Why Jack Arthur is always “wrong” about U.S. talent

Baiting the CNE’s grandstand showman is everybody’s sport

JOHN O'KEEFE February 25 1961

Why Jack Arthur is always “wrong” about U.S. talent

Baiting the CNE’s grandstand showman is everybody’s sport

JOHN O'KEEFE February 25 1961

Why Jack Arthur is always “wrong” about U.S. talent


Baiting the CNE’s grandstand showman is everybody’s sport

Jack Arthur is probably more tired than anybody else of the old argument over Canadian vs, American talent. For nine years he has produced the grandstand show at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. Each year he has had to decide whether to hire a big-name U. S. star to headline the show. Each year he has been damned if he did or damned if he didn't. Five of his nine shows have made money, including those with Victor Borge and Ed Sullivan as headliners. But he has lost heavily, too, on imported comics, including Danny Kaye and George Gobel.

Arthur’s principal tormentors are the Toronto press and Toronto politicians. (Some council members are among the 30 CNF directors whose approval he must have for each show.) When he has signed a U.S. star, at least one local politician has reminded him (and several hundred thousand newspaper readers) that there are talented Canadian performers available, too. When he has staged shows without any big U. S. names, politicians and newspaper critics have talked darkly about the show losing prestige. When U. S. headliners have made money for the show, Arthur has been told (via the headlines) that an all-Canadian show would have done the same. When a show with an American star has lost money, Arthur has heard “we told you so” from city councillors.

The furor began getting hotter in 1957. when Danny Kaye collected $100,000 for a show that lost $55.000. Two years later. George Gobel was the centre of controversy. The evening

newspapers, making the most of the fact that Arthur had hired a comedian who hadn't been able to keep his own TV program, panned the show.

Arthur blames the panning for the $58,000 loss that year. “How.” he asks with considerable logic, “could we get people in when boys were in front of the box office selling newspapers with GOBEL A FLOP' splashed across the front page?” On the last night of the Gobel show. Arthur lost his temper and told a reporter he was quitting the CNF. But next day he changed his mind.

Last year the villain, along with Arthur, was Phil Silvers. The newspapers decided his act was a corny rehash

of some of his old Sergeant Bilko routines from TV. Silvers left Toronto vowing he would never play the grandstand show again.

This year, for his tenth show—the last one under his present contract— Arthur will hire no big U. S. names, but will rely largely on Canadian performers to stage “wide-scope numbers with lots of color — things you can't see on television.” Arthur insists the switch is simply to keep abreast of the trend elsewhere, such as in Las Vegas, where big-name acts are out of vogue and extravaganzas are in.

Arthur won’t say whether he’ll be willing to sign a new contract for the 1962 show. Several times he has turned down offers from the U. S., but now the New York World’s Fair is known to be considering offering him the job of running its equivalent of the CNF grandstand show.

If the New-York offer comes — and he accepts — the man who has been so hotly criticized for bringing in U. S. stars will doubtless be criticized for deserting Canada to take a job in the U. S.


Coming: a ChineseJewish-Canadian musical comedy?

The idea for the next musical comedy likely to be produced in Canada—well, possibly to be produced—was born last winter at a banquet table in a small town in Red China. On the menu of that banquet, though by different names, were gefüllte fish, potato pancakes, salami. and chopped liver soaked in chicken fat. At the table was the Canadian playwright Ted Allan, who grew up in the Jewish district of Montreal.

Allan, who was in China to work on a film about Dr. Norman Bethune, was fascinated by the similarity between Chinese and Jewish cooking. He investigated other links between the cultures. He found a bittersweet “Jewish” note in Chinese humor. He found Zen Buddhist costumes that looked like the frock coats and beaver hats worn traditionally by Eastern European Jews. He found an ancient Chinese folk tale that was almost a perfect prototype of a story by Sholom Alcichem, the 19th-century Yiddish writer. He found that Zen Buddhist paradoxes bore a startling resemblance to the Talmudic brain-teasers he had learned from his Russian-born grandfather.

Without stretching comparisons too far. Allan felt he had discovered enough cultural links to begin work on a “Zen Buddhist-Hebrew" musical comedy.

This year, while his play, Gog et Magog, was running as a smash hit in Paris, Allan worked out the plot: a Jew goes to China to escape persecution. “The Chinese do a terrible thing to him,” Allan says. "They leave him alone.” The Jew's culture is absorbed. “It’s my comment on persecution. When we stop hating each other we can start using our brains for what they were made for — understanding the world around us.”

