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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Attending a movie matinee in Toronto during the “golden age” of cinema in the 1940s

The first Saturday in October of 1945, my friends and I attended the local movie house. I was proud to be of an age to go with my friends to the Grant Theatre at 522 Oakwood Avenue, near Vaughan Road. Sometimes we referred to it as the “Grunt.” It was a ten-minute walk from our house. A ticket for the afternoon matinee was ten cents, and we usually spent a nickel for candy at the variety store, named Grant Sweets, at 524 Oakwood Avenue, two doors north of the theatre. We called the store “Fats,” as the owner was a man of considerable girth. Walking into the theatre, the scent of popcorn permeated every square-inch of the lobby’s space. Another five-cent piece was required to purchase a box of the delicious, crunchy treat.

Departing from the candy counter, we parted the blackout curtains that covered the entrance to the aisles, and rushed down the sloping, stained carpet to locate a place to sit. Half the world’s supply of second-hand chewing gum was stuck to the underside of the seats. I think it was the gum that held them together. Perhaps the theatre as well!

As we waited for the first film to begin, the words of well-known songs flashed across the screen. The shadow of a small bouncing ball highlighted the words to the song, to be certain that we sang in unison. Scratchy static noises and the melody of the song played loudly from the speakers. Obediently, like choirboys in a heavenly throng, we lustily chorused the words to the wartime songs. The resulting racket was sufficient to cause St. Peter in heaven to block his ears and complain to God that he required a leave of absence. St. Peter had already been granted a leave of “abstinence,” as it had been his lot in life during his days on earth, and had continued into the blessed beyond. No hymn or anthem beneath the Vatican’s dome ever rivalled our rendition at the sanctified Grant Theatre on this day.

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,

And smile, smile, smile,

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag

Smile, boys, that’s the style.

What’s the use of worrying?

It never was worth while, so

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag

And smile, smile, smile.

And

Bell-bottom trousers, coat of navy blue.

She loved a sailor man and he loves her too.

When they walked along the street, anyone can see.

They are so much in love, happy as can be.

Hand in hand, they stroll along,

They don’t give a hoot

He won’t let go of her hand,

Even to salute.

I was considerably older before I discovered that the words to both of these songs had been “cleaned-up” to make them suitable for our age group. On this day at the Grant, when our “Moron” Tabernacle Choir performance ended, the theatre curtains closed. There was a pause, and then the curtains majestically swept open once more.

Shrieks and ear-piercing whistles exploded like a bomb, and the saintly St. Peter in the skies above ran for cover. He was unable to tolerate such choral greatness. Then, an enormous globe flashed on the screen, with the word “Universal” encircling it. This was the movie studio that had produced the picture. Next appeared the title of the movie—“In Society”—followed by the names of its stars, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The vocal crescendo from the full house of movie buffs burst in a breath-taking climax. The Grant contained 672 seats, so you can imagine the ungodly racket.

The angelic noise died away when the name of the director appeared, as everyone knew that the film would now begin. Soon, the comic pair created waves of laughter. It was the story of two plumbers (Abbott and Costello) who were called to repair the bathroom fixtures of a wealthy family. While attempting to fix the leak, they created a flood, which cascaded to the ballroom below, where a costume ball was in progress. The situation quickly deteriorated as the two helpless repairmen attempted to stem the flow. As well as this hilarious feature, we viewed a cartoon, several trailers (previews of next week’s films), a serial, and another feature film. It was an extravaganza of entertainment for the 10¢ admission price.

The latter half of the decade of the 1940s was the golden age of cinema. Films had provided escapism the harsh times of the Great Depression. During the war years, they had helped sustain the morale of the nation. Now, the war was over, and families had more money to spend than ever before. Studios responded and created empires, with teams of directors, actors,

cameramen, and support staff.

Each studio possessed its own unique trademark, which it flashed across screen at the opening of its film. MGM employed a roaring lion, surrounded by a loop of film and the words “Ars Gratia Artis.” RKO films began with a huge antenna, resembling the Eiffel Tower, perched atop a curve of the globe, the tower radiating signals. J. Arthur Rank studios showed a well-muscled man striking a huge gong. Paramount Studios depicted the top of a mountain that was similar to the Matterhorn in the Alps. Surrounding it was a ring of stars, with the words “Paramount Studios” inside the circle. These introductory graphics allowed audiences to identify the various studios. Some of these survive today, although now they are in colour, rather than black and white.

