Saturday, 31 May 2014

Wojciech Jaruzelski: Poland's last Community dictator

This photo from is of former
Polish Communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski, at left,
and Nicolae Ceaucescu, the last Communist leader of Romania.
What happens to Communist despots after they have been deposed? It seems, unlike the people they replaced, they go on to live long lives of freedom. They get to enjoy the fruits of the democracy they suppressed.

It’s a sad irony, and I was once again reminded of it when I heard news last week that Wojciech Jaruzelski died. He was the last Communist leader of Poland, one more remnant of the Cold War that ended in the 1989-1990 period.

Martial law
When I was growing up, I listened to the news from a young age. Every day there were stories coming out of Poland about protests in the Gdansk Shipyards by workers. They were part of a trade union called Solidarity led by Lech Walesa, an electrician and an inspiring leader.

My family has a special connection to Poland, as my mother was born there and her family lived there for generations before they had to leave during the Second World War. I grew up hearing stories about Poland, the Nazis, and the subsequent takeover by the Communists. They seemed to be this dictatorship that suppressed all dissent and tolerated no one who disagreed with the government. That’s why I was so surprised Solidarity’s protests were not only tolerated, but freely reported to the world.

Then one day in 1981, I awoke and I heard it on CJOC Radio before I went to school. Leadership had hardened in the Communist party and the president, Wojciech Jaruzelski, had imposed martial law. Solidarity had been outlawed, the media had been severely curtailed, and Lech Walesa had been arrested. I was not sure what martial law was, but it sounded bad – and it was. Martial law would last until the middle of 1983.

Winds of change
So much happened in my own life over the next few years, that it’s hard to believe it was only six years until the winds of change swept Eastern Europe clean of Communism. The rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, and the reforms he introduced, led to political reform all over Eastern Europe. It seemed like every day another domino was falling, whether it was the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, the coup in Romania that toppled Nicolae Ceacescu, unrest and change in Hungary, or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The winds of change blew through Poland as well. By the end of 1988, strikes forced the Communists to approach Solidarity to enter into talks. The result was an agreement in 1989 that created a new governing body and paved the way for free elections. It also created the office of president.

Solidarity won most of the available seats, and Jaruzelski won the presidency. Ultimately, he was unsuccessful in convincing Solidarity to enter a coalition and, after his other allies broke ranks, he was forced to appoint Solidarity’s Tadeusz Mazowiecki as prime minister.

Jaruzelski would resign soon after, and be replaced by Lech Walesa in 1990.

The Communists had been blown away once and for all.

Parting thoughts
The 1980s began with martial law and ended with the flag of freedom flying high in Warsaw. It had been quite a decade in Poland. While we all heard of Walesa, Mazowiecki, and the other reformers, Jaruzelski seemed to go quietly into that good night.

It seems unfair that he simply drifted off into retirement. It wasn’t like Canada or the United States where leaders left office because they lost or retired. He had been deposed. Worse, his actions had led to the deaths of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, through the suppression of freedom and the assertion of authority.

It really does not seem fair that he was allowed to just get on with his life without ever suffering the consequences of his actions.

Thousands were never allowed to live out their lives because of him. It seems wrong that he got to live to a ripe old age and none of those people did.

Friday, 30 May 2014

James Sykes: 2014 Calgary Stampeders Wall of Fame

A football card of James Sykes. It was part
of a series put out by the Red Rooster
convenience store chain, and I actually
completed the entire series.
James Sykes, circa 1978. I used to love that hair.
He was a lightning quick runningback who could cut on a dime. The first few years I watched the Calgary Stampeders play football, James Sykes was their feature back. Recently, he was elected to the Stampeders’ “Wall of Fame” and it brought back all these memories when Calgary was the second best team in the league.

Replacing a legend
There’s a funny thing about when you start something new. When I started watching Canadian football in 1978, the Stampeders were coached by Jack Gotta; Ken Johnson was the quarterback, filling in for the injured John Hufnagel; and James Sykes carried the ball.

