Not mentioned before, because there was no journalism involved, was my summer job as a copyboy at the Montreal Star in 1960, when every few weeks another plane was hijacked to Cuba. Montreal being the headquarters of the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation and of the principal aviation lobby, the International Air Transport Association, it became the centre of much of the action and much rushing about at the office.
So when I arrived as a junior reporter five years later I knew the place and many of the people well. After being directed from executive editor Walter O'Hearn's office, I met city editor Dick Havilland, a tall, bespectacled, mild-mannered man who seemed devoid of any discernible personality. He told me that I would be assistant youth page editor, helping Helen Rochester, who sat near the back of the class, a block of 36 desks set close together in twos and separated by an aisle up the middle.
Helen Rochester was one of the few women on the "floor"—that is, a general reporter that could be deployed on any assignment as opposed to the strictly nine-to-fivers in the women's department. There were two others who could be described this way, but only one who could be truly deployed as such. She was Dusty "two-story" Vineberg, who frequently came back from an assignment with two stories rather than the one expected. She was the finest female reporter I have ever known. Certainly, my mother thought so.
The other two tended to specialise. Lisa Balfour was a scion of the Balfour fortune, principal owners of the Southam Newspaper chain, the most prestigious in the country. Like me, she may have got her job though "drag," as we said back then, but she was fresh from the Sorbonne in Paris and used her knowledge of French to cover the growth of Quebec nationalism, then referred to as the "French Fact," which was simmering before it became "La Révolution tranquille," Canada's continuing crisis for 50 years.
The term Révolution tranquille was hatched not 20 feet away from Lisa's desk as the "Quiet Revolution" in a Montreal Star headline, and later embraced and made famous through repetition by Quebec nationalists.
Helen Rochester was about 35 and had come to the Montreal Star from Newfoundland's Corner Brook Western Star as Helen McGrath, who may have eclipsed even my mother as the most beautiful woman in Montreal media. She was a blonde beauty and well proportioned. She had a pilot's licence and soon married an architect who had a plane.
While still handsome when I met her, spots were appearing on that banana as she put on unwanted pounds.
Helen welcomed me warmly. She had high hopes that I might rescue her from the purgatory of the weekly Youth Page. Nothing much was expected of me by the editors, as I was regarded as someone, who they had to hire over his father's dead body, it being known that I had washed out at CP. Still, my Mississippi adventure and jail time served to blunt the snidewinders. Thus, I was seen by seniors as another one or two of the pieces of deadwood that had accumulated over the years.
Yet Helen and I were well suited to each other once she discovered I had the wit to do what she hoped I might do. And I was delighted with the prospect of being captain of my own ship if she left the post.
It wasn't much of a job if done minimally, which it then was. There was Stan Fisher, an ex-Star staffer, at that time a middling PR man with the Canadian Pacific Railway, then based in Montreal. He wrote a competent music column called "Rhythm & News," which took up a quarter of the page. Then there was Carol Clifford, who worked in the library and occasionally supplied an acceptable interview under a rubric like "Teens in the News." It was inconsequential and unread by all but those mentioned and their friends and relations. That meant it was safe.
After that, it was editing the high school correspondence. This was like the country correspondence church and bridge news I handled in Belleville at the Ontario Intelligencer. Some 30 high school principals, or delegated teachers, would assign students to write two or three paragraphs of school news, and that would fill up a goodly chunk of the page. And usually a piece of wire copy on teenage antics somewhere in the world could be found to fill what was left week after week.
It wasn't long before I was doing the whole job with time to spare, and Helen was doing less than ever and hating every minute of it.
One Friday, after the Youth Page came out, Helen announced that she was going on a diet. The following Monday, I saw her come in and gather the incoming mail from her mail slot as we all did each day. She threw me her big smile across the vast editorial floor. When she reached her desk adjacent to mine, she prattled proudly on about the success of her diet over the weekend, how it was difficult, and would be difficult, but she was prepared and would overcome all temptation.
