Sunday, 28 August 2016

Wendy Crewson: Walking with legends

Actor Wendy Crewson after being inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in 2015 for a storied career in film and television, in Canada and abroad.
Actor Wendy Crewson was recently inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame, for a career that spans several decades.

I recall her earliest start, with the CBC, on a Sunday night series called “Home Fires”. From there, she would catapult into a storied career playing strong Canadian women, but also venture south of the border where she played opposite heavyweights such as Tom Selleck and Harrison Ford.

All that effort led her to her recent induction, where she now walks with the legends.

A review of the CBC Sunday night drama "Home Fires" from a 1982 edition
of Cinema Canada. A young Wendy Crewson is in the back row on the right.
It was the start of a lot of great things to come for the Canadian actor.
Keeping the “Home Fires” burning
The decade opened with CBC debuting a new drama focusing on a Toronto family during the Second World War. The father was played by Gerard Parkes, a doctor who ran a medical clinic in a working class neighbourhood. He was married to wife Hannah, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, and had two children, son Sidney, played by Peter Spence, and daughter Terry, played by Wendy Crewson.

Terry had an eventful four seasons, marrying her boyfriend Graeme, played by Jeff Wincott, only to see him killed in action at Dieppe. She joined the women’s army corps, worked in a factory, and met another man, this one a journalist played by Booth Savage.

After four seasons, "Home Fires" had run ts course and was not renewed, not before Crewson won an ACTRA award in 1984 for best actress in a drama series for the final season of “Home Fires”.

Prolific TV career
The 1980s saw Wendy Crewson do a lot of other TV work, on series as well as TV movies. She opened with guest starring roles in Canadian classics such as “The Littlest Hobo” and “Hangin’ In”. She would reunite with Jeff Wincott in “Night Heat”, a guest spot in “Adderly”, and another guest role in “Hard Copy”. These three shows were produced in Canada by CBS and CTV, and aired on CBS late night and prime time on CTV.

Crewson in the movie with Canadian actor Chris Makepeace,
at left, and Tom Hanks, at right, in one of his first TV roles.
She also was in several TV movies of note. There was “Mazes and Monsters”, which features four young people acting out a Dungeon and Dragons-like role-playing game. CTV aired this movie a couple times, most notable for being one of Tom Hanks’ earliest roles. There was “Heartsounds”, starring James Garner telling the story of  a renowned surgeon who becomes a patient himself, facing his own mortality and an unfeeling medical system. There was “Perry Mason: The Case of the Shooting Star”, one of the 30 TV movies featuring the famous defence attorney made between 1985 and 1995.

And there was “Murder In Space”, a science fiction murder mystery set on a space ship. It was initially made for Canadian pay TV back in the days when that existed. I had heard and read about this movie, but it was awhile before it was aired on CTV. I recall being enthralled by this movie, because it kept me in suspense until the end.

One other movie, filmed in the late 1980s but airing in 1990, holds a special place in my heart. It was called “Getting Married in Buffalo Jump” and features Crewson as a young woman returning to her home town after her father dies to live with her mom and run the family ranch. As she tries to cope, her ranch hand offers to marry her out of convenience. Alex Bresnyachuk is played by a young, unknown Canadian actor of the time named – Paul Gross. What made it special was it aired the summer of 1991, my first summer living with my parents in Lethbridge when I did not have much of a life outside TV. It was a pretty endearing movie too. I saw it again the same time the next summer. I recall hearing it had been filmed at Cowley and Pincher Creek, and kept looking to see if I recognized anything. It was obvious Crewson and Gross had chemistry, and were both destined for bigger things.

The years after
Wendy Crewson would catapult into a series of major roles in theatrical movies. She played a doctor in “The Doctor”; the ex-wife in all three “The Santa Clause” movies, the first lady opposite Harrison Ford in “Air Fore One”; and much, much more.

On TV she was in everything from Canadian favourites such as “ Street Legal”, “Black Harbour”, and “Due South”, to U.S. network shows such as “24”, “Flashpoint”, “Rookie Blue”, and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”. Over the last few years she has been in “Revenge”, “Murdoch Mysteries”, “Working the Engels”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and has had a recurring role since 2012 in the Canadian medical drama “Saving Hope”.

She was also in “Ascension”, a TV miniseries created by the Syfy Channel and later aired on CBC, about a spaceship sent into space in the 1960s to preserve a part of humanity and colonize a far-off planet.

And she has played Regina detective Joanne Kilbourn in a series of movies based on the novels by Canadian writer Gail Bowen, all aired on CTV.

Perhaps her most remarkable roles were in movies based on real life people, primarily strong Canadian women. She played in “The Matthew Shepard Story” about a gay man tortured and beaten to death in Wyoming for his sexuality in 1998. Soon after, she played the lead in several biopics of Canadian women.

In 1998, she played the title role in “At the End of the Day: The Sue Rodriguez Story”, about a courageous Canadian woman suffering from Lou Gehrig’s Disease who put up a spirited battle in support of medical-assisted dying, eventually dying with the assistance of a doctor. In 2005, she played Canadian judge and war crimes crusader Louise Arbour. Later that same year, Crewson played Lorraine Evanshen, the loyal and resilient wife of Canadian football legend Terry Evanshen, who lost his memory in a motor vehicle collision and never got it back in “The Stranger I Married”, also called “The Man Who Lost Himself”. Then, in 2013, in the aftermath of the death of federal New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, Crewson played Anne McGrath, Layton’s chief of staff and friend of Layton’s in the movie on Layton, fittingly called, “Jack.”

Amid all that, she also appeared in two movies with Tom Selleck, “Folks!”, a theatrical release in 1992, and “Twelve Mile Road”, 11 years later in 2003.

Hence, there were tributes by Harrison Ford and Tom Selleck at Crewson’s induction into Canada’s Walk of Fame. Both were glowing in their praise of Crewson's work.

Parting thoughts
To be honest, as the decade began I had a bit of a crush on Wendy Crewson, watching her every Sunday night on “Home Fires”. She seemed pretty, and smart, and strong.

Little did I know that more than 35 years later, I would still be watching her on TV. Wendy Crewson may be one of Canada’s most prolific actors, having appeared in virtually every major Canadian TV series, dozens of TV movies, and almost as many theatrical movies.

But what I really appreciate about her is that she has never strayed too far from Canada. Sure, she has pursued projects in the States, but continues to do Canadian television and movies. On top of that, and the most impressive part for me, is she has chosen to play some of the strongest women in Canadian history over the past few decades.

She may have walked with legends doing all that, but she did not look out of place at all.

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