by Ralph Lucas, Publisher
(January 1, 2017 – Toronto, ON) If you’ve been thinking 2016 has been one hell of a year, you’re right. Of course being the 51st state we’re always a little overwhelmed by American news, but it seems this year was marked by an almost constant stream of bad news and it seemed to come from everywhere.
Here at home, 2016 was all of two days old when we got the news that a young film director and producer had been stabbed to death. Matthew Klinck may not be a household name — it’s fair to say most of the names in this year’s Passages are not household names — but he was somebody’s son and at 37 he didn’t get to spend too much time on this planet.
Things went calm for just over a week and then there were four deaths between January 10 and January 14.
Not strictly a film person, George Jonas was nonetheless a highly respected name in Canadian literature. He had written 16 books but is usually associated with the international bestseller Vengeance (1984), which was about an Israeli operation to kill the terrorists responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. The book was adapted for film first as Sword of Gideon (1986), and again in 2005 simply titled Munich. Jonas was 80 when he died from the effects of Parkinson’s disease on January 10.
Stanley Mann wrote screenplays and like most screenwriters you’ve probably never heard his name but you have definitely seen his movies. He was a co-writer on a slew of films in the ‘50s including The Mouse That Roared, Woman of Straw and The Collector which brought an Oscar® nomination. In the 1980s he wrote Eye of the Needle (1981), which costarred Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan, Firestarter (1984) and Conan the Destroyer (1984). Born in Toronto he was 87 when he died in Los Angeles on January 11.
William Needles made 34 film and television appearances, most of them on TV and most of them in the 1960s, but his acting abilities stretched far beyond the small screen. Born in Yonkers, New York, he grew up in Kitchener, Ontario and his father was one of the founders of Stratford Shakespeare Festival, although he had no interest in acting himself. William Needles trained at the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago and joined the Stratford Festival at its inception in 1953. He would eventually appear in over one hundred roles with the company. He was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2000 and was 97 when he died in Alliston, Ontario on January 12.
Two days later the man who first guided the career of Céline Dion and then won her heart died. René Angélil had first been diagnosed with throat cancer in 1991 but following treatment he had made a full recovery. When the cancer returned he underwent surgery in 2013. In September of 2015 it was announced that he would not beat the disease this time and he died two days short of his 74th birthday on January 14.
Things remained quiet until the month was almost over. Then on January 26, Montreal-born filmmaker Martin Lavut died. He didn’t have a huge body of work despite his 81 years. He had directed 19 projects all but three for television. He is usually remembered for his documentary on the life of the late National Film Board animator Arthur Lipsett in a film titled Remembering Arthur. Martin Lavut had lived in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto for many years before he died.There were only three passings in February, the singer and actor born Denise Matthews who grew up to become Vanity and two men who can be considered pioneers of a distinctive Canadian film industry. Vanity was 57 when she died of kidney failure on February 15 in hospital in California. As we have extensive notes on both men we urge you to read more about director Don Owen who was 84 when he died on February 21st and Colin Low, a filmmaker with a remarkable contribution to the industry who was 89 when he died on February 24.
There are only two names worth noting in March and both men died late in the month. Radio personality Wally Crouter, known for his decades-long run on Toronto’s CFRB was 92 when he died on March 28. Conductor, composer and arranger Howard Cable was 95 when he died on March 30. Cable composed and arranged the very first theme for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast which was used from 1952 until 1968. He then arranged “The Hockey Theme” by Dolores Claman, which replaced his own composition in 1968. His Royal Conservatory arrangement of “The Hockey Theme” for piano is one of the best selling pieces of sheet music in Canada. Cable was also a conductor for early CBC-TV variety programs like General Electric Showtime and Mr. Show Business. He conducted and arranged music for various CBC radio and TV programs in the 1960s. From 1971 to 1985 he was host of the highly-rated program Howard Cable Presents heard on St. Catharines radio station CHRE-FM.
Don Francks lived an odd life. His early acting career had taken him to Hollywood and he contributed a strong screen performance in the musical Finian’s Rainbow. But something else was calling him and he went to live on the Red Pheasant Reserve in Saskatchewan with his wife Lili Francks. He was adopted as a Cree, and given the name Iron Buffalo. Francks was 84 when he died of cancer in Toronto on April 3.
