MANAGED DECLINE

Yesterday (2006.11.12), I attended a memorial for the late Sid Adilman at Trinity–St. Paul’s Church at Bloor and Walmer. There was enough of a crowd that I had to sit in the balcony, which turned out to be a good vantage point for photos. Various luminaries from the media and the arts were present, but this is Toronto and you can’t treat them special.

I engaged 18th-century liveblogging techniques by writing in my notebook. The accounts below are sometimes more approximate than I would like, as the presentations by speakers were heavy on anecdotes with precise chronologies I had a hard time keeping up with. Corrections appreciated.

Mio & Nobu Adilman

Sid and Toshiko’s sons took the stage at 1534 hours and set a stand-up-comedian tone for the proceedings.

MIO: Um, we’ve never done this before…. Everywhere we go, people tell us: “You’re Sid’s kids!” People ask, “Are you Sid’s kids?”

NOBU: So yes, we are Sid’s kids. People, if you have something to say, do so far away from us. Why?

— Because if you’re Sid’s kids, you’re also Sid’s sources.

— (One show we tried out for) wanted to make us sign a statement promising never, ever to tell Sid anything about what happened there. Of course I told him everything, but only in the strictest of confidence. And Sid never published any of it.

— Maybe showbiz kids have it easy, but we were showbiz-reporter kids. We had to learn how to have one conversation while listening to another while also watching someone else at the back of the room.

— Whenever we’d go out to restaurants, we’d have to count the tables, check the washrooms. The washrooms, by the way, are downstairs off to the side. Thank you.

— Sid was a notorious two-fingered typist. He destroyed computer keyboard after computer keyboard.

— He’d dictate rapid-fire over the phone. (And the copy would always be perfect.)

— People would call our house at all hours and ask “Is Sid there?” in hushed voices.

— Sid loved Toronto (and loved living in the Annex), but there was another side to Sid, and that was PEI. This was a place where he could relax, where for six weeks getting the scoop was not the point.

— He had an uncanny ear for any news about potlucks. At Mary’s Bake Shop in Kensington, he’d place an order for 40 dozen ginger snaps. Some men have mistresses; my father bought jam.

— Being one of Sid’s sources was a full-time job. We needed a vacation too.

Nancy White accompanied by Bob Johnston

Sid was always a supporter of me as a performer, but I mainly saw him on PEI, where my parents have a cottage.

(Nancy performs a bit of doggerel about how artists get away with murder and take a full year to write a single song while everyone else lolls around curing cancer. “If it weren’t for the little people, I would be… I would be… Bobby?” “Nothing!”)

Jack McAndrew

(I didn’t get a photo of Jack.)

NOBU: I remember watching Jack and Sid having a conversation, which seemed like an argument, until I thought fists would come out. They always agreed to disagree, and sometimes agree.

JACK: I met Sid when he came to PEI to cover the Charlottetown Festival with Toshiko. That’s when this city boy discovered the Island. So that’s why I came up to the city – for one purpose only: To reveal the secret addiction of Sid Adilman.

As the years went by and Sid and Toshiko kept coming back, the place began to consume him. Visiting was hard, but the leave-taking was harder.

They bought a cottage in Keppoch, and grandly gave the dirt road leading to the cottage the name of Away Lane. It was furnished in a décor you could call Early Island Junk, but to Sid, it was his palace, his retreat.

At summer solstice, when we were anticipating the arrival of the Adilmans, it was only after Sid’s first visit to the beach that the people of Keppoch could relax and enjoy the summer. Sid loved the place for three things: The best baking, the juiciest strawberries, and the cheapest antiques. A lot of the time, Toshiko had to act like a kind of nanny. (Sid would sometimes sneak into derelict houses to see what little treasures got left behind, though one time the owner came back and caught him.)

It might be a little difficult to imagine Sid as a colossus, but like a curly-haired monarch of many years ago, he would sit on the beach and hold court, growing browner and browner all the while. And he wouldn’t swim – he’d only go ankle-deep into the water, but only if he could pigeonhole somebody about a potluck.

Now, Sid had a few problems with PEI. He could not abide the bagpipe. The whole Celtic thing was a mystery to him. We brought him [kicking and screaming] to a ceilidh one time, and the expression on his face never changed for the full two hours he was there. He clearly loathed everything he saw and could not understand the appeal. He looked dazed, as though I’d just held his head underwater for two hours [not the nicest image].

