Chapter Five

When I met Paul Grosney, he had just returned to his native Winnipeg after adventures as a New York jazz musician and service in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He soon carved himself a niche in Winnipeg’s limited entertainment world as a reliable jazz trumpet soloist, bandleader and impresario – attributes he kept for the rest of his long life. Being Paul’s friend over the years brought me more pleasure and support than I could possibly repay.

But when we met back in 1948, Paul and I needed each other. He was organizing and presenting ‘jazz concerts’ on a regular basis. Typically, they would put Paul, a few other musicians and a singer on stage with a host – usually a local disc jockey – at some inexpensive venue.

Paul, on a tight budget, needed all the publicity he could get for these events. As for me, I was always hungry for the smallest scrap of information for my entertainment column – especially if it wasn’t likely to appear in either of Winnipeg’s other newspapers. I began to look forward to Paul’s irregular visits to The Citizen, and even flattered myself that he came around expressly to see me. That illusion vanished when I learned that his sister worked for The Citizen, and his father owned a delicatessen only a block away.

On one of Paul’s visits to the newspaper, he dropped a genuine bomb: Frankie Laine was coming to town! The singer was in demand everywhere just then, riding the very crest of the popularity he had gained with a string of hits: “That’s My Desire,” “Black and Blue,”  “Shine” . . . It seemed only reasonable to ask Paul what would bring such a headliner so far off the nightclub circuit.

Paul seemed especially reluctant to answer that question, but he did caution me – in low tones – that the local club was trying to keep their bonanza booking a secret in case of a last-minute hitch. Mum’s the word.

I went straight from Paul to The Citizen’s file of rival newspapers. A careful search of the entertainment pages of the Free Press and Tribune going back several weeks supported what Paul had told me: I couldn’t find any reference to Frankie Laine’s imminent visit.

I considered the possible explanations: Maybe the cynics at the other newspapers didn’t believe what the nightclub owner had told them. Then again, maybe the effete people who wrote their entertainment columns considered a pop singer beneath their dignity, and word of Laine’s Winnipeg date had been brushed aside in favor of a review of a chamber music recital or an Ibsen play.

The struggling Citizen couldn’t afford such lofty considerations. A story was a story; and Frankie Laine coming to Winnipeg was “front page stuff.” At least that’s what the editor told me when I passed Paul’s tip on to him. Front page. And that’s where the story appeared in the next morning’s Citizen under the heading:

Winnipeg Club Books Top Teen Idol
Reporter: Pat McDougall
Someone had found a photo of Laine in full vocal flight to go with it, probably to compensate for the paucity of details beneath.
I could hardly wait to tell anyone who would listen that I was responsible for a major Citizen scoop. But the next time I saw Paul, he approached me shaking his head sadly and drawing his index finger across his throat. What he told me explained his theatrics:

“I tried to warn you,” Paul moaned. “That club’s owner has mob connections. The Mafia is big in the nightclub business, didn’t you know? How do you think the owner got a big-ticket act like Frankie Laine in the first place? The Mob likes him.”

And now Paul was pointing to me. “But you they don’t like! You spilled the beans on their pal and put him in bad with the other papers – the important ones. I wouldn’t go down any dark alleys for awhile if I were you.”
I took Paul’s advice about the alleys. But by the time Frankie Laine got around to honoring his Winnipeg booking, all was forgotten. His handlers even promised me an interview with the star for my column. True, he backed out of the interview at the last moment, but I got to talk to his piano player. And that more than made up for it.


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