Everything in the world is interconnected. McLuhan’s global village shrinks with each year. Klaus Barbie intrudes on our personal lives 30 years after he disappeared.
Tom Ardies was a good and manic reporter for The Vancouver Sun in its golden years in the 1950s when it was run in lavish, eccentric style by the millionaire Cromie brothers. Annis Stukus, the football editor, was sent to cover the impending world war in Quemoy and Matsu off the coast of China—taking care to have his picture taken in a foxhole in the sands of English Bay first.
Marie Moreau, the fashion editor, was sent to interview Fidel Castro in Cuba.
Circulation managers were given Cadillac convertibles, rolled onto a nightclub stage at Christmas parties, and reporters rented bulldozers to block the road against opposition scribes while fleeing to phone in the story of nude Doukhobor women burning down their homes.
Ardies, as all good reporters want to do, aspired to become an author.
He did a spell as special assistant to the governor of Guam, lived in Mexico and turned out a series of thrillers based on a Bond-like wisecracker who often bore a fey resemblance to Tom Ardies. Hollywood bought his book, called Kosygin Is Coming, and, being Hollywood, renamed it Russian Roulette before filming it in Vancouver. George Segal was the star, and downtown Vancouver traffic turned into a massive chocolate sludge when the climactic scene—a gunfight carried on across the steeply pitched green copper roof of the Hotel Vancouver—culminated in the assassin’s body plunging kerplunk to the town’s only elegant street.
This was 1974, and the Hollywood crew thought they were on the edge of a new wave. It was called drugs. Ardies, as consultant on the film, was exhausted and strung out with tension in attempting to rescue his baby from manglers and PR slicksters. In the circus of rounders, pushers and groupies
Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.
attracted to the making of a movie, he was introduced to Bobby Wilson, a member of the Vancouver demimonde who was a retired jewel thief.
Wilson had a goofy, implausible proposition. He claimed to be in contact with the Butcher of Lyons, one Klaus Barbie, the last known remaining Nazi war criminal, living openly in Bolivia. He said Barbie was willing to sell his life story for $20,000. All Wilson wanted was “a writer with balls.” Ardies, on a high with his movie success, was certainly that. He approached his old paper, but the editors, concerned about his
health, declined. Those of us who were his friends thought it a mad project, like searching for Atlantis. Ardies, who was mad enough to recognize a good story while the rest of us doubted, instead went to Jimmy Pattison, a diminutive, freckled local boy who had become a conglomerate millionaire from a start as a used car salesman. Pattison, a nondrinker who plays trumpet in a fundamentalist church on Sundays, admires guts and he gave Ardies and Wilson the $20,000, plus $5,000 for air fare and mad money.
Ardies talked to another gambler, Jack McClelland of McClelland and Stewart, to Doubleday of New York and to the TV networks. The plan in the fertile Ardies brain was to film Barbie, in his own explanation of his role in occupied France, then return to the United States, have actors play the other parts in what would be “evidence” for his “prosecution.” It would have been, in Ardies’ imagination, the first “trial” of a major figure on television.
Ardies and Wilson flew from Vancouver to La Paz with Pattison’s money. The Barbie camp nixed the cameras. It was, Ardies recalls now, somewhat like “Tijuana on a mountaintop.” They met Barbie in the home of a minor government functionary. Ardies was surprised at the casual nature of the encounter. There were no bodyguards. No one was frisked. “If I wanted to kill him, I could have,” he now says. Barbie was 62, in good health. He did not seem to be worried about danger. The then Bolivian government not only tolerated but obviously cossetted him.
They spent three days dickering. Basically all they got, in return for the $20,000, was another suitcaseful of press clippings. (One wonders, in retrospect, how often Barbie “sold” his memoirs, built on the bodies of dead French children, to other chequebook journalists.) L I Ardies flew to New York to negotiate with Doubleday. By this time he was strung out, by his movie high, by his exhaustion, by the oxygen shock of the La Paz altitude. He could not function. “I was,” he remembers with the rue that can only be understood by scribblers who have screwed up a great story, “the wrong person at the wrong time.” He is now shatteringly honest about himself: “If I wasn’t crazy I would never have had the guts to fly to Bolivia. The problem is that I was too crazy to finish the story.”
Doubleday could make no sense of it all. Ardies and Wilson fell to scrapping over the remains, Wilson wanting to cut out Pattison. They parted company. Today, Ardies is in Palm Springs, Calif., in an advertising and public relations agency. Bobby Wilson, in his latest caper, turned up as the ghostwriter of a sleazy book supposedly written by Wendy King, the prostitute who brought down B.C. Supreme Court Justice E. Davie Fulton by falsely including him in a notebook as a client, a client who turned out to be a “practical joker” who was a former Fulton law partner and thought it would be fun to give Fulton’s name. Jimmy Pattison, is now chairman of Vancouver’s 1986 Expo world fair. And Barbie is in Lyons. Where he belongs.
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