Sunday, January 18, 2015



Don Harron cared about words. He could make me cringe with how he mangled the language in his Charlie Farquharson rube act with some obvious and rude contrivances, but he was the quickest punster I've ever seen.
And I loved adroit puns. Those who don't just haven't the wit to appreciate them.
Harron was a graceful actor, gifted performer, insightful writer and critic, and a familiar face around Ontario. Anyone smart enough to sidle up to him at an intermission got a clever sentence about the strengths and weaknesses.
He may have had an international rep but you would see him at some humble performances.
One evening at the Fourth Line Theatre, held in a barnyard near Cavan, there was Harron watching with appreciation. An actor who had strutted the boards at Stratford and Broadway, who had been a fixture on long-running TV shows like Hee Haw and major radio, watching anonymously with several hundred others a performance that was obese due to the ego of the producer/inspiration behind the summer theatre.
"Needs a good editor like you," Harron said to me quietly at a break, not wanting to bruise local egos. He was being too mice to me but his message wasn't that. Less of the play would have been more.
Then we chatted about current events where he had  cutting insights about our rulers.
I remember a frigid Ottawa evening when Fraser Kelly, the TV anchor and political commentator, and I ended up in the House of Commons watching a boring debate by backbenchers. The only other spectator was Harron.
I said our excuse was that Fraser and I had had a very busy day with MPs and we were unwinding before a Chinese meal.
Harron said he had been writing night and day on an overdue movie script that he had just mailed to New York. He was too tired to sleep, it was too late for a movie, so he had come to the House hoping at least to capture some business for a skit.
Off we all went to an undistinguished meal. At midnight then on a weekday, there wasn't much  choice.
I said I was staying at the Skyline rather than the Chateau because I liked its pool and assortment of saunas, even though one of them, a dry affair redolent with eucalyptus resin, wasn't worth the money.
"Oh," Harron said, "a real you-clip-tus room."
In the early days of the two brigantines in Toronto harbour, I helped in a race to get the sailing program some publicity. The crews were media and regulars on the scene like Harron and Catharine McKinnon, then his wife.
It was the start of a fine summer day. Catharine  perched on the bow spit and as we brought 60 tonnes around into the wind and the jib billowed above, she sang her anthem Farewell to Nova Scotia.
I shivered. For one glorious moment, I could have been on the Bluenose as it again showed its stern to the fastest competition, or with Nelson at Trafalgar, not on a thick old ship used to give teenagers like my son John Henry a real sailing experience.
I remember that moment fondly, along with all the wordplay from a man who over 90 years may have tried to carve a pun out of every word in the  language.
I know some dunderheads say a "pun is the lowest form of humour." As Oscar Levant riposted,
"when you don't think of it first."
 Harron usually did.

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