The Grant provided several other memorable movies during October―“When Irish Eyes are smiling,” a musical photographed in Technicolor starring Argentinian-born Dick Haymes and June Haver. Haymes played the role of a composer (Ernest R. Ball) who was attracted to a showgirl (June Haver). To complicate the plot, a mobster (played by Anthony Quinn) also wished to romance June Haver. The songs and acting were outrageously “mushy”, but we thought it was okay.

Years later, Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan were to croon the title song from this film, but neither leader possessed the charisma or the voices of the team of “Haymes and Haver.”

On the same matinee at the Grant was the court drama, “Lady in Question,” with Rita Hayward and Glen Ford, about a murder trial in Paris.

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The passage above is from the novel, “Arse Over Teakettle.” It is a heart-warming and mischievous tale of a boy growing up in Toronto during the 1940s. The story chronicles their adventures in the laneways, ravines, and streets of old Toronto, as they struggle to learn the secrets of the “big boys.” Their attempts to explore their sexuality is often amusing. Many of us can relate to their foibles and misunderstandings.

It was the “golden age” of cinema, a decade when the local movies houses were the centres of entertainment for the various neighbourhoods throughout the city. As a result, the movies theatres play a major role in the story. The movies mentioned appeared in the actual theatres and on the dates that the book mentions. Those who enjoy the classic films on TCM will recognize many of the titles and the names of their stars.

For further information on the three volumes of the Toronto trilogy:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-toronto-trilogy-recreates-the-citys-past-while-providing-intriguing-stories/

The author’s Home Page:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/ 

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Toronto

 

How did Toronto celebrate the day World War II ended?

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On this morning of mornings, Tuesday, 8 May 1945, young boys feverishly hawked early editions of the newspapers, swarming streets, offices, hotels, factories, shops, and restaurants. Security staff at the Royal York Hotel smiled tolerantly as they removed the lads from the prestigious lobby. A few elderly guests hoped for a return to silence, as they reclined in the plush chairs beneath the ornate ceiling, and scanned their newspapers. They glanced disapprovingly at the youthful clerks behind the desk, who were laughing and hugging each other.

For the young employees, it was the most important moment of their lives. The extra large letters of the headline said it all—Unconditional Surrender—the words occupying half of the front page. Everyone was in the mood to celebrate. After five years, eight months, and six days, the long-awaited miracle had materialized. On the street outside the hotel, unlike the hotel lobby, pandemonium had already erupted.

People poured from buildings, crowds flowing into the streets and avenues. Fear of losing jobs because they had abandoned work was considered unimportant compared to the desire to celebrate. The Toronto Stock Exchange, which had opened at 10:00 a.m., closed at 10:45 a.m. In office buildings, workers grabbed any paper within reach and tossed it out the windows. In the streets below, the paper inundated the avenues like a snowstorm.

When employees descended to the street level, they saw that automobiles were motionless and drivers stymied. Bedlam reigned supremely. Streetcars were trapped among the shouting, dancing, flag-waving throngs. Individuals improvised their own ways to celebrate. Three sailors smeared generous amounts of lipstick on their grinning mouths, marched arm-in-arm, and kicked the can-can as they pranced northward up Yonge Street.

An elderly air force veteran imitated “Herr Hitler” as he goose-stepped with a washbasin on his head, a finger under his nose to imitate a mousy moustache. Young women grabbed sailors in uniform and kissed them fervently. The service men did not object to being outrageously molested. It was nice to know that being “politically correct” was not always necessary.

A policeman attempted to restrain the crowd, only to have his white-gloved hand grasped by an elderly woman and kissed repeatedly. Five motorcycle cops gave up, parked their vehicles, and stood on the seats as they shouted and waved. Groups of young men climbed on the roofs of the streetcars, and festooned the trolley wires and poles with the ticker tape that the jubilant workers had thrown from office windows. Paper drifted across the streets in billowing waves. On the east side of Yonge Street, it was knee deep. Just when people thought that the flood of ticker tape had slowed, a deluge of orange paper descended, its source a mystery. Yonge Street between Front and King Streets was the “confetti belt.” The hydro pole in front of 86 Wellington St. East, became the most decorated in the city. No one knew why. It almost appeared to sag under the weight of the white streamers, while celebrants danced around it singing, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” The following day, people inquired if it had been the address of a Liquor store, but it had not.