Then she shuffled through the mail, much of which she now handed to me, before coming across one of those heart-stopping notes: "Please see me. Walter O'Hearn." Not that she was worried, as it had become evident that she had been underworked. It was probably news that she was to go on general assignment.
When she emerged from O'Hearn's office near the mail slots, she gave me the most quizzical of smiles and soon returned to her desk completely dazed.
"Just when I am launched on a diet!" she exclaimed. "Can you believe it?!"
Moments later all became clear. Many months before, in one of her countless proposals to escape the Youth Page, she had suggested a restaurant review column. Hers was the first one ever as far as I know, and once underway it was a much-imitated blazing success in that it brought in considerable advertising over the next 25 years. But her dieting plans went to hell, and she rapidly became grotesquely obese and died well before her time.
After her appointment, there was no point in her coming into the office, so while the desk beside me was still hers, I don't remember her ever returning to it after a week had elapsed.
There were two contemporaries who became good friends. Leon Harris, who had been at the Star for a few years, was the son of Ted Harris, my father's assistant at the Herald, who carried out his instructions. There had been bad blood between these two men, because Ted Harris took over the editorship of the Herald when my father was fired in 1948. O'Hearn, who was at the Star, had a hand in it, too, but he was only acting on orders from John McConnell, owner of the Star and the Herald.
But Harris's role was more complicated and involved my father dumping a bag of thirty dimes, symbolising the "thirty pieces of silver" paid to Judas for betraying Jesus, on the bar in front of him for some alleged act of treachery that was never explained to me.
I remember being in a similar position with Helen Burley, editor of the NDG Monitor 20 years later, knowing she was going to be fired and that I would replace her if I kept silent about it. Which I did, knowing I could not help her by telling her, and that it would only deny my own advancement if I did. But she was bitter toward me after that. I imagine Ted Harris's sin was the same but different.
Whatever happened in the 1940s was their quarrel and not mine, so I befriended Leon Harris and later his sister Rosa without qualm, though I tended to think of him as a gloomy Eeyore the Donkey in my imaginary Hundred Acre Wood, just as I thought of old friend Alan Ritchie as Rabbit, forever organising things "because that's what things are for—to be organised." But within a few weeks of my arrival Leon freed himself from the police desk by getting a job with Royal Dutch Shell, editing its house organ, as employee magazines were called. I remember Brits thought the term uproariously funny.
The police desk was an unenviable spot. Montreal was still the crime capital of Canada, even the bank robbery capital of the world at the time, but neither the Star nor the Gazette wanted to advertise that fact. So police news was minimised. Rapes were described as "assaults." One apocryphal tale doing the rounds at one time was a Montreal Star account that allegedly reported: "An unidentified woman was attacked in a back lane, severely beaten about the head and torso with a blunt object - and then she was assaulted". While that was a general sensitivity in that it applied to the Gazette as well, there was one sensitivity unique to the Star: the word "sugar." It suffered an absolute permanent ban because of some arcane reason connected to the newspaper's joint ownership of St Lawrence Sugar Refineries and necessitated the rendering of the heavyweight boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson as simple Ray Robinson in print.
About the time Leon departed Bob Stall arrived. He was a summer replacement but hoped to be taken on permanently as this was his last year at Sir George Williams University, to become Concordia University a decade later. We soon became fast friends, sharing a passion for the writings of Tom Wolfe and a silly fetish over short leads, which fueled an equally foolish competition that nonetheless engendered serious discussion of what was good and bad newspaper writing, of which Bob was becoming a reliable virtuoso performer.
Meanwhile I was making yards on the Youth Page, doing "inquiring photographer" features, asking kids whether the Beatles deserved the MBE from the Queen, or whether age restrictions should be lifted at movie houses. I also wrote stories on student radicalism that was just coming to a boil at McGill University. As I was renting a room at Lamda Chi Alpha fraternity, now moved to Peel near MacGregor (since frenchified as Av Docteur-Penfield), I was pretty well-connected at McGill, though it caused some difficulty at my frat house when I wrote a story about fraternities themselves, giving their critics voice, but not much more.
