Vintage Toronto Ads: Coming Christmas Day—The Odeon York!

Originally published on Torontoist on December 20, 2011.

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Toronto Star, December 24, 1969.

Things opened on Christmas Day: presents under a tree, cards from dear friends, bottles of wine at the dinner table, old family wounds, and movie theatres.

Yes, movie theatres.

Catching a film on December 25 is a tradition for lonely souls eager to escape painful reminders of the holidays, for families and friends to flee chaotic Christmas celebrations for a few hours, and a shared cultural experience for those who don’t celebrate Christmas in the first place. With a large pool of customers to draw upon, especially on a day when few other businesses are open, why not use Christmas to debut a splashy new cinema?

Parents may have welcomed the York Theatre’s opening bill on December 25, 1969, since neither of the main attractions was suitable for younger audiences. We suspect kids were content to stay home and play with Santa’s deliveries. Viewers could take the theatre’s spiral staircase to see a farce (Cactus Flower) or a foursome (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice).

Blockbusters graced the screens of the York until 2001. After operating as an event venue and fitness club, the site became the Madison condo project.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, September 19, 1984.

The York occupies a sentimental spot in my heart, as it was the first place I saw a drama intended for grown-ups, as opposed to family-friendly blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi. We ate dinner at Harvey’s on the northeast side of Yonge and Eglinton, then walked over to see Amadeus. Nine-year-old Jamie was impressed, following along without being bored.

Best of all, I was a big boy now! Bring on the non-kiddie films!

(I went to kid-friendly flicks for a few more years)

I wonder if my father thought it might spur me to share his love of classical music. If so, it didn’t, though I briefly explored his Mozart records when we returned home.

Given the timing of Amadeus‘s release, this may have occurred either on my last trip to Toronto before my grandmother moved down to Amherstburg or the first visit there after she left the city.

By the time I moved to Toronto in 1999, the York was nearing its end. At the time, the few remaining non-rep house single or double screen cinemas in the old City of Toronto were heading toward their demise. A survey of the scene by the Star in January 2001 indicated that Cineplex Odeon was operating the York on a month-to-month basis and a “For Lease” sign was already out front. Elsewhere, Famous Players did not renew the lease at the Plaza in the Hudson’s Bay Centre, while the fates of the Eglinton and Uptown waited for a ruling in a human rights complaint regarding accessibility (the result of which was used as an excuse for their closure).

Sometimes when an old movie house closes, we can’t help feeling that there’s something more being demolished than the broken seats and torn carpets in the lobby. For some of us, our vivid memories of movies that mattered to us long ago are all wrapped up with memories of the way we were, who was with us at the time, and, of course, the odd little details about those places where we gathered long ago waiting in the dark for something wonderful to happen. – Martin Knelman, Toronto Star, January 21, 2001.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Colouring Contests

Originally published on Torontoist on August 26, 2015.

Before reading this column any further, grab the nearest pack of coloured pencils, crayons, or markers, or open up your favourite digital art program. Have we got a colouring bonanza for you!

Long before adult colouring books topped the Amazon charts, there was the humble colouring contest. It was a simple gimmick: draw interest in your brand, event, publication, or store by reeling in kids with promises of prizes if they applied their artistic skills (or lack thereof) to simple line drawings based on popular shows or seasonal icons. For their efforts, they might win pocket change, a bicycle, a chance to meet their idols, or bragging rights at the playground.

Today’s selection of ads spotlights past opportunities to dazzle judges with your colouring skill. Let your creativity run wild!

Click on any of the following images for larger versions.

Robertson Brothers Colouring Contest

Toronto Star, March 23, 1928.

  Treasure Island Colouring Contest

The Globe, December 4, 1934 and December 5, 1934.

