Friday, March 20, 2015

Fred Latremouille (1945-2015): His voice provided a soundtrack for a generation

Fred Latremouille (left) and Red Robinson on the set of CBC's "Let's Go" c. 1964.

By Tom Hawthorn
The Globe and Mail
March 21, 2015

Fred Latremouille's voice, as smooth as cream liqueur, provided a background soundtrack for British Columbia's baby boomers, who aged along with the popular broadcaster.

He first hit the airwaves in Vancouver at age 17 in 1962, building a following on Top-40 radio stations as a disk jockey spinning the latest rock and pop singles. By his 30s, he had transformed from swinging teenaged heartthrob to wisecracking television weatherman. His final public act was as an amiable and affable morning radio host alongside Cathy Baldazzi, a traffic reporter who would become his wife, on a laid-back show called “Latremornings.”

The death of Mr. Latremouille from liver disease at 69 shocked many of his fans, as his boyish visage and youthful vigour gave him an ageless presence.

A familiar voice on the airwaves for decades, Latremouille's ability to connect with his audience made him a much in-demand pitchman for radio and television commercials, where he displayed a deft comic touch.

Like many of his peers, Latremouille came to radio broadcasting as something of a loner, a boy who moved often and heard on the airwaves the exciting sounds of Elvis Presley and early rock ’n’ roll, finding in it an unseen community that shared his interests.

Frederick Bruce Latremouille was born on Oct. 22, 1945, in Nanaimo, B.C., to Margaret and Bruce Latremouille. His father, a wartime pilot officer, trained other Royal Canadian Air Force flyers on Tiger Moths. The couple divorced when Fred was two. His mother later married Robert Harlow, the regional director of CBC Radio, and the boy grew up in a duplex in West Vancouver. Bill Good, a popular sportscaster, lived on the same block. His namesake son and young Fred bicycled around the neighbourhood and maintained a friendship that would see both become legends in Vancouver broadcasting.

“We didn't so much go to school together,” Bill Good Jr. said recently, “as skip school together.”

Young Latremouille earned spending money as a teenaged caddy at Gleneagles Golf Course, gaining a love for the sport. At age 16, he spotted a newspaper advertisement seeking an announcer for radio station CKYL in Peace River, Alta. With a song about tumbleweeds playing in the background, the teenager recorded an audition tape in the family basement that he mailed to the station. He lied about his age, telling them he was 20. His ruse was discovered when he arrived at the radio station, but, having already invested the price of an airplane ticket, the station retained the precocious youth, who dropped out of Grade 11 to read the news and host a morning show.

The gig lasted about a year before he returned to Vancouver, enrolled again in high school, and began hanging out in the waiting room of radio station CJOR trying to cajole the staff to listen to his tape. He pestered station manager Vic Waters for months before being hired to handle an afternoon show featuring country-and-western music. The young jock slipped onto the playlist pop tunes of interest to his peers. He claimed to have been the first in the city to play a record by the Beatles and was a keen promoter of the Motown sound.

In 1964, he was lured away to a popular hit-parade station whose boss jocks were known as the CFUN Good Guys, billed as “tops on the teen scene,” and whose weekly charts were called the CFUNtastic Fifty. He even took a pay cut to be able to work at a station more dedicated to pop music. (In later years, as his popularity and effect on the ratings became more obvious, he proved to be a shrewd negotiator.) Mr. Latremouille won the coveted assignment to act as master of ceremonies for the Beatles concert to be held at Empire Stadium in Vancouver in August, 1964. Unfortunately, he developed mononucleosis and the task fell to Red Robinson, who had introduced Elvis Presley at the same venue seven years earlier.

The following year Mr. Latremouille played drums with the station's house band, the CFUN Classics, on a rollicking instrumental song titled, “Latromotion,” released on the London label. It first appeared on the CFUNtastic Fifty at No. 45 on Feb. 13, 1965. The tune spent seven weeks on the station's charts, rising as high as No. 13. (The Classics formed the nucleus of the band Chilliwack, chart-friendly rockers who enjoyed several hits in the 1970s and ’80s.)
For a time, the station promoted him as Fred Latrimo, though he soon reverted to his given name. Mr. Latremouille (pronounced LAH-trah-moe) had been called, briefly, Fred Lane, and, later, Fearless Freddie. He also created an alter ego known as the Legendary Chief Raunchy Wolf, who wore a coonskin cap, a fringed buckskin jacket and spoke in risqué double entendres.

