill to some reporters being careful to hold it firmly. “It’s the first one of the new bills,” he announced. The reporters admired the bill, cherry pink with a pastoral landscape on the reverse side.
“I hear,” said the Telegram’s sports editor Bobby Hewitson, “that the Sportsmen’s Show is giving her $500 and somebody else too I forget who”
“Diamond Taxi is giving her a thousand,” Price broke in.
“I’m giving her $500 myself,” a former politician named Fred Hamilton saying with emotion. “I just thought it was wonderful that she is making this swim for Canada. That little Canadian girl is just showing them that, we ... ”
“You wouldn’t even give me a quarter to jump into Lake Simcoe,” interrupted his wife.
“All marathoners now swim the Australian crawl,” former Canadian diving champion Alfie Phillips was explaining to a feverishly scribbling girl reporter. “It’s a full overarm combined with the beat of the feet, six or eight beats for every circle of the arms. Flutter kick. Develops muscles in the shoulders and legs.”
A small man sat near the fence and listened, a lump working in his cheek from the sandwich he was eating.
“I wanted to get Marilyn for my swim show here at the Ex, but she was busy training,” continued Phillips, examining the smudge on the horizon through binoculars. “When those boats get a little closer I’m gonna go out there and see if I can make a deal to have her appear tomorrow night. Give her a good fee and maybe a percentage of the gross, if I have to.”
The little man got up when Phillips moved away. “That’s the way it goes,” he said softly. “I’ve got a dog act and everywhere I go the SPCA is on my neck: ‘Don’t work the dogs too hard . . . Feed them properly . . . Where are they sleeping?’ Big deal to take good care of dogs! But they put a sixteen-year-old kid in the water and tell her to swim forty miles and everyone cheers. Do you get my point?”
Rumors of the brewing newspaper battle kept Telegram reporters at the lakefront anxious. Marilyn was known to be accompanied by Star boats and it seemed likely that an attempt would be made when she landed to keep her away from the Telegram. One story had it that a Star launch would pick her out of the water as soon as she touched shore and take her to a hiding place. The Telegram hired an Ambulance to stand by and planned to have stretcher-bearers hustle her from the water when she touched the CNE jetty. They would take her to a Telegram hiding place. In the meantime the Telegram printed 3,000 extras with the headline MARILYN DOES IT! and hid them near the grandstand, to he sold as soon as Marilyn arrived. The Star had 10,000 extras, with the headline MARILYN MAKES IT!, hidden in Star trucks around the CNE grounds.
A loudspeaker blared “Marilyn Bell has been pushed west by the strong wind . . . for every hundred yards north she swims, the waves push her two hundred west but she’s still in the water!”
George Duthie, CNE sports director, pushed through reporters as he climbed out of a motorboat.
“I’ve just seen her,” he said gloomily. “She’s in bad shape. She’ll never make it.”
Seven miles out in the lake, across choppy water being blown almost parallel to the shore, Marilyn Bell was ready to quit for the fourth time. She was treading water, swimming two strokes and stopping to tread water again. She could sometimes see the grey shoreline past the heaving waves and for hours it hadn’t been getting any closer.
By now she had been in the water eighteen hours. Florence Chadwick’s contract with the CNE had permitted her to pick her own time to make the swim. This meant that she also picked Marilyn’s starting time and Winnie Leuszler’s. Both Canadians had envisioned the swim as a race and they wanted to start at the same time as Florence Chadwick and touch Canada ahead of her. Miss Chadwick announced at nine o’clock Wednesday night that she would start at 10.30. Marilyn Bell, who hadn’t slept all day, promptly climbed into the loose black silk-and-nylon suit distance swimmers always wear; it’s low under the arms and high over the legs to reduce friction. The suit bore the crest of the Toronto Lakeshore Swimming Club and had two-inch-wide elastic straps over the shoulders. Jack Russell, a professional boatman who was to operate the outboard motor on the lifeboat that would guide Marilyn, gave her a lucky four-leaf clover and she wrapped it in wax paper, put it on top of her blond, boyishly cut hair and pulled a white-rubber shower cap over it . She was ready.
At eleven o’clock Florence Chadwick, escorted by a detachment of U. S. soldiers, had emerged from a U. S. Coast Guard building, walked sternly through reporters and Youngstown citizens who had collected in a drenching rain and slipped feet first into the water. She began swimming immediately, a strong, beautiful stroke that invoked cheers. Marilyn watched her as a spotlight followed her in the black water, then she slipped off her robe, kissed her parents good-by, walked to the edge of the Coast Guard lawn and dove off the retaining wall. It was 11.07.
Marilyn started off rapidly, like a sprint swimmer. Her simple purpose was to get ahead of Chadwick, and stay there. For a while the searchlights shone on the two women, joined a few minutes later by Winnie Leuszler, and then they were lost in the blackness of the night.
This was the part of the swim Marilyn had dreaded most, swimming in darkness for the first time in her life. Ahead of her she could see only the flashlight held in her tender by Gus Ryder, her trainer and the outstanding swimming coach in the country. She had said earlier, “If I feel an eel on me, I’ll scream!” but when the first eel, a little one eight inches long, struck her stomach and hung there she kept calm and punched it off with her fist. In the next few hours three more clamped to her thigh and she beat them off without any hysteria. Ahead of her, beyond the falling and climbing water, was the white pencil line of a CNE searchlight that burned all night as a guide to the swimmers.