In August, the Adilmans would start getting ready to go back. Of course Sid would need to freshen up his wardrobe to make a proper entrance at the Toronto film festival and at Cannes. There were a range of excellent haberdasheries in Charlottetown; we call them Frenchy’s and Froggy’s. Sid could completely clothe himself for $1.98, and he’d wear that to Toronto, Cannes, all over the world.

Mary’s Bakery in Kensington had the best ginger snaps in the world. He’d call up and order 40 dozen, bring them all the way back to Toronto, then put them in the freezer on Albany. All winter long – and most of you know this – with each bite he would secretly savour his memories of his Island life. Sid was coming home. I can only pray there are ginger snaps in heaven – or Sid will tell us about it.

‘Several of the Travellers with James Gray’

NOBU: Sid would go to Mariposa back when it was held on the Toronto Islands, and he’d covered the folk scene in Yorkville. A version of his favourite band, the Travellers, is here today.

JAMES GRAY (presumably): In 1969, Sid came along with us for a tour of Nicosia. We went to Ellen’s Bar and saw a performer do feats of magic with her body not including her hands and feet. Sid tried to pay with Canadian Tire money but didn’t get away with it.

Later, the Travellers were invited to Japan. Toshiko gave us the words to a classic folk song she said everyone would know, even the emperor. (Sings a snippet in Japanese while strumming his guitar.) We know about nine verses to that song.

(Does a singalong of “This Land Is Your Land.”) We wrote the Canadian version of that song in 1952, and we added a French verse [which he then sings – now I know how Sid felt at the ceilidh].

Veronica Tennant

NOBU: Every year, we went to see The Nutcracker a the O’Keefe Centre – very early on it became apparent that Sid did not specialize. He liked all of you. That’s where he met Veronica Tennant.

VERONICA: Sid, you made it your mission to promote Canadian culture, doing so even with the strength of your own pen. (You supported countless Canadian artists;) I am so proud to be amongst them. I cannot overstate how effective you were as a challenger, a champion, a mentor, a friend.

Challenger: You supported my work and saw the wider picture. You made sure Canadians heard about it, coast to coast, after I left ballet after 25 years. I was flooded by letters and mail as a result of Sid’s instigation. He was the first person to ask me, “Do you have a pension plan?” “ ‘Pension’?” And he wrote about that too!

Mentor: Sid got me and Charles Pachter to write for the Star (as on the topic of Olivier). He took me down to the cafeteria at the Star and marked up my belaboured copy. He taught me to strengthen my editing – “Pull them in on the first sentence”; “what are you saying here?”

Challenger: Sid consistently supported the quality programming he considered essential for Canadians. He gave me ink, but ignored publicity. (He would terrorize publicists.) He forced me to summarize my show in a sentence, to justify everything. Sid was eager to watch the international Emmys, and when we won for Karen Kain: Dancing in the Moment [1997], Sid was so proud of us. He was here first, pinpointing us (to the reading public). I remember sitting next to him, seeing every film he did at the Toronto film festival (which was gruelling).

Friend: Sid was a friend of Canadian audiences, and he irrepressibly demanded from the wider public an understanding of Canadian culture. We would frequently go out to dinner; Sid was always a friend to John and me.

From Sid, something like “I also liked your final paragraphs” were words of great praise. [They were!]

Sid was a compeller. He compelled us to earn our rights as Canadians. He was a great man and a great Canadian, and look how we miss him already.

Michael Therriault and Cliff Jones

NOBU: As teenagers, music from composers like George Gershwin and Cole Porter didn’t mean much to us. Over time, we learned to enjoy it.

Sid didn’t want to retire, but he had to retire. But even after that, he called up every publicist and insisted on staying on every list and receiving everything. He received a copy of [Maureen mutters from wings] – sorry, he was hand-delivered a copy of Prairie Giant.

Michael Therriault is exactly the kind of artist Sid would have [supported].

MICHAEL: I remember why Toshiko always did the driving. I was in the car with Sid once when he screech to a halt. “Lupins!” he shouted, and my wife never got in a car with Sid (behind the wheel) again. (Performs “You’re the Top” while actually reading the lyrics from a cheat sheet.)

Three colleagues

NOBU: Now, to keep us honest, a view from the office from people who worked side by side with Sid – two writers, one publicist. Two of them could be as cranky as Sid was; I’ll let you choose who.

Ron Base

I’m the cranky one.

