Saturday, November 2, 2013



It's getting much harder to celebrate the birth of the Toronto Sun. Pioneers keep dying or falling on their ear. After all, it has been 42 years, and survivors are getting creaky.
Each Halloween, some Day Oners from the birth in the old Eclipse Building have gathered to chase ghosts and grumble about the state of journalism.
It's never been easy. Sort of like herding cats. A year ago, thanks to directions from the well-known golfer and occasional cartoonist and painter Andy Donato, Mary and I spent the first hour in the wrong restaurant. When we finally tracked down Donato and Dianne, who probably gives better directions, Yvonne and Peter Worthington weren't terribly interested in my excuse because Peter was hungry and more concerned with whether he could get sausages.
Peter is gone now, presumably grilling sausages over a camp fire on some front line in the sky, and Yvonne was in Washington, probably watching proudly while son-in-law David Frum seems to appear most hours on CNN.
So Andy brought in reinforcements for the celebration, Mark Bonokoski. Bono even got a hair cut.  He had done just about everything at the Sun and in the Sun chain and in journalism and broadcasting before being cast into outer darkness, literally, by the people trying to pretend they know how to run newspapers and not just make money.
The two are talented buddies. They are passionate voyeurs of life,. They want to capture it all,  one with brush and a puckish sense of the ridiculous, the other with an audacious insight..
Their motto has been on many a journalism shield -  to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, as they prick the windbags with their spears of pens.
Bono has gone to the dark side for journalists, to work in politics for Conservative leader Tim Hudak, and is sure to be a huge success because if the Tories don't win the next provincial election, they should test all Liberal voters for drugs and all NDP voters for common sense.
The question really is whether the Liberals will continue to be so corrupt and inept that by election day will there will be any reasonable people left to run for them? You see, I can say that sort of thing. I'm free. I listened to Donato and Bono grumble during the dinner, about how too many lawyers and dumb editors are balking at Donato's ideas, and how Bono has to be so careful with his verbs and adjectives, it seems no one wants to mention that the premier is a lesbian.
That baffles me. Since we've all been ordered not to discriminate against homosexuals - and only jerks would - why is it wrong to mention that the premier is a lesbian, or a blonde, or from, horrors, the Big Smoke of Toronto.
But let's return to our celebratory survival dinner where Mary and Karen, Bono's lady, had to listen to torrents of warm and acidic memories, and genial insults.
It started badly on Halloween when Dianne phoned from Mount Sinai emergency to say that Andy had tripped as he turned in some editor's office after an animated discussion about a cartoon and had lacerated his ear on the door jamb for between 15 and 17 stitches. (Why don't we say about 20, I suggested, because after all, it looked like he had gone 25 rounds with some editor who didn't like a cartoon. I know, I've been there.)
So we delayed the dinner for a night. And when we gathered at ViBo's, a restaurant near Royal York and Bloor that used to be a Sun gathering place  because the founding publisher/inspiration Doug Creighton liked the place, Andy was wearing a navy watch cap pulled down over his head and the big bloody bandage on his right ear, which made him look like either a hobbit or one of the seven dwarfs.
As Bono and I pointed out....often.
It's not unusual for participants to bleed during dinner, and not just with our words. Several years ago Worthington checked out of hospital for the dinner and was bleeding from a hole in his chest, which he offered to show to us but I was drinking a Bloody Mary at the time and didn't like the comparison.
The discussion arose this time, naturally, about what the Toronto Sun, the first newspaper and still the flagship of the giant Sun chain, had done to mark the anniversary. And we agreed the bosses had screwed it up again because they seem a trifle baffled about real journalism which doesn't treat staff as cannon fodder.
The Sun story had talked about how the Telegram finished one night and the next day the Sun took its place.
Actually it happened over a weekend. I put out the final edition of the Telegram on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 30 (it published during the day) and then on the Sunday, we worked into the night to produce Toronto's first daily tabloid for Monday, Nov. 1.
