Vintage Toronto Ads: The Man from Manufacturers

A pair of takes on a slightly morbid Manufacturers Life campaign – one happy, one dark.

Insuring a Skater’s Dreams

Originally published on Torontoist on December 1, 2009.

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Saturday Night, November 21, 1959.

Mary sighed. Her heart had been set on being the greatest figure skater the world had ever seen. But now the life insurance funds she and her mother had received after her father’s fatal encounter with an exploding kiln had dwindled to nothing, which made the replacement of the last pair of disintegrating skates handed down from her cousin in Don Mills an impossible task. Mary’s mother saw the tears well up in the sad little girl’s eyes during the bus ride home and knew who could help restore the beaming smile on her daughter’s face: the MAN FROM MANUFACTURERS. Surely he could sympathize with the family’s plight and provide dear Mary with a Christmas miracle.

December 25 arrived. Mary was so thrilled when the MAN FROM MANUFACTURERS dropped in for a surprise visit and dangled from his right hand the skates she had so longingly looked at in the store window. So was Mary’s mother. Within a year, the MAN FROM MANUFACTURERS was Mary’s new father. He was always there to cheer her on from the grandstand as she pursued her dreams of figure-skating stardom.

He was also there to make sure all of the family’s insurance needs were met, which came in handy the night teenage Mary and her fellow skaters wrapped the family car around a tree after a wild post-show celebration.

Why Must This Sad Boy Go?

Originally published on Torontoist on March 9, 2010.

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Liberty, May 1960.

Back in December we brought you the story of Mary and how the Man from Manufacturers saved her dreams of skating glory. Alas, not all children were as lucky as Mary…

Take sad little Johnny. He had enjoyed the childhood of which 1950s ad copy writers’ dreams were made: a father who played catch with him every night and took him to wrestling matches at Maple Leaf Gardens, and a mother who stayed at home and made the best Jell-O moulds on the block. Johnny’s father may have been a caring provider, but he lacked financial acumen and foresight. He was the type of man who believed his constitution was sturdy enough that life insurance was a waste of money. An intimate encounter with malfunctioning equipment at work changed his mind in a hurry.

This brings us to the sad melodrama playing out before your eyes. In a panic, Johnny’s mother sold as many items as she could to raise enough to live on while she figured out her future. This left Johnny with a lamp he won at a school fair, a lone suitcase of clothes topped by a shred of his favourite blanket, and a green trunk full of sports programs, photos from fishing trips and several Hardy Boys adventures. His mother called the Man from Manufacturers and discussed options to protect Johnny. She felt a deepening bond with the insurance agent as they discussed insurance options, yet was puzzled when he rejected her invitations to dinner. It was only when a picture of a smiling young girl with a gleaming pair of ice skates appeared on his desk that she knew the Man from Manufacturers would be unable to take care of her and Johnny permanently. Embarrassed by her overtures, Johnny’s mother couldn’t face any other Man from Manufacturers and bought a policy from another insurer.

Johnny spent moving day in a state of shock, repeating “why must we go?” like a record on a locked groove. He soon found himself in a small subsidized apartment far from his friends in suburbia. He hated his new surroundings and soon developed a chip on his shoulder. By the time Johnny reached his late teens, his mother discovered that purchasing a policy for Johnny was, tragically, one of the savviest financial moves she had ever made.

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Days of Carltons Past

Originally published on Torontoist on November 25, 2009.

When the house lights come up for the last time at the Carlton Cinemas on December 6, it won’t the first time Toronto moviegoers will witness the closing of a theatre by that name. One version was a neighbourhood venue, the other a grand palace. Guess which one of those two is still standing?

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“The gang’s all here. The Frantics comedy show on CBC radio enjoys a cult following of nutty fans and 375 of them showed up for the taping of the one hundreth show at CBC studios on Parliament St. last night. Funny costumes were de rigueur; of course. Particularly on Grey Cup day.” Photo by Dick Darrell, 1984. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0048344f.

The first theatre to bear the Carlton name welcomed audiences to 509 Parliament Street in Cabbagetown between 1930 and 1954. After the projectionists were sent packing, the building was used as a CBC production facility, primarily for radio. Since the Mother Corp’s departure to Front Street, the building has served as a dance space and currently houses 509 Dance and the Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre.