Shortly before the noon hour, two parades, one on Bay Street and another on Yonge, both several blocks in length, spontaneously marched toward the City Hall. The Bay Street parade lustily sang a throaty rendition of, “Roll out the Barrels.” It was as if an unseen hand had choreographed the musical extravaganza. Within five or ten minutes, the space in front of the civic building was filled to capacity and beyond. The cenotaph was a granite ship amid a seething sea of humanity. A small group of inebriated sailors chorused enthusiastically:

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here.

What the hell do we care,

We still have our underwear.

Hail, hail the gang’s all here,

What the hell do we care now.

The riotous song was soon drowned by the music blaring from the loudspeakers mounted on the stage at the top of the City Hall steps, playing the song, “Anchors Away.” The crowd reluctantly parted when a torchbearer arrived, descended from the top of the stairs, and ignited an improvised victory flame beside the cenotaph. Mayor Saunders delivered a short address, and then, pleaded with workers to return to work. However, his pleas were ignored. He said that the following day, Tuesday 8 May, would officially be a holiday―VE Day. The crowds were in no mood to wait. They joyously continued singing and dancing.

The above is an excerpt from “Arse Over Teakettle,” book one of the The Toronto Trilogy. It is a story of a family struggling during the war years in Toronto. The tale centres around a young boy, Tom Hudson, who yearns to know the secrets of the “big boys.” It is a heart warming tale of coming-of-age. Though the background of the story is 1940s Toronto, his experiences and problems are timeless, some of his adventurers humorous and others heart-breaking. The odd characters that live on his street are colourful, perhaps the most interesting, his friend “Shorty.”

 

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    For further information on the three volumes of the Toronto trilogy:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-toronto-trilogy-recreates-the-citys-past-while-providing-intriguing-stories/

The author’s Home Page:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/ 

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2012 in Toronto

 

Copies of the “Toronto Trilogy” now available

                                                 Reluc. Virgin

      Recently Published Murder/Mystery

        “The Reluctant Virgin”

            Toronto Trilogy – Book Two

                      by Doug Taylor

        

 

 

 

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First book in the Toronto

Trilogy,Arse Over Teakettle” will also

be available

Further information about the books:

 https://tayloronhistory

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Toronto

 

Classroom Valentine boxes were great but cruel

The passage below is from the novel “Arse Over Teakettle,” a story of a young boy coming of age in Toronto during the 1940s. It is a heart-warming tale of his struggle to mature, both sexually and intellectually. In the quote below, the main character of the story, Tom Hudson, tells about St. Valentine’s Day.

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February was synonymous with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. In the window of the School Store, I noticed that valentines had appeared, costing two cents each. The five and dime stores, such as Woolworth and Kresge’s, sold books of cutout valentines. These were cheaper, and I considered them inferior. I also gazed longingly through the School Store windows at the boxes of goodies. They included small, red, cinnamon hearts and other candies, about the size of a twenty-five-cent coin, in various designs. My favourite were those that were heart-shaped. Printed on the candies were expressions such as, Kiss Me, I Love You, Be My Valentine, Do You Love Me? I’m Yours, or Hugs and Kisses. The candies were two for a penny.

In the classroom, during art period I helped decorate the cardboard valentine box. In its top, my teacher, Miss Campbell cut a narrow slit, resembling a mail slot. During the week of Valentine’s, at the beginning of each day, and immediately after lunch break, we inserted valentines for our friends. On the fourteenth of the month, near the end of the day, the teacher opened the box and monitors delivered the valentines to their designated owners. I sat expectantly at my desk, waiting for my cards, while surreptitiously glancing around the room to observe how many cards the other children received.

