Sunday, 27 January 2013


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  Much as I liked working for Jack Bush, Bill Winters and Les Wookey, another thing was causing disquiet. The war was raging. Rumours were increasing about the fate of European Jews, and the then unbelievable death camps. Among Jewish people I knew there circulated a story that on a Toronto streetcar a man had sneeringly said We're fighting this war for the Jews! and an off-duty policeman had knocked him down. To such flimsy assurances did alarmed Jews cling.
  I didn't want to die, not yet. I could have lied about my age and joined the regular army, and I intended to enlist when I turned eighteen, or allow myself to be drafted, but for now I hung back. Yet I wasn't too young for the Reserve army.
  I went into the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, for no more noble a reason than that they had a red pompon at the peak of their dark-green field service cap. As a new recruit I was issued a cap, a standard khaki battle dress, a bayonet, and a Lee-Enfield rifle. I had never held a real gun in my hands before.

  As a boy, going every day after public school to the Peretz Shula (school), named for the great Yiddish writer, I. L. Peretz, I would walk home in the months of early dark with a toy pistol tucked inside my jacket. It was totally ineffective, but in the night it gave rise to a false, if fearful, confidence.
  The Reserve army was almost as ineffective. Although we sometimes trained with live ammunition, tear gas and bayonet charges, we were hardly better than toy soldiers. There was talk of our being sent to the East coast to guard against landings from German submarines, but nothing came of it. The training did, however, give youngsters like me a taste of what to expect in the regular army.
  At my first shooting practice, each of us was given a standard white paper target, with red circles and a black center, and five long bullets. I listened carefully to the instructor: to lie down, make a tripod with the chest and elbows, aim carefully, hold a breath and gently squeeze the trigger. We were lying in a line comfortably apart, with our targets tacked to a wall some distance away. After every command of Fire! I could see black dots appearing on the targets of those around me, but nothing on my own. I couldn't understand it. I was trying to do exactly what we were told, and yet I seemed to be missing the entire target. When we each finally retrieved our targets, I found all my shots had gone into the small black bullseye.
  But in bayonet practice, when we were required to let out a blood-curdling yell as we bore down on and stabbed a straw-stuffed dummy, I refused to utter a sound. Naively, I thought that if I had to disembowel an enemy I would do so without being a beast about it. My silence was noted and disapproved of, with some head-shaking, but little was said to me.
All this needed the forbearance of my bosses. Sometimes I had to come to work in uniform and leave early, and occasionally be away a few days for manoeuvres. Jack, Bill and Les were never anything but supportive and enthusiastic. They were all in early middle age, with families, so there was no question of their participating directly, and I think my being in the Queen's Own alleviated their feeling that they should be doing more.
The longest time I was away, for about two weeks, was for manoeuvres at an army camp near Niagara-On-The-Lake. All the troops were divided into two supposedly opposing armies, a red and a blue. We were the red. A group of officers, identified by special armbands, acted as judges. Each army was made up of companies, a company being about 148 soldiers. And because I could draw, for our company I was made the scout.
I was in good fettle, because it was just after the weekend I had hitch-hiked to Buffalo. I went to see Terry, a girl I knew from Camp Yungvelt (about which I'll explain later). In uniform, it was easy to get rides, and it didn't take long to get there. What we did there was very restrained; at most it amounted to a hug and a few brief kisses.
I was still relishing the savour of them as I crawled on my belly towards the enemy lines. From a favourable vantage point I was able to mark down most of the blue-army positions, their machine-gun nests (we did have Bren guns) and the disposition of their nearest formations.
  But I had been detected and a soldier was sent out to search for me. I was concealed in a clump of bushes when he walked right into the muzzle of my rifle. I took his gun and removed the firing bolt, which was the war-games sign that he had been taken prisoner. On the way back we encountered some of the officer-judges. They looked at my sketches and commended me.
When we got back I gave my drawings to our Captain, who seemed in charge of the company. I didn't know where our Major was; he might have been acting as one of the judges. The Captain — whom we privately called a fat ass, believing that he had his position only because his grandfather was a cabinet-level big shot in Ottawa — scarcely glanced at my papers. Very good, he said excitedly, and pulling out his revolver and waving it in the air, wild west style, shouted All right men, follow me!
So dismayed was I that I stayed behind while all the others moved off. Everyone else in the company was captured.
By the time the mock battle was over, when we were all sitting on the ground while the judges lectured us, going over the whole operation, I was beginning to lose interest. I thought Why am I in this stupid outfit? When we were again in Toronto I asked for a transfer to the Air Force.
This was an administrative procedure that was tantamount to enlisting. It meant that one formally left one service and was admitted to another. It was a rather selfish move on my part, because it would leave Wookey, Bush and Winter up in the air, with an extra room and no one to do their minor work. Yet there was not a murmur of protest from them.
But I had a different reception from our army Major.