From the August 18, 1934 New York Times review of Treasure Island:

Although there are occasional studio interpolations, the present screen offering is a moderately satisfactory production. It has not the force or depth of the parent work and, kind as one might wish to be to the adaptation, it always seems synthetic. However, hitherto on the stage and in two silent films of the same subject, the role of Jim Hawkins has been acted by a girl. One is spared this weakness in this picture, for that able juvenile, Jackie Cooper, plays Jim, and, although he may not impress one as being the Jim of the book, he does fairly well.

Star Weekly Christmas Colouring Contest Toronto Star, December 5, 1940.

Christmas colouring contests have long been a holiday staple. In this case, they may have also provided a boost to the Star’s sister publication, Star Weekly.

Roy Rogers Colouring Contest

Toronto Star, September 11, 1954 and September 19, 1954.

Forget the beautiful statue of the “King of the Cowboys” riding his trusty horse Trigger; the real thrill for most winners would have been spending a few moments with Roy and Dale at the 1954 CNE. A photo published in the Star of 11-year-old victors John Goslinga and Alfred Kemp depicted them in full cowboy regalia, as if they were ready to be extras in one of Roy’s horse operas.

Davy Crockett Colouring Contest

Toronto Star, September 12, 1955 (left) and September 13, 1955 (right).

A year after the Roy Rogers contest, the Star capitalized on the success of Davy Crockett. Note flattering depictions of aboriginals and women.

Parkay Colouring Contest

Globe and Mail, April 19, 1955.

Faster than a bicycle going downhill! More powerful than a butter churn! Spreads margarine on toast with a single stroke! It’s a bird, it’s a plane…it’s PARKAYBOY!

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Toronto Star, October 9, 1956.

Simpsons gets in on the colouring contest action with RCA Victor’s venerable mascot, Nipper.

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Toronto Star, November 21, 1956.

We (and Disney’s lawyers) can only hope that the actual drawing of Mickey and Minnie used for Dominion’s Ice Capades tie-in was superior to this spartan sketch.

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Toronto Sun, April 19, 1972.

How terrfying can you make this clown?

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Toronto Sun, November 20, 1977.

A previous post covered the story of dinner with Chewbacca.

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Toronto Star, August 6, 1977.

The Star’s kids page launched its first colouring contest with this detailed pair of figures who would have looked at home in the Royal Ontario Museum. A trip to the ROM might have been preferable to the grand prize: a chance to see the first-year Blue Jays drop both ends of a doubleheader against the New York Yankees. The first game was a 15-0 blowout, which saw future Jay Cliff Johnson hit two homers. The Yankees were gracious during the second match, with only a 2-0 victory.

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Toronto Star, May 28, 1978.

More colouring, more baseball, happier results for the Blue Jays. The prize winner saw the home team defeat the Orioles in another doubleheader by scores of 6-2 and 9-8. It was the franchise’s first doubleheader sweep at Exhibition Stadium.

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Toronto Star, September 2, 1984.

Who better to represent a teddy bear picnic at the Metro Zoo than Winnie the Pooh? We wonder if, a year or two later, the celebrity mascot would have been Teddy Ruxpin.

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Toronto Life, April 1973.

While not promoting a colouring contest, this ad for the fashionable Bloor Street clothier fits the mood of a modern adult colouring book.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, September 7, 1954.

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Toronto Star, August 25, 1955. Click on image for larger version.

While the winners of the Star‘s Roy Rogers contest only received a small corner of a page, the winners of the paper’s Davy Crockett took up most of the front page of the second section. Sadly, none of them posed with series stars Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen.

The Revue Cinema Celebrates a Century

Originally published on Torontoist on October 19, 2012.

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Exterior of Revue Cinema, 1941. Archives of Ontario, AO 2020.

The Revue Cinema, on Roncesvalles Avenue, celebrated its 100th birthday on Thursday. It has outlived countless other small movie houses, and is now one of the last classic neighbourhood cinemas in Toronto.

A century ago, when the Revue cranked up its first projector, film was only starting to shed its novelty status. The major American studios of the time were doing their best to quash innovation, but they couldn’t. Movies were becoming longer, developing complexity, and stretching the limits of imagination.