In the mid-1960s, he was invited to become a business partner in night clubs. He declined in the end, but the night spots — one in Vancouver and the other in suburban New Westminster — thrived under Latremouille's suggested name, The Grooveyard.

In an age of frenetic delivery and motormouth patter, his cool insouciance stood out, and he was tabbed to be host of television shows airing on the CBC in the 1960s, including “Let's Go,” “Where It's At” and “New Sounds.” He described Mr. Robinson, the first deejay to play rock ’n’ roll in the city and a later coworker at CFUN and co-host of “Let's Go,” as a mentor. For his part, Mr. Robinson says of his pupil, “greatest natural talent I ever saw.”

A restless figure confident in his abilities, Mr. Latremouille flitted from job to job, knowing he was in demand. He worked briefly at CFAX in Victoria before returning to Vancouver for two years at CKLG, a Top-40 rival to CFUN. At ’LG, he joined with fellow jockey Roy Hennessey under the name Froyed to record a parody of the Rolling Stones' “Ruby Tuesday” renamed “Grubby Thursday.” The parody lyrics joked about unclean hippies and rhymed DDT with LSD.

While he missed out on the Beatles, Latremouille got to emcee a 1966 performance by the Rolling Stones. “The Stones rolled out of a big black Caddy limo in a cloud of marijuana fumes,” Latremouille once told Vancouver Sun columnist Denny Boyd. “Some girls had a birthday cake for Mick Jagger, but he just scooped up some icing on his finger and kept walking. Keith Richards didn't say a word, but I talked a lot to Charlie Watts. When they started, my mouth dropped open at how good they were, what a great lead singer Jagger was. Then, right in the middle of 'Paint It Black,' the kids charged the stage and all hell broke loose.” The show included several arrests, broken windows, and a bomb scare.

The 1960s had reached Vancouver. The radio host grew his blond hair into a mod, mop-top bowl with long sideburns, while also wearing a velvet-trimmed Edwardian morning coat, or a red serge military tunic in the Sgt. Pepper style. He performed alongside Paul Revere and the Raiders and chugged Southern Comfort with Janis Joplin. At public events, the deejay would be mobbed like a rock star.

Mr. Latremouille became a co-editor of the Georgia Straight newspaper in 1967 seven issues after its debut, a time when the underground paper faced harassment from the police and threats from Vancouver's mayor. “Sometimes we had to step over the dopers on the floor to get work done,” he once said, “and the Marxists were always coming in to tell us we were too soft.” He personally sold the paper on street corners at 10¢ per copy and conducted a telephone interview with John Lennon during his honeymoon bed-in for peace with Yoko Ono in Amsterdam in March, 1969.

A diagnosis of testicular cancer in 1972 seemed to barely slow his pace, though the radiation treatment would damage his bones so that he would be unable to golf in his later middle ages. He was host of “Hourglass,” a dinnertime news program airing on CBC-TV in Vancouver, and later showed up on the dial on a lunchtime program titled “Fred and Friends,” which was taped at locations around the city. By the early 1980s, he was the weatherman on BCTV's “News Hour,” a ratings juggernaut in the market.

He also appeared in bit parts in Hollywood movies filming in Vancouver, including playing a cop in the Donald Sutherland crime caper, “A Man, a Woman, and a Bank” (1979), an airport guard in the George C. Scott horror movie, “The Changeling” (1980), and a reporter in the made-for-TV thriller about a serial killer, “Jane Doe” (1983).

Mr. Latremouille was a popular spokesman for Chevron gas and Kokanee beer, but a series of spots on behalf of the provincial government, called “The Province Reports,” were criticized by some commentators for being propaganda masquerading as news. The Opposition NDP complained of factual errors putting the governing Social Credit party in a favourable light.