NEXT:  Grilled

Sunday, 20 January 2013


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        For a while I’m going to leave memories of the The Longhouse People and its aftermath. During the short lull between my making of that film and before I began work on another, I want to go back to an earlier time, when I was sixteen and had been admitted into the third year of the four-year course at the Ontario College of Art (OCA), whose name has been changed to the Ontario College of Art and Design University.
       I went into the Commercial Art course. Apart from a few hours in Sculpture, under Elizabeth Wyn Wood, and occasional visits to the Art Gallery of Ontario next door, activities were confined to our class, whose teacher was Franklin Carmichael. He was a member of the Group of Seven, well established and known for his crisp landscapes in either watercolour or oil. But he didn’t like me.
       Why, I don’t know. However, the official atmosphere at the College was quite Anglo-Saxon and clubbish. When volunteers were called for to decorate the dance hall for the annual student ball, I put my name forward. But Gordon Collins told me that when the committee of volunteers was being chosen, the Secretary and Registrar of the College, a man, said with a smirk about my name, Well, we don’t want his type.
       Yet there was another Jewish student in class, Herschel Caston, and Carmichael showed no particular animosity towards him. Herschel left during that year, 1943, to enlist in the Canadian army. He was wounded by gunfire shortly after the D-Day landing in France, but fortunately survived.
       Once I had Carmichael to myself in the men’s washroom, and told him I intended to be an earnest student, by implication in contrast to the class d├ębutantes, who could draw but were there largely to avoid the rigours of an academic university. (Besides my youth, I came from an extremely poor background, which also set me apart from many of my classmates.) Undoubtedly, it was na├»ve and forward of me to speak to a teacher in those circumstances. Carmichael was not at all pleased.
       At another time he told each in the class to do a poster of the world’s best weed killer. All the others pictured various bags and boxes of chemicals. I drew a hoe. Again, Carmichael was not amused. He seemed to think it was cheap mockery.
       For the next year I asked to be transferred to Drawing and Painting. It was not especially because of discomfort in Carmichael’s class. I felt I had got the most out of graphic art, and would gain much more from the other. It was taught by Rowley Murphy, Salty Rowley, who was renowned for his paintings of ships and maritime subjects.
       But the Secretary of the College was adamantly against any such change. He warned me plainly that if I switched I would not graduate or receive a diploma. I didn’t set much store by that, so I did it anyway.
       Classes were a delight with Rowley Murphy. He would go from easel to easel, look at the painting in progress, and in a low voice growl some comments. I wasn’t outstanding in any way, but I enjoyed each day. Then one day I had a phone call from Bill, a lad I had known at Central Tech, where his father was one of the art teachers. The father was tall and quite Victorian in appearance and manner, though kind, as was his wife, Bill’s mother. They had a rustic cottage in Muskoka, and one weekend, at their son’s invitation, they took me there with them. It was my first sight of the north country, the subject of paintings by Tom Thomson and so many contemporary artists, and it was thrilling.  Also, in the cottage we had tea with condensed milk, and that taste, which was new to me then, has remained, even in memory, a favourite flavour.
       Bill told me he was being drafted, and as a Christadelphian, had declared himself a conscientious objector. He was being sent to a work camp in British Columbia, and did I want his job? He was working for Wookey, Bush and Winter, then perhaps the finest commercial artists in Canada. Art jobs were almost non-existent, and particularly one with such a prestigious firm. Gladly, I said Yes!
