THE SWEET SMELL OF CHARLES TEMPLETON
/ am a part of all that I have met
AND CHARLES TEMPLETON, in a lifelong on - again - off -again love affair with fame and fortune, has met a lot in the course of his 52 years. An awesome amount; a seemingly impossible, almost intolerable amount. Perhaps it is as critic Nathan Cohen says: “No one is as vain as the selfmade man. He sets challenges for himself, and then it becomes a point of honor that he meet them.”
Charles Templeton has challenged himself to be a cartoonist, an evangelist, a playwright, a television reporterhost, a newspaperman, an editor, a politician, an adman, a businessman and — in his most recent incarnation — director of news and public affairs for Canada’s other television network, CTV.
Partly because he’s done all these things well and partly because it’s the way he is, Templeton has almost always been one of the more conspicuous Canadians.
Even so, it took the leadership conventions of the Liberal and Conservative parties to finally loft him to the status of National Oracle, along with Pierre Berton, Norman DePoe, Pat Watson and one or two others by now so familiar to anyone who watches television that any of them could walk in on my mother in Vancouver and she’d feel sufficiently at home not to bother about the dust.
It was mostly the Conservative convention that did it. The CBC didn't know quite what had happened when the first day-long transmission session began with Templeton filling all that unscripted silence on Colorland. Pierre Berton, the old Gütenberg Guru himself, says admiringly that Templeton is “the cleverest waffler I have ever met” — and he proved it by demonstrating an awesome talent for announcing that it was hot in the convention hall and making it sound as important as a declaration of war. He did it all over again when the Liberals elected Trudeau. And then he refereed the Great Debate between the political leaders in June. No matter that it was a bust and he was partly to blame: the fact / continued overleaf
“I’ve never had to push or knock at any doors. They’ve been opened for me and I’ve been kicked through them. But I’m not in the least surprised when I succeed”
is that it was Templeton up there in the thick of the mostwatched thing that’s ever appeared on Canadian television.
But here I must declare an interest in Charles Bradley Templeton. I worked for him once and there’s no way in the world I can honestly claim objectivity about a man who at least had power to sentence me to the night shift for stepping out of line. He never did, of course, but as Berton says, “Chuck isn’t in a popularity contest. He doesn’t need everybody to love him.” Which is fortunate, since they don’t.
“He’s done too many things superbly well too quickly for lesser men to be comfortable with him,” explains Nathan Cohen. “His successes remind them of too many broken promises, and challenges their egos.” Cohen is probably
only half right, but at all the bases Templeton has touched the people he left behind are still wondering: What makes Charlie run?
“I KNOW THAT ONE of the criticisms made of me is that I’m a butterfly, but I don’t think the things I have done are disparate. I think of them all as beads on the same necklace, all part of communicating ideas and trying to influence the society we live in.” Templeton is a handsome man who does, as they say, look like Sir Laurence Olivier, or would if Olivier hadn’t worn so badly. Even his voice is reminiscent of Olivier’s: it’s clear, firm, elegantly cadenced — Templeton could read the plumbing section of the Yellow Pages and you'd listen. “I have been lucky,” he says. “I’ve
never had to push or knock at any doors. They’ve been opened for me and I've been kicked through them. But it is true that I'm not in the least surprised when I succeed. In fact, I'm surprised if I don’t.”
Actually, he did apply for a job once, when he dropped out of grade 10 to help support his mother and two younger sisters and brother. He wanted to be sports cartoonist with the Toronto Globe. The big job with the big paper. He got it, of course, after doing one sample caricature, and left it only when he got religion four years later.
“As AN EVANGELIST he was fantastic,” says Allen Spraggett, a former United Church minister and Templeton protégé, now religion editor of the Toronto Star. “He went to the States first, but then he came back to Toronto to run his own fundamentalist church.
'"On Sundays, just before the big evening service, there'd be mobs of people milling about outside his church, and inside there would be 2,000 people at least. If they weren't jammed like sardines, he was actually disappointed. At precisely seven o’clock a door would open and the whiterobed choir would file out. There were about 100 of them, all young, attractive people, and when they were settled another side door would open and out would come Constance, this incredibly beautiful wife of Templeton’s — she was Mexican and had a magnificent voice — followed by Templeton himself. Hollywood couldn’t have done it better. Every week she would wear a different dress or a different hairstyle or a different hat. He would be impeccably dressed in superbly cut suits. So you had this Greek god preaching like an angel and his lovely wife and her beautiful voice and a Cecil B. deMille setting . . . you could see people consciously restraining themselves from applauding.