While the first Carlton was geared to its neighbourhood, the second theatre to bear the name was designed as a showcase for British cinema giant Odeon’s post-war entry into the Canadian market. The chain spent two years and two-and-a-half million dollars constructing the Odeon Toronto (as it was originally known) at 20 Carlton Street, with the resulting product outlined by John Lindsay in his book Palaces of the Night: Canada’s Grand Theatres:

In the auditorium, hundreds of hidden lights constantly changed colours on the smooth plastered walls. This frequently changing light and colour was accomplished through a patented lighting panel called a “Thyratron, painting with life.” The enormous two and a half ton contour (sculpted) curtain rose slowly, it various motors lifting each swag to a predetermined height. The curtain also changed colour to match the changing colour of the walls of the big auditorium. The smooth line of the balcony swept around in a great gentle curve flaring out at the side walls to accommodate large aisles. The auditorium held 2,300 richly upholstered seats, although it was spacious enough for 3,000 or more, and every inch of the floor was broadloomed. The woodwork was light blonde and the mural on the grand staircase was in pastel tones depicting the theme of picture making. The trim was stainless steel with huge areas of mirror and other glass. The Odeon Toronto’s marquee with its huge vertical sign was the biggest Toronto had ever seen before or since.

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Globe and Mail, January 7, 1949.

“Toronto had a North American movie premiere last night fit to make the most premiere-hardened citizen of glamorous Hollywood lift his eyebrows,” gushed the Globe and Mail when the Odeon opened on September 9, 1948. “It was what they call a ‘brilliant premiere,’ noted the Star. “That is to say, a lot of people gathered in the lobby to exchange small talk.” British actors Trevor Howard and Patricia Roc provided the star power, with the latter joking that the theatre was “really too good for Canada. We have nothing as grand in London, and if you don’t want it—well, we’ll just take it home with us.” Howard played upon his mother’s Canadian roots, noting that when Odeon offered to invite his local relatives to the opening, sixty-two responded. After a few words from assorted dignitaries on stage, the curtain drew back and the audience saw the Canadian premiere of David Lean’s version of Oliver Twist.

As the Odeon chain spread throughout Toronto, it ceased making sense to refer to this theatre simply as the Odeon, so its name was officially changed to the Odeon Carlton in 1956. Business continued to be brisk for the next decade—several accounts from around the time it closed referred to a successful run of Thunderball during the winter of 1966 that saw a steady stream of sold-out crowds during the seven daily opportunities to see 007 in action. The theatre also proved to be the last movie house in Toronto to regularly entertain the audience with live organ music from the “magnificent console” its ads touted.

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Odeon Carlton, summer 1972. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 158.

By the early 1970s, the theatre’s size worked against it. Average weeknight crowds of two hundred and fifty patrons were not enough to pay the bills, so the site was sold to a developer. Burt Reynolds was the last star to grace the Carlton’s screen when White Lightning entertained the closing night crowd on September 27, 1973. When organist Colin Corbett played a farewell number, audience members rushed to the stage to ask for more. The credit roll was aborted and Corbett resumed playing tunes like “Auld Lang Syne.”

The imminent threat of demolition provoked a last minute rush of ideas on preserving the theatre. Alderman Art Eggleton spearheaded an unsuccessful attempt by city council to apply a heritage designation to stave off the wrecking ball, while the Canadian Opera Company proposed to convert the Carlton into an opera house/ballet venue. While opera officials had starry-eyed visions of the possibilities that the site offered (mostly because it wasn’t the O’Keefe Centre), National Ballet of Canada Artistic Director Celia Franca had a clearheaded view of the situation. She felt the rush to look at the Carlton was an emotional one based on the circumstances and that nobody had investigated the site too deeply. Despite a few protests and notions among city councillors to expropriate the property, demolition began in late November. The seats were passed around to other Odeon cinemas and a theatre chain in Vancouver, while the organ was shipped to Queens University and installed at Jock Harty Arena.

Cinemaphiles would have to wait until 1981 for films to show again at 20 Carlton, although the address was now applied to a new building slightly east of the original.

