Saturday 9 December 2006

8 Sun Books

The Toronto Sun was 287 days old when Doug Creighton decided a book should be written about the history of the blossoming tabloid. Ron Poulton would be the author of this 112-page "history" of the tough little tabloid that defied doomsayers. Ron's previous book was The Paper Tyrant, the story of the Toronto Telegram, published shortly before its demise. Although not a Day Oner (he detoured to Ontario government work before joining the Sun in 1973), Ron captured the underdog spirit of the 62 Tely workers who said "Hell, why not?" and launched the Sun out of the Eclipse Building at 322 King Street West, a dusty, converted factory at King and John Streets, next door to Farb's Car Wash and across the street from the Kingsplate Open Kitchen. Those pioneer photogs huddled in the makeshift darkroom on the front cover are Norm Betts, Jac Holland and Dave Cooper. Those were the giddy days of beating the odds and the competition and enjoying every minute.

What can you say about Andy Donato that hasn't been said since Day One of the Toronto Sun? Sun veteran Mark Bonokoski probably said it best in the foreword for this 1980 collection of Andy's political cartoons: "He is, in a word, gifted . . . more than just an artist, more than just a political cartoonist." The Toronto-born son of a grocery store owner knew at a young age art was his calling. Numerous local, national and international awards later, Andy continues to excel in cartooning and landscape painting. Original Donato cartoons and art works are sought after by North American collectors. For years, fans looked forward to the annual Sun publication of his books featuring classic Donato cartoons. Many of his reproduced cartoons hang on walls in homes and offices. The back cover of this book is a favourite. It is the world-famous Iwo Jima flag raising in Khomaini's rump. Andy's early cartoon books are collectors' items. Find one of his out of print books with his signature, plus The Bird, consider yourself fortunate.

The title of this 1993 book by Doug Creighton says it all. Doug wrote the book in the months after back stabbing Sun board members he called friends ousted him as chairman and CEO. They ousted him without explanation, a year before his 65th birthday and his announced retirement. This 195-page book follows Doug from his first newspaper job in 1948 as a Tely police reporter, to the launch of the Sun in 1971, to that traumatic day in November 1992 which was, for many Sun veterans, the day the music died. Hundreds of loyal staffers, former staffers and friends threw Doug a 64th birthday party in the old Eclipse Building, where it all started in 1971, to bolster his spirits. They paid for a full-page ad asking "Why?, a question that has never been answered. Loyal friend Andy Donato included an image of Doug in every one of his editorial cartoons until Doug's 65th birthday. Columnists affectionately wrote about how the soul of the Sun had been lost and it would never be the same without Doug. It was never the same. As Doug watched sadly from the sidelines for just over a decade before he died in 2004, the buyout offers, the layoffs and the cutbacks began. The Toronto Sun, named in the 1980's as one of the Top 100 Canadian companies to work for, is now a shell of what it was before Doug's ouster. A media miracle gone bad. But thanks to Doug and the 61 other Day Oners, we'll always have memories of the 1970's and 1980's to cherish.

Timing is everything when it comes to publishing history books and this hefty, 408-page book by Jean Sonmor is a classic example of bad timing. Jean was wrapping up this book in the fall of 1992 when the axe fell for Doug Creighton. In the summer of 1991, the year the Sun marked its 20th anniversary by booking the Skydome for a lavish staff party, it was Doug who asked Jean for a detailed update of the Sun's history. The book is detailed, but the reader has to wonder how different it would have read had it been written after Doug's ouster. As it was, only the last of the 18 chapters deals with Doug's exit. The final chapter doesn't do Doug justice, so the definitive book on the rise and fall of the Toronto Sun has yet to be written. Will Quebecor assign another Sun history book? Not likely. Ron Poulton's 1976 Life In A Word Factory remains a media favourite for capturing the early underdog years in a King Street West factory setting.