They also had a runningback, Richard Crump, who had come over in a trade with Winnipeg, and some guy named Willie Burden, who had been injured and was coming back. At one point, Gotta and company experimented with a three-back set to utilize the strengths of all three. That experiment would soon end.

Only later did I discover that Willie Burden had not only been the feature back for the Stampeders, but actually held the single-season record for rushing yards. In fact, in the description of Sykes for the “Wall of Fame”, they said Sykes was the first back after the legendry Willie Burden. When I saw Burden, he was winding down his career.

Establishing his own legend
The Stampeders I watched relied on the run. Sykes, who played in Calgary from 1978 to 1983, ended up leading the team in rushing several times, and the league in rushing in 1980 and 1981. He was also a CFL all-star in 1978, as a rookie, and in 1980, and a Western all-star in 1982. He was also really good at catching the ball out of the backfield. By the time his tenure with the Stamps ended, he had racked up more than 10,000 total yards, combining rushing, receiving, punt and kick returns.

His best seasons were 1980 when he rushed for 1,263 yards; 1981 when he rushed for 1,107 yards; 1982 where he rushed for 1,046 yards; and 1978 where he rushed for 1,020 yards. Keep in mind the CFL had a 16-game schedule back then unlike the 18 games they play now, and only once did he play all 16 games. Three times he played 15 games, and in 1979 he rushed for 703 yards, but only played 12 games, sitting out with an injury. Likely he played hurt too, so had he been healthy the entire season he may have hit 1,000 yards again and led the league in rushing.

What I always remember about James Sykes, beyond that huge head of hair that seemed to take on the shape and texture of his helmet, was the way he moved. He seemed to glide, almost walking on water. He had amazing vision, seeing a hole where none existed, then accelerating through it for a good gain. He had great breakaway speed too, so if he got into the open field, he was gone.

One day I turned around and he was gone. The Stampeders released him in 1983, and ultimately he landed in Winnipeg where he played one game, spent 1984 and 1985 on the practice roster, then returned in 1986 where he rushed for 447 yards in seven games. There was nothing more nauseating and galling than seeing James Sykes playing for the Blue Bombers. He was older and slower, and past his prime, so I took comfort in the fact he wasn’t the same James Sykes I had known and loved.

Parting thoughts
It was good to hear James Sykes had been inducted into the 2014 Stampeders’ “Wall of Fame”. His name brought back memories of a time when no matter what the Stampeders did, the Edmonton Eskimos did it better. However, it is a testament to the talent and ability of James Sykes that he put up those stats against some strong defences, including one of the best ever in the Eskimos. He was a treat to watch, and I’m glad maybe a few more people will now remember how great he was.

(This clip shows James Sykes rushing, and contains a graphic of his season totals)

(This clip starts with a close-up of James Sykes and ends with a pass attempt to him)

Monday, 26 May 2014

Knowlton Nash: Voice of Canada

Knowlton Nash, chief correspondent on CBC's "The National", from 1978 to 1988.
It was sad to hear Knowlton Nash passed away the other day. I came along at the tail end of his career, but he was definitely synonymous with Canadian news and the CBC in the ‘80s. Still, he was the epitome of integrity, honour, grace, and journalism. He is a role model all of us journalists can aspire to.

The National
When I was young, the Canadian newscasts were always at 11 p.m. When they ended, it signaled the end of the broadcast day. For me, it was Lloyd Robertson and Harvey Kirck on CTV, and Knowlton Nash on The National on CBC.

Then CBC got bold and did the unthinkable. They moved "The National" to 10 p.m. I do recall that move, and how strange it seemed at the time. Now it’s just the norm.