Marcel Dubé was a playwright with over 300 titles to his credit. He wrote primarily for the theatre but also for radio and television. His work in helping preserve and promote the French language in Quebec brought him recognition in his home province in 1993 when he became an Officer of the Order of Québec. He was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001. Born January 3, 1930, Dubé grew up on Logan Street in Montreal’s working-class east end. He was 86 when he died in his sleep on April 7.
One week later Canadian-born American film producer and director Dan Ireland died. Some sources say he was born in Portland, Oregon and others claim he was born in Vancouver on May 11, 1958. It seems like most of his life was spent as an American and in addition to his producing and directing credits in film, he is usually associated with co-founding (with Darryl Macdonald) the Seattle International Film Festival when he was just 17 and which he also ran from its beginning in 1975 until 1986. He was just 57 when he died at his home in Los Angeles.
Actress Madeleine Sherwood was 93 when she passed away. Born in Québec, she grew up to find a home on stage, television and in film. She appeared in 18 Broadway plays and costarred in both the stage and film productions of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth. She is best remembered as Reverend Mother Placido to Sally Field’s Sister Bertrille in the TV series The Flying Nun which ran from 1967 to 1970. Born in November of 1922, Sherwood moved to New York in 1950. She would become a life member of the Actors Studio. Madeleine Louise Hélène Thornton returned to her childhood home in Lac Cornu, Québec where she died on April 23.
While most Canadian actors leave for the United States at some point in their career some, including James Carroll, do just the opposite. Born in Pennsylvania he decided to settle in Canada after appearing on stage in a number of productions in Toronto. He had some 30 TV and film credits including 64 episodes of Wind at My Back playing the role of Max Sutton. He settled in Huntsville, Ontario and became involved in local radio. He was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2015 and was 60 when he died on April 27.
The next two months would bring only 5 deaths that fit our rough category of somehow being involved in film or television, with the occasional inclusion of other entertainers who made their mark in Canada.
Michael Roberds was just 52 when he died on May 15 in Langley, British Columbia, where he had been born in 1964. He had amassed some 81 film and TV credits in the 25 years he was active as an actor, producer, writer and director. One of his more memorable roles was as Brent the Shopping Cart Guy in the shot-in-Vancouver series Robson Arms.
Alan Young had an interesting career marked by three extremely diverse roles. He had a co-starring role in the sci-fi classic The Time Machine, spent a few years (1961-1966) talking to the talking horse, Mr. Ed on television and later provided the voice for Uncle Scrooge in the Disney-produced DuckTales. He was born to Scottish parents in England after the end of the first World War in late 1919. He was just six when his parents moved to West Vancouver, British Columbia. He served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War Two and resumed a career in radio after leaving the service. He was invited to perform on network radio in the United States and made his first American radio appearances on the Philco Radio Hall of Fame. This led to his own show, The Alan Young Show. He made his film debut in 1946. In his last years Young lived at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, a retirement community, where he died of natural causes on May 19 at the age of 96.
You need to be of a certain age to remember when the CBC news program The National was hosted by Stanley Burke. The television journalist was 93 when he died on May 28.
A couple of singers passed away in June. Bobby Curtola began life as Robert Allen Curtola and was born in Port Arthur, Ontario. He started performing when he was 15 and went on to have hits with songs like Indian Giver, Aladdin and his biggest chart success, Fortune Teller in 1962. In the early 1970s, Curtola hosted a CTV musical series entitled, Shake, Rock and Roll. Curtola was 73 when he died at his home in Edmonton on June 4, 2016, at age 73. And singer and television host Pierre Lalonde was 75 when he died in Hudson, Québec due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. His most successful TV appearance was as the host of the CTV series Circus from 1983 to 1984.
Death took a holiday in July but August was only 3 days old when news came of the passing of a Canadian icon, Mel Hurtig. Best known for publishing the Canadian Encyclopedia and for his small bookstore chain Hurtig Books. He sold his stores in 1972 to launch Hurtig Publishers Ltd. It became one of the best book publishing companies in Canada. In 1980, Hurtig began the work of compiling what would become The Canadian Encyclopedia. It is thought to have cost $12 million to produce the three-volume set of books first published in 1985. A second edition, which took four years to complete and cost $8.5 million to produce, appeared in four volumes in 1988. In 2005, Hurtig moved from Edmonton to Vancouver and died there in hospital from complications from pneumonia on August 3.
Director Arthur Hiller will always be associated with the sappy hit film Love Story and remembered for his work as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1993 to 1997. You can read more about Hiller here on Northernstars. He was 92 when he died in Los Angeles on August 17.