Audiences were discovering the magic of the silver screen, which made Martin Scorsese’s homage to the early days of filmmaking, Hugo, an appropriate choice for a free centennial screening at the Revue last night. Just as one of the movie’s central characters, film pioneer Georges Méliès, experimented with the latest in film technology during the first decade of the 20th century, Hugo offered the Revue a chance to show off its latest acquisition: a 3D digital projector funded with an Ontario Trillium Grant.

The continued existence of the Revue is magical, especially given how close it came to permanently shutting down in 2006 and 2007. Community support revived it, and it now operates as a not-for-profit. Coinciding with the Revue’s centennial is the launch of a new membership program. The Revue Film Society (which operates the theatre) hopes the program will fund improvements, such as internal renovations and the restoration of the marquee that collapsed during the venue’s brief closure.

The Revue’s birthday celebrations will continue throughout the next week. It will be screening 17 film classics, from tonight’s showing of Singin’ in the Rain and Raiders of the Lost Ark, to October 25’s bill of It Happened One Night and The Big Lebowski. The films will be introduced by buffs, critics, fashion designers, and the next generation of film fans.

Editors note: the rest of this article was originally presented in a gallery format.

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Detail from the 1913 edition of Goad’s Atlas of Toronto. Howard Public School is shaded in blue, the Revue Cinema in green.

During the planning stages of the Revue in late 1911 and early 1912 its owner, the Suburban Amusement Company, faced stiff opposition from school board officials worried about the detrimental effects of “moving picture shows” on innocent youth. Like any new form of entertainment in a morally uptight city, films came under fire for the potentially naughty thoughts they could implant on impressionable minds.

During the Toronto Board of Education’s January 18, 1912 meeting, trustee W.W. Hodgson successfully introduced two motions aimed to prevent the Revue from receiving a moving picture license from the Board of Police Commissioners: a request to the provincial legislature to prohibit the construction of any movie theatre within 1,000 feet of any public school, and a letter to the police commissioners to persuade them to deny the license, as it was only 250 feet away from Howard Public School (then located on Howard Park Avenue). Hodgson believed that movies drained children of morals and money. Fellow trustee Dr. J. Noble feared that films caused a condition he termed “moving picture eye” and moved a motion to have a medical inspector investigate the damage movies did to young eyes. Noble was also on the record for finding censors lax for allowing films into the country which insulted the Canadian military—“We don’t want any Yankee jingoism over here.”

The police board didn’t protest the location of the theatre. When the Revue was granted its license on January 30, 1912, the Mail and Empire observed that “the people living in the immediate vicinity did not object to the granting of the license, and in the minds of the commissioners their views were to be considered in preference to those of people who had previously objected.”

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Star Weekly, April 26, 1913.

Given the controversy about the corruptive effects of films on children, it’s not surprising that the Revue lent its name to an advertisement promising “good, clean motion pictures” within a year of its opening. General Film was the distribution arm of the Motion Picture Patents Company, a trust of studios who attempted to monopolize the movie industry by obstructing independent filmmakers. Like most monoliths, it didn’t stay on top of developments like the growing popularity of feature-length movies. By the end of the decade, only Pathé (later absorbed into RKO) and Vitagraph (later bought by Warner Brothers) remained active out of the trust members listed in this ad, while the studios they tried to suppress evolved into majors like Paramount and Universal. One connection between this ad and the Revue’s 100th anniversary celebrations: among the studios distributed through General was Méliès, the American arm of the Star Film Company run by pioneering French filmmaker Georges Méliès, a key character in Hugo.

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Toronto Star, February 28, 1930.