       The job turned out to be answering the phone, washing brushes, mounting work, and running errands. Still, at first I was not unhappy. It was exhilarating handling good art work and being around such fine artists.
       Jack Bush did various kinds of graphic work, many in pen and ink or scratchboard, a popular medium then, in which the art board was painted black and the drawing scratched into the clay layer, the strokes showing up as white. Bush also painted in his spare time and later became very well known for his abstracts.
       William (Bill) A. Winter painted illustrations, sometimes in oil. But he, like the others, could and did do all sorts of different work. Apart from the office he created whimsical and charming paintings, many of children. Both he and Bush are represented in the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
       Les Wookey was a great letter man. He could make any letter laugh, sing or cry, without changing its essential Roman character. This hand-crafted art form later came virtually to an end with pre-formed stuck-on letters and computers. But from Wookey’s work, and his warm personality, I was able to learn much.
       Moreover, every Friday I received a pay packet of $15, with which I could walk the two blocks up Yonge Street to Simpson’s or Eaton’s book department, browse, and buy a book. Carrying each book like a precious treasure, I would then walk the remaining five or six miles home. I was still living with my parents, and basically needed only enough money for streetcar fare in the mornings.
       Spring came, and the Ontario College of Art graduation. Of course I didn’t go. Gordon Collins, my former classmate, told me that when my name was called and there was no response, the principal made a little speech holding me forth as the kind of successful student that OCA produces. He intimated that I was too busy with my important work to have attended. If there was a diploma, I don’t know what happened to it; I didn’t ask.
       However, not doing art work began to chafe. The office where I sat, at a little-used drawing table, was a small countered room open to public entrance. Across the hall there was a little closet-like space with a sink and work table. A buzzer summoned me to the long front room where the three owners worked at large drawing tables set in a row. Bush faced Winters, and he faced Wookey, who was closest to the front windows. Jack, Bill and Les were not only partners, but friends. They chatted as they worked and went to lunch together.
       One day, while they were out, I took a half-finished scratchboard strip from Jack Bush’s table and completed it. It was an ad for Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, with Snap, Crackle and Pop. I waited apprehensively after putting the piece on Bush’s table.
       He and the others returned, and then the buzzer sounded.
       Did you do this? Bush said. I admitted I had. He began to criticize it, not angrily, but as a teacher would, pointing out parts that were wrong. In the end he sighed and said, The trouble is, now I’ll have to do it over again.
       No you won’t, Mr. Bush. I took his drawing from behind my back. Here’s your work, I copied it.
       For about two weeks things went on as usual. Then there was an unexpected buzz from the front room. I went in, and all three were sitting by Bill Winter’s table, their chairs in a huddle. Jack Bush said  When we started this firm, it was going to be always just the three of us, and a boy like you to do the joe jobs. But we realize that’s not fair to you. So we’ve rented another room, and will get another boy, and you’ll do art work.
       I did, and it was a joy. Even though my work was almost entirely confined to love jobs, that is, jobs they felt had to be done but for which they got little or no pay, like university and museum posters.
       It was a very kind and generous gesture they had made, but unhappily it rebounded on them.

