Chapter Thirty-four

The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast from Expo ’67 on the night of May seventh, offering a rather lackluster lineup of talent except for the Supremes with a 23-year-old Diana Ross.
I didn’t know enough about the Motown Sound to hazard a critique with its reigning queen, but I did manage to kid the fabulous Diana about her collection of wigs. She giggles most becomingly, but otherwise wasn’t much of a prize as a radio interview.
Neither was another singer who came to Montreal that year: Astrud Gilberto. With her, it was a question of language: her knowledge of English didn’t go much farther than the English words Norman Gimbel set to “Gârota de Ipanema”:

Tall and tanned and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking . . .

Even with extensive editing, neither singer contributed more than a few minutes to CBM Magazine.

Rich Little was another matter. The uncanny Canadian impressionist had just established himself in Hollywood when, during Expo year, he turned up in Montreal.
He told me of his early struggles in Los Angeles, making the rounds of the animation studios, hoping to become one of the voices of a future “Flintstones” or “Scooby Doo.” The usual audition put the candidate in front of a microphone with a script, and challenged him to concentrate on two cartoon characters projected in silence on a nearby screen, until he could give one of them a voice.
Little told me that his rounds brought him to a studio that made the task considerably harder: he was to invent voices for both of the characters in the sample scene.
But, heck! This was Los Angeles. What would these people know about Canadian politics? Little decided to use the two voices he was asked to do most often in Canada: he would make one of the cartoon characters sound like John Diefenbaker, and the other like Lester Pearson.

“Rolling, Mister Little!”

The impressionist went to work. And anytime he looked up from his script for the reaction in the control room, everyone in there was rocking with laughter.
It was working!
But when the director, still chuckling, came into the studio with his appraisal, he told Little:

Those voices are really funny, Mister Little, but the trouble is: nobody would believe them. I mean, God! Who would ever actually talk like that?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As Expo ’67 wound down, a strange scene took place that had to do with CBM Magazine. We had just done one of our programs from an Expo pavilion and were trudging to the nearest subway stop to make our way back to the CBC building. I was lagging behind the two women associated with the program, my co-host Gloria Bishop and our producer Frances Egan. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but it was obvious that whatever it was had them both upset. I caught up with them to find out what it was.
“The program’s being pulled,” Gloria told me angrily. “Frances is resigning and Ken says he hasn’t anyone to replace her.”
‘Ken’ was our Program Director, Ken Withers.
It was a shock. “Is that true, Frances?” I asked.
“Every word,” she confirmed.
“But it doesn’t make sense!” I protested. “There has to be someone who wants to produce the show.”
We walked along in silence for a moment before Gloria said quietly:
“I could do it. I could produce the show.”

And right there, on one of Expo 67’s ‘magic islands,’ a star was born. Because Gloria Bishop did take over as Producer of CBM Magazine and then went on up the CBC’s notoriously slippery executive ladder to produce Morningside during that program’s most productive period: the Peter Gzowski years.

Gloria’s co-hosting spot on CBM Magazine was filled by Hilary Brown who also went from success to success, leaving me far behind. She left CBM Magazine early in 1969 to do publicity for New York’s Guggenheim Museum, worked briefly for a private TV station in Ottawa, then for two U.S. networks, NBC and ABC, where she distinguished herself with her Vietnam War reporting, and was one of the last correspondents to leave embattled Saigon. Hilary was still a regular contributor to ABC into the ‘nineties.
I was able to keep track of Hilary while she worked at CJOH, Ottawa by watching CTV News on the network’s Montreal affiliate. CJOH – a CTV affiliate – provides the network with much of its parliamentary coverage. Hilary was especially prominent on the ‘scrums’ that usually took place on the steps of the Parliament Building during the Trudeau era.
What I would see was a close-up of the Prime Minister as he faced a battery of bobbing microphones with identifying flashes: CBC, CFRA, etc. Nothing the faceless voices asked Trudeau seemed to phase him at all, until one microphone came into the frame from a higher angle (Hilary is almost six feet tall). I swear that before she could even ask her question, the unflappable Mister T would recoil ever so slightly.

I treasure a note Hilary sent me from Washington, D.C. in 1980. It was in reply to what I had sent her from the Announce Office at CBC Montreal: a publicity photograph I had found of the two of us, sharing a microphone on CBM Magazine. My accompanying note ended with these words:

“I still think you have the hardest nose in journalism, powdered or not.”

Her reply was dated November 27, 1980. She wrote:

“Thank you for all those kind words. Next to those of the Shah of Iran . . . it’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

She then explained that she had journeyed to Tehran to prod the Shah about his vicious security force, Savak. The interview over, he told her:

“Mike Wallace was a baby next to you!”

When Hilary left CBC Montreal for New York to work for the Guggenheim, she left a story behind. I wouldn’t feel free to include it here except for two ameliorating reasons:
1. Hilary assured me that she had told what has become known as ‘The Hilary Brown Story’ on herself at an awards ceremony in Toronto.
2. The story is a classic of its kind.

Coming right up.

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