I knew that the popular kids accumulated many. A few classmates received only two, sometimes sent by their own hand. I was grateful that I was not one of them. My modest collection of eight cards was respectable. One of them was signed, “Guess Who?” Most kids received at least one of these mystery cards, and sometimes two. Upon receiving it, I gazed around the room, attempting to catch a telltale expression that might betray the sender. I never discovered the identity of the person.

Eventually, schools discarded the custom of the Valentine Day box, as they realized that it was an insensitive tradition.

For further information on the three volumes of the Toronto trilogy:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-toronto-trilogy-recreates-the-citys-past-while-providing-intriguing-stories/

The author’s Home Page:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/ 

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Toronto

 

Remember the Valentine Day boxes in school classrooms and the heart-shaped candies?

The passage below is from the novel “Arse Over Teakettle,” a story of a young boy coming of age in Toronto during the 1940s. It is a heart-warming tale of his struggle to mature, both sexually and intellectually. In the quote below, the main character of the story, Tom Hudson, tells about St. Valentine’s Day.

9781450205313-Perfect.indd

February was synonymous with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. In the window of the School Store, I noticed that valentines had appeared, costing two cents each. The five and dime stores, such as Woolworth and Kresge’s, sold books of cutout valentines. These were cheaper, and I considered them inferior. I also gazed longingly through the School Store windows at the boxes of goodies. They included small, red, cinnamon hearts and other candies, about the size of a twenty-five-cent coin, in various designs. My favourite were those that were heart-shaped. Printed on the candies were expressions such as, Kiss Me, I Love You, Be My Valentine, Do You Love Me? I’m Yours, or Hugs and Kisses. The candies were two for a penny.

In the classroom, during art period I helped decorate the cardboard valentine box. In its top, my teacher, Miss Campbell cut a narrow slit, resembling a mail slot. During the week of Valentine’s, at the beginning of each day, and immediately after lunch break, we inserted valentines for our friends. On the fourteenth of the month, near the end of the day, the teacher opened the box and monitors delivered the valentines to their designated owners. I sat expectantly at my desk, waiting for my cards, while surreptitiously glancing around the room to observe how many cards the other children received.

I knew that the popular kids accumulated many. A few classmates received only two, sometimes sent by their own hand. I was grateful that I was not one of them. My modest collection of eight cards was respectable. One of them was signed, “Guess Who?” Most kids received at least one of these mystery cards, and sometimes two. Upon receiving it, I gazed around the room, attempting to catch a telltale expression that might betray the sender. I never discovered the identity of the person.

Eventually, schools discarded the custom of the Valentine Day box, as they realized that it was an insensitive tradition.

The first book of the Toronto Trilogy, “Arse Over teakettle,” will be available at the Chapters/Indigo store at Richmond and John Streets in downtown Toronto on the day of the book signing for the second book of the trilogy, “The Reluctant Virgin.”

       Book Signing 

Sunday, 11 March 3 pm to 5 pm

Chapters/Indigo Store

Richmond and John Streets

Toronto 

For further information on the three volumes of the Toronto trilogy:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-toronto-trilogy-recreates-the-citys-past-while-providing-intriguing-stories/

The author’s Home Page:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/ 

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Toronto

 

Remembering the day Elizabeth II became queen

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I was a student in high school when King George VI died on 6 February in 1952, and Elizabeth II was proclaimed queen. The day remains as fixed in my memory as the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Similarly, I can recall the day Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the Summit Series in the Soviet Union in 1972, and again in February of 2010, when Sidney Crosby slammed in the overtime goal in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Everyone has milestone events in their lives that they retain, despite the passage of time.

The passage below is from the book, “The Reluctant Virgin.” The death of King George VI is told through the eyes of the book’s central character, Tom Hudson. He is in a classroom at the high school he attends, his best friend, Shorty Bernstein, seated in the desk beside him. I employed my own memories of the event to write this section of the novel.

On Wednesday 6 February, Tom trudged to school under dismal skies, sullen clouds scuttling over the frozen landscape. Arriving in Mr. Roger’s classroom, his homeroom, within minutes he heard the static noise on the P.A. system at the front of the room, and waited for the booming voice of the rotund principal, Mr. Tyrone Evanson. Each morning he instructed the students to stand for the playing of “God Save the King.” On this morning, Tom heard only buzzing sounds on the PA—no voice. Everyone gazed up at the loudspeaker, wondering what had happened to dear old Gus.

