Chapter Twenty-five

My benefactor, Herb Nixon, had been sent to Edmonton from the CBC’s Winnipeg newsroom to supervise our training and ease us through our first months of operation. He had his work cut out for him for several reasons:
– The newsroom was to provide both radio and television newscasts, and assign staff and freelance cameramen to the breaking TV stories: a lot to teach in the few weeks remaining before sign-on, October first, 1961.
– None of the original six newsroom employees had any television experience, and in addition, the three newspapermen had never worked in radio.
– Herb’s efforts were to climax in the appointment of an Edmonton News Director. It was only reasonable to assume that the selection would rest on Herb’s recommendation.
– The CBC had little or no standing in Edmonton – or, for that matter, in all of Alberta. In contrast, CFRN-TV had been Edmonton’s only TV station for seven years. And its owners, Sunwapta Broadcasting, had been in the news business for 20 years.
– Finally, but not incidentally, Alberta’s deep-seated loathing of all things federal had to be taken into account.

The six original members of the newsroom were not hired on an equal basis: the three men from The Edmonton Journal were placed in a more favorable pay category despite the fact that all of us were expected to perform identical functions in strict rotation. This meant that an ex-newspaperman might find himself supervising a former radio type one week, and working under the same man the week following.
The inequality ended when each employee had had enough time to display his particular shortcomings. In that respect, we were all in trouble. The newspapermen tended to look especially wooden on camera, and the radiomen struggled to conform to the CBC’s rigid style of news writing. Management solved the problem in true CBC fashion: it bumped the radio people up into the same pay category as the newspapermen.
And then there was overtime pay. We scrabbled for it so greedily a rationing system had to be established that everyone then tried to circumscribe. No statutory holiday was sacred and weekend work was welcomed. I had never worked so hard in my life, and the decisions we had to make were worrying. But, oh! Some of us had waited so long to make a decent wage as broadcasters.

Our news department had three staff cameramen at our disposal and as many freelancers as could convince us of their worth. The three staffers were all competent but, in all other respects, quite different one from the other. Vic Wintoniak was by far the most popular: he couldn’t seem to do anything wrong. He had already made his mark as an athlete, his golf game was the talk of the station, and Vic dressed well and mixed easily.
Curt Clausen was a veteran of one of World War Two’s most harrowing battles: Arnheim – A Bridge Too Far. He barely escaped with his life and lost two close relatives in the bloodbath. But there was no military swagger in Curt; in fact, he was a soft-spoken, hesitant fellow.
Bob Rouveroy, too, had suffered grievously from World War Two. Born in Indonesia of Dutch parents, he spent long years in a Japanese internment camp where deprivation took the lives of family members and friends. Perhaps in reaction to such suffering, Bob took a casual approach to living, dressing abominably and driving a dented wreck of a car.
“I keep hoping someone will run into it,” he once told me. “When they do, I tell them to give me fifty bucks and forget about filing an insurance claim. I’ve almost paid for this heap that way.”

Cars figure in any description of these three men. With the savoir faire Vic exhibited, it came as no surprise when he showed up one Fall morning with everyone’s choice for Car of the Year: the 1963 Pontiac Parisienne: top of the line, two-door hardtop, maroon. Not to be outdone, Curt went out and bought car identical to Vic’s except in color: Curt went for white – a bad choice, as it turned out.
The photographers were often sent out alone, of course, as Curt was one day early the following winter. It wasn’t an urgent assignment so nothing much was said when Curt didn’t return that same day. A blizzard had blown up right in his path, so we assumed it had delayed him. The storm had subsided by the next morning, but I had to do some digging before I could get the Fiat out of my back yard. I’d forgotten all about Curt until I hurried into the warmth of the station and found him slouched in one corner of the newsroom looking decidedly unhappy.
“Curt’s brand-new car was totaled,” one of the other newsmen told me in a whisper. “He got caught in a white-out coming in from Red Deer.”

I had lived in Alberta long enough to have experienced several whiteouts. They occur when – at the height of a snowstorm – the wind dies down enough to create a driver’s nightmare. It can happen in an instant: one moment you can see the road and your lane’s limits for a reasonable distance ahead, the next you are flying blind, enclosed in a pulsing white cocoon with snow coming at you from every direction.
Curt seemed eager to tell us of his experience so we gathered around him to listen. “When it hit,” he began mournfully, “I must have been just approaching a bend in the highway. With no edge to guide me, I went right off the road and about forty feet into a field covered with snow. I was sitting there, wondering what to do next, when I heard something coming up behind me really fast.”
“Oh, oh!” someone interjected.
“Then everything happened – one, two, three. First I got this big bang from behind, so hard it pushed my seatback forward and pinned me against the steering wheel. Then there was this scraping sound . . . ”
Somebody stopped him. “A ‘scraping sound’?”
Curt held out one hand and swiped the other across it. “Swish! Something sliding along the roof of my car. I was looking straight ahead and I saw this shape flying straight off my roof and out into a blizzard. It was a body! It had to have come from the car behind. Someone had gone clear through his windshield and across my roof and then out there into the snow. Swish!”
There was a round of gasps and a few moans.
“Meanwhile,” Curt continued, “I’m trying to get out of the car but the door is jammed shut because of the impact. I’m finally getting it open when I see fire behind me. Flames! I can see them through the rear window. The other car’s on fire and it’s right smack up against mine!”
“God! What did you do?”
“What do you think? I got out of there fast! And I’m just out of the car when I see this guy coming towards me, covered with snow, staggering.”
“From the other car,” someone prompted.
“No!” But then Curt seemed to change his mind. “Yes! Only he was coming from the other direction – from the snow bank. It was the guy who flew over my roof. The driver. He wasn’t hurt at all and I could smell the booze.”
“Out of his skull. His face is bleeding from going through the windshield but he’s smiling! Laughing! It’s all a big joke!”