The strange Sun story featured a picture of publisher Mike Power (I still think of him as the high school) receiving a memento of the final Tely front page from Richard MacFarlane, a son of legendary editor J. D. MacFarlane, a fierce pit bull of a news hound known far and wide by his initials JDM.
I proved that I was an admirer of JDM when I was responsible as a member of the search committee for a new Ryerson University journalism chair for his recruitment and hiring.  (It was a little like hiring Gordie Howe to teach pee wee.) But JDM really doesn't have much to do with the end of the grand old lady of Melinda Street, the Toronto Telegram, or Creighton and Worthington starting a paper in such a indomitable way that we sold out the first day and always made so much money that we didn't have to touch the investors' money until expansion.
JDM had been gone from the Tely for several years before Big John Bassett closed it. I know because Creighton and I got promoted when he was fired. Everyone still admired him,  however, and Creighton brought him to the Sun in a controversial move for five years in 1976.
I hope Richard MacFarlane forgives me (I hope my sons work as hard as he has to keep his father's memory alive) but JDM's brave exploits in defying brass during World War Two when he edited our military newspaper, the Maple Leaf, and in being a truculent general during the Star-Tely newspaper wars, really put him in the pantheon of Canadian journalism, not his comparative few years with the Sun.
Surely the Toronto Sun, considering its flamboyant style and brilliant exhibitionism (I'm talking about the good old days, which really were) could have had someone like Mike Strobel, the resident wit and master of the terse sentence,  interview the originals still around the Sun, like Donato and veteran columnist Chris Blizzard, or those still active in Toronto, like Glen Woodcock, expert in big bands and cars, or Yvonne, John Cosway, Kathy Brooks, Hugh Wesley, Hartley Steward, Joan Sutton, Les Pyette and all the others who know where all the bodies are buried, along with the colourful anecdotes.
Heck, you could rent a hall, it would have to be a really big hall,  and invite everyone that the Sun has fired. It would make a great movie, with Harrison Ford playing Editor Worthington in the search for the honest Grit. Peter could use words like Ford used that bullwhip.
I would suggest that just taping one of our anniversary dinners would be a quick way to get a warm read, once you took out the curses and insults about Quebecor, but I guess Bono, Downing and a few others have become the living dead not even recognized on Halloween..
I know the present staff became understandably irritated with all of our nostalgia stuff about a decade or so ago, but working at the Sun really was the best fun I ever had with my clothes on.
Paul Rimstead getting so hammered on a few nights that the mayor of Toronto dictated the end of his columns from a phone in the pub. (Gee, can I really say that mayors of Toronto drank, or that cabinet ministers chased women until they themselves were caught.)
Remember the picture of Babs Amiel kissing a horse on Page 1 (some wag said the cutline should have said Babs was on the right).
Remember the Mounties searching for secret documents that Worthington had left, unnoticed, on top of his desk.
Just answering the phone could be an adventure.
I remember the department heads' meeting where I shocked everyone by saying that I got so many bomb threats, I never bothered to tell anyone.
The quiet day I was sharing an office with Bono and a guy phoned him to confess to a killing..
The mail could be an adventure too. I got a letter from a prisoner  telling me where he had buried a body. (They dug it up in a landfill.) And a letter from some where in New York State confessing to a murder for which another man had been convicted.  The first poor guy was then freed.
Ah yes, those were the days, my friend...
It's important in our society, ranging from our families even to our corporations, to remember the milestones, the anniversaries, the accomplishments.  This certainly holds true for newspapers. There is a mystique, a swaggering ego, to a good print publication. This inner flame must be respected and fed, not ignored.
Or just what is the point of it all? 


Sheila Reagan said...

Nice job, John. I'm still warmed by many a happy memory of working there. Sure wish I was working the desk on Halloween.

Bono said...

Well done, John Henry. It was a great evening.

Toronto Sun Family said...

Great piece, John. Never tire of media memories written by the men and women who lived through the great Toronto newspaper wars. Who better to spread the word?

t.frost said...

I liked the time when the bear peed in the elevator...good memories and time well spent...hope you and Mary are doing well