George Kaczender had a long and successful career but it is his film In Praise of Older Woman that usually comes to mind when his name is mentioned. Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1933, he was 83 when he died at Century City, Los Angeles.
We don’t know enough about actor Hagan Beggs. Born in Belfast Northern Ireland he appeared in the BC-set series Danger Bay playing the role of Dr. George Dunbar in 122 episodes between 1985 and 1990. His last role was in the series Hollywood Off-Ramp in 2000. He arrived in when he was a young man and worked on stage, radio, TV and film as an actor, a set decorator and a props man. He was 79 when died on September 16.
William Patrick Kinsella will always be associated with his 1982 novel Shoeless Joe. The fact that it became the hit 1989 movie Field of Dreams doesn’t hurt. W.P. Kinsella was a novelist and short story writer who often focused on baseball or Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Born in Edmonton, Alberta, the son of Irish American parents, he had started writing in his early teens and later supported his habit with a string of jobs including working as a clerk for the government of Alberta, driving taxi and running a pizza parlour in Victoria, British Columbia in 1967. While Shoeless Joe, his first novel, will remain his most famous work, Kinsella produced nearly 40 short stories and three novels using baseball as a central theme. Kinsella, who had suffered from diabetes for decades, elected to die with a physician’s assistance on September 16, 2016. He was 81 at the time of his passing.
The month ended with news that child star Bobby Breen had died of natural causes. Born in Montreal in 1927 he became a star in 1936. You can read our detailed notes on Bobby Breen on Northernstars. Don’t forget to look at some of our images of the young actor in the Northernstars Collection. Bobby Breen was 88 when he died in Pompano Beach, Florida on September 19.
The young actress Susan Aceron was just 44 when she died of nasopharynx cancer. Her career was short and she had found success in the business world beyond film and television. Born in July 1972, Susan Flores Aceron died on October 9th in Edmonton.
As the year began to wind down, November turned out to be a particularly brutal month with the news that Vancouver-born comedian and actor Dave Broadfoot had passed away on the 1st. Known primarily for his long association with The Royal Canadian Air Farce, his death came as the cast and crew of the series was putting together their 2016 New Year’s Eve special. Dave Broadfoot was 90.
One week later, poet, novelist, singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen died of complications following a fall at his home in Los Angeles. His career as a film composer started when director Robert Altman featured the songs The Stranger Song, Winter Lady, and Sisters of Mercy, in his 1971 film McCabe & Mrs. Miller, which was shot in British Columbia. The songs had originally appeared on the LP Songs of Leonard Cohen. In the early 1980s, Cohen co-wrote the rock musical film Night Magic with Lewis Furey, starring Carole Laure and Nick Mancuso. Cohen was 82 when he died on November 7. His death was announced on November 10, the same day his funeral was held in Montreal.
Doug Edwards was also a musician and composer. Born in Edmonton in 1946 he was one of the first baby boomers following WWII who are now “getting up there” and beginning to move to that great big studio in the sky. In addition to his hit song, Wildflower, Edwards wrote the music for three short films in the 1970s. He died in Vancouver on Remembrance Day, November 11 and was five months short of his 71st birthday.
The month ended with the passing of Genie and Gemini award-winning actor Janet Wright. Mostly known for playing Emmy Leroy, mom to Brent Butt on the comedy series Corner Gas but she had a serious career as well. In an odd twist of fate, Janet Wright had appeared in the movie that had used Leonard Cohen’s music, McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Born in Farnborough, Hampshire, England in 1945 her family left England in 1946 landing first in Calgary and later moving to Saskatoon where Wright grew up. Janet Wright was 71 when she died on November 14 in Vancouver.
With the year nearly gone, the Grim Reaper that had been so busy thinning the ranks of international stars of stage, screen and music once again cast its malevolent gaze toward Canada taking actor and composer Alan Thicke on December 13 and entertainer Gordie Tapp just five days later. Thicke had been playing hockey with his son when he was struck down by a heart attack. Gordie Tapp, who had reached beyond Canada’s cold borders and found a welcoming audience on the country music TV series Hee Haw, was 94 when he died on December 18.
This article is Copyright © 2017 by Northernstars.ca and may not be reproduced without written permission. For more information about copyright, click here. Ralph Lucas is the Founder and Publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began writing about film while in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.