Chief correspondent
Over the past few days there have been a lot of tributes to Knowlton Nash. Through them, I have discovered he assumed the role of chief correspondent for "The National" in 1978 and retired in 1988. The title “chief correspondent” exudes a certain respect and honour. Instead of anchor, or news reader, it connotes kind of a sense of first among equals. He wasn’t just a newsreader, he was a journalist – a correspondent. He did the writing and reporting, just like his peers, but he was the chief because he was the face of the newscast

"History on the Run",
the first book by
Knowlton Nash I read.
"Visions of Canada",
bought at the Salvation
Army in Fort Macleod,
and the second book
by Nash that I read.
Voice of Canada
There was always something reassuring about Knowlton Nash. He was serious and professional. His job was to inform and, as he said in one interview I saw yesterday, to educate us. He did a masterful job because he never pandered, bantered, or tried to entertain. He informed. That made him the voice of Canada.

I have no specific memories of Knowlton Nash, because I saw him a few nights every week. He was just always there, a familiar face I trusted to tell me the facts.

It was only after he retired, and I got older, that he started writing books and I started reading them. Two sit on my shelf that I have read, “History on the Run” and “Visions of Canada”. A third, “Kennedy and Diefenbaker” has yet to be read. One thing I have observed so far is this: even after retiring, Knowlton Nash was the voice of Canada. 
I have yet to read
"Kennedy and Diefenbaker"
by Knowlton Nash, but
it sits on my shelf.

Parting thoughts
Knowlton Nash has been gone from "The National" more than a quarter century, yet his name still resonates. Likely because I can identify with many of the things said about him the past few days. He loved journalism, he loved telling stories, and he loved Canada. When he retired, he devoted a lot of time to writing, and published nine books.

Although I never even thought about journalist as a career during the ‘80s when I watched Knowlton Nash, as I listen to all the retrospectives a part of me wants to be a like him. I want to have that kind of career and aspire to be that prolific. I think that says a lot about the kind of job he did, the example he set, and the person he was.

Thanks for everything Knowlton and good night.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Yellow Rose: Unrealized soap opera potential

The main players in "The Yellow Rose". In back from left
 are David Soul; Edward Albert; and Sam Elliott' while in
front from left are Cybill Shepherd and Susan Anspach.
Imagine a handsome loner, with a past, wandering back onto a large Texas ranch wrought with intrigue and deep dark secrets. Now, imagine Sam Elliott playing that dark, handsome stranger; David Soul playing a leading part; a young Cybill Shepherd as the vamp; and Susan Anspach as a more respectable leading lady. It makes for a can’t-miss premise doesn’t?

Well it did miss. It was called “The Yellow Rose”, and it lasted a season on NBC, and CTV on peasant vision. Debuting in 1983 amid a sea of other night-time dramas such as “Dallas”, “Dynasty”, “Knot’s Landing”, and “Falcon Crest”, it just didn’t seem to resonate with viewers. NBC was perpetually looking for a soap opera to match the success of all these others, but never really found it. “Flamingo Road” fell apart, and “The Yellow Rose” failed too.

I had forgotten all about it, until I sat down in the public library recently and heard someone asking about signing it out of the library. It was not surprising the patron was informed it was not on DVD or anywhere else for that matter. After all, the show only lasted a handful of episodes, 22 in total.

So much promise
CTV hyped “The Yellow Rose” pretty heavily. I always remember one commercial where David Soul’s character Roy Champion was looking intense and said to Sam Elliott’s character Chance McKenzie, “ You come on the Rose, you’re under my law.”

At the time, I was 13 and David Soul was, and will always be Ken Hutchinson from “Starsky and Hutch”. I really had no idea who Sam Elliott was. The same went for Cybill Shepherd and Susan Anspach, aside from her role in “The Devil and Max Devlin”. Edward Albert was the son of more famous actor Eddie Albert, the warden in “The Longest Yard” and more recently a co-star with Robert Wagner in “Switch”. And of course Noah Beery Junior had been Jim Rockford’s dad “Rocky” in “The Rockford Files.”

As I said it had all the makings of a hit, but fizzled, and was cancelled after one season. NBC did re-broadcast it in the summer of 1990, along with “Bret Maverick”, when there was some sort of writers’ strike on.