What Gus Ryder later called the crisis came around four in the morning, at almost the same time that Florence Chadwick quit swimming. Marilyn, exhausted from fighting the twelve foot-high waves, stopped swimming and looked pleadingly at Ryder. “I’m cold, I’m numb,” she called in her light child’s voice.
“Marilyn,” Ryder shouted back, “you’ve swum all night and that’s really great. If you can do that you can do the rest. In another hour the sun will come up and it will be really nice.” He fastened a paper cup into a ring at the end of a six-foot stick, poured corn syrup into the cup and passed it to the girl. She stood in the water, treading lightly to keep afloat. She sipped the nourishing drink and tried not to cry. Ryder didn’t offer to take her out of the water and after a moment she let the paper cup float away in the darkness and started swimming again.
When dawn came Marilyn was fourteen miles into the lake. Ten feet away from her was the 24-foot lifeboat Mipepa, steered by Jack Russell, carrying Gus Ryder, a Star reporter-photographer named George Bryant, and a thirteen-year-old boy, Peter Willinsky, whose father owned the boat. Some distance away, and well behind the Mipepa, was the parent yacht Mona IV with Marilyn’s parents and Star reporters and photographers aboard.
As the sky lightened, everyone in the lifeboat was shocked by Marilyn’s appearance. Her normally pretty and gay face was haggard, the muscles around her mouth slack and her eyes glassy. She said later, “My arms were tired, my legs ached, my stomach hurt in one big awful pain and I couldn’t get my breath. I wanted to quit. When it gets to your stomach, marathoners say, you’re through.” For more than an hour she had been swimming with her arms alone, dragging her legs motionless in the water behind her.
George Bryant noticed that she was crying and found himself crying too. “If it had been my decision,” he later told friends, “I’d have got her out of there right then.”
Ryder passed Marilyn more corn syrup, but her hand was shaking so much the cup spilled into the water. Next he passed her some liniment he had scooped out of a jar and dropped in a paper cup. Under his direction, she rolled over on her back and rubbed her legs with the liniment. She continued to cry.
“Swim over here, Marilyn,” Ryder called. “We’ll take you out.”
The girl began to swim and Ryder watched her closely, noticing that her legs were moving again. “Pull away, Jack,” he ordered. Jack Russell moved the throttle and the boat moved away from Marilyn. She kept on swimming, still crying.
“That’s a bad sign,” Ryder told Bryant softly. “If she keeps on crying, I’ll have to take her out.” After a while she stopped crying and as the sun began to climb she was swimming strongly.
More Boats and More Men
The nautical phase of the battle between the Toronto Star and the Toronto Telegram began a few blind later. The cold war had been joio the Youngstown, where the Star had. He yachts, at $350 a day each; the their was the 52-foot Mona IV, own vic. Dr. Bernard Willinsky, which had once delegated to follow Marilyn. Then add to gram had one boat, Jay Bee II,and an was much smaller than any c The Star’s fleet, a class distinction whom Telegram felt acutely. In addition week, Star never had fewer than twder. reporters and photographers in Yountown and sometimes as many as twenty: the Telegram started with six and on the night the swim began was down to three.
In Youngstown, Telegram reporters discovered that Marilyn Bell and Winnie Leuszler were living aboard the yachts rented by the Star. Because of rough weather, Miss Chadwick delayed the swim from Monday until Wednesday night, leaving 48 hours for the tension between the two factions to mount. Telegram reporters stood watch on the Star boats and were afraid the swim had started every time either of the swimmers slipped into the water for a dip. It was small consolation that Star reporters were occupied chiefly with housekeeping problems, such as shopping for groceries. Winnie Leuszler brought with her nine relatives, who lived with her aboard the yacht Norlaine, hired by the Star.
The Star, on the other hand, was having its own problems with CNE officials who had promised Florence Chadwick that her swim would be an exhibition, not a race. The officials, particularly George Duthie, the sports director, tried to persuade the Canadians not to spoil the arrangements. “That lake is no place for a youngster,” Duthie told the Star indignantly.
On Tuesday night the Telegram planned a harassing action and roared their boat past the silent Star boats into the darkness at the mouth of the Niagara River. They popped off camera flashbulbs and were repaid by the spectacle of Star reporters, in great agitation, racing around the decks of their boats.
On Wednesday a Telegram photographer making a routine patrol of the Star boats on the jetty ran into a Columbus, O., distance swimmer named Jerry Kerschner, who remarked dolefully that if he had a boat to accompany him he’d swim the lake himself.
The Telegram, delighted to have a swimmer to follow at last, and one all its own, had Kerschner greased and in the water half an hour later, stroking determinedly for Toronto. Kerschner thus became the first human ever to make a serious attempt to swim Lake Ontario.
“We meant him to be a one-edition wonder,” a Telegram reporter explained later. “Swim a few hours, long enough to beat the Star’s noon edition, and then come out so our boat could go back and wait for the girls again.”
Kerschner, a gallant swimmer who three years ago won the ten-mile CNE marathon, lasted eight hours and fifteen minutes. “I don’t think anyone can swim that lake,” he told the Telegram’s Bob Hesketh. “Certainly not a woman. Why, it will tear that little girl’s heart out.”
Kerschner had gone more than halfway across the lake when he quit, so the Telegram took him to Toronto, the nearest port, and arrived there just as Chadwick left Youngstown. Telegram reporters stranded at Youngstown didn’t become water-borne until dawn, when they managed to crowd aboard the CNE’s press boat Ja-Su and charter another boat, the Commander, from Hamilton. They began looking for swimmers.
