Passages – 2015
by Ralph Lucas, Publisher
(January 1, 2016 – Toronto, Ontario) – This column marks the 10th year Northernstars has looked back to remember those actors, directors, producers, screenwriters and composers who left us in the previous year. Given the nature of this item, it may seem odd to say that some years were better than others, yet 2015 was such a year. Our research produced only 23 names this year, and Death seemed to take a holiday in February and May.
The year began with a loss felt across many different stages in Canada. Don Harron was 90 when he died on January 17. He was an actor, playwright, radio host and so much more. Born in 1924, Harron claimed he got his start in show business by drawing caricatures of people at banquets in the 1930s. He would later audition for CBC radio. His acting career took him to stages in London and to Stratford, Ontario. To many, if not most, he will be remembered for two major contributions to Canadian culture. One was the unique character of Charlie Farquharson, a fictitious folksy story teller, and the second is for the creation the theatrical version of Anne of Green Gables, which has become the longest running annual musical theatre production according to Guinness World Records.
His voice was first heard on CBC radio in 1936. He introduced the character of Charlie Farquharson at the Spring Thaw in 1952. He once told Global Television that Charlie was based on a character and accent he played in The Inheritance for the New Play Society. Charlie’s down home humour and slightly maniacal laugh made him perfect for the hit US television variety show, Hee Haw that was hosted by fellow Canadian, Gordie Tapp.
However his most enduring legacy will be how he helped create the musical version of Anne of Green Gables. Harron worked with Norman and Elaine Campbell and Mavor Moore to turn the Lucy Maud Montgomery classic into a CBC television production in 1955. Nine years later they adapted the television version into one for the stage. It was first produced for the Charlottetown Festival on Prince Edward Island in 1965 and has been produced every year since. This will be its 50th year. In March of 2014 it was declared the “longest-running annual musical theatre production” by Guinness World Records.
Decades after his debut on radio, Harron spent five years as the host of CBC’s Morningside, the show that later became identified with Peter Gzowski.
Don Harron died at his Toronto home after choosing not to seek treatment for cancer.
Just a few days later, Québec-born animator, director and producer René Jodoin died. Usually associated with Norman McLaren, Jodoin should be remembered for founding the French animation unit of the National Film Board. The NFB had moved to Montreal in 1956 and a few years later a number of young people wanted to work in animation. Jodoin once admitted that he wasn’t particularly keen on the idea, but when he presented it to the director of production he tolf Jodoin, “Yes, on one condition, that you do it.” So in 1965, Jodoin became the director of the NFB’s French animation unit. He was 94 when he died in Montreal on January 22nd.
We had made it through all of February and most of March when word came that actor Alberta Watson had died. Faith Susan Alberta Watson was born on March 6, 1955 in Toronto, Ontario. As a teenager she appeared in a number of local theatre productions before branching out into film and television in her early 20s. Her first onscreen role was in the 1978 thriller Power Play. Her second film came the same year in the sexy, X-rated drama In Praise of Older Women (1978), a film, it could be said, which set the tone for the rest of her career. At 23 years old, Watson was nominated for a supporting actress Genie award for her performance in the film. Alberta Watson had battled lymphoma for a number of a years and died in Toronto on March 21st, a couple of weeks after turning 60.
Robert Walker was born in Toronto in 1961 but grew up in Ottawa and graduated from Gloucester High School. After graduating, he enrolled in the liberal arts program at New York’s St. Lawrence University. One year later, he transferred to Oakville, Ontario’s Sheridan College when he learned they offered a degree in animation. After Sheridan, Walker was hired at what was then one of the Canada’s premier animation studios, Atkinson Film-Arts in Ottawa. He worked on animated TV shows such as The Raccoons and Dennis The Menace for five years before leaving the firm — part of Crawley Films — just before it shut down in 1989. Walker had heard about a new Walt Disney animation studio being opened in Bay Lake, Florida.
He started as a layout artist on Roller Coaster Rabbit, a Roger Rabbit short, and later became head of layout for the Florida studio, overseeing scenes for feature films such as The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Mulan (1998) and Lilo & Stitch (2002). His career culminated with a 2003 Academy Award nomination for the animated feature Brother Bear, a film that earned more than $250 million worldwide. Walker, who had retired from the film industry, died at his California home from heart attack. He was 54.
It’s part of my job as Publisher and Managing Editor to know something about everyone we have on the Northernstars website. That goal has never been reached because the amount of content that gets added far outstrips my ability to keep track of everyone. I have met many, enjoyed the privilege of photographing some, and considered it an honour to interview a few of the people profiled within these digital pages. It had taken a year to setup what turned out to be an exclusive interview with famed director Paul Amond. We had first reached out to him in 2011 to ask if he would be in Toronto in the near future and if there would be a chance to talk with him about his career. We learned that he would in fact be in Toronto but the timing, as it often is in this business, was terrible. We just couldn’t pull together a crew on those days when Mr. Almond had a few hours to spare. We were disappointed but promised to keep in touch.