Parting thoughts
“The Yellow Rose" was on at a time when NBC floundered in third place in the ratings, among three TV networks, and showed no signs of improving. The network had a revolving door of shows that were a victim variously of bad writing, bad acting, bad production, and sometimes just bad timing. “The Yellow Rose” falls somewhere in the middle of all this.

It also fell victim to the rush of networks to capitalize on the popularity of night-time dramas, or soap operas. Many were either rushed into production, or at least looked like it, with premises that just didn’t resonate with audiences.

Quite frankly, I was surprised anyone would remember "The Yellow Rose", like that lady in the library did. Yet, when I started to think about “The Yellow Rose”, I wondered what it would be like to see it 30 years later. After all, it did have an amazing cast.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Aliens: Scared spitless

The movie poster for the 1986 movie "Aliens",
the sequel to "Alien, directed by James Cameron.

Admittedly, I am what you would call a “fraidy cat”. I am easily startled, and often jump out of my chair when someone catches me by surprise.

But there are few times in my life where I was startled so much, my heart beat a thousand times a minute and wouldn’t slow down for a long time.

It was a long time ago, in a country house far away north of Coaldale – but surprisingly not my own.

The friendly invite
It was the spring of 1987, and high school was quickly drawing to a close. Me and my best friend Chris Vining got invited to the house party of a girl named Natalie. She was part of this widening circle of friends we had become part of.

As odd as it sounds, I had known her since Grade 10, but had no idea her farm just a few miles from ours, seriously five minutes away.

It was another video party, and the movie of choice was, “Aliens”.

We had heard how good it was, but I wasn’t really that interested. It was the sequel to “Alien”, which I thought an odd name.

“What will the next sequel be called?” I joked. “ Alienss?”

My sister had seen it in the theatre and I remember her describing it to me when she came home. The scene that stood was when they came upon a planet of alien eggs and one shot something into John Hurt. It turned out an alien had impregnated him, and was growing inside him until it eventually breaks out, killing him.

That sounded just terrifying to me. However, when CTV finally aired “Alien” on peasant vision, the censors had done a thorough job on it, virtually cutting out the entire scene. All the gore was gone to say the least.

Needless to say, I was going for the company, not the movie.

A pleasant surprise?
The funny thing was, I had to go get Vining from town, so it ended up being a much longer trip, which was okay, because it gave us a chance to BS en route. He had the directions and, that’s when it got odd. He had not put together how close her place was from mine.

As usual, we were the last to arrive, and everyone was there. Natalie had some snacks out and was a good host. Her parents were out, and her little brother had a buddy of his own over, and they made themselves scarce.

About four years later, I talk a film studies course at university. The course was broken into film directors more than films. Two filmmakers were Ridley Scott and James Cameron. Scott did “Alien” and Cameron did “Aliens”, and they are completely different movies. “Alien” is very dark and haunting. “Aliens” is more of an action movie reminiscent of “The Terminator” which Cameron also directed.

That’s why I enjoyed “Aliens” so much, and really got into it. Plus, Michael Biehn who had played Kyle Reese in “The Terminator” was in “Aliens”, and he is a favourite of mine.

Anyway, I was so into the movie, and it was getting tense. Suddenly…

There was a bang at the window. It scared the crap out of me. I jumped so high, I was picking plaster out of my scalp.

I looked behind the TV and there was a window to the outside. Beyond it was Natalie’s little brother laughing his head off. The little turd.

It really was a good surprise though, so much so I remember it more than the actual movie.

The aftermath
It turned out to be another memorable house party. After the movie, we sat around and talked into well past one in the morning. Natalie had her ghetto blaster, tuned to a radio station that played all the popular music of the time. I kept saying, “Oh, I like this song” over and over. But it wasn’t a station I recognized. In fact, I don’t even recall a lot of deejay talk. Mind you, back in those days, there was little talk after midnight.

Then I recall being tired and being a few minutes from home. However, I had to drive Vining home, all the way back to Coaldale. It was a long way for a tired teenager. Still, it afforded us the opportunity to talk about the events of the party, which girls we liked, and which ones we thought might like us. There were very few of the latter kind.

