Wednesday, March 16, 2011



As Larry Zolf never forgot, I was the first to write about him. And he loved it. He hungered for publicity because he was never happier than when he was telling you, or anyone, even the waiter, what he thought about just about any topic.
And now his voice and his intellect have been stilled. But not the memories.
He and some college chums had dreamed up some wacky political skit which was being performed somewhere so they phoned the old Toronto Telegram looking for publicity. It was early on a pleasant evening and nothing was going on so the night editor, Doug Stuebing, sent me off to U of T in case the students had some good lines.
They did. Wonderful biting political commentary, the kind that tumbled out of Zolf if the CBC or some editor didn't panic and resort to the libel lawyer. So a small story appeared, and Zolf was grateful. He ignored that the Tely was CONSERVATIVE and I was a conservative and he was a labour-loving refugee from the Jewish-Polish community of Winnipeg.
For  decades, Zolf called me regularly to find out what was going on. And I returned the favour. Often he was feeling lonely and just wanted to talk. In a hurry, on deadline, we would use each other as a resource on what had happened in Toronto politics decades before. I could Google Zolf's memory. He worked at it, talking, gossiping, drinking, reading, pontificating electronically, skewering, writing books and columns and an early blog, often driving those close to him to frustration because he was untidy about everything even to his  clothes.
Before an election, Zolf would call columnists like me and political insiders like Senator David Smith and get seat projections. It was a useful call for me and for him because you traded what you really knew for ridings where you had no idea.
When I was Editor of the Toronto Sun, in the days when the suits didn't insist who the columnists were, I had Zolf write some columns. He wasn't popular with our right-wing readers, even though he would slash away at all parties and philosophies. Doug Creighton, the ultimate reader of Sun columns, recognized Zolf's wit but not necessarily his wisdom.
 Creighton regularly urged me to fire Walter Stewart, whose parents had been CCF/NDP leaders, but understood when I didn't on the grounds that any real newspaper needs a range of views.  So I knew that adding Zolf weekly to the editorial mix was really tilting at the windmills, since Zolf was occasionally like Stewart on speed.
Zolf was used as a resource by his main employer, the CBC, because he had a wealth of home phone numbers. He also was a trusted insider for the anchors. The secret for all this was that Zolf never tried to get major politicians to speak only to him, to lock up his sources. And he talked to everyone, even if he would hoot incredulously - you could recognize his laugh even in the turmoil of Question Period - if the ideas got really strained.
He was a guru in his beloved Beaches.  Tom Jakobek when he was just a trustee trying to step up appealed to me to help end the rumour he was a Scientologist. Zolf was spreading it, he said. So I told him to have the family church minister be photographed with him for campaign literature and to phone Zolf and tell him that I said to knock it off. He descended on Zolf's house and delivered the message at the door. Zolf phoned me and said he almost had a heart attack when this tall "spooky" guy loomed over him at the door. But Zolf stopped the assault and Jakobek won. (I can just hear Larry saying that the line really should be that the city lost. )
I've seen PMs, premiers and ministers spar with Zolf, some times with exasperation tinged with affection. Yet what the politicians and his colleagues all recognized is that Zolf liked nothing better than yarning about what was making politics tick in Canada, and that he really cared.
He was, he said, the ugliest Jew around. Ah yes, that was a nose that even Cyrano would have envied. But what a passion for politics.

Monday, March 7, 2011



Was it really forty years ago when campus guerillas like Mark Bonokoski fed the student unrest of the budding university of Ryerson, and the giant of community organizings, Saul Alinsky, could see as his  life ended that the sit-in technique that had blossomed under his inspired leadership was already dated as a weapon.
My musings are prompted by a question from John Cosway, the diligent steward of the Toronto Sun family blog. He was quoting from an Internet item about Bono, the veteran Sun columnist, who when he was a student at Ryerson and helped run a renegade student newspaper, was involved in sit-in confrontations with the university president.
Cosway wondered when was the last good Toronto student sit-in. I bet there are aged radicals who have their favourite but they all started to blur together for me. We had the angry brawling between supposed students and rough Toronto cops at the U of T education experiment known as Rochdale. Not a sit-in but more a drug party during a raid. The cops went too far but it could be said that the whole situation baffled them.