Tabloids thrive on photography and in the 1970's and 1980's, the Toronto Sun's photo team consistently embarrassed the competition and collected annual local, provincial and national awards. The front pages of the Sun reflected the talent behind the lenses, with almost daily eye-catching photographs, first in black and white during the early years and then in full, vivid colour. During the first two decades, the Sun shone brightly with a loyal, professional and highly competitive team of photographers. It began on Day One with Dave Cooper, Jac Holland and Norm Betts. The photo talent continued with, in no particular order, Peter Gill, Barry Gray, Hugh Wesley, Michael Peake, Fred Thornhill, Sandy Solomon, Gail Harvey, Shane Harvey, Mike Slaughter, Stan Behal, Ken Kerr, Greig Reekie, Ottmar Beirwagon, Ron Pozzer, Mike Cassese, Bill Majesky, Jack Cusano, Tim McKenna, Paul Henry, Craig Robertson, Ian Macdonald, Mark O'Neil, Veronica Henri, Bill Sandford etc. The 304-page 25 Years Of Being There - A Pictorial History, researched and edited by Len Fortune and Wanda Goodwin, and published in 1996 by Key Porter Books, illustrates their flare for tabloid photography. Michael Peake's world-famous 1986 tiger and the model photo; Ken Kerr's 1989 CNE air show tragedy; Veronica Henri's 1983 bicycle and jet photo in Germany; Bill Sandford's 1979 Mississauga train derailment explosion etc. Behind every talented photographer is a capable photo editor. At the Sun, the photo desk has been manned, in chronological order, by Jim Yates, Norm Betts, Maria Rhynas Mann, Len Fortune, Hugh Wesley, Rick Van Sickle, Andrew Wallace and back for a return engagement, Len Fortune. The photo team and the annual awards have been seriously depleted since the mid 1990's due to layoffs and cutbacks, another sad fact of life at the Sun. Maybe the multi-talented Len Fortune can turn it around in the awards department.

Day Oner Peter Worthington kept it light in Thirty Years of SUNshine, a replay of the first 30 years of the Toronto Sun. The 72-page softcover book, published in 2001, includes 30 pages of SUNshine Girls in their full, glossy glory, with Andy Donato adding The Bird to the belly a lady on the cover. The feast of females again raised the question: why did the tabloid wimp out and bury the popular SUNshine Girl in the back pages? Incredulous then, and incredulous now. As Paul Rimstead might have said: "It's a tabloid, dammit." But we digress. Back to Thirty Years of SUNshine. Peter recalls the hectic weekend move from the ruins of the Tely to the Eclipse Building and the birth of the Sun, with ample inside stories about early staffers; the pop machine that dispensed cold beer ("It was a great idea, until the nightly deadline arrived and half the desk and both photographers were blotto."); how Lou Grant became City Editor for a day, which for many staffers epitomised the giddy mood of the 70's and 80's. Many of the Sun's classic front pages are reproduced, along with inside sports and entertainment pages, plus Donato's Magic and a two-page tribute to Terry Fox. Peter tells of his opposition to the Sun losing its independence in 1982 when Maclean Hunter bought controlling interest. He resigned as editor-in-chief and quit the board of directors. "I preferred our independence to financial security." Prophetic words in light of Doug Creighton's ouster in 1992 and Quebecor's ownership and tactics.

Lester Clifford Pyette, a boy from the Soo who became a driving force in putting "tabloid" content in the tabloid Sun, is the subject of this glossy 24-page tribute packaged by Len Fortune. The former Sault Ste. Marie sports writer also worked for the Belvidere Daily Republican in Chicago and the Windsor Star before hired by the Sun in 1974 as city editor. "Make it sing," he would tell reporters as they sat down to write their stories. In the 1970's he had a knack for hiring the right people for the newsroom and was forever pushing the envelope. Doug Creighton is quoted in this tribute: "I always feel better when Les is in charge of putting out the paper, but I'm always nervous going down the driveway to get the paper in the morning." The loves of Les: hockey, Elvis and the newsroom. He always had time for all three. Whether in Toronto or Calgary, in the newsroom or the sixth floor executive offices, when Les Pyette was in the building, you knew each and every news page, from front page to last, had his imprint on it. Now that Les has left the building, the Sun does not "sing" as it did in the '70's and '80's. In his absence, the Sun has become a broadsheet newspaper in a tabloid format with an identity crisis.

They just don't make newspaper legends like James Douglas MacFarlane anymore and that is a great loss for 21st century newspapers and their readers. MacFarlane, born in Ottawa on Oct. 4, 1916, did it all in his half century in the media and retired as JDM, a much respected newspaper icon and family man. Canada's Newspaper Legend - The Story of J. Douglas MacFarlane was a 375-page labour of love for JDM's son, Richard MacFarlane. It is a must read for any journalist, from cub reporter to veteran. The road to the Toronto Sun as editorial director was a long one for JDM, from school newspapers in pre-teen years, to the Chatham Daily News, Windsor Star, Globe and Mail, Telegram. Even a break from Canadian newsrooms during World War 2 didn't keep him away from a typewriter. He became managing editor of a new Canadian army newspaper called The Maple Leaf. JDM's presence at the Toronto Sun was felt daily from Sept. 6, 1976, to his reluctant retirement in 1981 at 65. His input continued until his death at 79 on April 27, 1995. A fascinating read. To order a copy, e-mail or call Richard at 416-484-4560.

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