We were on the plane to Cannes. This was when Air Canada still served pretty good meals. Sid pulled out a foil-wrapped package and opened it on the tray table. Inside were six… green beans. Sid, what are you doing? He looked at me in that way of his, as if he were simultaneously offended and confused by the question. “I’m having my dinner.”

He ate four of them. Sid, why did you only eat four? “I’m saving them for later.”

I worked for and with Sid. I yelled at Sid and was yelled at by Sid. Yet we always remained friends.

I was thrilled to work with the then-already-legendary Sid Adilman. The thrill never quite wore off. He gave the impression of a gumshoe reporter crossed with a country vicar lost in a whorehouse. He knew where the bodies were buried, but he wouldn’t necessarily tell you.

Sid drank double espresso; smoke the oddest chocolate-coloured cigarettes, and I could never figure out where he got them [Mary’s Bakery?]; he went to every pâtisserie in every town he visited.

He used to call me Ronnie Baby. I’d call him El Sid. He always drop “tchotchke” into an article if he couldn’t find the right word. One of his catchphrases was “Pas de probs, kid. Pas de probs.” Sid glowered if there were problems, and there often were. At meetings, Sid never ever seemed surprised by what anybody came up with. “We knew that,” he’d say, and he probably did.

We may forget the words we wrote. What counts is the memories left with each other.

I remember the first time I went to Paris. Sid and I stayed at a hotel where it was almost a mountain-climbing expedition to get our bags up to our rooms. I thought, “I’m in Paris! I’m in the most beautiful city in the world, the City of Lights!” and then I looked over and there was Sid Adilman.

I loved you, Sid. All of us here today did. Pas de probs, kid. Pas de probs.

Antonia Zerbisias

“Sidney Charles Adilman, Inspiration of the TiVo.” Sid hated technology. Sid let me move into the third floor of his house in Montreal – and a faucet broke. What was Sid going to think? God help you if you ever touched his computer.

I remember the first time I visited him on Albany. I went through the front door, (through a maze of rooms and little stairways,) and finally to the basement, where Sid had an office with a first-generation Macintosh and a super-secret fax machine. This was in the ’80s when fax machines weren’t really common. He told me that if I let on to anyone that he had it, he’d cut me off and never talk to me again. He was terrified it would run out of paper while Toshiko was out of town, and where would he be then?

At Sid’s retirement party – and Sid did not want to retire – they gave him a retirement gift, a powerful laptop. Did he ever get it to work?

We met – on the phone – in 1982. Wayne Grigsby was Variety’s correspondent (in Montreal), for much less money than it was worth, and then some. Sid recommended me on a Friday. I didn’t mention the Variety prospect until Saturday breakfast. Maureen picked up the phone and shoved it in my face and said “Do it! Do it! Do it!”

And whatever you do, they told me, don’t finish his sentences. He stutters. But I think he stuttered because the hardware couldn’t keep up with the CPU. Sid could really keep a lot of balls juggling in his head.

But he was a champion scrawler. He wrote on matchbooks. I can see him sitting here today scrawling away on the program.

I guess he never did manage to master the E-mail function on the new computer.

I was the only Star staffmember ever invited to New Year’s Day celebrations, to be invited into that warm and welcoming sanctuary. He saved my life, especially after Serge Losique threatened to sue me for saying the Montreal film festival was not as big as Lozique’s head. Sid stood by me and stood by Variety.

I learned to avoid his incessant calls. He as a slave-driver. If I’d had caller ID back then, he’d be on call block.

I remember when Sid wrote about the release of the Caplan-Sauvageau report in Montreal, decked out in his plaid flood pants. He wrote about how this was the beginning of the end of the CBC – which it was, as it turned out.

I witnessed him dictate a word-perfect story for Variety – and give me the sole byline for it.

He was committed to Canadian culture and the need for a policy to protect it.

Retirement came against his will. When he retired, I had no problem getting comments from everyone I asked – Michael MacMillan, Moses Znaimer, Robert Lantos. [Through supporting and popularizing Canadian culture, thereby making it more viable,] he made a lot of people rich.

Nothing got past Sid. You thought you told him something in confidence. Sid would go right out and second-source it. Days later it would appear in the paper. It happened to me, and I was mortified about it. He’d take me out to dinner and pump me for information, to catch up.

His column was called “Eye on Entertainment.” He caught everything and missed nothing. He never ever seemed surprised by anything we came up with at Friday story meetings. “That’s not Star style!” he’d yell.