“He gave them excitement, escapism, glamour, thrills — all this and Christianity, too. His sermons were a bit thin, but that didn’t matter. Once I remember he described the eyes of a blind man as ‘two insensate orbs suspended in his cranium.’ And you know, when Templeton said it, it had class. He left his evangelical church in Toronto and joined the Presbyterians in the U.S., and he remained one of the most moving, eloquent, electric speakers in the world of religion. Not the most profound, not necessarily the best, but the most electric. If he had been a cynical man he could have had fame, riches, power. They were his for the asking.”
“I LEFT THE CHURCH and the U.S. in 1957 because I could see no evidence of a God who was subject to being swayed by prayer, of what you might call a personal God,” says Templeton. “At about the same time my first marriage broke up and I came back to Canada almost broke and went to a log cabin I had on Georgian Bay. I'd often thought of writing plays, so that’s what I did. I worked 10 or 12 hours a day writing, writing for two months and I wrote six plays. I sold four of them to the CBC. One of them was quite good.”
The buyer was critic Cohen, then script supervisor for the CBC. “The best was called A Matter of Principle and
it was a remarkable achievement because we bought it outright with only one change.”
But Templeton never wrote another play, just as he never drew another cartoon or preached another sermon.
“I WAS WALKING down a corridor in the CBC one day when I passed Ross McLean." says Templeton. “I didn’t know him, but he asked me to be interviewed on his show. Tabloid. When the interview was over he asked whether I would become an interviewer on his new program, Close-Up, with Pierre Berton.”
In the years since, the relationship between Templeton, Berton and McLean and their satellites has spawned some splendid bile-writing about The Comfortable Few and their stranglehold on the communications business. At the time, however, McLean was the Wunderkind producing a form of television borrowed from Britain called the magazine show. “I don't think I particularly liked Templeton then,” says McLean. “But he had some celebrity value and was capable of swotting up the instant expertise that, inevitably, an interviewer had to have but which didn’t always imply real understanding. Interviewing people of intellectual standing sometimes revealed qualities of superficiality in Charles. Evelyn Waugh, for instance, perceived in Charles a thinness of quality, of a poseur, and he simply told Chuck he didn't know what he was trying to talk about.
“Charles bluffed well — he doesn’t need to now — and with that and his looks, nerve and that fantastic energy he could get by as a television interviewer. But you can’t fake it in the newspaper game and I don’t think anyone thought he was going to do very well at the Toronto Star.”
EVEN TEMPLETON was a little surprised when he was offered the job of Page Seven editor of the Star — at a time when Page Seven was the showplace of the paper. His only essay into journalism and/or editing was to conduct a round-table discussion, and then produce a publishable manuscript from the recordings. “But I worked damned hard at being the best possible editor of Page Seven that I could ever be,” says Templeton.
Berton remembers ruefully: “I was one of those who said he would never be a newspaperman. But then I'm also the man who told Arthur Hailey he couldn’t write and should give up trying.” Within 18 months Beland Honderich, then editorial director and now president, had lofted Templeton to the paper’s top news job, executive news editor — a title created especially for Templeton. Honderich, a withdrawn man who has a hard time communicating with people, says Templeton “is simply a wonderful communicator who understands people and somehow is able to get ideas and facts across to them more effectively than most people.”
Berton says: “It was a shock for newspapermen to discover the awful truth that any man of reasonable intelligence could learn the basics of newspapering in a few months and then take over. A lot of people who had been there for years found it an affront to their egos.”
Templeton’s Toronto Star
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was good, but a bit top-heavy with stories about the plight of welfare cases and immigrants and the homeless and Indians and the otherwise underprivileged. A. O. C. Cole, now registrar of Trent University at Peterborough, Ont., was a Templeton editor for a while. He says: “Just before the Congo blew up we had a great piece on how unprepared the Congo was for independence. Charles took out everything that was critical of the natives. He believes the underdog is always right, which isn't quite so."