In late April of 2012 we began to confirm the dates when Mr. Almond would be stopping in Toronto on his annual trek from his winter home in Malibu, California to his Canadian home in Shigawake on the Gaspé peninsula. With enough time to plan we arranged to videotape an interview in May. That three part interview is available for all to watch on Northernstars.ca on Vimeo.
Having been in touch over a few years, and being aware that he had some health issues, it nonetheless was a bit of a shock when we learned that Paul Almond had died on April 9th due to heart disease.
T.S. Eliot in his very long poem The Waste Land, which he dedicated to the writer Ezra Pound, began the work with the words, “April is the cruelest month.” And so it seemed to us when the young actor Jonathan Crombie died on April 15. We had recorded only three deaths in the first three months of the year and now we would be reporting on our third passing in April and the month was only half over.
Crombie was best known for playing Gilbert Blythe in the CBC productions of Anne of Green Gables and its two sequels. He was spotted by casting director Diane Polley when he was in a school production of The Wizard of OZ. Until she suggested he audition for Anne of Green Gables, Crombie never considered acting professionally. Crombie, the son of former Toronto mayor David Crombie, suffered a brain hemorrhage and died in New York City on April 15th.
There would be two more deaths in April. Tony Morelli was a stunt performer. Born in May of 1956, he was 27 when be began his career. Just a few of the titles he worked on include The X-Files, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Rise of Planet of the Apes, The Cabin in the Woods and Godzilla. He was 58 when he died suddenly on April 19th.
The month would end with the death of Steve Goldmann. Steven Harvey Goldmann was primarily a music video director with more than 200 projects to his credit. He won 12 awards between 1993 and 2007 for his work on videos for some of the top names in Country music including Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Kathy Mattea and Mary Chapin Carpenter. He directed a small handful of TV series episodes and three feature films. He was 53 when he died of cancer in Woodland Hills, California.
The comedian and actor Rick Ducommun (pictured) died on June 12. He first appeared on the TV show Star Search in 1984 and placed 2nd in the comedy category. He was able to parlay his funnyman status into a film and TV career that grew to 50 credits including being the neighbour Art Weingartner in The ‘Burbs, playing a barfly in the Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day, he was Henry the chauffeur in Blank Check and he played the villainous monster “Snik” in Little Monsters. Another Ducommun credit included the John Candy, Rick Moranis film Spaceballs. Rick Ducommun was 62 when he died due to complications from diabetes.
Stan Carew was a radio broadcaster, musician and actor. He worked in radio for 47 years, spending 10 years in commercial radio starting in 1968 at CHNS in Halifax. He spent the next 30 years of his career working for the CBC in Saint John, N.B., and Toronto. He was the host of the network shows The Entertainers and Prime Time and was frequently heard on national newscasts such as World at Six and World Report. Carew suffered from a number of health problems and was found in his home in Halifax on July 6.
Robin Phillips was a sometimes actor and director in film and television but his real mark came on the stage. Born in February of 1940 in Haslemere, England, Phillips began his career in England rising to the position of artistic director of the Greenwich Theatre from 1973 to 1975. That’s when he was hired as artistic director of the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario where he spent six seasons directing many productions. He resigned from Stratford during the 1980 season. Later he would become the artistic director at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario and returned to Stratford specifically to direct the Young Company from 1987 to 1988/ He was director general at the Citadel in Edmonton from 1990 to 1995. He also directed on Broadway and on London’s West End and at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. In 2010 Phillips received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. He had been ill for some time when he died in his sleep on July 25th.
Much like Phillips, Antony Holland was British-born but achieved most of his fame in Canada. He was an actor, playwright and theatre director. Born in March of 1920 he moved to Vancouver in 1957. The founder of British Columbia’s Studio 58, Holland received the Order of Canada in 2014 and was often referred to as “Canada’s oldest living actor.” He had moved to Gabriola Island and started the Gabriola Theatre Company. Still active he had celebrated his 95th birthday by appearing on stage in a play in Nanaimo in March of 2015. He was 95 when he died on July 29th.
The Québec actor, musician and choreographer, Jerry Snell died on August 7. He appeared in a handful of films, only 10 between 1987 and 2001. He co-founded the Carbone 14 theatre troupe with Gilles Maheu. He had moved to Thailand in 2008 and died there of pneumonia on August 7.
Born on November of 1978, the relatively young actor Hugo Saint-Cyr died on September 24. He had just 9 productions to his credit including a few films, some series and mini-series work. He had been diagnosed with bone cancer and died on September 24.