I’d program my VCR and hand Sid the tapes. He could never understand why commercials were still on there, why there weren’t 10-second blacks [instead of commercials], why commercials weren’t simply fast-forwarded past. “Why isn’t there a way to remove the commercials?” “Because I programmed it!” I wasn’t there, I don’t know when the commercials would pop up, and anyway there isn’t a VCR with enough settings to skip them. I could see his eyes blink and hear the CPU think. There isn’t a way to remove the commercials? “Well, there should be.” And that’s how Sid invented the TiVo.

It is up to us to ensure that Sid’s care and concern for Canadian culture get the attention they deserve, that we don’t succumb to the Hollywood juggernaut, that CBC not be killed off, that we protect the Canadian culture Sid fought so hard for.

Maureen O’Donnell

Sid was very, very funny and completely fearless on many levels – epicurean, fashion. I spent some of the most thrilling, and most fattening, times of my life with Sid. He, Andra Sheffer, and I would pile into our tiny car and go on a search for the perfect dessert. The rules: butter · sugar · chocolate. No protein whatsoever.

Sid got me, Jane Jacobs, and Max Allen up into a hot-air balloon. Sure, it was exciting, but we ended up famished. The truth can now be told: We stopped at a McDonald’s.

On May 12, 1979, Sid, George, and I wended our way through 10,000 fans near Cannes to see the Who. After “Boris the Spider” and “Pinball Wizard,” I asked Sid what he thought. “It was all right.” Please, no one tell Pete Townshend.

Sid would get in the festival director’s car and accompany him to every premiere. I don’t know what his absolute favourite festival memory is. It probably has to do with Bill Marshall. Isabelle Huppert was brazen enough to wiggle her toes at him through an entire interview. “Oh, my dear!”

He staunchly refused to wear a tux even to events advertised as black-tie. He was attired by Froggy’s on Jordan Crescent in Charlottetown, across the parking lot behind a body shop. Sid’s favourite present? A gift certificate.

As Peter Goddard put it, “Sid Adilman was movie-star-cool.” A world traveller, he’d been to Buenos Aires and Saskatchewan, Rwanda and Yemen. He claimed to enjoy Vietnamese street food. New York was great; Keppoch was better. And this from a guy who couldn’t tell you how to get from his house to the corner of Bathurst and St. Clair.

In 1964 he met Toshiko, and God bless her for saying yes.

I have Sid to blame for my 30-year career in the arts. He dedicated his life to cajoling, nurturing and lovingly minding Canadian culture. He did it for Canada’s largest paper; he had clout, real clout, and he used it. Peter Pearson: “He watched over us and made us better.”

Heaven help the broadcaster or publicist who didn’t treat an artist with respect. [The way the Star treated him?] As Brian Johnson put it, “Adilman was a newsman who reported on the nitty-gritty of Canadian culture as if his life, and the country’s, depended on it.”

He heard everything about everyone, and the most frustrating part was that you were told nothing – until you were living outside the country, at which point he proceeded to bury you with letters.

When Sid spoke of his family, he sparkled. He loved his boys and the women they have chosen. He told me: On a particular day, I would need to be surrounded by people who love me. That was an order.

“You were with me for a fabulous ride,” Sid wrote in his final column.

Roger Abbott & Don Ferguson

MIO: When we were 12 years old, we found an exotic magazine in Sid’s desk.

NOBU: Swank! When we found it, we were looking for the articles.

— Steve was very chaste. He never told any bawdy jokes.

— He’d turn his head.

— He wanted to remain untouched.

— We thought the magazine was like National Geographicfascinating.

— We eventually looked through the magazine and found an article about the Air Face – written by Sid Adilman!

— He would do anything to promote Canadian culture!

— He would write anywhere.

ROGER: I met Sid over half his lifetime ago out by the Poor Alex. Actually, he was obsessed with the letter A, Antonia would say: Anne Murray, Anne of Green Gables, the Air Farce….

Sid wrote you into his column and treated you like a star. After a while, the readers would start treating you that way, too. Then, much to the discomfort of the CBC, we began to think we were stars.

DON FERGUSON: I sat down with Sid to edit a piece he had gotten me to write on satire. That was one of the things he did – commission nonjournalists to write for him.

— He was only happy with us when we provided him with a scoop. We don’t have any left. We’re still with the CBC and we aren’t moving to CTV.

[They perform a topical comedy routine every bit as stale, yet also off-colour, as one would expect. The aged audience ate it up. They’re one reason the CBC is in trouble. Again, I felt like Sid at a ceilidh.]