 Hardly the often brutal stuff of the anti-war protests on American campuses. The famous sit-in at the Columbia president's office, the senseless deaths at Kent State, the awful Chicago cop assaults on convention demonstrators, the nation-wide bonfires of flower power, draft cards and flags, it seemed every day brought another campus confrontation that filled jails. Sit-ins were everywhere.
Bono and the grouchy protesters at Ryerson mirrored what was happening on the streets just outside.  The community organizing that had become a major political force in the U.S. under Alinsky had a Toronto version with John Sewell and Karl Jaffary, both lawyers who had had all the advantages, fighting developers with sit-ins in condemned houses or in front of the bulldozers. Both became aldermen and could fight evil from inside the system, and Sewell even became a dismal one-term mayor and then a voice calling endlessly from the wilderness.
Alinsky was the most famous community organizer in the modern world as he tackled every ghetto. (Some argue that Jesus was really the first.)  Typically, Hilary Clinton quoted him in her university thesis. William F. Buckley Jr., the articulate conservative, praised him. There were Toronto councillors like Gordon Cressy who could quote from Alinsky's manual for fighting the system.
But now we have a community organizer from Chicago who turned his back on an impeccable legal background and became president of the United States. I'm sure that Barack Obama also quotes from Alinsky even though he died in 1972, just as Bono graduated and Ryerson settled down.
There are many who want to pin everything bad about Alinsky on Obama, but they can't ignore that Alinsky called himself a non-socialist left winger.
It was Alinsky, quoted in a Playboy interview (I did read it for the articles,) who warned activists that sit-ins would no longer work because North America had adjusted. Alinsky was being shown the executive suite of a new corporate headquarters. There were two lobbies for the CEO's office, and it was explained to him that the one for the sit-ins came complete with a washroom and change tables in case any of the demonstrators brought along babies.
It was Alinsky who devised the technique (publicized by Toronto's own Arthur Hailey in the bestseller Wheels) that forced a Detroit bank to stop discriminating against black customers. Blacks lined up at every window and started a new account with a small sum. Then they went to the back of the line and withdrew the money.  Again and again. This went on until bank officials begged for mercy.
Alinsky also forced one of the world's largest airports, O'Hare, to end its discrimination against blacks by working out a scheme to place a black bum on every public toilet in every terminal. For the entire day. A black standing in front of every urinal. He was working out the logistics such as how many buses and how many volunteers were needed for what really was to be a shit-in when he had a brilliant idea. He told the airport managers what he was planning to do and they caved. He got everything he wanted without having to block one of the thousands of conveniences.
Occasionally today, you have a handful of protesters occupying some politician's office for  hours, hoping for  publicity. There is no bonanza for them because the politician stays away, and the protesters are what the media call the "usual suspects." (The term comes from the movie Casablanca.) There is also the reality that's it all rather silly. After all, the typical leader, whether of politics or industry, moves around with a cell phone and often a laptop. In the age of texting, occupying an office is just a waste of time.
Today's campus radicals are given seats on the university boards and can tell the president across the big polished table what they think about any subject under the sun. And they do. And do. I suspect that some days the president thinks the sit-in was easier.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011



If I were to tell you that there was an actor who just died who won three Oscars, you would and should be mightily impressed.
In the tough world of Canadian journalism, the National Newspaper Awards for more than half a century have been our cherished Oscars. And since Canadian newspapers are among the best in the world, and Canadian journalists, like our comics, routinely star on the world stage, to win more than one NNA is an honourable accomplishment.
  Well, Bob Reguly, who just died at 80, won three NNAs in four years for himself and the Toronto Star. Stunning!  Now the great columnist Peter Worthington and the superb photographer Boris Spremo have doubled that accomplishment, but then they are from another planet where they work 30 hours a day.
The farewells, which tragically have to mention Reguly's terrible exit from his illustrious career, all concentrate on his finding of the tart Gerda Munsinger in Europe and her revelations about her scandalous romp through the federal Tories which match any seamy stories of the round-robin sex of England.
It really was a tale from between stained sheets that made us all feel like we needed a shower.
But I remember his NNA for the finding of the unionist/thug Hal Banks on a ship in the Brooklyn harbour when Canadian authorities were mystified as to his location. They  hadn't looked hard, which was the point of Reguly's scoop.
Reguly told me a twist to the story that is not well-known. Itt shows the cheap accountants of the Star to be as miserable about expense accounts as the Devil counting heads in Hades.