NEXT:  Default

Monday, 14 January 2013


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        One of the better fall outs of The Longhouse People was my being sought after, particularly by Ted Carpenter.  A man from the NFB's Toronto office, who knew us both, brought us together.
          Later, when Harold Innes was a revered, distinguished professor, widely renowned, I met him on a train to Ottawa.  He was going there to attend a session of still another Royal Commission to which he had been appointed.  It was a necessary duty, he felt, and said wearily The government only appoints a Royal Commission as a reason to do something, or as an excuse to do nothing.
        Beginning with his interest in my film, and the experience behind it, Ted Carpenter and I quickly developed a friendship that was to last all his life.  We had many agreeable encounters.  During his time in Toronto as a young professor (he was only three years older than me), when he and Marshall McLuhan were first close, an association that lasted into their very late years, Ted once took me to McLuhan's house.  When we came into the living room the celebrated expositor (The medium is the message) was sitting on a chair in the midst of a floor-lounging circle of student and other admirers.  He took out a cigar and in his flamboyant way said sensually This was rolled on the thigh of a dusky maiden!
        At another time, at Ted's request, I introduced him to Frederick Varley.  The artist had travelled north on a Canadian Ice-breaker, and had made exquisite sketches of Eskimo life.  (The name Innuit had not yet become popular.) Ted had been among the Eskimo, and had been resolute in making known the famine that had devastated them in the winter of 1951-52, and he went again to be with them in 1955.  Ted wrote a book about the Eskimo, permeated by Varley's sketches.  Ted kept being drawn to the Arctic, far from the comfortable conditions closer to home.
        Edmund Carpenter was an American, from Rochester, New york.  He was as indigenous an American as a non-Indian descended from English pilgrims could be.  The first of his ancestors to settle in Massachusetts came in 1658.
        For much of his life Ted had to work for a living.  One summer he was employed by a prominent pharmaceutical company to search out native Indian healing remedies. Whether that resulted in anything marketable, I don't know.  Ted encompassed a great many qualities.  He was hard-nosed about truth in anthropological and archaeological matters, but at the same time had an imaginative artistic sense that he often expressed in his programs, his writings, and in the design and composition of his books.  At the same time he was a compassionate human being and a fond, devoted friend.  On the worst night of a crises in my own life he made sure he was there, and gave me the first sleeping pill I had ever taken.
        Ted and I once went on a car trip to Rochester.  He wanted to see something at the George Eastman House museum (Eastman was the founder of Kodak), and I wanted to see the great-great-granddaughter of Joseph Brant, Ethel Brant Monture, a prepossessing and good-looking Mohawk lecturer and writer, on whom I had something of a crush, though she was thirty-one years my senior.  We did both things, but first we drove through the finger-lakes region.  And I saw a transformation come over Ted.  His face was lit by an inner smile.  He knew all the little towns, the terrain, trees and bushes, he seemed to breathe in the very earth and sky.  This was his country; I had never before seen such an identification with a landscape.
        Yet he continued to roam the world.  He held professorial teaching/research posts in far-flung places, among them Harvard University, in Boston, Mass., University of California, Santa Cruz, and University of Papua New Guinea.  In New Guinea he was joined by a professional photographer, Adelaide de Menil, (Out of the Silence), whom he met in the late 1960s.  They were soon married, and lived and worked together from then on.  Near the end of his life (he died in 2011, aged 88), with his wife helping, he was recovering human bones and artifacts that had remained frozen for as long as 8000 years on Zhokhov, an island in the far northern Siberian Eastern Arctic.
        Ted had a restless intelligence that never seemed quite satisfied, despite the perfectionism in his many books and articles.  His was more than just scientific curiosity. It was as if his life itself were a work of art, an epic poem, into which he was fitting pieces, as diverse and yet related as parts of a jigsaw puzzle.  He was impatient with death; there was still so much he had to do.