The swimmer easiest to find was Winnie Leuszler, who was sitting on the dock at Youngstown wrapped in a blanket. In the excitement of the swim, Winnie had mistaken another boat’s lights for her own and half an hour after the start found herself entirely alone in Lake Ontario. Her father, pulling fiercely at the oars of the rowboat that was to be her tender, was some distance away shouting “Winnie! Where are you?” into the darkness. Mrs. Leuszler hailed a passing motorboat and decided to return to the dock and wait for daylight to start again. She dove in for the second time at 6.30 and I lasted until 3.50.
As dawn broke, Star and Telegram boats crossed paths as they attempted to find the ferryboat that Florence Chadwick had hired to follow her. They could find no trace of it. Four hours after Chadwick had been pulled from the water, both newspapers discovered her at the National Yacht Club in Toronto. After that it was Marilyn’s swim, with Winnie not a serious contender.
At eight in the morning the naval engagement between the two newspapers began when the Telegram contingent aboard the CNE press boat Ja-Su decided to get their first close-up pictures of Marilyn in the water. They found the schoolgirl, swimming strongly beside the lifeboat Mipepa with Jack Russell at the helm. Gus Ryder was crouched beside him and red-haired George Bryant, legs astride and camera in hand, was standing in the middle. Flanking the Mipepa snugly were two Star yachts, Mona IV and Manana III.
The Ja-Su, carrying four Telegram reporters and photographers, was powded to the rear by Marilyn’s. A dinghy was lowered with the lifeboat photographers and rowed to within péarara distance of the swimmer. Later, face the Telegram’s second boat, her meander, with two reporters and a She saw photographer aboard, found the flotilla, my legs grew shorter. The Telegram big avt to wriggle between the Star breat) and there was talk of ramming. A gets on the Mona IV threw a pop you're at the Commander, missing a hoiysreel photographer by inches. The Manana and the Ja-Su lightly collided. The Star later explained that its boats had been trying to protect Marilyn Bell from “eager fools in powerboats” who were jeopardizing her safety.
The water temperature, which can be a bitter 50 even on a late summer day, kept between 60 and 70, the only break the lake gave Marilyn that day. Though her navigators were unaware of it at first currents were pushing her west of Toronto. Towards noon the waves began to quiet.
At 10.30 Ryder noticed Marilyn tiring again. He scribbled on a blackboard the news he’d been saving for such a crucial moment: “FLO IS OUT.” He held the board so she could read it. Marilyn, delighted to learn she had outlasted the world’s greatest woman swimmer, swam with renewed vigor. When she faltered again, towards noon, Ryder wrote some more notes in chalk: “SWIM FOR ME” and “DON’T LET THE CRIPPLED KIDS DOWN.” Marilyn stared at the notes, put her face in the water and began swimming again. Her stomach was a steady pain and her legs ached.
Gus Ryder, who has trained almost all the new crop of young Canadian marathon swimmers, is better known in Toronto for his passionate devotion to teaching handicapped people to swim, which helps to minimize most afflictions. His Lakeshore Swimming Club has three hundred crippled and blind students with lifetime passes to the pool where they get free lessons. He teaches boys with polio to use their withered arms and cerebral palsy victims to control their legs. He once taught a fifteen-month-old child to swim the length of the pool and an armless woman to swim a mile. The reminder of these students, whom Marilyn helps to teach once a week, kept her moving in the water. Ryder refers to his chalked notes to Marilyn as “blackboard psychology.”
In Toronto, CNE President Robert Saunders announced that since Florence Chadwick was out of the water, forfeiting $7,500, any swimmer who finished would get “a substantial amount of money.”
Around four o’clock in the afternoon the Star boats heard the news on their radios that Winnie Leuszier was out of the water and that Saunders had announced Marilyn would get $7,500 the balance of the Chadwick fee—if she finished.
It seemed doubtful, to everyone but Ryder, that she could finish. She had been in the water for seventeen hours and she hadn’t slept in thirty-one hours. The Toronto Harbor Co* 1 «sion, concerned that she might before anyone could reach her, c two dinghies into the water with guards at the oars and they be row beside her, watching her st As she swam, relaxing her arm was in the air and pulling it through the water, relaxing then and pulling, relax and pull and kick, kick, kick, she began ... asleep. During the Atlantic City she had hummed O Canada and Happy Wanderer to break the .. ony; this swim she hadn’t fr ,. humming at all. The voices in the... began to seem far away.
“Marilyn! Marilyn!’’ shrieking Ryder. She opened her eyes and read the blackboard he was holding: “7,500 IF YOU FINISH.” Her heavy bloodshot eyes read the figure $750. “I’ll split it with you, Gus,” she called. “Never mind that, honey,” said the 56-year-old trainer, choking up. “You just finish.”
Earlier it had struck Ryder and Bryant that Marilyn needed extra encouragement. They asked the Mona IV to locate Marilyn’s best friend, a tow-headed member of the Lakeshore Club named Joan Cooke. One of the Star boats hurried to Toronto, picked up Joan and manoeuvred a few hundred yards from the Mipepa. There was no small boat to take Joan across, so she stripped off her shoes, jacket and watch and dove into the water wearing a blouse and knee-length slacks. Ryder and George Bryant pulled her into the Mipepa and she stood in the boat, shivering in her wet clothes and yelling, “Atta girl, Marilyn.” Bryant remembered his duty to his newspaper and took a picture of Joan as she was hauled into the boat; it was the last picture he took that day as the anguish of rooting Marilyn home blotted out everything else. He neglected entirely to keep a notebook. He and Ryder and Russell stayed awake twenty-one hours in an open boat and forgot their own weariness to such a degree that it occurred to none of them to open the gallon Thermos of coffee someone had provided. They ate nothing.
