Halloween in Toronto, 1978

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Toronto Star, October 31, 1978.

Malabar’s, the costume people, have never been busier than they have during the past couple of weeks, and the reason may provide a dandy little summary of the times we’re in. These times, inarguably, are rotten. The dollar, the family, the nation, the Argos…everything’s falling apart. Hallowe’en, if we’ll let it, gives us a chance to get away from all that. To hide. Fantasize. Escape from reality. Turn into someone—or something—else. – Peter Gzowski, Toronto Star, October 31, 1978.

Talking to staff at Malabar, Gzowski discovered one of 1978’s most popular costumes was one that would be frowned upon for numerous reasons 40 years on: an Arab. “They want to rich,” noted Malabar’s Michael Schilders. “They could just put on a tea-towel, a rope and a tablecloth, but if they come to us they can have gold and silver cords and really looks as if they owned oil wells.”

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Globe and Mail, October 31, 1978.

Also popular that year: masks of Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque, anything Vatican related (the year had gone through three popes) and nun’s habits, especially among pregnant customers. Store staff noted that interest in costumes went up when the economy tumbled (the Great Depression had been especially good for rentals).

Best costume suggestion in the column: “the Blob Who Ate Etobicoke.”

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Toronto Star, October 25, 1978.

Over in the Globe and Mail, columnist Bruce West felt Halloween was going downhill, partly because nobody had the chance to tip over outhouses:

It is my personal theory that Hallowe’en started its downhill trend not long after the advent of inside plumbing brought about the demise of the outdoor privy. There was a time, I’ll have you know, when—particularly in the more rural areas—the humble outhouse was almost as import a symbol of Hallowe’en as the ghastly smile of a flickering pumpkin or even a witch flying by on a broom.

No one was really considered to have really won his spurs as a graduate Hallowe’en prankster until he had at least assisted in the overturning of one outhouse. The owners of these conveniences usually took this annual ordeal in fairly good humour—with the notable exception of one deceitful rascal in my home town who gained the undying hostility of a group of privy-tippers by craftily shifting back his outhouse a few feet, in the early hours of Hallowe’en, in such away that the raiding party, while later approaching their target in the deep darkness, suddenly encountered some mighty poor footing.

The scariest element of modern-day Halloween, according to West, came “when you are confronted by the horrible giant prices of a dwarf bag of hand-out chocolate bars or trick-or-treat apples.”

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Globe and Mail, November 1, 1978.

One candy kids wouldn’t get their hands on was Clikkers tobacco-flavoured gum. The Consumers Association of Canada (CAC) successfully lobbied Zellers to remove the product, which was offered as a seasonal special at some locations. Though it didn’t actually contain tobacco or nicotine, the CAC wondered what the chances were that “children who acquire a taste for tobacco-flavoured gum will be encouraged to try tobacco itself?” An official from Zellers’ head office in Montreal admitted that “based on the calls we’ve had, it just isn’t worth it.” Aspiring smokers had to settle for Popeye candy cigs.

Two Toronto-based animators, John Leach (later known as Jonathan Rogers) and Jean Rankin, created one of the season’s hottest new animated specials. Here’s how The Canadian magazine introduced Witch’s Night Out:

Winnifred, bless her black lace bloomers, is not your average witch. A grande dame with the Seventies style of a stand-up comic, a funky fairy godmother temporarily fallen on hard times, she worries because work isn’t coming in the way it used to; nobody seems to believe in magic anymore. But she still has class, wears expensive underwear, and puts on her makeup every morning. And she can make wishes come true.

Winnifred was named after Leach’s mother, who remarked “Fame at last!” The character was partly inspired by Gilda Radner, who provided her voice (other voices included Catherine O’Hara and Fiona Reid). The cartoon was originally intended for CBC, who sat on it for nearly a year before finally rejecting it. It ended up on NBC, where Radner was starring on Saturday Night Live.

star 1978-10-28 starship page

If you were running dry on costume ideas, you could always check the Star’s “Starship” page for inspiration via its ongoing “Costumes of the World” series. Who knows how many little fishermen from Flanders ran around the streets of Toronto! October 28, 1978.