Sigourney Weaver was recently in Calgary talking about “Aliens” and it reminded me of this. Not as much the movie as the time with friends and the fact, at long last, me and Vining belonged.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Ray Guy: The greatest punter

Ray Guy in his hey day with the Raiders.
There are jobs in life that go unnoticed until something goes wrong. You can go years without incident, but the minute something bad happens all eyes are on you. Such is the life of a punter. He can go years without getting a punt blocked, or bobbling a snap, or shanking a kick, but the first time he does, everyone notices.

For a long time punting was almost an after-thought in the NFL. Players in other positions such as quarterback, runningback, and linebacker also punted. Eventually, punting became a specialty. It took the Oakland Raiders, innovators in so many good – and bad – ways, to select a punter in the first round of the NFL draft. For their faith, they were rewarded with the greatest punter in league history.

For his efforts, and for revolutionizing the game, Ray Guy was recently elected to the pro football hall of fame – the first ever dedicated, or pure, punter to do so.

Blue chip prospect
Ray Guy attended the University of Southern Mississippi where he was an All-American safety in 1972, his senior year. He was also the placekicker and punter, illustrating it was still an era where there were few dedicated punters. The Raiders took him in the first round of the 1973 NFL draft, 23rd overall. Even with the Raiders he did double duty, acting as Oakland’s emergency quarterback and, early on, performed kick-off duties.

He would go on to revolutionize the kicking game. His kicks were high, allowing the coverage team to corral the punt returner often with little or no gain. He pinned opposing teams in their own end and, according to Wikipedia, the statistic for hang time was instituted because of him. Three years into his career, the NFL also started keeping track of punts inside the 20.

The best ever
His career statistics, given all that came before him, are staggering. He was selected to seven AFC Pro Bowl teams, including six in a row, and elected an NFL All-Pro six straight years, and apparently he never had a kick returned for a touchdown. He was a three-time Super Bowl champion, including the 1984 Super Bowl against the Washington Redskins where he punted seven times for 299 yards and a 42.7-yard average.

Perhaps most telling was that, in the 1976 Pro Bowl in New Orleans, he became the first punter in history to hit the Louisiana Superdome video screen.

In 2000, the Ray Guy Award was created to recognize the best punter in college football. He was also named to the 1970s All-Decade Team and the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.

Finally, in 2014, after being eligible for exactly 20 years, Ray Guy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For years, he had been considered one of the best players not in the hall of fame.

Parting thoughts
Ray Guy’s election to the hall of fame was long overdue, and proves again how inaccurate the hall of fame selection process is. Special teams has become such an integral part of the game, it seems obvious punters and kickers should hold their place in the hall. However, the selection of Guy brings the total of kickers into the hall of fame to two. Jan Stenerud, the outstanding plaekicker, is the other.

Sports have to honour the pioneers, the athletes who change the game. What we take for granted as common practice now, wasn’t always so. Someone had to think differently, and Ray Guy did just that.

It took 20 years to honour Ray Guy. Anyone else ahead of him would have been a travesty. Worse yet, if it hadn’t been him, there would be no one – and that’s an even bigger travesty.

I leave you with this last thought. Current NFL punter Chris Kluwe took a $5,250 fine from the NFL for putting a sticky note on his uniform with the words “Vote Ray Guy” and wore it during a game. He has been championing the cause of Ray Guy for the hall of fame and punters in general. Just read this amazing article he wrote, advocating for Ray Guy and the science of punting:

Perhaps the most important point Kluwe makes is that Guy sacrificed his own stats, namely punting yardage, for hang time, because it helped the team.

That alone makes him hall of fame in my book.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Kristian Alfonso: Hope springs eternal

Kristian Alfonso's latest endeavour, selling her own jewelry line.
She still had those unmistakable looks when I saw her recently, selling her own line of jewelry. Older and more confident, all I could think is how far she has come.

Kristin Alfonso started playing the role of Hope Williams on the daytime drama “Days Of Our Lives” back in April of 1983 at the age of 19, not too much before I started watching her.

