Thursday, May 8, 2014



Farley Mowat was a great flasher but fortunately for him a better writer.
So the world forgave him for showing off his penis at every opportunity.
As I recall, there was nothing remarkable about his genitalia but there certainly was with his many books, particularly Never Cry Wolf, which smelled of blizzard and cabin smoke, and the classic And No Birds Sang which had all the raw guts of battle dripping from its pages.
I have two copies of Wolf which I happily inflicted on all my family and friends. I know there may have been a trifling exaggeration with anecdotes like drinking pots of tea in order to crawl around his turf naked and mark his territory with great gushes of urine, but as someone who was a kid reporter in the Yukon and experienced being all alone in the northern vastness, it plucked a chord in my Robert Service memories.
And No Birds Sang even moved Canadian writers who had been there, like Fred Cederberg who wrote a great book on the Italian campaign himself but wasn't exactly a fan of the exhibitionists' darling.
For a young journalist, Pierre Berton and Mowat were media giants and authors beyond my hopes. When I functioned as a ghost writer for their buddy and publisher Jack McClelland on two books, what I treasured about the experience, was this. It was the closest I would ever get  to dining at the Round Table at the Algonquin or the pub scene in the Paris of Hemingway and Callaghan.
I almost would have done it for nothing just to associatedwith McClelland.
After all, McClelland and his author pals were members of an eating/drinking/fooling around club which was so exclusive, you had to write national treasures and not give a shit for anyone in order to belong.
Now our legends are passing and the replacements are pallid.
Many knew of Mowat's glee at flipping up his kilt to reveal that he in the Scottish tradition wore no underwear. Women smiled tolerantly, just as they also did about a famous snooty maitre d' and the owner of an Establishment restaurant who had habits of accidentally brushing their breasts and their bottoms. The oversexed trio only got away with it because the books and the food were too good to make a fuss.
For lesser writers, we check our fly to ensure the zipper is up.
At one of those national authors' dinners where the egos only stop talking long enough to switch feet, I was at the Claire Mowat table in honour of one of her six or so books. Farley was performing elsewhere in the room and never came near us, presumably because his wife already knew his best lines.
I told her that my friends Connie and Glen Woodcock lived just down the street from them in Port Hope and whenever they mentioned the Mowats, there was a bemused look on their face. Claire sighed and turned away to search the room to see if Farley still at least had the kilt on.
I recall a Mowat sighting when Sutton Place reigned as "the" hotel. We moved the wedding reception to Stop 33, the great top floor, of my oldest son, John Henry. The first choice, Fenton's, had gone bankrupt, despite the great food like that leek and Stilton soup (which I still make,) and it was a chaotic Saturday at the grand replacement.
Things were rescued by that prince of hoteliers, Hans Gerhard. He cut his way through the confusion partially caused just off the lobby by a drunken Mowat holding forth at the top of his lungs. For some reason, he was wearing that bloody kilt and flipping it like it was attached to the pendulum of a grandfather clock.
Gerhard ushered the Downing wedding party to a safer corner where we waited for Stop 33 to be readied fortified by free champagne. And Hans dealt with Farley.
It would have made a great story for a Mowat tale. After all, the writer liked being his own hero. And generally his characters, even if they were just a wolf or a whale, were larger than life, just like him.

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