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.

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