Templeton’s compassion may be more academic than personal. Spraggett says: “I think he really does believe that he's humanitarian, a warm, outgoing man motivated by his involvement with people." He is commonly. and privately, called “a cold fish.” When he left the Star one columnist and his wife sent Templeton a gift. He never acknowledged receiving it. and it is said he rarely thanks people for gifts or favors. When he went campaigning he persuaded former Star employees to produce an election tabloid newspapen for him — and has never thanked them or even acknowledged that they did so. His sense of humor tends to the kind of quip the author finds funnier than the audience, and one disenchanted girl writer says she finds it “frankly disconcerting to see him change skins. When he's left one job he retains no connections, loyalties, nostalgia for it. There's no hangover.”
A long time ago a Methodist minister said of Templeton: “People are suspicious of him because they know that he knows just how to handle them.” A former editorial secretary at the Star echoes: “He has an almost professional understanding of human nature, and seemed able to win almost anyone over. You may walk away from him shaking your head, but you’re on his side and not quite sure how he got you there.” Reportedly. Templeton's first wife would sometimes mourn that all his love and energy went into the church, into his ministry. His second wife is 16 years younger than he. She is singer Sylvia Murphy, who says: “Charles is superanalytical. He is much more a cerebral person than an emotional person, which may mean that deep down it is, or once was, the other way around and he has learned to suppress the emotional parts.” Douglas Fisher,
‘Tm too glib. It’s too easy for me to express an opinion”
the politician-journalist, worked with Templeton’s CTV team covering the Conservative leadership convention, and afterward said he would never
again have anything to do with Tem-
pleton. “His political judgment is superficial and his treatment of some people whom he doesn’t rate highly, intolerable,” he says. “He is an awful example of radiating insincerity. A lot of people who have
worked with him feel
about him the way 1 do, but they’re scared to say so: they never know when he may become their boss or they may need a job.”
Templeton appears to be a gregarious, sociable, affable man. "He gives an impression of intimacy that doesn’t really exist.” says Nathan Cohen. Berton, who meets Templeton every weekday to record their syndicated Dialogue radio show, says Templeton is “a friend, but not a close one.” and that “I think he cares about people, 1 don’t think he's mean or unfair, but I don’t believe he needs people — and that's a quality that sets a man above his peers. 1 suspect that as an evangelist he had enough love to last the rest of his life.”
“Those services of his,” says Spraggett, “they were full of love for him. He would ask for people to declare themselves for Christ, and young and old men, teenage girls and middle-aged women, their glands throbbing, would come running down the aisle to clasp Templeton’s hand and be saved.” Oh, the woes of celebrity.
“When you become well known, when people are watching you or aware of whatever you’re doing, it becomes a kind of barrier between you and everyone else,” explains Berton.
“1 don’t have any really close friends,” says Templeton. "My family is perhaps the most important thing in my life, but otherwise I don’t really need people and I like to be alone. 1 am shy. Nobody believes it, but I am. I am uneasy in a group larger than three. I’m no good at parties and small talk is one of the social mechanisms of life and I’m just lousy at it.” And yet at those parties he does go to he is lionized, mostly by women. “I think I’m too glib. It’s almost too easy for me to express an opinion and 1 find myself doing it with more authority than it deserves. It's a criticism which is made of me and 1 must in part agree with it.” Berton says Templeton is a “magnificent gossip and sometimes delightfully indiscreet.” One party he did attend was at Ber-
ton's. soon after becoming executive news editor of the Star. The men, mostly Star writers and editors, began Indian-wrestling matches. At that time Robert Nielsen, the editorialpage editor, was the Star's unofficial Indian-wrestling champion, having won the title on other such occasions as this. He and Charles wrestled. Says Nielsen: “It didn’t much matter to
him or to me, but I'm prepared to believe that some of the newspaper people there saw it as symbolic of the situation at the office and wanted me to win. I didn’t, but it was such a tough contest that 1 had bursitis in my elbow for days afterward.” Templeton next defeated cartoonist Duncan Macpherson, a man with a considerable reputation for his rambunctiousness. "I wouldn’t want to tangle with Charles,” he says. “He's a tough customer. That wasn't just a game with him. He has that certain instinct. It
mattered that he win. It mattered very much.” Later, when Templeton made his bid for the leadership of the Liberal Party in Ontario, Macpherson’s cartoons showed him with shining eyes. “It matched the man's almost evangelical fervor about whatever he did,” says Nielsen. “He was a good man, but somehow he didn’t leave much impact on the Star,” says repor-
ter John Brehl. “Everyone respected him by then, though.”