Still, they were miffed that it wasn't a total puff piece, as we call panegyrics in the trade. Through that, I learned that it is very difficult to write honestly about friends and their activities, as they are the least forgiving, particularly if they are leftists. Rightists tend to expect you will not accept them or their activities uncritically, but the leftists have a self-righteousness that is quick to be offended over just about anything, a condition undoubtedly aggravated by the higher number of women in their ranks.
One Youth Page story that won attention was a Glueck Indices test Montreal Catholic Services used to predict the likelihood of criminal behavior in youngsters that came into their care.
Despite the enlivening of the Youth Page, it still wasn't anything like a full-time job, and I lingered hopefully around the city desk whenever I heard excited voices talking either there or at the nearby police desk, whose denizens seldom went out but gathered information from police contacts over the phone.
The people who went out were general reporters. Heavy-hitters would be chosen first, but they were often were busy on deadline. Or they were beat men—medical, education, political reporters—or columnists of one sort or another, who could but did not do murders, fires, ship collisions and the like. Often as not I was sent out on variety of jobs. Line of sight played a big part in the assignment process. One reporter, Alvin Hamilton, had his desk behind a pillar and wasn't bothered with an assignment for three months.
Much of what I did attracted attention beyond my Youth Page constituency. First, I determined that younger teenagers could be interested in the activities of older ones, but older ones would not be interested in the activities of younger ones. So my primary focus was on those 16 and above and would drift as far as 21, if there were younger people to quote in the same story.
One feature that attracted a lot of attention was my interviews with a white and a black Rhodesian student at McGill, which localised an issue that was capturing the headlines in the mid-1960s. But my world-beating scoop was the first story about American draft dodgers coming to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War. I was disappointed that they held up my story to alert Ray Heard, the paper's Washington correspondent, so he could break the news on the front page from his more prestigious Washington location, while my story had a modest place inside.
I was somewhat gratified when Chapman Pincher of the Daily Express called me up to get the lowdown. Many on the staff were miffed the way my story was treated, but I accepted it, because I realised that it was a way to bolster the Washington Bureau in the eyes of the US national press.
Then came the Rolling Stones concert at the Forum, which caused a full riot inside. I remember the Gazette’s Nick Auf de Maur being there as a member of the audience, not as a reporter. It was a time of strict classification rules in editorial. I made the argument that wherever the Rolling Stones went there were riots, and for that reason, I requested a photographer. This was denied because the requisition should have come from the Entertainments Department since it was a concert. But they wouldn't play, because they did not regard rock ‘n’ roll as worthy of their attention. I think it was the last time that sort of thinking was taken seriously.
The Forum, which was the main hockey arena in Canada if not the world, was packed. The hockey boards surrounding the rink area were still up, but across the concrete rink area were arrayed rows of interlocking wooden seats, with the usual arena seats ascending to the rafters and the back and sides. At one end an eighth of the area was curtained off except for a five-foot-high elevated square stage front and centre, with that backstage area sealed off by a three-foot barrier along the front.
Off-duty Nick Auf der Maur, true to his bon vivant reputation, was well oiled when he got there and had the wherewithal to continue drinking into the night—which turned out to be a great blessing
The Montreal Star may not have been aware that the Rolling Stones had caused riots where'er they went, but the kids were, and yearned for a riot of their own. Nick probably knew something was afoot, but nothing that he was prepared for or took seriously enough to think of as a news story. Only Alain Zolty, a Parisian working for the now defunct French daily Metro-Express, which also took it seriously. It was good to run into French journalists in such situations. We served two different worlds, were not competitors and could share information, which is what Alain and I did that night, deciding to meet at the Texan restaurant on the east side of the Forum when it was all over.