The summoning of Joan Cooke turned out to be fine strategy. Towards five o’clock Marilyn began to falter again, clawing the water with no strength. Her legs no longer hurt they had no feeling at all but the pain in her stomach was steady. Ryder asked Joan to jump in and swim beside Marilyn.
"I can’t swim in slacks and a blouse,” she protested.
“'Take them off,” suggested Ryder.
Joan looked around at the twenty large and small boats fanned out behind the Mipepa most of them were festooned with photographers, their collars turned up and their hands gripping cameras. "They won’t take a picture of you,” Bryant assured her.
Joan looked quickly at the two husky, tanned young lifeguards in the dinghies a few feet away. The guards began to study the horizon closely. Joan pulled off her clothes and dove into the water in her panties and a brassiere.
The splash of her dive woke Marilyn, who had been dozing again. She looked at her friend and laughed. "Don’t touch her, Joan, you’ll disqualify her,” screamed Ryder. Joan nodded and called briskly to Marilyn, “Come on, let’s go.” She began swimming quickly and expertly. Marilyn’s stroke picked up and a tiny flutter of white water behind her showed that her feet were kicking. Joan stayed in the water a few minutes more, then climbed back in the Mipepa and wrapped herself in blankets.
At five o’clock Ryder pointed to the Toronto sky line and wrote on the blackboard, “WE ARE TAKING YOU STRAIGHT IN.” In spite of this, Marilyn’s stroke slowed from the sixty-four strokes per minute she maintained at her best to fifty strokes a minute. She stopped twice in two minutes, staring dazedly at the boats collecting from Toronto and Hamilton. The wind grew stiffer and colder and the waves pushed her west of the pink flares popping over the Exhibition.
Two seaplanes dipped overhead and roared away: The Toronto Star had hired two planes to carry photographers and reporters with walkie-talkie sets and the Telegram had one plane. Newsmen covering the swim were beginning to realize they hadn’t slept for two days and a night and they watched the child in the water with wonder.
The radio coverage seemed to people listening in their homes and cars a phenomenon in itself. “She’s swimming now,” the hoarse voice of the announcer would say. “Now she’s stopped and Gus Ryder is holding up the blackboard. It reads ‘One and a half miles to go’ but we estimate it is closer to four. Probably trying to encourage the girl who ...”
CKFH’s announcer was the station’s chief engineer, working from the Star yacht Manana. The CKEY announcer, a twenty-year-old college student named Dick Ballentine who had been acting as a summer announcer, had a more complicated problem. When the swim started from Youngstown the CNE could not provide him with a boat. The tug' Hanlan was sent from Toronto to up stranded press and radio me, the captain veered off just Youngstown harbor because worried about immigration Ballentine then bundled into a taxi which roared around t' passing Telegram reporters roaring from Toronto to Y to pick up the Comr caught the CNE-hired pres Dick, which eventually swimmers around four ini
Ballentine broadcast sometimes every half hour long day that followed. were picked up by B/ and Ottawa stations a Regina station. Throi radio building in To announcers and operators were listening to CKEY. Officials of CBLT, Toronto’s television station, dallied with the notion of sending their mobile unit to the lakefront to photograph Marilyn’s arrival but decided against it. The unit was needed to cover a scheduled prom symphony concert that night.
As the afternoon wore out Ryder huddled in his jacket in the stern of the Mipepa. Bryant stood beside the blanketed Joan Cooke. The two lifeguards, one clad only in his bathing suit, pulled steadily at their oars. All of them unceasingly watched the rise and fall of the white arms in the water, the bathing cap that turned and became a grey face gulping air and then became a bathing cap again. Once, when she faltered, Ryder wrote on the blackboard “IF YOU QUIT, I QUIT.”
Behind them was the queerest collection of ships Toronto’s harbor had ever seen: Sleek, luxurious yachts, dumpy, shabby motorboats, sailboats, the monstrous tug Ned Hanlan belching smoke, a motorboat carrying several adults and two starry-eyed boys of four and five, another with several men in business suits, a woman and a year-old baby girl dressed in pink. On the fringe were kayaks and rowboats.
A fast motorboat suddenly detached itself from the loose half-moon formation behind the swimmer and whirled near the Mipepa. Allan Lamport, Toronto’s former mayor and a member of the CNE sports committee, was standing up in the boat yelling at Ryder. A few minutes later Lamport climbed aboard the Toronto Harbor Commission launch to the left of Marilyn.
“Í told Ryder that we’d give her $7,500 if she qualifies, but she’s got to qualify,” Lamport explained to Harbor Commission chairman W. H. Bosley. “I don’t think he’ll let me down.”
An air-force officer on the Ned Hanlan came away from the boat’s radio and yelled into a megaphone to Ryder, “She’s been offered another $6,000.” Ryder prepared a new sign for his blackboard: “NOW $15,000.” Marilyn, close to unconsciousness again, didn’t notice.
People in the boats now could distinguish trucks moving along the highway on the shore and each separate building of the Sunnyside amusement area, west of the Exhibition grounds. Some newspaper and newsreel photographers crossed from smaller boats to the more comfortable Harbor Commission launch.