THE POLITICAL Charles Templeton was publicly born on May 6, 1964, when he quit the Star after four years to run for a Toronto by-election seat and, simultaneously, the leadership of the provincial Liberal Party. He came a poor third in the by-election, largely because a hostile Liberal Old Guard refused to trot out their party machine for the occasion. Incredibly, two weeks later he was almost elected
leader of the Ontario party: after five ballots he lost to Andrew Thompson, but only just. Reporter John Brehl, who covered his old boss’s politicking, says: “He was almost too good to be true. You couldn’t fault his sportsmanlike attitude toward the victors, and you couldn’t help wondering whether he was saying to himself that it was no good weeping or getting mad because in six months he might need this man, or these people.”
He doesn't always lose so gracefully. Says Cohen: “I admire the man enormously, but he does like to win. After the opening night of the m u s i c a 1 Camelot, Templeton went to a party where a radio > reporter was asking celebrities their opinion of the show. I was listening to the radio, and I heard Charles come on and say the trouble with it was that Lerner and Loewe didn't have the same collaborator for Camelot as they had for My Fair Lady. The reporter said, ‘Isn’t that funny — Gordon Sinclair said that to me just five minutes ago.’ Templeton came right back with, ‘It is funny — I said that to Gordon just 10 minutes ago.’ ”
There was a time, soon after his defeat at the Liberal leadership convention, when some Templetonwatchers thought he was in eclipse. He didn’t go back to the Star because his job was gone “and 1 never go back.” Instead, he and his brother ran a firm that made advertising devices. It was ailing when he arrived; healthier when he left. Nielsen visited him there, and says: “It was as though I was with an actor who had learned to feel himself into a new role. You’ve never seen anyone more completely the businessman, or more delighted to be one.”
Andrew Thompson's win was probably Templeton's one significant defeat, and a cataclysmic one since he was left with neither the newspaper nor the political plum. What a piquant pleasure it must have been, then, for Templeton to be almost begged to accept the Ontario Liberal leadership two years later when, in the fall of 1966, Thompson resigned because of poor health and was appointed to the Senate. Templeton refused it partly because his wife was unenthusiastic, partly because he was still in debt from his earlier venture into politics — and partly because he believed that an election was imminent and he wouldn’t have time to whip the party into winning shape. Besides, many Liberal MLAs in Ontario don’t much care for him. In any event, the Canadian Television Network (CTV) was simultaneously offering him the job of director of news
and public affairs. CTV had already launched W5 to compete with CBC's Sunday. It was a sickly thing, but then, so was Sunday, and at least it demonstrated CTV’s eagerness to cash in on the Information Explosion Marshall McLuhan had been talking about, and they wanted Templeton to show them how. at a salary which, he says, boosts his total income to more than $50,000 a year.
"He had already demonstrated judgment in dealing with people and society. He'd shown ability in leading journalists, which is by no means easy, and he has incredible energy and application and a desire to do everything he does better than anybody else.” For these reasons, adds CTV President Murray Chercover. the network wooed and won Templeton.
Today — IS months later — the CBC is obliged to admit to challenging competition in the one area that chiefly justifies its existence: Canadian news and public affairs. CTV news is often more visual, more television, than the CBC's. CTV has a handful of public-affairs shows which, though small-budget compared to CBC offerings, are always w o r t h watching. W5 is a match for The Way It is. the CBC's latest Sunday-night magazine show now run by Ross
McLean. And Templeton says, with a mixture of truth and self-sell: “We consistently do a better news job than the CBC. We have beaten them to air on every breaking news story but one since last August. I suppose the outstanding thing was our coverage of the leadership conventions, but even more so are the news beats. We beat them by 22 minutes with the news that Trudeau had dissolved parliament and called an election. It was obvious to me he simply couldn't face parliament after the leadership convention. so we had a mobile unit outside the Commons when it met for the first time after the convention. We had done a half-hour show and were signing off before the CBC even arrived.” It is also true that the initiative for the Great Debate, such as it was, between political leaders came from Templeton’s office.