Next:  Art work

Sunday, 6 January 2013


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        Deflated, I was woefully walking down the hall carrying the can of useless miniature footage when I heard footsteps coming up behind me.  To my surprise it was Grant McLean, the Head of the Camera Department.  He had been at the miniatures screening, but I'd never before spoken to him personally.
        Grant was the nephew of our former Commissioner, but if nepotism had figured in his appointment it was quite unnecessary, for Grant had a distinguished history as a documentarian.  He had joined the NFB as a cameraman in 1941, and during World War II had shot from a bomber over Germany, and had filmed the civil war in China.  He was solidly built, tough, and soft spoken.
        I don't agree with what you're trying to do he said.  But I think we can do a better job of shooting them than that.  
        Grant, I said I don't have any budget for reshooting.
        He said I know.  We'll reshoot them at Camera Department expense.
        He did it himself, with the same miniatures, in the same small room, with my causing the same smoke from the chimney of the isolated house and the movement of little figures in the longhouse, and this time it looked as the miniatures were meant to, like genuine night scenes.
        They were cut into the film.  Visually it was now complete, and a date was set for the large theatre.  It was the only rerecording theatre the Board had, and was in effect under the control of Clarke Daprato, the chief sound mixer.  It was customary to first run the sound tracks, and the film, untouched, so that the mixers could become familiar with all of it.  When the Iroquois film was screened Clarke was at the mixing console.  Nice film, he said but where's your music track?
        Clarke, I said there's no music track.
        Clarke Daprato was a man of substance, both physically and in character.  He was short and a bit rotund, with an authoritative manner.  And he was privately a musician, who played trumpet.  He thought I was being arty.  Don't you think just a little music?
        I don't have money for music I said.  And I can't get any.  And I'm tired of fighting.  I had several times brought up the idea of a film about Varley, only to have been repeatedly told by Tom Daly that there were no plans for such a film.  Let's just rerecord this and be done I said.
        But Clarke had his own agenda.  Do you mind if I show it to someone? he said.
Letter from the Anthropological Society of Washington, D.C.
        Lou Applebaum was that day making his first renewed visit to the Board.  He had previously, for years, been music director at the NFB, and had written the compositions for numerous films.  Then he had gone to Hollywood to write scores for feature films, and had written the music for the notable movie The Story of G.I. Joe, for which he had received an Academy nomination.  But at the height of that success he had decided to return to Canada.  Now he was officially music consultant to the Board, or something like that.  He was tall and good-looking, and was touring the building like a visiting prince, with a number of senior executives accompanying him.  Clarke went right up to him and said Lou, there's a film I'd like you to see.
        Lou said Fine.  What time?
        I had heard about, but had never met Louis Applebaum.  When he and his entourage came into the theatre and took their seats, I realized this was getting serious. 
        The rerecording theatre backed onto a broad staircase, and Tom Daly's office was near the top of that, from which he was sure to hear the Iroquois music.  I was at the back, at the mixing console with Clarke Daprato.  I said We have to tell Tom.
        Clarke said indifferently If you want to, you tell him.
        Tom was at his desk.  I said simply Tom, we're screening the film for Lou Applebam.  Tom had many virtues, among which was that he was no fool.  Without a word he got up at once, went down to the theatre and took a seat behind Applebaum.  The film was screened to murmurs of approval.  Applebaum sat silent.  Tom leaned forward and said Lou, do you think it's worth spending money on music?
        Lou turned to him with a puzzled face.  He said I'm trying to think what we can do that won't spoil it.
        Well!  God had spoken.  At that point I could have had a sixty-piece orchestra.  But I kept my head.  Maurice Blackburn, very French Canadian despite the name, and a sensitive staff composer, wrote bridging pieces for a single recorder, which was as close as he could get to an Indian flute.
Letter from Deskaheh confirming adoption of Allan Wargon as his nephew
        A narrator, Percy Rodriguez, an ex-heavyweight  prizefighter, who had suffered a training-camp accident, and had been reduced to acting as a doorman-bouncer at a night club in Montreal, and who had an earthy voice, was suggested by William Greaves.  William, Bill, an American, was a handsome black actor from Hollywood whom Lou Applebaum had told about the NFB.  Bill had come unbidden to the Board and had assisted on various films without pay.  Some others and I had helped to sustain him.  Finally we had prevailed on the Director of Production to hire him.   But the Board, fearing racial repercussion, was a long time in letting him direct.  He did finally, and then went on to become one of the foremost documentary filmmakers of the U.S.A., and a cultural ambassador to other countries.