In 1984, he returned to C-FUN, where he handled morning-show duties alongside a bright, young broadcaster named Cathy Baldazzi, who reported on traffic and weather. They married — his third, her first — in 1987. A move from C-FUN to rival KISS-FM in 1992 shook up local radio lineups, as rivals scrambled to counter the city's top-rated morning man. (At the same time, Red Robinson wound up hosting the morning show at rival CISL. “When he was on the air,” Robinson said of Latremouille, “the ratings came.') The couple got Prime Minister Kim Campbell to join them one morning, as she selected music and introduced the traffic report. The pair retired in November, 1999, with Mr. Latremouille saying it was time, as he told one newspaper, to “bury the alarm clock, sleep in and hit some golf balls.” The couple returned to the airwaves six years later on Clear-FM, broadcasting from their suburban seaside home in which a studio had been built. After a year, they retired for good, building a summer home on 25 acres on Prince Edward Island.

While holidaying in Hawaii in 2003, the couple invited B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell to dinner. The premier helped himself to “two or three martinis” before having wine with dinner, Mr. Latremouille said afterwards. The premier was pulled over for speeding and arrested for drunk driving after leaving their home. A breath sample an hour after his arrest registered a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.149, well over the legal limit of 0.08. Mr. Campbell later pled no contest and paid a fine. Mr. Latremouille wondered aloud whether he should have “tackled” his friend before letting him leave.

Like many broadcasters, Mr. Latremouille dedicated much time to charity fundraising and was known for promoting with his wife the annual Christmas Wish Breakfast, a yuletide tradition in which people bring toys for distribution to needy children.

The broadcaster was inducted into the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2006 and was named to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Hall of Fame the following year.

Mr. Latremouille died on March 5 at Scottsdale, Ariz., where he maintained a winter home. He leaves his wife of 27 years as well as sisters, brothers, his stepfather and his mother.

The broadcaster was a noted prankster, responsible for mayhem during live shows. (He once set Bill Good Jr.'s script afire as he read from it.) He incorporated fake wakeup phone calls in his shows, including once calling a woman at a snore clinic to tell her she'd be representing Canada at an international snore-off.

The radio host was in the audience for a taping of the “Tonight Show” while on holiday in Hollywood in 1988 when approached by a man who said he was looking for a Canadian disc jockey. The man told Mr. Latremouille that host Johnny Carson had taken ill, as had guest host Jay Leno. “I started to get nervous,” Mr. Latremouille later confessed. “And then I really got nervous when the guy asked me if I was funny.” He then was handed a piece of paper letting him know he'd been pranked by friends back home.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ordinary games, extraordinary athletes

To mark International Women's Day, here's a selection of past articles and columns on Canadian women:

Barbara Howard, the first woman of colour to represent Canada at an international sporting event
The Globe and Mail, May 18, 2010

Marge Maxwell, who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League:
The Globe and Mail, November 7, 2007

Elaine Tanner, swimming's Mighty Mouse:
The Globe and Mail, May 17, 2011

Shirley Gordon Olafsson, an Olympian born with a deformed foot
The Globe and Mail, September 21, 2011

Kay MacBeth, the last living player of the legendary Edmonton Grads
The Globe and Mail, January 29, 2012

Ladies Night in Canada on the history of women's ice hockey in British Columbia:
The Globe and Mail, January 7, 2010

Kay MacBeth photograph by Erin Wallis.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Witness to Auschwitz

The Soviet Red Army captured the Auschwitz death camp in southern Poland on Jan. 27, 1945. As the 70 the anniversary nears, a look back at Rudolf Vrba (1924-2006), the man who escaped Auschwitz and whose warnings to the world went unheeded. Vrba became a professor at the University of British Columbia after the war.