Allan called his comedy The Wise ludge. He showed it to Lou Applebaum, formerly musical director of the Stratford Festival, and now a consultant to the CBC. Applebaum, who wrote the

score for Canada’s last musical comedy, John Gray’s Ride a Pink Horse, liked Allan’s script. He is now writing the music— combining Chinese and Jewish themes and modern jazz. For the lyrics, Allan turned to Martin Kastner, a middle-aged Toronto businessman who had never written professionally before. Kastner's wife had once done a translation of Bertolt Brecht’s play. The Great Scholar Wu, that Allan had liked very much and Kastner had helped with the poetry. Kastner’s work for The Wise Judge, according to Allan, “ranks with the best poetry being written today.” When and where will The Wise Judge be staged? Allan doesn’t know. But he’s already planning the production. “The actors will wear Chinese masks and the acting will be half Peking Opera and half Actors’ Studio. We’d like trained acrobats for the leading roles. The Wise Judge has a serious message of love,” he says. “But we want to have fun too. A real circus.”

The singing waiter is back — singing Figaro

The singing waiter is back — but now he’s singing grand opera. At the Gaslight, a newly opened restaurant in Toronto, four waiters and a hatcheck girl gather around a piano during the dinner hour and harmonize on songs from well-known operas.

Their accompanist, Alex Boettcher, a voice coach for the Canadian Opera Company, believes the experience is good for the singers, who are also students at the Royal Conservatory. “It accustoms them to an audience and teaches them not to compromise with noise.” Ivan Shaeffer, a co-owner of the Gaslight, admits knowing nothing about grand opera. He got the idea for his singing waiters from La Cigale, a Montreal nightclub.

La Cigale features eight opera-singing waiters, a coloratura hatcheck girl, and a busboy who specializes in Puccini. As in Toronto, the singing waiters are all students of classical music. And already one waiter at La Cigale is complaining about the audience. “When we opened, the customers liked grand opera. Now they’re starting to ask for pop tunes.”

Angry new voice in the Canadian Arts

The liveliest newr voice in the Canadian arts is the magazine Canadian Art, which is 17 years old. In mid-1959, not far from the brink of extinction (and $8,000 in debt), Canadian Art was handed over to Alan Jarvis, former director of the National Gallery. Jarvis added such features as a national roundup of art news, regular book reviews and a lively forum of readers’ letters.

So far. many of the letters have been pretty angry—angry about Jarvis’s special issues on subjects like architecture and advertising art—and most of the others have been strongly in favor of his fresh approach. Hardly any are neutral or lukewarm.

But the most significant results of Jarvis’s controversial editing has been a boost in circulation (to 6,000 from 4,500) and $30,000 in new money (including $15,000 from the Canada Coun-

cil). Jarvis admits to stirring up the controversy deliberately. "All art is controversy,” he says. Controversially, he is planning 1961 special issues on, among other subjects, the automobile and another look at advertising art.

Clyde Gilmour reviews the movies

The Misfits: Dramatist Arthur Miller's going-away present to Marilyn Monroe, before they ended their marriage, was the script of this perplexing but powerful comedy-drama. Her role in it is perfectly suited to her fey qualities: that of a tremulous child-woman so tenderhearted that she almost collapses at the thought of some wild horses being sold as dog-meat. T his was Clark Gable’s last movie, and he was in fine form as a freedom-loving Nevadan whose jaunty masculinity is much admired by the Reno divorcees. Director John Huston's fine cast also includes Eli Wallach, Montgomery Clift and Thelma Ritter.

Never on Sunday: Bad girls with hearts of gold arc becoming as commonplace as gangsters and cowboys on the international screen. This is a wacky, cheerful item in that category, starring Melina Mercouri as a scrupulous Greek prostitute and writer-director Jules Dassin as an American visionary who tries to ennoble her talents.

The Long and the Short and the l all: A

pretentious and stagey British army drama, occasionally enlivened by Laurence Harvey’s virtuoso performance as a nasty Cockney bloke whose vile manners conceal a compassionate heart.

Embezzled Heaven: From Austria, with English dialogue on the sound-track, comes this sentimental but winning tearjerker. It's about a devout old woman (Annie Rosar) who makes a pilgrimage to Rome when she fears she has endangered her chances of gaining a seat in Paradise.

The Bulldog Breed: The Royal Navy and space travel are frenetically blended in a British farce starring Norman Wisdom, the Jerry Lewis of the United Kingdom. In my opinion he is just as big a bore as his Hollywood counterpart. And these are worth seeing:

The Angry Silence ** The Entertainer ^ Exodus

v The Facts of Life

* The Sundowners Tunes of Glory

* Village of the Damned

MINIATURE DISCS that run at l.P

speed (33IA rpm) are beginning to makelife easier for record collectors. Until now, when they wanted to hear a certain single selection, they had to changegears on their machines to play "singles” at speeds of 45 or 78 turns a minute— or risk scratching a long-playing record by titling the needle into a narrow band. Now three of the biggest record makers (Columbia, RCA Victor, Capitol) are pressing seven-inch records that run at 33IA rpm, with one selection per side, and the industry is wondering if the new discs will establish 33‘A rpm as the standard speed, making 45s and 78s obsolescent.