Don Harron

NOBU: Don Harron was a constant presence in Sid’s life. When he was ill, Sid always looked forward to Don’s visits.

DON HARRON: I lost five friends in October: Jackie Rae, Lister Sinclair, Al Russell, Gino Empry, and Sid.

I had been in the U.S. from 1950 to 1966. In 1960, I heard Sid on Bruno Gerussi’s radio show [!] as a drama critic. Yes, he stuttered, but we waited, because he was worth it. He was fair and he was tough.

He was less than favourable about Anne of Green Gables. We agreed not to talk about the arts. We talked politics; we traded books. I tried to (demonstrate sketches) for Sid, along with Toshiko and Claudette, as Charlie Farquharson. Sid never laughed, which meant he liked it. But Toshiko had to be taken out of the room (she was laughing so hard).

Maybe I wish I had talked to him about festivals, especially the Charlottetown Festival. Maybe he wasn’t interested in what I thought, but would have been interested in what Charlie Farquharson thought.

[Performs a skit as Charlie Farquharson.]

Nobu Adilman

NOBU: When we were at home, we used to watch DeGrassi Junior High all the time. I went to Japan when I was 18, and he and I didn’t talk for the entire trip. Once I got a five-page letter. He spent half a page telling me how he and mom were and 4½ pages writing a synopsis of what had happened on DeGrassi.

My father supported everything I did – my mother as well, Mio not so much. (Talks about his previous band.) Sid came to watch me perform dressed in a leather vest and these amazing Italian leather boots that zipped up. We were all drooling at his clothes.

[Nobu sings a folk number accompanied by 11 friends.]

NOBU: My first memory of my father is sitting on the couch when I was two or three years old watching the Watergate hearings. Sid loved a public inquiry. Dubin was a favourite. Then we watched Harold & Maude (and laughed so much we cried).

Sid read to us all the time. He read all four volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia – once to me, once to Mio.

When I was 10, we went to New York. We snuck sandwiches from the Carnegie Deli into Whoopi Goldberg’s one-woman show. We got caught, but they still let us keep them. We saw six plays in three days.

We were at the Geminis one year and people started throwing crudités when Rush won yet another award. Sid approved of Rush; he just didn’t approve of throwing vegetables.

Sid put ginger ale in a thermos once, and the carbonation broke it. That surprised me and Sid. We went on quests, like finding the best pizza in Toronto.

We drove each year to PEI. For every piece of blue beach glass we found, we got an ice-cream cone.

He’d watch the Oscars religiously and every time a Canadian won, he’d yell “Whoo!”

My dad watched all 130 episodes of a game show I hosted [Smart Ask – yes, I keep track, and no, I didn’t have to Google]. When I came home from hosting a show in Vancouver, he met us at the airport like we were rock stars.

I went through my teenage rebellion when I was in my 20s. I outgrew it and made up with my family.

Sid died unexpectedly. He gave me more love. Not once in my entire life did I hear Sid say anything bad about my mom, even they were having a disagreement.

Toshiko Adilman

(To Nobu:) You are not supposed to get the tear! (Thanks everyone for
attending, and especially thanks everyone who assisted during Sid’s illness.)

People always ask Sid how we met. He’d say “Well, let me give you the $5 version.” Here’s the less-than-$5 version. In 1964, I was visiting Toronto for less than two weeks. After the first week, Sid proposed. “Just say yes! Just say yes!”

Several months later, when I was back in Japan, I sent Sid a telegram. His housemate Marq de Villiers called him at the office and told him he’d gotten a telegram. “Read it.” “ ‘Yes.’ ” “Read it.” “ ‘Yes’!” This went back and forth. “Just read it!” “That was the only word on the telegram: ‘Yes.’ ”

When I left, Sid insisted we eat at the most expensive restaurant at the airport, where they served arctic char. But he forgot his wallet, so I had to pay for the meal – $9! Sid kept telling me this was the best investment I’d ever made.

Two weeks after his death, as I was rummaging through his sock drawer, where he kept everything (socks, receipts, chequebook), I found an envelope marked “Toshiko: Open only if…” In it, I found $9 and a little card. “Dear Toshiko, This is the best financial loan I ever made. I love you. You gave me two wonderful boys who have fabulous taste in women. You gave me confidence in everything I did. You gave me romance and love.”

It was I who was enriched by Sid in ways beyond what I could ever have imagined possible. Thank God I said yes.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.11.13 16:32. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
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