Rudolf Vrba escaped to warn the world

A sketch from the Vrba-Weltzer Report

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A farewell to NHL players in 2014

By Tom Hawthorn

From the brightest star in Jean Béliveau to a one-game goalie like Joe Junkin, several former Canadian-born NHL players were among the fallen in 2014. Here are their obituaries, originally published on my Benched blog:

Don Ward
Journeyman defenceman enjoyed a long career in the Western Hockey League after having cups of coffee in the NHL with the Boston Bruins and Chicago Black Hawks:

Joe Junkin
Goalie's NHL career lasted seven minutes, 56 seconds:

Danny McLeod
Decorated wartime hero, driving force behind the creation of what is now Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS), McLeod later worked as the NHL's supervisor of officials:

Keith Allen
Never scored a goal as a player, but built the expansion Philadelphia Flyers into Stanley Cup winners:

Doug Mohns
Diesel spent 22 seasons in the NHL on five different clubs, yet never had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup:

Jack Stoddard
Tall player known as The Octopus for his reach, Stoddard was first NHLer to defy superstition by wearing sweater No. 13 for an entire season:

Doug Jarrett
Hard-hitting defenceman was known as the Chairman of the Boards:

Joe Bell
He lost three years of his career fighting Nazis instead of NHL rivals:

Ron Murphy
Stalwart left-winger got his name on the Stanley Cup after he retired:

Chuck Scherza
Rugged bruiser scored six goals in 36 wartime games:

Lionel Heinrich
Defenceman scored one goal in 35 games with Boston Bruins:

Jim Mikol
Lantern-jawed forward played briefly for Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers in the 1960s:

Edgar Laprade
Stylish New York Rangers forward was a hockey Gandhi:

Ross Lonsberry
Checking forward won two Stanley Cups with Philadelphia Flyers:

Ralph Nattrass
Bruising defenceman played good defence on bad Chicago Black Hawks teams:

Brian Marchinko
An original member of the expansion New York Islanders:

Larry Zeidel
Tough player known as The Rock endured anti-Semitic barbs on ice:

Guy Trottier
Tiny forward nicknamed The Mouse:

Carol Vadnais
Defenceman twice got his name on the Stanley Cup, played in six All-Star Games in 17-season career:

Milan Marcetta
Journeyman minor leaguer was playoff call-up on 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs:

Wally Hergesheimer
New York Rangers sniper slowed by broken leg:

Len Ronson
Forward whose wrist shot earned him nickname The Rifleman played in 18 NHL games with New York Rangers and Oakland Seals:

Pat Quinn
Big Irishman played nine seasons on blue-line for Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Atlanta Flames, later had success as coach and general manager, winning Olympic gold in 2002:

Murray Oliver
Stylish playmaker scored 274 goals over 16 NHL seasons:

Gilles Tremblay
Two-way player won four Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens:

Jean Béliveau
Le Gros Bill. Ten Stanley Cups as a player, another seven as an executive, all with the Montreal Canadiens. Five hundred and seven career goals. Grace personified:

Connie Dion
Winning goalie in most lopsided NHL game ever played — a 15-0 victory for Detroit over Rangers:

Bob Solinger
Scored 10 goals in 99 NHL games:

Eddie Kachur
A stocky forward with the Chicago Black Hawks:

André Gill
Québec goalie recorded a shutout for Boston Bruins in his NHL debut, but was soon back in the minors:

Germain Gagnon
Québec forward slogged through minors for a decade before playing for Montreal Canadiens, New York islanders, Chicago Black Hawks and Kansas City Scouts:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Born again Blue Jay

The Toronto Blue Jays obtained Micheal Saunders in a trade with the Seattle Mariners. Saunders becomes the second player from Victoria, B.C., to play for the Blue Jays. Here's a feature article from 1997 about Steve Sinclair's revived effort to get to the major leagues. He made his big-league debut with the Blue Jays in 1998.

