Opening Note

Opening Note

BARBARA WICKENS February 9 1998
Opening Note

Opening Note

BARBARA WICKENS February 9 1998

Opening Note


Hollywood or Washington?

When Wag the Dog premièred late last year, it was just a deft political satire— the story of a White House fixer (Robert De Niro) and a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) who concoct a phony war to divert media attention from a sex scandal that could cost the president his job. But last week, as President Bill Clinton raised the spectre of war against Iraq amid allegations that he had an affair with a White House intern, the movie seemed eerily prescient.

In the film, the scandal concerns a three-minute sexual dalliance between the president and a “Firefly Girl” in a hideaway room off the Oval Office, the same room mentioned in the real-life allegations. Wag the Dog also has a TV news clip of the fictional president greeting the girl at a function— the scene bears an uncanny resemblance to the now-infamous clip of Clinton hugging former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, right down to the black beret worn by the girl in the film.

Wag the Dog is not the only movie echoing Clinton’s alleged escapades. In Primary Colors, based on the 1995 best-selling novel by U.S. political columnist Joe Klein, director Mike Nichols casts John Travolta as a philandering southern governor campaigning for the presidency. When the $96-million movie opens on March 20,

the Lewinsky scandal could give it a boost at the box office, just as The China Syndrome (the nuclear-accident drama starring Jane Fonda) benefited from being released just prior to the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. But some Hollywood observers have suggested that Clinton’s woes may hurt sales for Primary Colors because the movie now cuts too close for comfort.

In any event, sullying the image of the presidency—once so dignified in Hollywood movies—now seems fair game. In last year’s Absolute Power, Gene Hackman played a president who covers up the murder of his mistress. Perhaps Clinton should rent it—his own troubles might seem a little lighter by comparison.

A Titanic way to raise money

Harbourfront, the Toronto cultural centre, is floating a new fund-raising idea. Inspired by the success of the movie Titanic—and a corresponding wave of interest in all things Titanic—the centre’s officials are planning a dinner that will replicate the last meal served on the ocean liner. To be held on April 14, the an-

niversary of the ship’s sinking, the event will feature menus from Last Dinner on the Titanic, by Toronto

writers Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley. Tickets—or boarding passes—will sell for $250. And since many would-be patrons might not be able to afford that, officials are also considering a “steerage" party. “This dinner represents our own maiden voyage in fund-raising, and we’re sure it’ll be unforgettable,” says Susan Rutledge, Harbourfront’s business development associate. Needless to say, there will be no iceberg lettuce.

An undiplomatic list

Paul Frazer, minister of public affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, has, reluctantly, been in the media spotlight lately. The January issue of Washingtonian, a magazine that glorifies life in the capital, published the top 22 house sales in 1997. Senator Ted Kennedy’s home was No. 1 on the list, selling to Hong Kong shipping heir Eric Hotung for $5.9 million ($8.6 million Cdn.). And tied with two others for eleventh place was Frazer, the only Canadian to make the list. He and his wife, Tina Alster, a prominent dermatologist, purchased their home in the swank Washington neighborhood of Georgetown in January, 1997, for $1.7 million ($2.5 million Cdn.). Frazer says he was shocked that “his private business” had been made public. “I don’t like it from either a privacy or a security perspective.” While politician Kennedy’s home may have taken first place, the list of wealthiest buyers was dominated by those who are essential to the public in a different way: doctors and lawyers.

No E for effort by Canadian kids

Uh-oh. The kids’ report cards are in, and they are barely passing. This week, the Heart and Stroke Foundation graded the health habits of Canadian children, and the results—based on a survey of 400 families across the country—are far from satisfactory. The worst grades are in nutrition. Only 20 per cent of six-to-12-year-olds meet the recommended daily amounts of fruit and vegetables, and just 28 per cent regularly eat whole grain breads and cereals. And there is room for improvement when it comes to junk food. Only 60 per cent restrict their intake of candy and potato chips to no more than three times a week. Marks for exercise are also disappointing. Thirty-one per cent of children engage in active play fewer than three times a week. But the foundation’s experts are most dismayed by children’s exposure to secondhand smoke. Almost half—47 per cent— breathe in air contaminated by the 4,000 chemicals from their parents’ cigarettes.

Overall, the marks are dismal. But children have plenty of time to improve their lifestyles later on, right? “The point is they don’t,” says Toronto cardiologist Anthony Graham. “Fat kids are likely to become fat adults. Inactive kids tend to remain inactive as adults. And if a parent smokes, a kid is twice as likely to become a smoker.” Not only are those bad habits harder to break in later years, adds Graham, they often lead to a higher incidence of high blood pressure, heart disease and—the ultimate failure—an early death.

Banff's Asian flu

Banff has found the medicine to help ease a mild case of the Asian economic flu: a dropping Canadian dollar. With traffic from the lucrative Asian market to the scenic resort town down by 10 per cent in the past nine months, an influx of tourists from Eu-

rope and the United States has helped offset the decline. “The falling Canadian dollar has worked very well for us, especially in Britain,” says Greg McKnight, executive director of the BanffLake Louise Tourism Bureau. “They can come here for two weeks for the same price as two weeks in France.” But even with new clientele from Europe, businesses popular with Asian visitors are feeling the pinch. In the case of the majestic Banff Springs Hotel, business is off 20 per cent because of Asian economic troubles—and there is no rebound in sight. “This blip could last two or three years,” warns Ted Kissane, Banff Springs general manager. McKnight says the Korean market “has died,” and he has shelved plans to go after tourists in Malaysia and the Philippines. In the meantime, Britannia will rule the slopes.


RECOVERING: The Queen Mother, 97, after successful surgery to replace her fractured left hip; at the King Edward VII hospital in London. The most popular member of the Royal Family, the Queen Mother fell while inspecting her race horses at Sandringham, the royal estate in eastern England. She had undergone replacement surgery on her right hip in November, 1995. Attending doctors expect her to remain in hospital until mid-February.

INVESTED: Wayne Gretzky, 37, into the Order of Canada; by Gov. Gen.

Roméo LeBlanc, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. Gretzky was named an officer of the order in 1984, but because of his hockey schedule he was unable to attend one of the regular investiture ceremonies until last week. Gretzky was accompanied by his parents, Walter and Phyllis Gretzky.

DIED:Shinichi Suzuki, 99, whose revolutionary Suzuki Method has helped millions of youngsters around the world learn music; in Matsumoto, Japan. He introduced the program, which teaches through imitation and memory, instead of theory and notes, in 1950.

ELECTED: Former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, 58,

as director general of the World Health Organization; in Geneva. Brundtland, a physician, is the first woman to head the organization.

DIED: Longtime Liberal MPP Eddie Sargent, 82; after a lengthy illness, in Owen Sound, Ont. Sargent served four terms as mayor of Owen Sound before serving in the provincial legislature from 1963-87.

DIED: Stage and television actor Donald Davis, 70; of lung disease, in Toronto. Davis worked in both Canada and the United States, appearing at the Stratford Festival and on Broadway with stars such as Katharine Hepburn.

APPOINTED: Hal Jackman, 65,

lieutenant-governor of Ontario from 1991 to 1997, to a three-year term as chairman of the Ontario Arts Council; in Toronto.