Says McLean: “CTV public affairs, especially W5, has had a damned good year. I admire it and I credit Chuck. He’s provided the lighter, pop stuff we at The Way It Is have tended to regard as too familiar. Perhaps there’s a lesson for us all in Chuck. He has a simple outlook and with his zest and enthusiasm 1 think he knows what the public wants.” There are those who find this true — and alarming. “It’s frightening to realize that a book like Berton’s The Smug Minority could be so successful,” says one of the disenchanted. “That’s the level Berton and Templeton and their shallow, cliche-ridden little minds operate at — the sort of conventional wisdom and controversy which were really old hat 10, 20 years ago. Most thinking people left them behind in their sophomore years.”
IN THE BEST PART of two days of talking with me, Templeton was gracious, articulate, helpful, direct, honest — and, uneasily, I grew to understand what a former colleague of the cloth meant by. “Charlie is a façade and what’s behind it only God knows; 1 doubt whether Charlie does.” And then, in a studio cafeteria over cups of tepid coffee, 1 think I detected a chink, a sliver of a crack, in the public Templeton. Briefly at least he stopped gazing at me with radiant frankness and he said:
“I believe there are two disparate drives in me. I’ll talk about the second one first: I think 1 have a desire for anonymity. I started as a kid as a newspaper cartoonist, and as soon as I got to he well known I left for the anonymity of being an unknown evangelist. I got well known there, and came back to Toronto as an unknown. It is a pattern I have observed in myself. When I achieved a measure of fame in Toronto I left my own evangelical church and joined the Presbyterians, where I was unknown. It seems that whenever I reached a point of notoriety I left it and went to anonymity. And then the other side of me, the other drive, comes into play, because once I have found this anonymity all the things 1 then do lead right back into the public eye. And yet. while I don't expect anyone to believe me. 1 don’t really like the limelight. 1 resent being rcc-
ognized in public."
We paused for a moment, contemplating our coffee. “Look," he said. “I’ll try to make your job easier. When I left the ministry I went to see a good friend of mine, a psychoanalyst, in New York. We had 12 twohour sessions and I tried to speak out everything. At the end he said it wasn't long enough to reach any conclusions, but that some patterns emerged. He said, ‘Charles, you have a Don Juan complex. I'm not talking about women; I am talking about the need to conquer. It's an unconscious need but the conquest having been achieved you become uninterested in the subject. Not bored, just uninterested.' As an oversimplified explanation of why I'm not interested in doing anything that doesn’t challenge the bejeesus out of me, 1 think that has some validity.
“I honestly never think beyond the job I'm doing. I simply pour all my energies into whatever I'm doing at the time, and other things come along. I'm truly not thinking beyond what I'm doing now at CTV. But who knows, there may be something else. I have maybe another 15 years before I’m over the watershed. I’m still very interested in politics because that's the most fascinating thing in the world. The name of the game is power, and if you want it for what you consider good ends. I think it is perfectly legitimate to seek it. So there’s politics, and I think making a feature film might be fun, and maybe acting. I’ve once or twice thought I’d like to try acting.’’
Elmer Sopha, an Ontario Liberal MI.A who once supported Templeton and now does not, says; “He's a peripatetic hit-or-miss reformer with no roots, fluttering about as impulse dictates.” Another of the disenchanted argues: “Success? I think he's a
failure. I want to know why a man who displayed the talents and power he had at 30 hasn't made more impact on the world. He’s at an age when many men of fewer demonstrated abilities have made a million, become prime minister, written a major book or somehow left a substantial mark. He hasn’t. He’s still a passion in search of a cause to be totally committed to. I think his epitaph will be: ‘Almost.’ ”
I told Nathan Cohen that Templeton was toying with the thought of acting. After a moment’s uncharacteristic silence, Cohen said: “You know, if Henry Fonda or Cary Grant were to begin their acting careers now when they’re over 50 they wouldn't stand a chance. But Charles? I don't know. I just don't know."
And neither does he. ★