Reguly saw Banks on the deck and told the cabbie to take him to the nearest drugstore where he bought a Kodak disposeable camera for around $55 to prove to the world, and the Star, that he had found Banks.
He returned and was spotted when he was snapping away at Banks with the cheap camera. Banks' bodyguards chased him. The taxi was cornered but Reguly persuaded the cabbie to drive through the thugs and risk a dangerous collision..
They got away. Reguly was grateful and didn't have much money for a huge tip. So he emptied the camera and gave it to the cabbie in thanks. The accountants wouldn't reimburse Reguly for the camera's purchase because he couldn't produce the camera.
That's not the end to the picture tale. The Telegram, locked for years in bitter competition with the Star, was rocked by the Reguly scoop. I was ordered to dispatch to New York a reporter/photographer who had just returned to the Tely from his native Australia.
Peter Geddes phoned to say he had spotted Banks on the deck and got one good shot with his long lense before the thugs started chasing him. He wirephotoed the picture while I alerted my bosses that at least we had a picture. A darkroom technician emerged in the  middle of the night staring dubiously at the result. I phoned Geddes and demanded to know why Banks was slightly out of focus when some chap in a suit was sharp. He replied that he didn't know what Banks looked like - having been in Australia when this scandal blew up - and had photographed the best dressed guy on the deck. I said Banks was in the background, in a sports shirt.
So the technician, Wasyl Kowalishen, worked diligently with an enlarger in the darkroom, spotting and dodging and using all the tricks that you could do with black-and-white pictures in the darkroom, before the days of digital and photo shop. And the result on Page One the next day won Geddes an NNA. Not quite as worthwhile as Reguly's, to put it mildly.
I remember Geddes for another reason. He was very talented but the strain led to his drinking and that ruined his family life. So he left the business.
I talked to him once more. We learned that Pierre Trudeau had taken Margaret skiing on their honeymoon at Whistler. The Tely figured that it could scoop the world, or at least the Star and Globe, by having a picture in the next edition. This was far more difficult then than it would be now because it  would mean getting a photographer to the slope, taking the picture, processing the picture and then finding a wirephoto machine to send it across Canada. All in a few hours!
A rewriteman yelled at me that he was talking to the guy running the ski lift at the bottom and he thought it was Peter Geddes. Our Peter Geddes! So I got on the phone and didn't get the warm reception that you would expect when I helped him win a major award. I told him to get the picture and we would pay handsomely. Peter said he didn't own a camera. I told him to do the Reguly thing, to go buy a Kodak disposeable. He refused, saying he never intended to touch a camera again. And that was that. He hung up on me, and possibly another NNA.
Reguly had a devil-may-care attitude to reporting. It's no surprise to find he parachuted for bucks at the start. He was a reporter, not a columnist, and distrusted politicians almost as much as he did editors.  He started dropping in to see Worthington at the Sun and when Peter was busy playing editor, he would tell me all the dirt he had collected or suspected about major politicians. They were marvelous tales.
One main target for him was John Munro, a federal politician of many jobs in cabinet, and many more suspicions. Munro sweated routinely, which made him look guilty even if he was talking to a kindergarten class. And he got involved in strange business, like the day he emerged with a shiner and said he had fallen in the tub. It was widely believed his wife hit him during a quarrel. (She was a remarkable woman who started as a Stelco secretary and ended with a doctorate and a provincial cabinet post.)
So Worthington got Reguly hired at the Sun and he was teamed with a young reporter who had the goods on Munro, or so he told Reguly and the Sun. I knew a little of the story, which was tame compared to other stuff that Reguly had told me. I won't go into details because this story was horrendously wrong, created by the reporter, Don Ramsay, because of ambition, chemicals and stupidity.
The Sun settled an embarrassing libel suit (even though newspapers generally win) because Lorrie Goldstein, now the Sun associate editor, and John Paton, a major star today in American and Canadian publishing, couldn't find support for the story.
Reguly left, bitter. He used to complain to young journalists that he had been betrayed by the Sun and it showed that newspapers wouldn't support investigative journalists. A journalism tragedy where I felt he had betrayed instead the Sun and his craft. We ran into each other long ago in Cottage Country where he was still saying he had been the victim and cursing every boss at the Sun.
I preferred to remember him as the reporter who with great gusto dominated Canadian journalism from 1964 to 1968 and then like a meteorite crashed into the Sun.