        The narration was easily accomplished.  The Longhouse People was completed and went on to become the most popular non-theatrical film the Board had ever had.  It was once shown theatrically, as an accompaniment to a European feature at the International Cinema in Toronto, but that was a special occasion and had the prior consent of the Longhouse leaders.
        I now received a memo from Don Mulholland, the Director of Production.  It was addressed to Allan Wargon and said "Re: The Longhouse People.  I'm sorry, I was wrong."  Signed "Mul".
        There also ensued a good deal of publicity, including a quarter-page spread in the international edition of Time magazine, with almost totally inaccurate information. They called the Indians "tribes".  When I protested, Bill Stevenson, who was witty and had become a good friend, said To you they are nations, but to Time they are tribes.
        Then came a letter, inspired by a Dr. Fenton, from the Anthropological Society of Washington, D.C.  They requested a screening of the film in Washington, and asked if I could speak at it.  The powers that be, perhaps Arthur Irwin himself, approved a flight down and being booked into a fine hotel at NFB expense.  I was met before the screening and taken to dinner.  There were about ten people at a large round table, almost all employees of the Smithsonian.  They mainly wanted to know what university I had gone to, and were nonplussed to learn of my meager education.  (It was 1952.  I was twenty-six years old.)
        Back in Ottawa, there was a phone call to me from Brantford, from a Colonel Randall.  He said he was the Indian agent for the Six Nations Reserve.  They want to adopt you he said.  I thought it was a joke.  No, he said it's very important!
        He explained that while the elected Council controlled official adoptions, like say, of the Prime Minister, none of the elected politicians, being Christian, knew the ceremony, and had always paid members of the Longhouse to perform it.  This time, Randall said it's the Longhouse people who initiated it!  I've been here for years and it's the first time the two groups have gotten together over anything.  This could be a breakthrough!
        I went down again at Film Board expense, and was met at the train by Colonel Randall and treated with much civility, as if I were truly of consequence.
Allan Wargon with his daughter Avivah. Photograph by Sylvia Truster.
        Then I was taken to a large hall where there were a great many people, both the elected Council and others of their persuasion, and an overwhelming number of Longhouse people.  There was a solemn ceremony, in which I was presented with a big flowing headdress of eagle feathers with a long train (I thought to myself that it owed more to the Texaco symbol than Iroquois dress — but it was beautifully made and eventually I gave it to the National Museum) and then I was asked which nation I wanted to belong to.
        I chose Cayuga, because of Deskaheh.  The Indians had ready a name in all six languages, and bestowed on me the Cayuga version: Hodree-wah-stee-stont, which means, prosaically, He Who Is In Charge, or director.  Then the spokesman, a Longhouse person, whom I hadn't met before, said Now you are one of us.  You are welcome in our homes. You must learn our ways.  And you must learn to dance.  Iroquois music was at once struck up, and I danced in their fashion, to everyone's laughter, because of course I was quite inept at it.  This was meant to be, and was, the fun part of the evening.
        After my dance, a man in a business suit took me by the arm and said Now you have to sign the book.  He led me to where several others, similarly dressed, were gathered around a large ledger.  They began thumbing through it for an open space and came to a page with only two entries.  He can sign here one said.  Then they thought better of it and said Maybe we should leave that page.  I looked at it.  The signatures were George R and Elizabeth R.
        Afterwards, milling in the crowd, a young man I didn't know, passing by, said The berry festival is at the Onandaga longhouse next Thursday.  I offhandedly thanked him and thought no more about it until later when I heard that two American anthropologists were at a hotel in Brantford because they believed, or had hoped, that they could see the berry festival.  They were still waiting there when it was over.
        Deskaheh was a hereditary Councillor, the holder of a position of authority that went back hundreds of years to the formation of the first Grand Council when the League or Confederation of the Iroquois was originally put together.  There was no rank higher.  To my further surprise, Deskaheh made a personal adoption of me as his nephew, making me a Cayuga of the Young Bear clan.  Since a son would belong to his mother's clan (marrying within a clan would be incest), and the hereditary office must stay in the clan of its previous holder, it was the highest honour he could possibly bestow.
        All this had repercussions I couldn't foresee.

Next:  Fall out.