Shorty whispered to Tom, “I bet his stomach swallowed him.”

After twenty or thirty seconds, they heard Vice-Principal Mr. Dinkman say, “Please remain in your seats. Mr. Evanson has an important announcement for the student body.”

Another four or five-second-delay ensued.

Then Dinkman said reverently, “Here is your principal.”

“Staff and students,” Gus began, in a voice dripping with self-importance, “it is with the greatest regret that I make the following announcement. At six o’clock this morning, Toronto time, his majesty King George VI, sovereign of Great Britain, the Commonwealth and the Empire, passed away quietly in his sleep.”

Mr. Evanson paused again, the silence in the classroom almost overwhelming. “The school flag has been lowered,” he continued. “It is now at half-mast, in respect for our beloved sovereign, who reigned over our Dominion for fifteen years and one month. He was a good king, but more important, a noble person. For those of us who served during the war years, we will always remember his words on September 3, 1939, when the conflict commenced, ‘Stand fast and have faith,’” he said. We would do well to embrace his words in our hearts today. We expect all members of York Collegiate Institute to conduct themselves today with dignity and decorum. The Privy Council, constitutional advisers to British monarchs, has formally accepted Elizabeth II as queen. Please stand as we listen to the anthem ‘God Save the Queen.’”

Tom realized that the death of the king had deeply moved Mr. Evanson, but he knew nothing about Mr. Evanson’s background. Tom was unaware that the principal’s father was British, and he had raised his son in a home that revered the traditions of the monarchy. Being a monarchist like his father, the death of King George VI had profoundly shaken him.

For Tom, the words “God Save the Queen” sounded strange and unnatural. All throughout his days of elementary school, the word “king” had seemed an eternal part of the national anthem. A new age was dawning, but Tom had no way of knowing that during the years following the ascension of Queen Elizabeth, great changes would occur in the daily life of Canadians.

On this morning in February of 1952, when the playing of the anthem ended, silence prevailed. Nobody was certain how to react. Throughout the morning at school, the hallways were quiet as students rotated between classes. No teacher cracked a joke. They remained serious and business-like. Tom understood something of the sorrow and finality of death, as he had observed people grieve at the annual Remembrance Day services. The war had ended only seven years earlier, and wounds remained unhealed. He had witnessed powerful emotions among those who had survived and the terrible pain the losses had inflicted. When he had been six-years old, his uncle Will had passed away, and he remembered how it had devastated his family, especially his grandmother.

How would the death of the king affect Canadians?

One thing was certain. The events pushed any thoughts of the Stritch murder from the minds of Tom and his friends.

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For further information on the “The Reluctant Virgin,”

a murder/mystery that encompasses historical fiction:  https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/chilling-murdermystery-showcases-toronto/

A link to the author’s Home Page: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Toronto

 

View restored postcards of Toronto’s Bay Street and Yonge Streets

Collecting old postcards of Toronto has been a fascinating hobby. Sometimes, the cards I find are in very poor condition, the colours faded and pieces missing. I photographed these cards, applied adhesives to the surface of the copies, and then employed acrylic paints to restore the pictures. I hid the cracks in the postcards, removed blemishes, eliminated hydro lines, and covered ink marks from the post office. Then I re-photographed the cards, sometimes producing interesting results. If examined carefully, in an enlarged copy of the re-worked pictures, brush-strokes are evident, particularly in the sky.

In each case, because I was working on a “copy” of the card, the integrity of the original card was preserved. Below are two of the postcards that I converted.

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Bay St. looking north to Queen and the Old City Hal, c.1920

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Yonge Street looking north to Queen St., c. 1910

My interest in the city of Toronto has been a life-long passion. Within the last ten years, I have published four books employing the city as either the subject, or in the case of the novels, as the background. The novels include many archival photographs to assist the reader to envision Toronto during the decade that the story takes place. The non-fiction book, “The Villages Within” was nominated for the “Toronto Heritage Awards.” The other three novels all received “Editor’s Choice Awards.”

For information of these books, following the link to my Home Page: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Toronto