I had given my 35mm Contax to Helen Wynne, who worked in the Star library. She was camera-savvy and really appreciated my camera. It had no flash but with a 1/1200 of a second shutter speed and even a normal Zeiss lens could do wonders with available light. Helen had been to London and wore the latest Carnaby Street gear and was about the only one at the Montreal Star who understood what was about to happen.
The crowd was roaring and bursting for action on arrival. At last the Stones appeared. Helen and I split up, and I did not see her again until we met in the office between 4 and 5 the next morning.
There was a thick phalanx of uniformed security guards in front of the elevated stage, easily throwing back the few boys who tried to mount it and get to the Stones. Song after song was performed with growing numbers of teens charging the stage, hoping to get on it, but the guards managed to throw them off.
At one point, impresario Dave Boxer came on stage to stop the show as it was getting so violent. But Mick Jagger told him to "piss off" to the roaring approval of the crowd. What's more, Jagger then gave a rousing rendition of "You Can't Get No Satisfaction"—which in that context dared the teens to overcome the security guards, singing "but I try, but I try, but I try!" to the rhythm of the now pulsating and increasingly coordinated swarms that now rushed the stage in groups.
Teens charged en masse, toppling the seats and streaming over the barrier that separated the audience from the rank of security guards beneath and in front of the stage. At first, the guards repulsed the onslaught, heavy as it was, without desperation. Then the kids crashed through the curtained area on one side and started to mount the stage from the side. Some guards went to prevent this, when teens on the other side had the same idea, resulting in more guards being dispatched to the flanks thus weakening the front to the point it was now overrun. Kids were climbing the stage just as guards were doing the same, hurling them off the stage into the oncoming crowd only slightly faster than they were clambering up the five-foot stage.
It looked like a scene from Zulu, the Battle of Rork's Drift. And for the first time, the Stones looked frightened and moved away from the melee with retreating guards inadvertently backing them into the corner to the cliff offstage. The music had stopped, but the roar of the crowd dropped not
It was then that Jagger seemed to have an idea. He noticed that the mob was now gathered at the rear corner of the stage, but because it was a corner, fewer could climb up and they were more easily thrown back into the mob by the guards who were clearly tiring. I saw Jagger talk to his mates and a guard. What they did next saved the day.
First, they moved to the front of stage left, and sure enough that's where the mob next surged, abandoning their previous corner. Jagger encouraged the crowd to try again, which increased their numbers at the new corner. Then suddenly the band made a diagonal dash across the stage to the rear corner stage right, largely empty of fans, then dashed 15 yards to their well-guarded dressing room, which the stage guards reinforced.
Helen Wynne, bless her, having shot most of her film, abandoned the concert and stood by the dressing room. With all her London gear and cool air of nonchalance, the guards took her for a roadie. As she only had two or three frames left, she carefully worked out the shutter speed, the aperture and the maximum depth of field she could squeeze from the available light and waited. She knew they would be coming her way - at speed.
And when the Stones made their dash, Helen got the pix that made the story, perhaps saved it from oblivion. But I didn't learn of Helen's derring-do until the next day, which was another blessing in disguise. The other blessing was the Gazette’s Nick Auf der Maur’s advanced state of inebriation.
I met Alain Zolty and his wife and her friend from Toronto, who supplied useful bits too, and together we fashioned an account of the evening. Nick stumbled in and after a cheerful perfunctory greeting went to the phone to call the Gazette. I could not hear what they were saying as the phone was in a glassed off alcove. But it did not appear to be going well, as if he was arguing with someone, an impression confirmed when he stormed out without a word but looking a lot more sober than when he arrived.
When I got to the office and had finished the story, Helen Wynn arrived with my camera, her film—and a tale to tell. When she saw the Stones running toward her with Jagger in the lead, she snapped her last frames away and simply followed them into the dressing room. There she lingered as unobtrusively as she could. "That was close!" said one band member, as I recall. I recall only this because although I have the clipping, much of what was in the story was cut out of the published account.