As the Revue was a neighbourhood theatre, it didn’t receive the large-scale newspaper ads reserved for the downtown movie palaces. It was listed among the community theatres, who received either B-movies or first-run features that had finished their runs elsewhere in the city. Married in Hollywood was a 1929 Fox musical of which only 12 minutes from the final reel is known to survive. Of the films playing elsewhere in this listing, Four Devils is considered among one of the most significant lost silent features of the late 1920s. It was one of a handful of American films helmed by F.W. Murnau, whose credits include the early vampire movie Nosferatu.

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Interior of Revue Cinema, 1941. Archives of Ontario, AO 2021.

By 1938, the Revue passed into the hands of Jacob Smith, who hired Sydney Roth to serve as its manager. Besides the Revue, this management team also ran the Kum-C on Queen Street West in Parkdale. They hired local theatre architectural experts Kaplan and Sprachman to remodel the theatre. Among the additions was the theatre’s signature marquee, which would last for the next 70 years. The Revue reached its peak capacity when this photo was taken—543 seats. Cramming in viewers meant sacrificing elements like a candy counter. Hungry patrons waited until 1955 before a proper snack stand was installed, for which two rows of seating was removed. 20121019twentieth1943

Toronto Star, July 31, 1943.

By World War II the Revue was associated with the 20th Century theatre chain, which eventually merged into Famous Players. Effects of the conflict on the theatre included 24-hour operation to accommodate shift workers from war production plants, and free milk for children during matinees (which was a treat given milk rations kids faced at home). The condition of the theatre varied during the remainder of its days as a first-run house. An inspection in October 1956 noted that “although this theatre is much below par and needs painting—it is being kept reasonably well maintained.” Renovations shut down the Revue for an entire month during the summer of 1965.

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Toronto Star, July 6, 1972. Click on image for larger version.

By the early 1970s, neighbourhood theatres which hadn’t been killed off by television or other factors were finding new ways to survive. While several Toronto theatres switched to porn flicks, the Revue changed from first run to rep house fare in 1972. The new programming began with a Canada Day bill of Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood and the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born—all for a nickel’s admission. The follow-up was a nine-film Marlon Brando festival, which inspired the Star to run a fashion spread based on the actor’s oeuvre.

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Toronto Star, August 26, 1972.

Thematic festivals were a staple of the new Revue, ranging from Marlene Dietrich to “Trains, Boats, and Planes.”

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Patrons lined up for “Kung-Fu Friday” at the Revue, June 23, 2006. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

The rep house market in Toronto has waxed and waned over the decades. One of its low points came in 2006 when the last three theatres of the Festival group (the Kingsway, the Paradise, and the Revue) announced their closure, blaming the move on poor ticket sales and DVD rentals. Immediately film buffs and neighbourhood residents formed the Revue Film Society to save the theatre. After a showing of Lawrence of Arabia on June 30, 2006, the Revue drew its curtains for what many feared would be the last time.

The Revue’s future didn’t look promising in early 2007. The building was put on the market. A deal to reopen the theatre fell through. Things hit bottom around 3 a.m. on February 18, 2007 when a heavy load of snow weakened a support chain on the marquee, causing it to collapse to the ground. It seemed like the final insult.

Things began looking up in June 2007 when neighbourhood residents Danny and Letty Mullin bought the property and leased it to the Revue Film Society. After volunteers spent the summer fixing the theatre up, the Revue reopened in October 2007 with a screening of Some Like It Hot. Since then, it has offered up a range of regular programming targeted parents with toddlers, bookworms, foodies, and silent film buffs.

Additional information from the January 19, 1912 and January 30, 1912 editions of the Mail and Empire, and the January 19, 1912 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 9

Let’s Have a Sherry Before Dinner!

Originally published on Torontoist on July 10, 2012.

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Liberty, October 1955.

As with many cookbooks from the 1950s, print quality and the passage of time have not done wonders to the appetizing qualities of these special oven-roasted meals meant to be enjoyed with a cheap Canadian sherry. That this fine beverage’s economic benefits are touted as much as its palate-pleasing qualities tends to reinforce the poor image the Canadian wine industry enjoyed among serious oenophiles at the time.