At this point, the mood in the room changed. Callousness? Relief? For whatever reason, a few of us were chuckling.
Curt ignored it at first. “That’s when I hear this new sound.” He paused, trying to decide how to describe it.
“Sirens?” someone interjected. “A fire engine? The cops?”
“No! No! It was a crackling sound, coming from the guy’s car – a station wagon, actually. A crackling. I asked the drunk: ‘what’s that?’ I thought maybe there had been somebody with him, and whoever it was was frying in there!”
More gasps.
“But he says, the driver says ‘No, No. I was alone.’ And he just stands there, smiling and weaving. And then he says: “It’s eggs. My eggs are frying. I was carrying a shipment of eggs to the market. What you’ve got back there are fried eggs,’ he says. And he starts in giggling again, the bastard.”
By this time whatever had a few of us chuckling a moment ago has us choking with laughter – all of us except Curt, of course.
“What’s so funny?” he demands furiously. “A brand-new car and all my equipment goes up in smoke and you’re laughing?”

When the word got out that CBC Edmonton would hire casual film cameramen on a per-assignment basis, they began to appear in the newsroom brandishing a variety of movie cameras for our inspection. We weren’t qualified to appraise the equipment so we sent each would-be freelancers on to the Film Editor, hoping to never see any of them again.
If a freelancer’s camera passed muster, he would rush back to the newsroom to blurt:
“I’d like to shoot a story about . . .”
And if his project sounded interesting, we were instructed to give him the minimum amount of raw film to do the job, and to establish a deadline for the assignment to be completed. The real test for the freelancer’s idea hinged on that deadline; or more specifically, if and when he met it.
Once the freelancer’s film had been developed, the project was in the hands of two people on duty at the time: the Assignment Editor and the Film Editor. It came down to just the two of us sitting there in a darkened room with a projector and a screen. All too often, the only words either of us would say in response to what was flashing across the screen were unprintable, and the last sound I would hear as I left the room was the clang! of the rejected reel hitting the inside of the nearest trash can.
I can think of one brilliant exception.

A newly arrived Hungarian refugee had already come through with some acceptable work when he approached me one afternoon in a highly agitated state. Tony Lorch had talent, that was obvious; his real problem was his shaky grasp of English. His first description of the project he had in mind came tumbling out as a hopeless mishmash:

“Pet, I am hevving gorl friend she is, um, teachor, leetle keeddies, and the keeddies, um, are bracking hags. Yes? Bracking many hags!”

And after Tony had repeated the explanation several times, here is what emerged: he had a girlfriend who taught kindergarten in a local school. Her latest hands-on exercise had her class preparing and baking cookies. The recipe called for eggs. Each child in turn was given a chance to break an egg into a bowl while the others watched.

“They are macking faces, Pet. Such faces! I am shooting it. The faces, close up. Such faces!”

It may not sound like much of a news story but some instinct had me handing Tony three times the usual amount of film and sending him on his way. The finished product, accompanied by careful editing and a minimalist script, was used on all our weekend newscasts and then shipped off to Toronto where it was shown across Canada as the ‘kicker’ (final item) on the CBC’s principal evening newscast.

“Such faces!”

Tony’s camera had caught every possible reaction a five-year-old could make to the breaking of an egg: surprise, pride, shock, concern, disgust . . . They were all there in sharp close-up.
I’m told that Tony Lorch went on to success in Hollywood. I’m not surprised.


2 Responses to “Chapter Twenty-five”

  1. Steve Bowman Says:

    I am so pleased to find some history about Tony. I met Tony Lorch in Muskoka in late 90’s. We became good friends. He had moved from Toronto to Port Sydney, near Huntsville, to retire. He passed away about 5 years ago. I learned some of his life story which included his start with film that you witnessed.

    • cyezer Says:

      Tony Lorch lived with my mother for about 10 years before he returned to Canada in the 90s, and was a de-facto stepfather to me in the 80s. I did not know he had passed away, and cannot find is obituary. Can you give me more information? I’d like to pass it on to my mom.

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