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Ted Allan – Biography

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Born in 1916 into a poor, Montreal, Jewish immigrant family, Ted Allan hungered for a larger world and had to figure out himself how to get there. Poverty, fascism, and anti-Semitism, together with a destructive madness in his family, led Allan, at age 17, to the Communist Party—the hope of the 1930s.



Age 20, he joined the International Brigade alongside Nonnan Bethune in the Spanish Civil War, and his war stories and dispatches from the front earned him a worldwide literary reputation. Later, blacklisted in the U.S. and censored by the CBC in Canada, Allan fled in the 1950s to London, where he became a leading television writer for the BBC and was at the centre of a progressive, dynamic coterie of writers, actors, and artists, including Lawrence Olivier, Sean Connery, Zero Mostel, Edna O’Brien, Mordecai Richler, and Doris Lessing.



Khruschev’s revelations of Stalinist reality, however, tore the core of Allan’s political belief system apart. Working through his disillusionment, Allen wrote some of his best work, including his play, The Secret of the World, judged by critic Bernard Levin as “one of the greatest tragedies of the era”; the screenplay for Lies My Father Told Me, based on his childhood love for his grandfather, and nominated for an Academy Award; Bethune: The Making of a Hero (adapted from his own biography, The Scalpel and the Sword); and, in collaboration with Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes, the screenplay for Lovestreams (adapted from his play, My Sister’s Keeper, based on Allan’s relationship with his sister), winner of the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival.

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This biography was copied from the media notes for the Gala Film/National Film Board documentary co-production, Ted Allan: Minstrel Boy of the 20th Century.

Also see: Ted Allan’s filmography.