My 15 Seconds
It takes a whole lot of celebrity to impress me.
Since my dad was a relatively well-known musician, in his day, and played in the orchestras of practically every live TV show produced at the CBC in the 50’s and 60’s, I had first hand experience with that notion that ‘everybody puts on their pants one leg at a time’. Many times, during my childhood, my sister (the pretty one) and I accompanied our mother to various studios to pick up the old man after a rehearsal or show where we were fussed over for our adorability by the likes of a pre-Lancelot Robert Goulet (who wore platform shoes long before Elton John but for different reasons) or the nationally renowned comedy team of Wayne and Shuster. Johnny Wayne was a close friend of my father’s for decades and never got above himself, even after appearing on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ a million times, while Frank held a special place in my trauma-bank from that day he told my mother, right in front of my eight-year-old newly-bespectacled face, that it was a terrible shame that I had to wear glasses and spoil my looks! He was especially proud of his own gorgeous daughter, Roz, later Rosie, who didn’t need to wear glasses and therefore grew up to be Lorne Michael’s first wife. So what goes around, comes around, I guess.
(Excuse me, please. I have to take a break for a few minutes to feel sorry for my little self before I can go on).
There were definite advantages to being the daughter of a show-biz parent, don’t get me wrong. It’s not every child who gets to go backstage at the ‘EX’ to personally meet Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, not to mention Trigger and Buttermilk, (eat your heart out E.P.) but there were disadvantages too, especially for someone as shy and personally averse to the attentions of the public as I was. These were the days long before "YouTube" or "Idol From Every Country", so people were still somewhat modest and reluctant to display themselves if they didn’t actually have any talent. While I didn’t mind being the center of attention in my family, or among my friends, I suspected I was not yet cut out for the world stage.
And so it was that I found my brush with national stardom to be simply too much to handle.
It came upon a midnight clear, so to speak, when, one Christmas, an enthusiastic producer at what was affectionately known as ‘the Mother-Corps’ (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), decided it would be a fabulous idea to create a show-stopping number featuring the sons and daughters of the performers on the "Jack Kane Music Makers" . The centerpiece of this weekly program was a large jazz band composed of the best musicians in the country. (Moe Koffman sat to my dad’s right in the woodwind section, for example, and if you don’t know who he is, you are probably very young or maybe an American with no interest in jazz, no offense). This seasonal showcase Finale would gather together the progeny of the cast of musicians around a spectacular Christmas tree where they would be admired by the Thursday night audience. Each child would hold a tiny version of the father’s musical instrument and pretend to play it for Camera One while Camera Two would inter-cut to the beaming parent, who was actually tooting real notes on full sized saxophones, trombones, trumpets, and so on. Johnny Niosi’s lucky kid got to pound away on a miniature drum. Jack Kane’s daughter, a real trouper, stood in front of this miniature orchestra waving a baton, anxiously staring off camera, at her mother.
My father, who, as I have already mentioned, gave us no encouragement to pursue careers in the arts, went along with this concept, probably because he loved Kane and would do anything for the show. (The musicians were frequently conscripted to kibbitz around in skits. He once donned a football uniform and sang, “You’ve got to be a football hero, To get along with the beautiful girls,” around Grey Cup time, to my everlasting shame. On National TV!) At first, my parents had to console me with the bad news that I was not going to be the one to ‘go out there and become a star’, because the powers that be wanted my cuter little sister, instead, just like in a fairy tale. It turned out that I was simply too old for the job. They wanted kiddies, still small and doe-eyed, not jaded preteens in glasses and braces. So I graciously gave up this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity but with few regrets, to tell the truth, since I understood the requirements were definitely beneath me. My relief was short-lived, however, when, the day before the program, my sister simply collapsed with nerves at the anticipation of the chance to humiliate herself nationally, and was ‘unable to go through with it’.
I was called on to save the day, the show, and our family honor. So me and my glasses and braces went down to Studio 4 on Yonge Street (now a Staples) and, along with a bunch of toddlers and pre-schoolers, crammed into the Green Room, desperately clinging to whatever dignity I had left. Of particular notice, among the children, was an irrepressible boy who chased around like a maniac, defying any attempts to improve his behavior by either his mother or the Director. As it turned out, he was Moe’s son, Herbie. Who knew, then, that he would grow up to become a celebrated jazz musician himself, whose own son would, one day, appear in my media classroom? Talk about your six degrees! However, on that day, Herbie frayed a lot of nerves, since these were the days of LIVE TV and it soon became apparent, that anything could happen.
Herbie definitely claimed his fame, swinging his piccolo at the scenery, while most of the kids mimed their playing acceptably, looking up at the gigantic looming camera like deer in the klieg lights. Trying to remain inconspicuous, I clutched my tiny horn as close to my blouse as possible, my eyes shifting from side to side, searching for a place to hide, until the Director finally cut to my father, riffing on his tenor sax with such a big smile, he could barely keep his ‘embouchure’.
The candies and presents showered upon us at the end of the program did nothing to compensate me for my embarrassment. I prayed that no one had seen me and that it would all be forgotten soon. It was, for a few decades, but no good deed goes away forever, even in the days before the Internet.
Recently, someone did me a big favor and unearthed a tape of this program from the archives of the CBC and presented it to my father, who basking in nostalgia brought it over to show everyone. Seeing myself once more, cringing on the screen, was enough to reassure me that I hadn’t made a mistake not going into show biz.
I simply didn’t have a slice of ham in my repertoire.