We weren’t able to find much about the Canadian Wine Institute apart from its evolution into the Canadian Vintners Association. We do know that they offered a free home delivery service during the 1950s—newspaper ads published throughout the decade offered prompt service if you ordered three or more bottles over the phone from the nearest wine store. The organization also offered cooking guides rich in suggestions for using sherry in ways other than pickling yourself.

How to Solve a Prop Emergency

Originally published on Torontoist on July 18, 2012.

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The Performing Arts in Canada, Volume 6, Number 1, 1968.

In the midst of a busy summer theatre season, a missing prop can strike terror in the heart of any performance troupe. Sure, skilled actors can improvise around an absent item so well that an audience would never notice its absence, but given all the time devoted to maximizing a prop’s symbolic value during rehearsals, wouldn’t you want a replacement or close approximation? Have no fear—the polymer industry has come to your rescue!

Whether it’s Yorick’s skull or a hand-crafted Godzilla statue that the unfortunate fellow depicted in today’s ad can’t find, a quick run to Toronto’s venerable Malabar costume house to pick up some Polysar XB-407 might have solved his problem. Not that it would do a perfect job of replicating everything—we doubt it would have recaptured the texture of Aunt Ruthie’s old scarf that was borrowed for the production, never mind placating Aunt Ruthie once she discovered the neckwear she’d worn since her flapper days was nowhere to be found.

Who is Canada’s Most Quoted Newspaper?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 11, 2012.

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The Telegram, August 4, 1962.

In the three-way battle for Toronto’s daily newspaper readers during the early 1960s, any minor advantage turned into a selling point. For the Telegram, digging up stats on how often it was quoted proved a matter of pride, especially when compared to its ideological opposite, the Star. The Telegram’s quote tally may have been aided its growing roster of editorial columnists—some of whom, like Douglas Fisher and Lubor Zink, would be associated with the paper and its stepchild, the Sun, for decades.

Not that being quotable helped the top two papers on this list. We ask you to observe a moment of silence for the Telegram (died 1971), the Ottawa Journal (died 1980), and the Montreal Star (died 1979).

Watch Your Feet!

Originally published on Torontoist on September 18, 2012.

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Toronto Star, November 21, 1930.

It was one of silent cinema’s most iconic images: comedian Harold Lloyd dangling from a clock face in 1923’s Safety Last. Seven years later, talkies had arrived and Lloyd attempted to recapture the excitement of that scene in an extended sequence, complete with period slow-talking racial stereotypes, for his second sound feature, Feet First.

The film made its Toronto debut during a late evening showing at the Uptown. The Star noted that the theatre “echoed to laughter” for over two hours, primarily over Lloyd’s antics. As for the rest of the night’s fare, the paper was succinct: “The remainder of the bill is good.”

Additional material from the November 22, 1930 edition of the Toronto Star.

A Poor Crop of Hearts

Originally published on Torontoist on July 28, 2010.

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Left: Stuart Whitman and Sandy Dennis wander through the Ontario Science Centre. Don Mills Mirror, November 11, 1970. Right: poster for The Heart Farm.

Imagine you’re a movie producer in 1970 searching for a location in Toronto to shoot a thriller about organ transplants. The script calls for a semi-futuristic scientific complex. Your problem is solved quickly thanks to the recently opened Ontario Science Centre. Within its walls you shoot a film that you hope will impress viewers of ABC’s Movie of the Week and theatregoers in Canada.

Despite having two Oscar winners (Sandy Dennis and Burl Ives) in its cast and a budget twice that normally allocated to TV movies, The Heart Farm went into cardiac arrest after encountering local film critics. The plot: a millionaire (Ives, Cat on a Hot Tin RoofRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) establishes Science City (guess where!), a research centre where all of the experts just happen to have the same blood type as he does. Seems our benefactor has a bum ticker and figures he’s good for only one more heart attack. A researcher (Stuart Whitman, The ComancherosNight of the Lepus) is the lucky donor of a new heart…whether he likes it or not. Dr. Whitman falls in love with a blood specialist (Dennis, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?The Out of Towners), and both figure out what’s really happening. The film turns into a James Bond-esque ski chase through the Rockies as agents working for Ives attempt to secure his key to immortality.