Through marriage, divorce, children, international intrigue and family drama, she still plays Hope Williams Brady, and I was along for the ride for almost the entire time I was in high school.

There is no Hope without Bo
Hope William (Kristian Alfonso)
and boyfriend Bo Brady (Peter Reckell)
celebrating Hope's 18th birthday.
Almost from the outset, Hope Williams was attracted to bad boy Bo Brady. They would eventually date, and consummate their relationship. I recall those episodes occurring during one of the summers I spent a couple weeks in Brooks, because I saw it at my Aunt Monica’s. They were in some sort of vintage home, Civil War era maybe (Wikipedia reveals it was an old plantation in New Orleans). That was during a loveless marriage she had with Larry Welch, who was a real weasel.

At that point, I had no ability to watch “Days” regularly. That all changed the Christmas of 1985 when I received a VCR for Christmas. Soon after I started taping “Days” and would watch it either in the evening, or an entire week’s worth on a Sunday afternoon, usually with my mom.

By then, Hope and Bo were married and going on adventure after adventure. It was not soon after, that Steve “Patch” Johnson came town. Sporting a patch over his left eye, a black leather jacket, and a motorbike, he was a bad dude. He had a dark past, and was hired to terrorize Kayla Brady, Bo’s sister. It turned out that he and Bo had a past, serving together in the merchant marines and at one point were like brothers. However, a girl came between them and it was Bo who put out Steve’s eye.

Bo and Hope getting married.
Over time, we discover Steve isn’t so bad after all, but he still keeps getting into trouble. Hope is the only one who sees the good in Steve, and tells Bo. At the same time, Bo and Hope’s relationship is deteriorating, which is bad timing because Hope is pregnant. Ultimately, it’s big bad Steve Johnson who delivers the baby.

Hope and Bo were never my favourite couple on the show. That honour was reserved for Steve and Kayla. However, I really came to like Hope because she was the only one, aside from Kayla obviously, who sided with Steve.

Losing Hope
About the time I left home for university in 1987, and left behind watching “Days” regularly, Kristian Alfonso also left. She took a part in the night-time soap opera “Falcon Crest” for the show’s final two seasons. By then, I had no real idea what had happened to her, other than she and Bo had literally sailed off into the sunset on their boat “The Fancy Face”, which was also Bo’s pet name for Hope.

Finding Hope
No one ever really dies on a soap opera. There is always a chance they can come back, and they so often do. Hope did return in 1990, an apparently died soon after. Of course, her death only lasted four years, until a woman named Gina bearing a striking resemblance to Hope surfaced in Salem. It turned out that Gina was Hope who had been brainwashed by the evil Stefano DiMera. Hope has been on the show on and off ever since.

When I saw her last, while I was flipping channels, she was promoting her own jewelry line on The Shopping Channel.

Parting thoughts
“Days Of Our Lives” has always had a special place in my heart. Back in Grade 11 and 12, I lived vicariously through the characters on the show, especially Steve Johnson. It seemed anything was possible, and the guy always got the girl in the end. It was the perfect antidote for a high school kid who was love-sick at the time.

And, it shows the stamina and longevity of an actor like Kristian Alfonso. After all these years, she still turns in a solid performance in a role she pioneered more than 30 years ago.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Joyce Dewitt: In the eye of the “Three’s Company” storm

The original three in "Three's Company". From left
are Joyce DeWitt, John Ritter, and Suzanne Somers.
There’s something to be said about keeping your head about you when everyone around you is losing theirs. I’m not sure that was actually the case, but that was what it looked like whenever we caught a glimpse of life behind the scenes of the sitcom “Three’s Company”.

It seemed to be a three-ring circus, but through the entire run of the show, there was Joyce Dewitt. It was her birthday recently, and it sent me back 30 years to the world occupied by her character florist Janet Wood, Jack Tripper, Chrissy Snow, Teri Alden, the Ropers, and Mr. Furley.