Additional material from Palaces of the Night: Canada’s Grand Theatres by John Lindsay (Toronto: Lynx Images, 1999) and the following newspapers: the September 10, 1948, October 6, 1973, and November 24, 1973 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the September 10, 1948, and November 23, 1973 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

The Carlton’s closure was shortlived, as it reopened under new management in June 2010. As of November 2017, it’s still in business. The Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre currently occupies 509 Parliament.

BEHIND THE SCENES

If you compare this version of the post to the original, you may notice some changes. Some are subtle, like moving around images. One isn’t: replacing the original lead image, which was a contemporary shot of 509 Parliament with an archival photo. By this time, I was starting to use Torontoist’s great pool of photographers for images where appropriate. There may be some cases in upcoming posts where I’ll reach out to the photographers to ask permission to use their shots, otherwise you should expect substitutions of images I took or relevant archival material.

A Watch for Mr. Gould

Originally published on Torontoist on March 26, 2009.

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Pianist Glenn Gould receives watch from Mayor Nathan Phillips in the Council Chambers, Old City Hall, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3071.

Pianist Glenn Gould’s career was riding high in early 1956. His recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations was released in January and soon became the top-selling classical album in Columbia Records’ catalogue. A sold-out recital at Massey Hall on April 16 was a triumph, with critics and the audience applauding loudly. As the Telegram’s George Kidd noted in his review of the performance the following day, “It would seem that no longer is Mr. Gould a pianist with considerable promise. He is a mature genius in interpretation, technique, and musical excitement.”

As a salute to his talent, the city decided to present Gould with an engraved watch to honour the achievements of the twenty-three-year-old musician. Gould received his watch from Mayor Nathan Phillips during a Board of Control meeting two days after his performance.

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Pianist Glenn Gould receives watch from Mayor Nathan Phillips in the Council Chambers, Old City Hall, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3069.

The Toronto Star, who took responsibility for inspiring city officials to honour Gould through an article in its Star Weekly magazine, paid tribute to the recipient’s eccentricities in an April 20 editorial:

Is man, the individual, on the way out? If you think he is and that his place is being taken by a dull automaton named “mass man” who is conditioned to absolute conformity, consider for a moment Glenn Gould, the 23-year-old Toronto pianist whom critics call a genius.

Even on the hottest day in the summer this young man may be seen wearing an overcoat, galoshes, a wool beret and two pairs of gloves. He swallows handfuls of vitamin tablets and other pills and bathes his hands in warm water before playing. At the piano he slumps over until his hair tangles with the keys. He sings and hums while playing the most intricate Bach and Beethoven compositions, or stamps his feet in time to the music.

In an age where even artists are supposed to be “normal” and as ordinary as the man on the street, Glenn Gould triumphantly affirms that man’s spirit remains free. Long may he flourish and may he never conform!

Conform he never did. The city later made a lasting tribute to Gould by naming a park at Avenue Road and St. Clair Avenue after him.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Here’s half-an-hour of Glenn Gould discussing J.S. Bach.

Bad Pronunciation Night in Toronto

Originally published on Torontoist on February 25, 2009.

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Buses at Hart House, September 8, 1957. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1567, Series 648, File 5, Item 1.

Dateline: February 12, 1954. An evening of one-act plays was presented at Hart House Theatre by students from three of the University of Toronto’s colleges. Victoria was represented by a treatment of T.S. Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes, Trinity by Ferenc Molnar’s Still Life, and St. Michael’s by William Butler Yeats’s Land of Heart’s Desire. Once the performances were finished, the actors received feedback from an academic jury, led by a future Canadian literary icon.

All did not go well. As the Telegram headlined its account of the evening, “Student-Actors’ Diction Hit By Adjudicator.”

But who was the figure who slammed the students for their sloppy speaking abilities?

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Robertson Davies photographed by Harry Palmer, September 22, 1984. Library and Archives Canada, PA-182426.

Robertson Davies was a busy man in the mid-1950s, juggling careers as the editor/publisher of the Peterborough Examiner, a playwright, a novelist, and as a governor of the new Stratford Shakespearian Festival. In the midst of all this he found time to adjudicate student plays at U of T and did not mince words when providing his feedback to the actors.