Interior sequences were mostly shot in Toronto during May and June 1970. When the Star interviewed Dennis (who had visited Kleinburg, Ontario several years earlier to shoot the controversial drama The Fox), the paper seemed more obsessed with her odd fashion sense than her acting talent. Clad in a beige turtleneck poncho, “she looked more like some fey wayward waif straight off Yorkville than your genuine 33-year-old, Oscar-award-winning star.” Apart from a reference to his toupee, the Star was gentler to Ives, even if it allowed him to admit that things might not have been going so well at a Yorkville soundstage. “I was skating on thin ice yesterday,” he told the paper. “Couldn’t remember my lines. It doesn’t roll yet. Not like Tennessee Williams does…But it will, it will. [stage whisper] After I rewrite it.” Producer Terry Dene was happy with the assistance he received from the Science Centre after awkward scheduling elsewhere. “They bent over backward to help us,” he told the Globe and Mail. “We screened our rushes in their film theatre, and late at night they’d even crank up the laser beam when we needed it for a shot.”

All involved could have used lasers and other advanced technology for personal protection after their masterpiece was unveiled. The first local review appeared in the November 11 edition of the Don Mills Mirror. Writer Kirk Brown was impressed with the Science Centre’s potential as a film set, but that was as far as his enthusiasm extended. He felt the film “abuses the Centre by depending on its futuristic design to set an atmosphere for a bad story and all too familiar plot… The actors have as much impression as a smudge of chocolate ice cream left by a scoop on a vanilla serving.” Especially unsatisfying was the romance between Dennis and Whitman, whose love scenes were “pathetically clumsy.”

But the critical knives were only beginning to sharpen…

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Toronto Star, November 20, 1970.

Outside of a showing at the Science Centre, the film ran briefly at the Yonge cinema downtown. The fleeting run was too long for the Star’s Urjo Kareda, whose review was merciless from the get-go:

Well, we’ve touched bottom now: The Heart Farm is the first out-and-out Canadian-made bomb, a movie beyond redemption…In a way, you can only bring yourself to believe in the existence of movies like The Heart Farm if you imagine them being thought up in the dim hours of the morning and somehow filmed in those couple of hours before the sunrise cleared everybody’s head.

Nobody involved in the hapless film escaped Kareda’s scorn, whether it was the stars (“Anyone who’d let the twitchy Miss Dennis play around with their corpuscles is beyond help”), the skiing sequences (“touchingly, the film has substituted lyrical scenes of downhill skiing for scenes of actual passion between the two”), or the misuse of the Science Centre (“photographed to look like a particularly unconvincing cardboard set”). Even Dolores Claman, composer of Canada’s other national anthem, was fingered for a score that resulted in “awful, signalling music” which left “no crudity unturned.”

As far as we can tell, The Heart Farm (which was also known as The Man Who Wanted to Live Forever) has never been released on video and hasn’t surfaced online. So much for its quest for immortality.

Additional material from the June 6, 1970 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the May 30, 1970; June 13, 1970; and November 23, 1970 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: My Dinner with Chewbacca

Originally published on Torontoist on July 6, 2010.

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Toronto Sun, November 20, 1977.

We wonder if the phones at the Toronto Sun were overwhelmed with calls from early Star Wars zealots incensed to discover that their beloved “wild wacky Wookie” (other articles couldn’t decide how many “e”s Chewbacca’s species required) was being compared to a carpet. Goofy writing didn’t deter the ten lucky winners who weren’t devoured by actor Peter Mayhew during dinner at the CN Tower. After seeing their picture with the costume-less giant printed in the Sun, contest victors who still hadn’t had their fill of Star Wars could still catch the movie at a handful of big screens around Metro Toronto where it had settled into a long run, including the Elane (at Eglinton and Danforth), Fairview Mall, Mt. Pleasant, and the Varsity.