The Hungarian-born Canadian filmmaker Albert Kish was 78 when he died on October 23. Born in Eger, Hungary in 1937, after completing high school het attended the Academy of Stage and Film in Budapest. When he was 19 the Hungarian Revolution forced him and many others to seek a better life elsewhere. One year later, in Vienna, he happened to see some films made by the National Film Board of Canada. He arrived in Montreal in March of 1957, a few months before his 20th birthday. He apprenticed as a camera assistant and then freelanced as a cameraman shooting industrial shorts. He joined the CBC in 1964 as a film editor and began his long and distinguished career with the NFB in 1967. He would edit more than 30 NFB films, including those that he also produced and/or directed. One of the early films he edited was the 1968 film Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar. He won seven international awards for his 1975 film Los Canadienses, a thoroughly researched study of Canadian participation in the Spanish Civil War. He died at the Toronto General Hospital after a long battle with cancer.
Just one day later renowned Canadian filmmaker Christopher Chapman died. Chapman’s first film, The Seasons, ran 18 minutes and was produced in colour and funded by Imperial Oil, won the Canadian Film of the Year in 1954. His film A Place to Stand received two Academy Award nominations and won the Oscar for Best Live-Action Short in 1968. Chapman was the first Canadian filmmaker to receive an Oscar outside of the NFB. A Place to Stand was also named Canadian Film of Year at the Canadian Film Awards (CFA). He was awarded the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts medal for distinguished contribution to the art of cinematography and presented with the first Ontario Film Institute Award for his distinguished achievements and significant contribution to the development of the Canadian film. He was the recipient of the 1967 Centennial Medal, the 1977 Jubilee Medal and the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Chapman was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 1987, and awarded a Doctor of Laws by Ryerson University in 2000. Chapman served as president of both the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and the Directors Guild of Canada. He was 88 when he passed away on October 24th at the Reachview Village long-term care facility east of Toronto in Uxbridge, Ontario.
Just about a month later, on November 21st, award-winning filmmaker Gil Cardinal passed away following a lengthy illness. Born in Edmonton in 1950, he was placed in a foster home at the age of two, and only discovered his Métis roots while working on a documentary in the mid-1980s. Known for exploring raw subject matter such as substance abuse, the foster care system, and his struggles with his own cultural identity, Cardinal episodes of hit TV series such as North of 60 and The Rez, as well as the Gemini-nominated mini-series Big Bear. Earlier in his career, Cardinal worked for many years with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) as a freelance director, researcher, writer and editor. His first film for the NFB was Children of Alcohol (1983), a documentary about a group of teenagers and pre-teens focusing on the effects of parental alcoholism. He was 65.
Just about everyone knew Doug Lennox. Born in Sudbury, he spent his childhood summers on his grandparents farm near Magnetawan, Ontario. He dropped out of school at age 16 after his father died. His first job as a teenager was with a Department of Highways labour gang, manually digging guard-rail post holes along the Trans-Canada Highway. After a stint in the army and then a series of menial jobs, Lennox began his career in radio in 1965. He spent the 70s at CBC Radio & Television, developing the skills to host and create a number of highly innovative and successful productions, including Touch the Earth with Sylvia Tyson and I’ll be Home: A Maritime Tour with Anne Murray. All during this time, he continued a successful second career both on-camera and as a voice-over actor in the commercial world of advertising. Doug Lennox was 77 when he died in Toronto.
Film producer Denis Héroux died on December 10. Primarily known for his work as a producer and in particular for the film Atlantic City, Héroux had started his career as a director. A highly regard pioneer of Québécois cinema dating back to the early 1960s when he was co-producer and co-director of Denys Arcand’s first feature, Seul ou avec d’autres. His soft-core Valérie was a huge hit in Quebec and the highest-grossing Canadian film of its time. It also launched a whole sub-genre that became known as ‘Maple Syrup Porn.’ Denis Héroux was 75 when he passed away in Montréal.
Five days later and ten days before Christmas, actor Ken Pogue passed away. He began his career on stage and played the Crest Theatre, Stratford, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts and the Guthrie in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. He began working in film and television in the early 1970s and built a long and successful career in front of the cameras. Ken Pogue was 81 when he died of cancer.
There are a few other names we should mention. Regular users of Northernstars know that we do not list Canadian personalities that work in news or in situations, like game show hosts, where they are performing but are essentially playing themselves and are not actors. Chris Hyndman is one such name. The highly popular TV personality was 49 when he died on August 3rd. On August 24th, radio and television journalist Marguerite McDonald passed away. She was 73 when she died of cancer. And, Ottawa television newsman and personality Max Keeping was also 73 when he died of cancer on October 1st.
As in past years, if there is someone I have missed, I sincerely apologize. The Canadian entertainment community is small and the film and TV component even smaller. That often works against us when it comes to our research here at Northernstars.ca. If you can update this information or contribute new information, lease do not hesitate to contact us.
Ralph Lucas is the Founder and Publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began writing about film and reviewing movies while in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.