Three’s Company
There’s something to say about consistency, and there was never no more a consistent comedy than “Three’s Company”. It was another one of those American shows that aired on CBC, something we haven’t seen in years.

Although the premise was a bit risqué, a man pretending to be gay so he could room with two women, it never really took any chances. Show in and show out, there was the standard physical comedy of Jack Tripper (played by John Ritter), coupled with some sort of misunderstanding that is resolved in the last five minutes. As predictable as it was, “Three’s Company” was still funny.

The circus is coming to town
All good things come to an end, and there was never a more apt case than the run of Suzanne Somers on “Three’s Company”. To some extent, much greater in her own mind than reality, her character Chrissy Snow had become a central focus of the show. So much so that, coupled with some bad advice from her agent and husband Alan Hamel, she thought she could hold out for more money and the producers would crumble.

The post-Suzanne Somers cast. In back from left
are Richard Kline; Jenilee Harrison; and Don
Knotts; while in front from left are Priscilla
Barnes; John Ritter; and Joyce DeWitt. Through
all the trials and tribulations, Joyce DeWitt
stuck it out for the show's entire eight-year run.
It was just not the case, as she was essentially written out, although making brief appearances weekly for the final year of her tenure. It was later revealed she did not even tape those spots anywhere near the rest of the cast.

She would be replaced by Jenilee Harrison, a former Los Angeles Rams cheerleader, who played Chrissy Snow’s klutzy cousin Cindy. That only last a couple seasons before she herself was replaced by relative TV newcomer Priscilla Barnes, who played new roommate and nurse Teri Alden.

Watching all that turmoil, and simply going about her business, was Joyce DeWitt, playing Janet Wood.

An unfortunate end
It turned out the producers were even more ruthless. As the eighth season of the show wound down and everyone was notified it would be the show’s last, the producers never told DeWitt or Barnes, that there would be a spin-off with Ritter continuing his role as Jack Tripper in “Three’s a Crowd”. DeWitt only find out by accidentally walking in on auditions for “Three’s A Crowd”.

Parting thoughts
Janet Wood would get married and walk off into the sunset, a slightly better ending than Chrissy Snow.
It was still not an honourable way to end the show for the character, because Joyce DeWitt had stuck it out through eight years of drama, much more offscreen than on.

She deserved better, but it just showed how ruthless television, and its producers, could be.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Stakeout: My first Edmonton movie

The Garneau Theatre in Edmonton, not as I remember
in 1987, but in 2011. I don't recall that white facade.
Life seemed so busy on campus when I started university back in the fall of 1987. We never left campus, because activities were always going on. Heck, we never even left res except to go to class.

About a month into the term, our fearless leader, Doug Armitage, said we should check out a movie. Another odd part about staying on campus all the time was that I did not know Edmonton at all, and feared I might get lost "in the city". I had no idea where I was going, and neither did most of the people around me. None of us were from Edmonton. That’s why we were all living in residence.

However, there was a movie theatre nearby, within walking distance (we really didn’t have access to a car either really). We had passed it on our way to get Kentucky Fried Chicken a couple weeks earlier.

It was called the Garneau Theatre, and was the sight of our first real road trip off campus – even if it was just a few blocks away. Again, places seem so much farther away when you don’t know where you’re going.

The movie of choice: “Stakeout”.

The same movie poster that hung in the
lobby of the Garneau Theatre in 1987.
A night on the town
What was initially Doug and me, turned into a night on the town for all of us. It was a nice Saturday night in Edmonton. Not a drop of booze was drunk as we got ready and walked to the Garneau. Oddly, it was straight down 87th Avenue which ran in front of res. We walked past the Education building, where two guys were wrestling on the lawn, then the row of frat houses which looked lively. I do recall thinking they looked nothing like “Animal House” though.

The Garneau Theatere was a red brick building that screamed character. It seemed much older to me than any of the theatres in Lethbridge, although it was smaller.