Halloween night the Toronto tradition of egging drag performers attending balls on Yonge Street continued, which resulted in 90 arrests. “Most of the arrests,” the Star reported, “were for causing a disturbance, drunkenness and breach of the peace.” It was also noted that “one marijuana charge was laid.” Two years later, a crackdown by police and the community began winding down the hate-tinged mayhem.

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Art Eggleton would top the polls in Ward 4, which covered Trinity-Bellwoods and Little Italy. Two years later, he was mayor. Toronto Star, November 1, 1978.

Halloween 1978 also coincided with the municipal election campaign, resulting in some election sign pranks. A Globe and Mail editorial observed that householders were placed “in the position of being promised goodies as they hand goodies over. The trick is to tell the real hobgoblins from those in disguise and to beware of brochures with pins in them.”

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Toronto Star, October 26, 1978.

Fashion then, costumes now: the image above offers a sampling of the outfits one could put together from goods available at the 1978 edition of a long-running Toronto tradition, the Hadassah-WIZO Bazaar, which was promoted throughout the week of Halloween. Held on November 1 at the CNE’s Automotive Building, it was expected to draw 60,000 people looking to buy everything from high fashion to cantaloupe preserves.

Additional material from the October 28, 1978 edition of the Canadian; the October 27, 1978, October 30, 1978, October 31, 1978, and November 1, 1978 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the October 31, 1978 and November 1, 1978 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Alex Trebek

Originally published on Torontoist on July 15, 2015.

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Toronto Life, July 1972.

A sunny day on a Toronto rooftop, 1972. CBC Radio’s roster of local announcers gathers for a summery, stylish photoshoot. Sitting in a deck chair front and centre is CBL’s morning man, a dashing host who, though barely into his 30s, has a decade of experience with the broadcaster. Looking far more casual than anyone else in the picture (with the exception of the guy in the green shirt in the back), Alex Trebek possesses the aura of a person ready to go places.

Trebek assumed morning duties at CBL-AM in October 1971, after 23-year veteran Bruce Smith moved to the afternoon drive shift. The new host was described by the Globe and Mail as “a dashing bilingual bachelor, who can be expected to show more bounce than Bruce favoured, and thus to be more like his competitors on commercial stations.” Trebek’s show, I’m Here Till 9 (so titled because the show ran from 5 to 9 a.m.), was part of the “Information Radio” revamp of CBC which included new programs like Peter Gzowski’s This Country in the Morning.

Globe and Mail critic Blaik Kirby felt Trebek’s show didn’t live up to its promise of providing information, especially during its final two hours. “The most important part of the show has consisted almost entirely of alternating records and commercials, with a few pleasant words from Trebek to separate them,” Kirby observed. Producer Fred Augerman’s solution was to rely less on clips syndicated to all CBC stations in favour of local contributors specializing in entertainment beats.

The attempt to echo commercial radio didn’t work, as CBL’s ratings in the time slot slipped from the Smith era. Yet thanks to the growing popularity of Gzowski’s show, which followed Trebek, the station snuck into third place behind CFRB and CHUM.

After a year on the air, the axe fell on Trebek. In October 1972, the network announced it would convert all of its local early morning shows to a harder news format. “We’ve got new marching orders,” an unnamed CBC official told the Star. “We’ve changed the rules on Trebek, but he’s not to blame.” Another labelled the directive as a sign the network was “going back to the eighteenth century, in search of an audience that isn’t there any more.” Trebek would remain on the air through the end of the year.

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 Globe and Mail, October 27, 1971.

The decision irritated Trebek. “I was a little cheesed off,” he told the Globe and Maila month after the announcement. “They came up with a new format last year, a format I liked and felt reasonably sure I could operate in and now they’ve decided that’s not what they should be doing. I think they’re wrong getting away completely from what they’ve been doing.”

At the time, Trebek lived alone in a three-storey home on George Street, close to the CBC studios. Asked about his romantic life, he noted he was too busy pursuing his career “to have a stable, emotional relationship with anyone.” He joked that whenever he mentioned on air where he’d been the night before, women he dated speculated who he’d been with: “That’s why I end up going lots of places alone.”

Trebek intended to take it easy following his final broadcast on December 29, 1972, planning to ski and work on a chalet he was building near Collingwood. He still had his hosting duties on the teen quiz show Reach for the Top, and had four pending offers for television shows. One he accepted was an American game show called The Wizard of Odds. Though it only lasted a year, that series launched Trebek’s long association with the genre stateside, culminating in his 30-plus-year run emceeing Jeopardy!