“I don’t think those Star guys are going to let her land at the Ex,” one of the Telegram photographers said excitedly. “She’s swimming straight for Sunnyside!”
“Gus will know what to do,” Lamport said uneasily.
“You’ll never get near her once she’s close to shore,” predicted the Telegram man glumly.
“We’ll get her all right,” replied Lamport.
A photographer on a nearby launch yelled across the water. “I’ve got Super Double X in and 1 haven’t got a meter!”
“Shoot at random,” advised the Telegram photographer coldly.
“Gus,” shouted Lamport, “isn’t it just as close to take her to the Ex? We’ve got a crowd waiting there for you.”
“We can’t get in there,” Ryder hollered back, “she’s going against the waves.” The sun was gone by now and the moon was a cold oval in the sky.
“Poor girl,” said Harbor Commissioner Bosley gently, “I hope this isn’t going to hurt her.”
“Gus, you’re headed for the widest part of the bay !” cried Lamport.
Ryder leaned over the end of the Mipepa. “Swim for the yellow building, Marilyn, the yellow building. Marilyn!” Marilyn opened her eyes, found the building and plodded on with her mechanical stroke. She had two miles more to go.
“No, no,” shouted Lamport.
“Keep quiet,” retorted Ryder fiercely, “we’re running this.”
Marilyn had stopped swimming. She was crying. She stood up, treading water. “I can't go any farther she wailed.
Another motorboat, containing Robert Saunders, president of the CNE, George Duthie, sports director, and Hiram MacCallum, general manager, pulled up beside the Star yacht Mona IV.
“Have her swim to the Ex,” Duthie yelled. “We’ve got a pot of earth there she’s to touch.”
“She’ll land wherever she can,” a Star reporter shouted back.
“Is this a Toronto Star swim?” asked Saunders indignantly.
“'The CNE had nothing at all to do with this swim,” answered the Star men. When CNE officials moved closer to the Mona IV, Syd Bell. Marilyn’s father, screamed, “You get out of here!” The officials retired a distance away and regarded the Mona IV balefully.
At that moment, at 6.35, Marilyn stopped swimming and stood up, treading water.
“Come on, keep going,” shouted Ryder.
“I’m tired,” Marilyn wailed.
“Come on!” cried Joan Cocke, “Fifteen minutes more!”
“I can’t go any farther.”
“Come on,” shouted Bryant, “only a little more!”
“I can’t move!” Marilyn said crying.
Her father, watching from the Mona IV, called across the water: “Take her out, Gus.”
Ryder, not hearing, shouted “Fifteen minutes more, Marilyn. Come on!”
Like an obedient child, Marilyn put her face in the water and started swimming. At that point, her conscious mind blanked out and she had the feeling she was far away, floating bodiless and light. In the distance voices were whispering, “the yellow building, the yellow building,” and her stomach ached dully.
Once again she stopped and Ryder passed her the last of the eight pounds of corn syrup and the package of uncooked Pablum he had brought.
“Do you want to come out?” he asked when he saw her face.
“Which way do I go,” she muttered vaguely and started to swim again. She became aware of a feeling that if she stopped again she would be finished. She never paused again.
“Gus has a mad on for the Ex, you can see that,” commented Lamport furiously as he watched Ryder lead the girl towards Sunnyside. The Exhibition grounds, black with people, were a mile to the right. It was dusk and the buildings, the boats, the sky and the water were varying shades of blue. It became so cold that men in the boats shivered and it was hard to hold a pencil. The strange fleet showed running lights, like fireflies. The moon was brighter.
At 7.50 Ryder’s hoarse voice could be heard shouting “Come on, Marilyn, ten minutes more!”
“If she touches the breakwater, that’s sufficient,” Bosley observed in the Harbor Commission launch. The shore was only 450 feet past the concrete breakwater.
“That’s fair enough,” agreed Lamport. “That’s what they do for Channel swimmers, they just have to touch.” “No they don’t,” said a photographer in the darkness behind. “They have to walk ashore.”
“Never mind,” Lamport said.
A voice on the Star boat called to Ryder: “When your boat touches the sea wall, bring her right here. Don’t let her get up, just touch!”
Ryder turned on his flashlight. The darkness along the shore ahead turned out to be thousands of people, screaming unintelligibly. A launch owner pushed on his horn and the fleet unleashed a cacophony of horns, whistles and sirens. Every man began to shout, and some to cry. The Mipepa pulled aside and let Marilyn go in to the breakwater alone. She touched it with her left hand and stopped. It was six minutes after eight. She had been in the water 20 hours and 59 minutes.
The lake is thirty-two miles across, but she had swum forty miles or more fighting the currents.
Marilyn Bell can’t remember touching the breakwater. When the lifeguards tried to pull her into one of their dinghies she was furious. “Let me go!” she cried. She thought they were trying to take her out of the water before she finished the swim. “I’m all right,” she said firmly and pushed herself a few yards into the lake again. Ryder’s boat came beside her and she became aware of the shouting thousands and saw rockets bursting in the sky.
“Are these people crazy or am I?” she whispered as Bryant and Ryder, weakened too after 21 hours on constant watch, laboriously pulled her into the Mipepa. .She was taken to the Mona IV, where her parents hugged her and she was put to bed.
