Monday, January 2, 2017



A dishevelled Bill Marshall pushed through the crowd in the famous office, grabbed David Crombie, and promised to have welcoming remarks ready in minutes for the first visit by the Governor General to Crombie as Mayor of Toronto.
Crombie regarded his hung-over speech writer and aide with amused exasperation, turned, and said to the GG who had been there for some time, that he would like him to meet Marshall "who is said to work for me."
 Just a stumble in the warm relationship between a municipal song bird and the man who crafted an advertising campaign that made Crombie mayor after only one term of alderman.
Marshall has just died, and you're going to read a lot about his movie producer days, his feisty work with three mayors, and how he helped start the film festival with another wonderful character, Dusty Cohl.
 I was in on a lot of that stuff but I also remember strange anecdotes about a friend who you felt you could trust even when you doubted he would pay you back for that loan. A man filled with delightful gossip and stories and adventures and a brilliance with words and images that would awe conventional practitioners.
In my days of having to find a daily column, I often found it productive to loiter on two second floors - at City Hall outside Crombie's office, since Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey was right next door, and in the Legislature near Premier William Davis's corner suite.
Not only could you see who the leaders were dealing with, their aides tended to be floating around filled with criticism of what I had written and trying to lead me down the garden path to promote their guys. It was like being in the trenches with barrages of ideas showering down.
It was a cold January but I found Marshall wearing sandals, linen pants and a Hawaiian shirt leaning on the railing outside Crombie's office. Lunch, he suggested. Of course. A great dining companion. We went off to Hy's steak house. Nothing strange about that but Bill didn't wear a coat as he crossed the Square.
Finally he confessed that there had been "a bit of a problem" with his girl friend. When he returned to the apartment, he found she had taken scissors to all his expensive clothes, poured glue over his records and stereo, and hidden his Corvette (which he never found for two weeks.)
Just another stumble in the life of a man who seemed to audition daily for what the Reader's Digest called in its days of glory "the most unforgettable character I have ever met."
We were all part of the twinning ceremony with Amsterdam, an interesting time when Crombie discovered that he was riding the bus with the rest of us while the City Clerk had appropriated the limousine that the Dutch were providing for the mayor of the city that was now its official partner.
We had a great time. That happened generally when Marshall was involved. The final night he told us  that the Canadian VW organization had loaned him one of their nifty buses which he no longer needed and offered it to David and Heather Smith and the Downings if we wanted to drive around for a week.
We had no papers for the bus, which had a big dent, but unbelievably there was no problem crossing the borders of five or six different countries. We returned to find Marshall had told the VW company that he had no knowledge of the dent. The gall of that scalawag! Smith at the time was merely the president of council, second only to Crombie, and his wife was a federal Crown. So we indignantly howled him down. Yet then we decided to thank him with a dinner that Marshall for some scandalous reason never got to.
That was Bill!
As the film festival legend goes, and it resulted in an Order of Canada for him, Bill was great in waving a clever wand of fine words and finer imagery over any situation. He could make fish and chips seem like Dover Sole at the Tour d'Argent.
Crombie got city council to give the film festival its first grant in 1976, which I remember as only $500, which was a remarkable investment when you consider the tens of millions that later swirled around the festival no matter what it was called.
The first festival party was a humble affair in an ordinary suite at the Harbour Castle. I doubt if there were 200. I remember my heated discussion with Marshall in the kitchen of the suite about whether it was proper for taxpayers to have to pay for this festival scheme of his considering the conflict of him working for Crombie.
He was eloquent in his scorn of some tabloid columnist getting ethical on him. As many found to their horror, whether major actors or famous talking heads, Marshall gave a belligerent damn if he felt you had crossed him or hurt a major idea or cheated when you promised to show up in support.
But he liked a good argument, and he liked people, and if you hung in there his eyes would start twinkling and the party would begin again. Those TIFF affairs became famous even in Hollywood.
Thanks to those parties, and the flamboyance of Cohl and Marshall that impressed even in a make-believe world that thought it had invented the style, TIFF has been world famous for years, even if the founding stalwarts are dead or dying or like George Anthony retired except for Facebook.
The Toronto film mafia would descend on Cannes each spring. What a zoo! I discovered once that every nook was so crammed with famous names  and limousines that the only parking I could find was three illegal rows out from the sidewalk.
Marshall and Cohl had suites and famed lunches. The Torontonians dazzled with their entertainment and their encyclopedic knowledge of movie lore and stars. And of course Bill's stories about making movies. I remember watching some "rushes" with him about his movie shot in Alberta called Wild Horse Hank. The surprise turned out to be that not all horses are great swimmers, or for that matter, know how. So Bill's people drove some horses into this river and some had to be rescued, which is not a normal scene in a Western.
Bill had innovative ideas about everything. He had rented an old school house near Peterborough and decided to play farmer too. So he planted an expanse of vegetables and to keep the weeds down, because he was a clever fellow, carpeted the garden with newspapers.  Yeah, you guessed it. Two weeks later there were torn yellowing sheets of newspapers blowing in the wind as far as the eye could see.
I tried to kid Bill about it but embarrassment never scratched him. His attitude was today's failure was just a try-out for tomorrow's success. We all should learn from that, and not just because of the Toronto International Film Festival and those stark black signs that said MAYOR CROMBIE when the Tiny Perfect was still just a junior alderman who had started by teaching a course at Ryerson that he had never taken himself.

1 comment:

Bono said...

Great story, John.