BOOKS

The gift of Gabereau

THIS WON’T HURT A BIT! By Vicki Gabereau

DARLENE JAMES September 14 1987
BOOKS

The gift of Gabereau

THIS WON’T HURT A BIT! By Vicki Gabereau

DARLENE JAMES September 14 1987

The gift of Gabereau

BOOKS

THIS WON’T HURT A BIT! By Vicki Gabereau

(Collins, 21+9 pages, $19.95)

Among the contenders for Toronto’s 1974 mayoralty race was a 28-year-old sporadically employed high-school dropout called Rosie the Clown. Rosie won almost 3,000 votes, including one from prankster Vicki Gabereau—not surprising, because Rosie was Gabereau herself. City hall’s loss became radio’s gain. The exposure she won as Rosie led the Vancouver native, described by West Coast journalist Jack Webster as “the most aggressive, tough, roustabout young woman I ever knew in my life,” to a job hosting an open-line talk show in Brampton, Ont. Later, after a series of radio jobs at the CBC, Gabereau won a national profile in 1981 as host of the network’s Variety Tonight. In 1985 she moved on to her own weeknight program, Gabereau. Now, in her lively new book, This Won't Hurt a Bit!, she brackets transcripts of interviews from both shows with fragments of her life story. The book is a showcase for the unique Gabereau style: informal, provocative—and sometimes silly.

Gabereau is the only child of a news photographer and his homemaker wife, and the broadcaster’s professional life has left few bases untouched. At various times she has been a “beer slinger, bird-cage attendant, night-school teacher of macramé and a cab driver.” That eclectic background turned out to be a fine apprenticeship

for her radio career. On air, Gabereau has conversed with personalities as diverse as boxer George Chuvalo, primate expert Jane Goodall, countryand-western singer Dolly Parton and violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin. By the end of most conversations, her subjects come to sound like old friends.

Gabereau says that she was “plain intimidated” by the prospect of talking with Margaret Atwood two years ago, after publication of Atwood’s novel The Handmaid's Tale. But the broadcaster managed to establish such intimacy that Atwood was soon recalling her defeat as a teenager in a homemaker contest, for which she had made meat loaf and peas and ironed a shirt. A 1984 interview with American writer Joseph Heller {Catch-22, Good as Gold) began on a distinctly hostile note. It ended with Heller inviting Gabereau to dinner and offering to sing the entire score of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2.

Devotees of Gabereau’s programs will find her as breezy and breathless in print as on the air. Those who do not appreciate her idiosyncrasies can concentrate on the wealth of self-revelations offered up by the celebrities and achievers who populate the book’s pages. The same refreshing, mix of brashness and wit that earned her two ACTRA Awards for radio’s best host-interviewer has produced an anthology and autobiography with mass appeal.

DARLENE JAMES