Telegram reporters sorrowfully watched the Star boat swallow the biggest news story of the year. A counterattack was planned while the crowds were still cheering. “The Star has a suite waiting for her at the Royal York,” a Telegram lieutenant at the Exhibition grounds was explaining excitedly. “’The orders are to grab her before she gets there and to use violence if necessary.”
“I’m going to find a small Star man and punch him in the nose,” a reporter assured him.
The crowds around the Exhibition’s lakefront grandstand continued to wait for the heroine, cheering the Harbor Commission launch hysterically when it docked. Through the din came the sound of Loretto students screaming, “One, two, three, four . . . Who are we for? . . . Marilyn, Marilyn . . . Rah. rah,
The voice on the public-address system abruptly explained, ‘‘We regret that Marilyn Bell’s condition does not permit her to receive her admirers.” Marilyn, lying in a bunk on the Mona, was sipping cocoa when she was struck by the notion that her legs were paralyzed. ‘‘I can’t walk!” she cried anxiously. “I can’t feel my legs.” “Sure you can, honey,” her mother assured her. The girl was not, convinced so her mother put an arm around her and walked her around the cabin. Marilyn sank back in the bunk greatly relieved.
dock where an ambulance hired by the Star waited to take her to the Royal York Hotel suite and a Star-hired doctor and nurse. A line of parked taxis had been ordered for Star reporters, it was, however, the worst-kept secret of the day.
The Telegram knew, before the Mona came in sight of the dock, every detail of the Star scheme including the room number of the hotel suite. Every available editorial employee was called to help separate Marilyn Bell from the Star. One group waited at the National Yacht Club, in case of a slipup, another large group at the Lifesavers’ dock near downtown Toronto, four more groups at the four entrances of the Royal York and a small delegation at the King Edward and another at Marilyn’s home as a precaution.
The offense started with a Telegram-hired ambulance, which arrived ahead of the Star-hired ambulance at the Lifesavers’ Station. The stretcher bearers unloaded their stretcher and prepared to wait for the swimmer. The Telegram had rented a large bedroom in the Royal York Hotel for her.
“My lord!” exclaimed Monroe Johnston, a Star reporter on the Mona IV, as he peered at the landing, “I can’t see anything but Tely men!”
The Mona docked reluctantly while Star reporters discussed the problem. Meanwhile Star men spotted the Telegram ambulance standing empty at the curb with the keys still in the ignition and drove it a few blocks away, removing both the keys and the cap of the distributor. Two more ambulances replaced it at the curb, one hired by the Star and the other a mystery to both papers. The Lifesavers’ jetty then held three stretchers, each complete with a pair of stretcher-bearers screaming at one another, “This is the OFFICIAL stretcher!”
“If we had only known which of the three was our stretcher,” commented a Telegram reporter the next day, “there would have been a dandy fight. But neither the Star guys there nor us knew which stretcher was which.”
Marilyn’s father asked Ed Hopkins, official of the Harbor Commission, to clear the jetty of everyone but “friends, relatives and the Star.” A few Star men got off the Mona to assist lifeguards in the identification. Telegram men - resisted the order and twelve police constables from No. 1 precinct were called. The jetty was cleared, but only for an instant. Telegram photographers infiltrated back behind barrels and posts and waited for Marilyn.
The swimmer herself, catching the spirit of the occasion, suggested to Star man Johnston: “Would you like me to put a blanket over my head so they can’t get pictures?”
It was a tempting offer, but Johnston refused. “It would only have her the kid in the long run,” he explained later.
Marilyn walked off the Mona wearing a two-piece Lakeshore Swimming Club sweat suit and climbed on the waiting Star stretcher, which someone finally had identified. As she was loaded into the ambulance, the Telegram's Dorothy Howarth climbed in beside her, assisted courteously by a somewhat-dazed Star man. He realized his error immediately and snarled, “Get outa there, you!”
Dorothy backed out agreeably, “Can’t blame a girl for trying, can you?” she asked sweetly.
Joan Cooke, Marilyn’s best friend, climbed in beside the stretcher and squeezed the swimmer’s shoulders. “That was wonderful, Marilyn,” she said. “Congratulations.”
“For what?” asked Marilyn blanklv.
“For the swim,” said Joan. “For finishing the swim.”
“I did?” cried Marilyn incredulously, “I finished?” It hadn’t occurred to anyone that the girl didn’t know.
Watching the Royal York Hotel entrances was a bleak cold task for Telegram reporters. The master plan now called for someone to divert the swimmer into a Telegram elevator, which would take her to the third floor where the Telegram room was, instead of the fourth floor and the Star suite. The heaviest contingent of Telegram staff was posted at the freight-elevator entrance in the rear of the hotel.
After a half hour of guard duty, two reporters unobtrusively left the group and slipped into the hotel’s cocktail lounge.
“If they bring her into the hotel through the lounge,” one of them pointed out, “we’ll be right on top of the story.”
The Star ambulance eventually arrived at the freight elevator and Marilyn was carried aboard. The elevator descended to the basement, where a hundred waiters, bus boys, chambermaids, porters, cooks and waitresses clapped and shouted as her stretcher was taken across the basement to a waiting passenger elevator. Just before the elevator doors closed a dignified man stepped in. “I’m an official representative of . . .” he began.
“Scram, you Tely spy,” said Johnston, pushing him out.
The corridors of the fourth floor were filled with Telegram and Globe and Mail reporters and photographers and the Star pushed the stretcher through the mob with difficulty. Eventually the door of room 469, part of a three-room suite, closed behind her and she climbed into bed. The doctor who examined her, Dr. F. R. Griffin, remarked to the reporters in the hall that he expected Marilyn had lost twenty pounds during the swim.