As for the radio slot Trebek left behind, George Rich served as interim host until the new format was ready. Launched with veteran newsman Bruce Rogers as host on April 2, 1973, the new show was initially known as Tomorrow is Here. Within a year, it settled upon the name it currently goes by: Metro Morning.

Additional material from the October 4, 1971, October 25, 1971, October 7, 1972, and November 25, 1972 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the February 18, 1972, October 6, 1972, and January 4, 1973 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Byrds and Falcons

Originally published on Torontoist on February 12, 2013.

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Left: Toronto Star, May 28, 1966. Right: The Telegram, June 2, 1966.

Joe Peters, president of the Toronto Italia Falcons soccer club, had a brilliant idea to raise the profile of the nascent professional sport among the city’s youth in the spring of 1966: marry a match to a rock concert. “We are introducing young people to soccer under conditions they understand,” he told the Telegram. To lure teens into Varsity Stadium for “Rock ‘n Soccer” on June 22, 1966, he booked one of the most controversial bands of the moment to headline.

It had been a rocky year for the Byrds. Singer Gene Clark departed the group in February 1966, because of a mixture of stress, fear of flying, and dissent within the band. Their next single, “Eight Miles High,” was banned by radio stations across North America because of suspected drug content. In Toronto, 1050 CHUM played the song for a week before station manager Allan Slaight pulled it “the minute we heard what it was supposed to refer to.”

The Star’s Robert Fulford interviewed students at Wilson Heights Junior High for their perspective on the lyrical content of “Eight Miles High” and similarly controversial songs. Fulford wasn’t convinced the Byrds depicted a drug trip, noting that “only in the vagueness, the sense of dislocation, can you find any real hint of such an experience.” One student thought it was about the serenity of being up in the sky, while another thought it described how the singer felt while being with his girlfriend. When informed the song was banned, one girl asked “what do they think they’re trying to hide from us?”

(Among the students interviewed was future Fashion Television host Jeanne Beker. While she didn’t comment about the Byrds, she guessed that the title of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” evoked the concepts of “woman is the world and the rain is just the hate falling on the world.”)

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Toronto Star, June 18, 1966, using an outdated publicity shot (Gene Clark, departed since February 1966, is on the right).

The mixture of rock and soccer didn’t go smoothly at what the Globe and Mail’s John Macfarlane dubbed “Toronto’s first op-pop-soc-hop.” Around 3,000 teens showed up, less than half the audience organizers required to break even. The evening began with a trio of local acts, followed by a match pitting the Falcons against the Hamilton Primos. Overheard in the stands: “What are those squares doing out there kicking a rubber ball around?” Kids bored by the game may have perked up during the halftime go-go dancing spectacular.

After the Falcons earned a 3–0 victory, the audience anxiously awaited the arrival of the Byrds. CHUM DJ Bob McAdorey urged the crowd to “spread out and sit on the natural seat God gave you” before the band performed. While 30 police officers threatened to send excited girls “back to Yorkville” if they didn’t move away from the stage, the band played a half-hour set. “No one will ever know whether they were good, bad, or indifferent,” Macfarlane observed. “At times it was difficult to tell what they were playing above the screams of the crowd.” Star reviewer Douglas Hughes felt “the affair had all the most depressing characteristics of a mass outdoor funeral,” and structured his report in such a manner.

On his way out of the money-losing concert, Hughes overheard a girl suggest to a boy that they head to Yorkville to see “some groups up there that really swing.” He dismissed the idea. Hughes didn’t blame him, as there was “no point in risking another funeral.”

Additional material from the June 23, 1966 edition of the Globe and Mail, the June 18, 1966 and June 23, 1966 editions of the Toronto Star, and the June 2, 1966 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

tely 66-06-02 byrds preview The Telegram, June 2, 1966.

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Toronto Star, June 18, 1966.

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Globe and Mail, June 23, 1966.

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The view from the sports page. Globe and Mail, June 23, 1966.

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Another sports-page take. Toronto Star, June 23, 1966.

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This profile of the Supremes by Peter Gzowski was on the same page of the Star as Fulford’s piece.