The movie
“Stakeout” starred Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez as policemen on – well – a stakeout. Things take many unexpected turns, including Dreyfuss’ character falling in love with the woman they have under surveillance. The scene I always remember is Estevez watching the suspect, pulling the camera back and seeing Dreyfuss sitting across from her having a drink. He obviously knows Esevez is watching and not only smiles for the camera, but toasts Estevez.

It was a Touchstone production, back when that studio was still new. It was an offshoot of Disney Studios, designed for movies that were, shall we say, less family-oriented.

It was a good comedy, but then again I always like Richard Dreyfuss, and he had great chemistry with Emilio Estevez. They made a sequel a few years later, but life was too busy to ever take it in. 

Parting thoughts
It may seem strange to celebrate something as simple as going to see a movie. But it was a different time. Going to movies was still a treat for me, and there really is nothing like seeing a show on the big screen. I still feel that way.

I would go on to see dozens, maybe a hundred, movies in Edmonton, in every theatre in every corner of the city. The experience never got old, and it all started at the venerable Garneau Theatre.

The overriding feeling I had that night though, surrounded by all these new people I just met, was that I was home. I had found a new home.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Peter Maher: Voice of the Flames

Peter Maher was the voice of the Calgary Flames for 34 years, ever since the Flames moved to Calgary from Atlanta.
He was the voice that put us right down there at ice level with him, describing the ups and downs of the Calgary Flames for 34 years.

I always remember his play by play of the Calgary Flames’ shocking and stunning upset of the heavily-favoured Edmonton Oilers in 1986.

“He” was Peter Maher, and he announced his retirement earlier this week.

The ride home
My best friend Chris Vining and I were working for this greenhouse just outside Coaldale, and neither of us had a driver’s licence yet. We usually got picked up, but every so often we had to work late and got a ride home from one of the sons of our boss.

One of the sons was an Oiler fan, one was a Flames’ fan. The Flames met the Oilers in that iconic, seven-game Smythe Division Final in 1986, the first spring we worked at the greenhouse. The series went back and forth. On one particular night, the series was tied when Marty gave us a ride home. He was the Calgary fan and said we had to listen to the game.

My brother was a big Flames fan and loved the play by play of Peter Maher. Up until that point, I had never heard Maher call a game.

This was the first and the best. Although his broadcast just served as a bridge from the TV in the greenhouse to the TV at home, it was awesome. The Flames were pressing. Suddenly, Hakan Loob scored and we were all yelling in the cab as we dropped Chris off first and then me.

The Flames would go on to upset the Oilers and shock the world.

We tuned in for the Campbell Conference Final against St. Louis and that game where the Flames blew the three-goal lead and lost in overtime. It was Maher describing the game as it began to unravel for Calgary.

Maher was also there to tell us all about the Stanley Cup Final and Calgary finding absolutely no answers for the Montreal Canadiens en route to a loss in five games.

The years after
Peter Maher did not cross my mind again until the Flames put together that magical run in 2004. I was surprised he was still calling the games. Most of his contemporaries had already retired by then. I would tune in during the playoffs every time I was travelling, hearing Maher describe how the Flames took out first Vancouver, then Detroit, and finally San Jose to reach the Stanley Cup Final, before losing in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Two years later, Maher was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, a richly deserved honour. That was the last time I heard him speak.

Parting thoughts
A couple days ago (April 29), Peter Maher announced his retirement. He wants to spend more time with his family, lamenting all the moments he already missed because he was working. He vowed to be there from now on.

Who can blame him, because he devoted the past 34 years of his life to bringing the Calgary Flames into all our living rooms, kitchens, cars, trucks, and over the past decade or so, our computers and iPhones.

He was there from the moment the Flames moved to Calgary from Atlanta, and will go down in history as one of the best ever. He was there for all three of Calgary’s trips to the Stanley Cup Final, in 1986, 1989, and 2004, and he broadcast the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Moreover, he went out while he was still on top, and not everyone can say that. His retirement severed likely the last tie the Flames had with 80s, but time inevitably marches on, doesn’t it?

Enjoy your retirement Peter Maher, you have certainly earned it.