Actually Marilyn’s health, the subject of much gloomy conjecture that night, was so superb that Dr. Griffin was baffled. Her heart, pulse and respiration were normal. Except for bloodshot eyes and a rubbery feeling in her legs, she appeared to have suffered no harm at all. Most astonishing of all, she had gained a pound.
The Star reporters who had been covering the swim were jubilant. They summoned a waiter. “What will you have to eat, Mrs. Bell?” they asked when Marilyn had been settled for the night.
Grace Bell, tremulously happy in a shirt and slacks she had been wearing for three days, gasped “A chicken sandwich.”
“Fine,” said Johnston, “and you, Syd?”
“I don’t know,” said Marilyn’s father, “I have to see a menu.”
“You can have anything you want... the hotel waiter assured him.
“I have to see a menu,” Bell peated.
“Bring him a filet mignon,” Johnston decided. “Bring us all a filet mignon one, two, three . . . twenty filet mignons.”
George Bryant was quiet while.was eating; suddenly he stretched face down on the rug and fell asleep. No one could wake him to move. Syd Bell fell asleep in his chair. To -surprise of the reporters left awake Marilyn opened her door with a gangrin and emerged, still wearing a sweat suit.
“I can’t sleep,” she announced, inspecting her father. She lifted his eyelids and peered under them. “Say, really asleep.”
After a moment she went back to bed and the sedative she had been given earlier began to take effect.
The Toronto Telegram had devised a bold plan in the emergency created by the Star’s monopoly. Doug MacFarlane, a zestful managing editor, calculated that the biggest plum the Star would have the following day would be a first-person story “by Marilyn Bell” describing her swim.
“We’ll have our own first-person story,” he decided.
Every reporter connected with the swim poured whatever detail he could remember onto the desk of Dorothy Howarth, a writer of uncommon ability. Sports writer Bob Hesketh phoned Gus Ryder at his home and got more details and someone searched the files and discovered that Marilyn, after her swim in Atlantic City, had said, “Every time I brought my head up I saw the same old things, the sky, the waves and the darkness of the water again.”
Dorothy Howarth wove out of this a 700-word first-person story that began “'I haven’t got a stomach’ was the first thing I said to my trainer, Gus Ryder, when they pulled me into the boat. At least that’s what he says I said. I don’t remember ...” The rest was equally artful and accurate.
The last piece of copy was written towards five o’clock that morning. The final touch on the first-person story was the by-line; MacFarlane hesitated to print “by Marilyn Bell.” At nine the next morning he dispatched a reporter to get a copy of Marilyn’s signature off a registration form at her school. The signature, two columns wide, was printed over the story and a 2 1/2-inch high headline read “MARILYN’S STORY.”
The Star was flabbergasted. Marilyn had slept heavily and the Star reporters assigned to write her first-person story refused to waken her. With only a few minutes before deadline Bryant began typing at her bedside with the result that only a few paragraphs were ready the first edition.
The photographer assigned to get a picture of her for the first edition was ',ially solicitous. He waited until she finished her breakfast. When the papers hit the street that morning, Telegram several minutes earlier the Star, no one could have d which paper had the swimmer, they had the girl and we had the commented MacFarlane with ‘ ion.
e’s such a thing,” observed the managing editor Jim Kingsbury, \g too close to a story.” papers sold 30,000 papers more normal the day of the swim and afterwards. Counting replates, the Star put out eighteen editions while Marilyn was in the water. “She didn’t sell as many papers per day as the Noronic fire disaster,” a Star circulation man remarked, “but this story is more sustained. In the long run, she’ll sell more papers than any news event we’ve had in years.” The Star spent an estimated $12,000 on the swim, the Telegram $3,000.
“She’ll be the darling of the empire tonight,” someone had predicted after the swim, “and forgotten tomorrow.” It didn’t work out that way. The youth and smallness of the girl, the unexpectedness of her victory and the drama of the mile-by-mile radio and newspaper coverage caused a public reaction that most observers could compare only with Lindberg’s flight across the Atlantic.
Telephones rang all night in Marilyn’s suite and her parents’ room down the hall. Some were congratulations, some requests for Marilyn’s endorsation of a product and some from people who wanted to send a present. When Mrs. Bell tried to get from her bedroom to her daughter’s down the hall the next morning, she couldn’t get through the crowd outside Marilyn’s suite. Star reporters had to form a flying-wedge escort. Before the day was out she was visiting her daughter by way of a fire escape entrance.
Jim Coleman, publicist for the Ontario Jockey Club, was one of many publicity men who sought Marilyn’s presence to help attract crowds. He phoned the Toronto Star and was informed that Harold Hilliard, longtime Star employee, was handling Marilyn’s contacts. Hilliard promised to tell Marilyn’s father of Coleman’s request. Six hours later, when Bell hadn’t phoned, Coleman phoned William Horsey, president of the Dominion Stores which employs Syd Bell as a buyer.
“Would you tell Bell for me the next time you’re talking to him that . . .” began Coleman.
“Hell,” said Horsey, “I’ve been trying all day to talk to him and I haven’t been able to get through!”
Some of the confusion was unscrambled by the Star itself. The president of the Star, Harry Hindmarsh, phoned the advertising agency Cockfield, Brown and Company and asked them “as a personal favor” to help out the Bells. A week later it still wasn’t clear to Cockfield, Brown who would be paying their fee, the Star or the Bells.