From Rose Macdonald’s report in the February 13, 1954 edition of the Telegram:

None of the presentations attained a standard such as should be expected from performers under the aegis of a university.

Mr. Davies gave such limited praise as he was able conscientiously to bestow, considered the presentation of the Yeats work above the others, that the St. Michael’s group had made “a good shot at a wonderful play,” but had missed, for one thing, the quality of belief necessary for playing it.

Land of Heart’s Desire depended about 85 per cent on the way it was spoken. The present group did it a disservice by not speaking it well. Their way lacked charm and music, qualities needful on the stage, as Mr. Davies insisted. “You really should not attempt to act if you cannot sing at all,” he told his student audience.

At the outset of his comments, Mr. Davies made it clear he supposed the students wished to do plays because of the chance afforded to develop and refine their own taste in theatre. The play-writing editor from Peterboro[ugh] later had some criticism of pronunciations.

“This,” he said, “is a university and whatever may be said to the contrary, university people are supposed to be educated people and speak like educated people. An awful lot of us pay an awful lot of money to educate you and we would like to see more for our money.”

Mr. Davies got on to the subject of pronunciation as a result of hearing a young man in the course of the evening pronounce perfume (the noun) with accent on the second syllable.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Robertson Davies takes a moment out to reflect during a rehearsal, 1960. Photo by Mario Geo. Toronto Public Library, from the Toronto Star Archives, tspa_0042096f.

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Globe and Mail, February 15, 1954. 

Davies was a busy drama adjudicator that week. Here are some of his thoughts on a series of plays presented at Hart House on February 13.

 

Vintage Toronto Ads: Canada’s Most Exciting Automotive Spectacle!

Originally published on Torontoist on February 17, 2009.

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Globe and Mail, February 22, 1954.

The Canadian International Auto Show runs this week, drawing curious onlookers in the face of a slumping market. Before the show began in 1974 there were several attempts to create ongoing automotive events, from annual displays at the Canadian National Exhibition to attempts to run shows at other times of the year, such as the National Motor Show in 1954.

This was the second year for the National Motor Show, the first of which had been Toronto’s first major new show since the late 1930s. D.C. Gaskin, president of Studebaker’s Canadian division and head of the Canadian Automobile Chamber of Commerce, noted that “there was some question whether the event would retain public appeal after all those years. But when we found crowds lining up from the Automotive Building to the Princes’ Gates before they could get in, we weren’t quite prepared for such a demonstration of public interest.”

Over 150,000 visitors were expected to turn out for the show, which automakers hoped would stimulate buying during a slump in auto sales. Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Nash, and Studebaker were among the vendors with full displays. For those less interested in the vehicles on display, diversions were provided by Royal York Hotel bandleader Moxie Whitney, the five singing DeMarco sisters, a fashion show with dresses crafted from car upholstery, and a 200-foot, 11-panel molded paper mural that chronicled the history of the wheel.

Additional material from the February 24, 1954 edition of the Globe and Mail.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 1

Some weeks while working on Vintage Toronto Ads my mind overflowed with ideas. Others, whether due to brain fog, a heavy load at my then day job, or a hectic personal life, produced ridiculously short pieces I’m amazed the editors accepted. Rather than give all of those pieces their own posts, I’m collecting them in batches such as this.

Suitable Attire

Originally published on Torontoist on July 29, 2008.

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The Globe, May 12, 1883.

While P. Jamieson tried to raise a ruckus with their dare to the dozen or so other dry goods retailers located in the vicinity of Queen and Yonge, two competitors would have the last laugh—T. Eaton and R. Simpson expanded rapidly after 1883, with the early versions of their landmark stores in place by the end of the 19th century.

Who Are the Educational Trustees in Your Neighbourhood?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 2, 2008.

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The Leaside Story, 1958.

With today marking the first day back to school for most students in the city, we take this opportunity to let parents know who runs the institutions that will mould your children into upstanding young citizens…or at least the people who ran the show in Leaside 50 years ago.