Mayhew took a weekend off from his day job as an orderly in England to attend the Vantastic van show and dine with the contest winners. Columnist Sylvia Train was impressed with the sheer size of the seven-foot-plus visitor while lunching with him at the Courtyard Café (“One of my hands spread out fitted easily in his palm”). Show organizers had difficulty finding a hotel bed suitable for Mayhew’s frame until they finally located one at the Bristol Place, where he was quickly besieged with autograph requests from the staff and their families. When the limousine company hired for Mayhew discovered his claim to fame, they donated their services in exchange for a set of autographed pictures. When asked if he had been approached to reprise his role in “Star Wars II,” Mayhew responded: “They have offered me the part and though I haven’t accepted as yet, I’m sure I will.”

Additional material from the December 2, 1977 edition of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

chewbacca 1

Here are winners of the Sun‘s contest to have dinner with a wookiee, as presented in the December 2, 1977 edition of TO’s daily tabloid.

chewbacca 2

From the same edition, columnist Sylvia Train compares her size to Mayhew’s. As she succinctly put it, he was “really big.” Special note was note was made that “though he is large he’s perfectly proportioned,” so that readers wouldn’t worry about the man suffering from any size-related physical deformities (who wanted to talk acromegaly or other disorders in a fluffy entertainment column?).

Vintage Toronto Ads: Connecting Canadians and Cannibals

Originally published on Torontoist on January 19, 2010.

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Cinema Canada 13, April/May 1974.

How do you attract attention to a film-production facility deep in the heart of west Etobicoke in the mid-1970s? Follow the trend of many theatres trying to stay in business at the time—offer a hint of nudity. To ensure the right amount of Canadian content, ask the model to seductively grasp a maple leaf.

The “recent original productions” hit theatres between 1972 and 1975. Most of the titles listed are safely classified as B-movies, most with a sprinkling of international talents to bring in bookings—want to see an undersea disaster epic with Ernest Borgnine that isn’t The Poseidon Adventure or an early Tommy Lee Jones vehicle? The best known of the bunch might be Cannibal Girls, a 1973 horror-comedy that helped launch the careers of Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, and Ivan Reitman.

Filmed in ten days around Richmond Hill with a twelve-thousand-dollar budget (most of which appears to have gone towards grooming Levy’s hair and moustache), Cannibal Girls turned a tidy profit after it was picked up for distribution by American International Pictures. At a horror film festival in Spain, Levy and Martin earned best actor and actress awards for their work.

Local critics were unimpressed—the headline over Clyde Gilmour’s review in the Star stated “Cannibal Girls show movies at near worst.” The veteran reviewer felt that the movie could make Canadian filmmakers proud in one respect: “Despite the fact that the Americans outnumber us ten to one, Canadians needn’t take a back seat to our southern neighbours in the manufacturing of lousy movies.” Gilmour found that director Reitman and writer Robert Sandler produced a flick that was “bumbling, tasteless and relentlessly sophomoric. The acting is terrible; the editing, chaotic; the direction so lacklustre that it doesn’t even give us a close-up of the evil parson when he makes what is clearly meant to be an electrifying entry into the story.”

As for the film’s gimmick, a chime to warn delicate audience members of gore to come, Gilmour felt “a bell at the beginning of the whole movie and a chime at the finish would have been a more sensible procedure.”

Besides brief glimpses of the future SCTV stars, watch for an appearance in the trailer by Fishka Rais (Igor from The Hilarious House of Frightenstein) as a friendly neighbourhood butcher.

Additional material from the June 11, 1973 and November 8, 1973 editions of the Toronto Star.