The desk was not happy. They did not assign a reporter, they did not assign a photographer, it was entirely unauthorised. It was a pop concert, the whole damn thing shouldn't have happened etc., etc. They might have squelched the story altogether if it were not for the Gazette's back-page muffled account speaking vaguely of a "disturbance at the Forum" and Alain Zolty's account that matched my own. And of course, Helen's great pictures, which confirmed everything. Metro-Express just had a standard Rolling Stones concert shot. Alain told me later that his photog arrived, got his shot and took off. So while it was a decent display, given Helen's electrifying band-on-the-run pic for a Saturday, it was still only on page 3.
As it happened, the weekend fun did not stop there. Occasionally, reporters went on junkets, out-of-town trips, from which little was expected in terms of stories, and what stories there were mostly came from press releases. The day my Stones story appeared, it was by far the most interesting thing in the paper that day and was the talk of the all the journalists aboard the inaugural run of Canadian Pacific's Royal York train to Toronto on March 29, 1966.
At the same time, an identical train called the Chateau Champlain loaded with another group of free-loading journalists left Toronto and headed in our direction. The occasion was a big change in Montreal-Toronto rail service, the creation of the high-speed Turbo from the Canadian National Railway and the more leisurely "we don't take time—we give time" CP service, with its sumptuous wining and dining amenities. Other journalists went on the parallel and more spartan CN Rapido junket to promote a service that would be replaced by the futuristic Turbo for more than 20 bumpy years, while the CP service faded in a year or two. As a service, CP's Royal York train was a dud, but as junket it was superb, given the food and drink.
We were looking forward not only to a cheerfully alcoholic run to Toronto, but also to an overnight stay at the Royal York Hotel, and a chance to see on closed circuit television a spectacle that was the talk of the planet, the epic fight between Canadian George Chuvalo and boxing legend Muhammad Ali that night in Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. As it turned out, we would be watching it in the company of the world's famous sports writers, among them Red Smith of the New York Herald Tribune.
I had been invited by Stan Fisher, my Youth Page Rhythm & News columnist, who was a PR man at the CPR. The trip was also known to the friend of Alain Zolty's wife I had met the night before in the Texan restaurant. She had come to Montreal for the Stones' concert and much to my surprise greeted me the next day at the Royal York Hotel. With all the fuss the other journalists were making in her presence about my Rolling Stones triumph, I was a total superstar and we soon found ourselves in bed in the best room the Royal York had to offer.
But it was all too much of a good thing. After sex, I wanted to see the Chuvalo-Ali fight, and left my room and toddled down the hall into another suite where my fellow journos arrayed themselves around a TV, occasionally cheering and jeering at the screen. I noticed that while Chuvalo was without style or skill as a boxer, he was immune to Ali's best punches. "He couldn't box apples," the Gazette's Dink Carroll said of Chuvalo. But Ali's dancing like a butterfly and stinging like a bee had no more effect on Chuvalo than it would have had on a CP locomotive, which the Canadian's piston-like punches so reminded me of. Granted, most of Chuvalo's punches hit nothing as Ali dodged them effortlessly.
But not always. At one point, Ali was overconfident and did not escape one of Chuvalo's body blows. Wham! Ali ended up flat on his ass. Despite bouncing up like a lacrosse ball, he must have found it one of the most embarrassing milliseconds of his career. Soon I found my date, looking every inch the slatternly slut, tugging at my sleeve and mewling that I return to bed. I went away thinking about Chuvalo and recalling what I had been told German prisoners said about attacking Canadian troops in Italy, that there was nothing special in what they did, except that no matter what was thrown at them, they kept coming and coming. I must say Chuvalo demonstrated that relentless spirit.
I again did my duty by the lady, returned to the fight and was again retrieved for bedroom duties. She was gone by the time I woke up, and I had breakfast and took the train back with a sheaf of press releases upon which to base the slavish puff piece I dutifully produced.