In any case, the agency performed a service that was clearly appreciated by the Bells. Another suite was taken in the Royal York Hotel where the Bell family could live together until public fever cooled—a bedroom for the parents, another for Marilyn and her eleven-year-old sister Karen and huge living room for flowers, reporters waiting their turn for interviews a sponsors with cheque hooks. All phone calls, 24 hours a day, were intercc in another room, where a staff of lawyers and four law students wo on Marilyn’s contracts and insurance. A secretary put in an eight-hour day two weeks listing the hundreds so that Marilyn could acknowledge them. Two men from the agency Kelly and director Malcolm took over all the Bells’ decisions.
The Bell family was enormously relieved. Sydney Bell had we variety of jobs in North B; and Toronto— most of them counting clerk—but nothing prepared him for the feverisl advertising and promotion, had lived modestly in an u four-roomed apartment ova ware store. They were part' their daughters’ educat Catholic private school academic standards although they are Protestants, and particular that the girls have good manners.
Marilyn, who became devoted to swimming the summer she was nine and was a marathon swimmer when she was ten, was the kind of daughter most parents hope for—quick and clever in school, sensible about her dates with boys, courteous and honest. Her only serious personality problem, for which her mother spanked her repeatedly when she was smaller, was her stubbornness. Gus Ryder, who became her swimming coach when she was ten, called that stubbornness “patience, the patience a great marathoner has to have.”
Marilyn’s patience and politeness were used extensively in the hectic days that followed the big swim. In the succeeding ten days she appeared before 100,000 people at the Canadian National Exhibition to accept $10,000 (the original offer of $7,500 was increased at the suggestion of the Star), received a cowboy hat from Dale Evans and a hug from Denise Darcel, handled the controls of a TCA plane on a flight to Montreal, had a ticker-tape parade through downtown Toronto, attended by the biggest crowd since the visit of the Queen, kicked off ineptly at three football games, appeared at a baseball game and sat in the royal box, was interviewed twice on television and four times on radio, had a civic reception in Hamilton and flew to New York to appear on Ed Sullivan’s television show with an estimated audience of 40 million people. In addition, someone in Hollywood wanted to give her $100,000 for a contract that would include swimming from California to Catalina Island and two movies. One movie, according to unreliable reports, would he made with Marilyn Monroe and entitled “The Two Marilyns.”
Her gifts included a pale-blue Austin convertible, seven watches, a garage, a radio for her car, insurance for the car, several years’ gasoline for the car, an offer to pay all summonses incurred while driving the car, several fur coats, including three mink stoles, a $3,000 diamond ring, two television sets, a year’s supply of soft water, a year’s supply of Wheaties and $100 worth of vitamin pills, a wedding cake (to be delivered later), furniture, permanents, dresses, free cleaning for a year, a Persian rug, money and dancing lessons. A stationery company offered to print all her thank-you cards free.
On an average morning, five days after the swim, she received 64 pairs of stockings, a Bible, a silk Union Jack, a set of cosmetics worth $100, a Steuben glass vase and a gold-thread purse. Her father deposited $20,000 in a joint bank account he shares with her.
“I don’t know what we’ll do with the money,” Marilyn commented in her soft voice. “Keep it for my education. I guess. I’d like to be a physiotherapist. As for the presents, we haven’t got room in the apartment.”
“I was thinking,” her mother suggested, “that we might put them in storage for you.”
“You know,” her mother continued, talking to a magazine interviewer, “we are in a difficult position. Our apartment isn’t much, it was all we could get at the time, and we’ve been thinking of moving to a better one for the past year. Now we won’t be able to; as soon as we move, people will think we’re using Marilyn’s money.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Marilyn, looking confused.
“Marilyn understands,” remarked Pat Kelly, one of her Cockfield, Brown advisors, “that there will be restriction on her from now on, whether she wants to go back to her normal life or take advantage of the offers that are coming in. She’s never going to be the same person again, so perhaps it would be better if she’d postpone her education for a while and take advantage of the situation.”
“I would like to go back to school,” the girl said gently. Two weeks later, she did go back to school.
“Marilyn keeps saying that’s what she wants to do,” Kelly explained, “but we don’t know if it will be possible right away. We’ve got offers to put her picture on hook matches, for a fee plus royalties, to put her picture on calendars, for a fee plus royalties, and Lever Brothers wants her to endorse Lux Soap. She’s already endorsed com syrup and Pablum — those were naturals because she ate them during the swim. All these endorsements and personal appearances are worth from $500 to $5,000.”
“You’ll agree,” Kelly continued, “that Barbara Ann Scott was handled very smartly—no exploiting or anything cheap. That’s how we want Marilyn handled. When we were in Montreal someone wanted us to go to a night club, but we vetoed that. It wouldn’t be right at all, not in keeping with her personality.”
“I hear you’re thinking of going to Hollywood,” the interviewer said to Marilyn.
“Isn’t that crazy?” Marilyn grinned.
“Not at all,” commented Kelly. “I’ve said this before and I don’t mind saying it to her face, Marilyn is a very attractive girl. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t ...”
Marilyn was quiet, sitting in a hotel chair with her bare feet drawn up under her. “I’ve often wished,” she said in a low voice, “that I had never finished the swim. I’ve wished a dozen times that they had taken me out of the water that time around dawn, when I felt so terrible. But Jackie turned on the motor and left me.”
For a while, no one in the room said anything. *