Founded in 1920, the Leaside Board of Education operated out of Leaside High School by the time today’s ad appeared. Besides the high school, the board’s responsibilities in 1958 included three public schools (Bessborough, Rolph Road, Northlea) and one separate school (St. Anselm). The board merged with East York’s educational overseers when the two municipalities amalgamated in 1967.

Do 1010 Ads Use Stereotypes? We Need to Talk

Originally published on Torontoist on January 27, 2009.

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Sources: Toronto ’59 (left) and CFL Illustrated, July 4, 1978 (right).

The provocative stunt-based advertising campaign currently employed by CFRB has been one of Torontoist’s favourite targets for ridicule. This prompted us to dig deep and see if “Ontario’s Family Station” had any promotional skeletons in the closet, as most old CFRB ads we have encountered tend to be warm and friendly.

You be the judge as to whether this pair of ads, one designed to tout the station’s potential reach during the city’s 125th anniversary, the other meant to draw in Argos fans, retain the quaint, humorous charm the ad designers intended or demonstrate how attitudes towards First Nations people and leering football players have changed since they were published.

Look for representatives of either of these groups holding signs for the station on a street corner near you.

When Restaurateurs Go Editorial

Originally published on Torontoist on February 3, 2009.

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Source: Upper Yonge Villager, July 16, 1982.

Most ads for restaurants tout the eatery’s virtues (smart decor, well-prepared food) or highlight special offers. Less common, unless the restaurant has bought ongoing advertorial space, are spots where the owner takes a stance on burning issues of the day. Ads for Oliver’s in community papers usually highlighted the menu, but today’s pick tackles the economic problems of the early 1980s with the subtlety of a talk radio caller, though modern callers would not tack on an apology to those who enjoy statutory holidays.

Opened in 1978, Oliver’s was the first of a series of restaurants Peter Oliver has operated in the city on his own and as part of the Oliver Bonacini partnership.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Soup’s On at Fran’s!

Originally published on Torontoist on January 13, 2009.

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Source: Toronto Star, January 13, 1959.

With temperatures predicted to plunge into extreme cold weather alert territory this week, there may be a corresponding rise in the number of people seeking comfort in a warm, nourishing bowl of soup. Half a century ago, Fran’s offered a full lineup of soups priced “sensibly” for those looking for a cheap bite or as an appetizer to add refinement and enjoyment to their meal (though one wonders if “Fran’s Plantation” would now be “homestyle beef” or “minestrone”).

G. Francis (Fran) Deck opened a 10-stool diner on St. Clair Avenue west of Yonge Street in 1940 after spending two decades working for his brother’s restaurants in New York State. While the banquet burger appears in embryonic form as a “Forest Hill” on the restaurant’s original menu, their signature rice pudding appears to have been a later addition.

Part of Deck’s early success was fuelled by being one of the few restaurants north of Bloor open on Sunday, which drew the pre-/post-church crowd. Within a decade he operated four locations around the city, offering economical comfort food at all hours of the day. Among the regular patrons at the original location was nearby resident Glenn Gould, who dropped by in the wee hours each morning to down an order of scrambled eggs.

Upon its 50th anniversary, Rosie DiManno wrote about the mystique that surrounded Fran’s as she grew up:

Some of us have always been rather curious about Fran’s beloved reputation since its everyday menu is pretty much a paean to edibles bland and banal (although fairly appetizing at 3 a.m.). Besides, for those of us who grew up in Toronto, venturing up to the Yonge-St. Clair neighbourhood was akin to penetrating the heart of Waspness.

By the time Deck died in a roadside accident while on vacation in Arizona in 1976, the four locations served more than 2.5 million meals a year. Some of those customers distressed Deck in his later years, including the increasingly gay clientele looking for love at the College-Yonge location—he noted in a Toronto Life profile, “I used to kick them out—CBC people and everyone—and nearly wound up in court.”

Attempts to expand the chain outside Toronto to outposts such as Kingston and Windsor in the late 1990s led to bankruptcy, with all locations closed by 2001 except for College-Yonge, which had been franchised off years earlier. It remains in business, along with two other locations that opened this decade.

Additional material from the September 1973 issue of Toronto Life and the May 31, 1976 and May 9, 1990 editions of the Toronto Star.