Chapter Seven

The collapse of The Winnipeg Citizen April 13, 1949, put a platoon of seasoned editors, columnists, and reporters out in the street. A few of these ink-stained orphans found work at the two remaining dailies in town, but many had to travel, hat in hand, to distant cities, often to accept duties they would have considered beneath them before the axe fell.

Word of their travails was sobering for a 20-year-old with so little to show for his two years on the labor market. All I had to offer my next employer was the malleability of the totally untried, and my willingness to work for next to nothing – again.

It was more than enough for a picture-framer by trade who had just launched a glossy magazine meant to report on what passed for entertainment in postwar Winnipeg. One look at his shabby, ill-equipped office should have set off a chorus of warning bells, but hell! What did I know?

I was to be what the British call a ‘dogsbody.’ There was a receptionist on hand the day I came for an interview, but she was gone by the time I showed up for my first day of work – yet another warning sign. Within minutes, I had assumed her function along with all the others associated with the production of the magazine that didn’t involve glad-handing: that proved to be my new employer’s specialty. Tall and broad-shouldered with a world-weary expression and a full head of wavy blonde hair, he had no trouble dominating any room he entered. He didn’t walk, he loomed.

One edition of the magazine followed on another, month after month; the money had to be coming from somewhere. It took me some time to notice that very little of it was going out, besides the pittance he gave me – and paydays were becoming increasingly irregular.

It was about then that we began to get angry phone calls from contributors and suppliers. Those the boss accepted were answered by earnest claims that we were “reorganizing and refinancing” and that hefty investments were in the works.

I was the first one on the scene every morning. For that reason, I had been given my own key to the office. The day of reckoning came the morning it wouldn’t fit in the lock. Talk of “reorganizing and refinancing” had failed to impress the building’s manager. The rent had gone unpaid and the lock had been changed overnight.

So much for “Winnipeg’s leading entertainment magazine.”

Looking back, I realize the experience wasn’t a total loss. I wrote a lot of the magazine’s content, and even illustrated some of my contributions with cartoons. I wrote several short stories, one reasonably good; reviewed films; and interviewed at least two people of note: the Hollywood actress Alexis Smith, and the figure skater Barbara Anne Scott. The experience was piling up, but god! Was I green!

Alexis Smith should have sent me away with an empty notebook when I began my questioning with: “How did you get started in show business?” After a moment of stunned silence, Smith turned to her incredibly handsome actor husband, Craig Stevens, and drawled:

“Craig, darling, would you give our friend here a bio?” She meant one of the mimeographed biographies they had equipped themselves with for the worst of the backwater scribblers they encountered on their travels.

What I remember most from that encounter are the tans that the Hollywood couple brought to Winnipeg from the Golden State. Craig Stevens’ was an even toasty brown, while the actress had sprouted a glorious crop of freckles to go with hers. I had never considered freckles to be that attractive until then.

Barbara Ann Scott provided an interesting contrast to Alexis Smith. To the film star’s easy confidence, the figure skater offered an appealing shyness. And Barbara Ann countered Smith’s West Coast tan with the coloring of a china figurine.

The Craig Stevens function was assumed by the figure skater’s mother who managed to stick close to her famous daughter without intruding on my interview. I think she saw the encounter for what it was: one tongue-tied 20-something trying to make conversation with another.

I could hardly wait to tell my brother that I had been that close to the famous skater. On his last trip home from his studies in Quebec City, Jim had claimed our full attention with a dazzling account of the figure skater’s sold-out appearance at that city’s Coliseum; how she had stood motionless, her costume shimmering in a blue spotlight, while the first few bars of Schubert’s Ave Maria wafted gently from the arena’s loudspeakers. Only to be drowned out by a venal vendor shouting:

“Patates frites! Patates frites!”

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