By Tom Hawthorn
Victoria Times Colonist
September 28, 1997

Not so long ago, Steve Sinclair had called it quits, had hung 'em up, had stepped down from the pitcher's mound for good, had seen his childhood dream go to that big bullpen in the sky. He had languished in the Toronto Blue Jays system for five yearsand the closest he got to the bigs was listening to Buck Martinez on TSN. He had had enough and came home to Victoria at age 24 to go to school, to get a job, to become a grownup.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fans flock to meet a part of NHL's holy trinity

By Tom Hawthorn

Special to the Globe and Mail
November 7, 2005

Monday, December 1, 2014

Watching movies the old way

By Tom Hawthorn
Boulevard Magazine
December, 2014

Each yuletide, a smallish Christmas tree took up a corner of the living room in our apartment. All magazines but one were removed from the top of the end table to make way for a cardboard crèche. 
On winter evenings, our family quartet gathered around the warm, black-and-white glow of a cathode-ray tube to watch holiday specials.

The weekly TV Guide, hidden behind the crèche, was studied as carefully as holy text for the three shows my sister and I absolutely could not miss. These would be broadcast but once during the season and we were determined to not miss them.

We watched “Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” with unforgettable narration by movie monster Boris Karloff.

We watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a stop-motion animation with Burl Ives narration. One of the characters was a prospector named Yukon Cornelius and since the Yukon was in Canada it was easy to believe Santa's Workshop indeed could be found elsewhere in the Great White North.
We watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with the sad-sack hero finding the true meaning of Christmas not in the commercialization of the holiday. The soundtrack was a revelation in a household favouring Elvis, as the Vince Guaraldi Trio's jazzy score remains as Christmassy to me as any carol.

The telecast specials offered a 30-minute reprieve for our parents from our constant requests for a Chatty Cathy™, an Easy-Bake Oven™, Battling Tops™, and Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots™ (“My block is knocked off!” “But you can press it back on again!”). Cindy Lou Who and all the Whos down in Whoville could make do without presents, but the redemptive holiday message of the specials was lost on two kids as greedy as any other.

By the time my own children were born, the shows were broadcast several times (including as early as November). Christmas movies were available on VHS tape and, later, on DVDs, while the soundtracks were on compact disks, technologies beyond imagination when those specials were first aired in the mid-1960s.

Many families maintain holiday viewing traditions, whether “A Christmas Carol” with Alastair Sim, or “A Christmas Story” featuring Ralphie's pursuit of a Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot Range Model BB gun with which he might put his eye out.

Rob Nesbitt, 46, a self-described traditionalist, watches “It's a Wonderful Life,” though he also holds an annual party with friends while screening “Bad Santa” with Billy Bob Thornton. Nesbitt's childhood favourites includes Charlie Brown's scrawny tree and the teacher's voice a sad trombone.
“It's got such a sweet centre, but it's not cloying and it's not clichéd,” Nesbitt said.

Christmas is an important season for Nesbitt, as it is for many other proprietors of small businesses in Victoria. He is a co-owner of Pic-A-Flic Video, the Cook Street Village landmark, where the holidays will be marked with a large display of movies with a holiday theme. The bottom shelves are dedicated to alternative holiday selections, including the likes of “Fubar” and “Die Hard,” the action movie that has become a classic in some circles as Bruce Willis takes on terrorists on Christmas Eve.

The seasonal offerings are among 48,000 titles stocked at the store, which is the region's largest and a survivor in an entertainment business decimated by online services such as iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. We got Netflix earlier this year and the convenience cannot be matched, though the selection remains limited and the suggestions based on previous viewings are an embarrassment, if not insulting.

“How are we doing? We're doing unbelievably well,” Nesbitt said, “because every other store in the world is closing, and we're not.”

To browse a shelf at Pic-A-Flic is to immerse in the history of cinema. The blockbuster is equal to the cult offering, the Bing Crosby classic “Going My Way” sharing space with my CanCon fave “Goin' Down the Road.” (The store's online catalogue describes the stars of the latter as “two hosers.”) 

Talking movies with the store's staff is like having a one-on-one with the late Roger Eberts. Recently, John Threlfall of the University of Victoria curated a selection of movies featuring time travel. That's beyond what's on offer from online streaming services.

“Netflix is an algorithm, it's not people,” Nesbitt said.

I'd feel bereft if the curtain ever dropped on Pic-A-Flic, as important in its way to cultural life in Victoria as Munro's Books. So, this holiday season I'm going to rent a stack of movies and support a local business. Think of it as an early new year's resolution.