Wednesday 26 October 2011

Gary Dunford

Memories of the Toronto Sun - Gary Dunford

Bruno Gerussi - the Stratford actor-turned-Beachcomber - scored me the longest gig I ever had.

He was chums with TV critic Bob Blackburn and the amazing Kathy Brooks and knew more than most about the death of the Tely and birth of the Sun.

As the Sun invented its new Sunday edition, Gerussi insisted I meet Brooks and pitch a humour column. I added it to my handful of freelance gigs, which included Bruno's radio show and his fledgling Beachcombers.

My weekly Sunday Sun playlets mostly centred on Tiny Perfect Mayor David Crombie and his civil circus. Three or four people found them funny. I was at the one year mark and counting - mostly counting myself lucky. But then Brooks calls . . .

Kathy drags me in to see J.D. MacFarlane when Slinger left for the Star. The scowly editorial director owl seemed dubious I could file 34 column inches, five days a week. But Brooks charms him. "I want items!" he'd thunder. 

On a good day my space was an odd mix of jokes, media whispers, quizzes, blind items. It took about two years to become Page Six, a smart alec spreadsheet of local heroes, CBC excess and sheepdogs.

John Downing was my Sun guardian angel and mentor. It was Downing's IBM Selectric I used til he came over from city hall late afternoons. It was Downing who often advised on what was total or partial B.S. in the flotsam I collected. And it was Downing's unseen hand that allowed a wildcard freelancer - who "served at the pleasure of the publisher" for 23 years - to be treated like Sun staffers, which was very well indeed.

To repay him, I kept an ugly eight-foot tall cardboard palm tree on his desk for about 10 years, an eyesore to most, but a fine landmark for incoming Strip-o-grams. 

"Gary," a worried Marj Henry would whisper into my extension: "I think there's another crazy person here to see you." Keep them in the lobby. I'll come out.

For a few years, Mark Bonokoski and I shared a back corridor office, prime real estate with a glass window allowing us to scout every model, actress and bunny wannabee, rushing with her makeup bag to a SUNshine Girl photo shoot. I think Bono missed a few stunners while out at the city desk, barking at some hapless editor about his missing adjectives. Go figure.

Old fogie that I am, I well remember Jim Yates handing me my first Radio Shack TRS-80 Model100 word processor, the cutting edge of 1983 technology. With about 10 pounds of cables and teacup-sized couplers, you could be 60% certain of filing a column into the Sun's cranky computer room. It was a miracle that dwarfs the iPad. Okay, some nights, you had to file four or five times. Up to a dozen if there were thunderstorms.

Since I was a pioneer telecomuter, my space at the Sun changed as often as fall fashion. My desk was once close to Peter Worthington's editor space: I was aware of every column complaint he took from the boss of CFTO.

Did Doug Bassett know how many iffy items came hand-written on cream-colored Desk of Douglas Creighton memo paper? Maybe. Gossip fresh from Winston's. I was a hapless pawn in some decade-old Tely payback I knew nothing about. Honest.

For two happy years, I got to see every crutch, sling, bandage and ankle cast editor Barbara Amiel sported, rolling into the office from her exercise, falls and social wars. It made me much more health-conscious.

Much has been made of what a party school the Sun was. How many Columnists' Dinners were there? Too few. Doomed by wretched excess. It was Sun style. Party hearty. Go big or go home. Rent SkyDome. Get a carousel in there. And don't miss the after-party at Hoofer's. Crooks. Betty's. Go if only to hear the Star people bitch.

Tom MacMillan was every columnist's co-conspirator, mine more than most.

What newspaper in North America underwrote every-10-year sabbaticals? Played Santa Claus in good years and bad? Cut some stock aside for those who weren't Day Oners in Sun Media's IPO? Did we know how good we had it? You bet.

A dozen wage slaves were airlifted annually to "Sun Seminars" in distant cities. Mine was in New York City in 1984. There, in the swank Hotel Pierre ballroom, I showed the directors a home-made video that mocked the paper, its editors, its readers. The legendary Amiel Reel, tagging her as the Black Queen of King Street. Always bite the hand that feeds you. It was possible. Humour was not a firing offence. MacMillan intro'd me as asked as loner and loon. True.

I'm always amused when Cos includes some whippersnappers' complaint that TSF is for and by boomers looking backwards at an amplified, impossible, golden and glorious past. How can the present ever compete with such B.S?

Memory is a blessing, kiddos: time erases most of the petty, stupid and awful. (Did we really drag Liz Braun to lunch at the House of Lancaster? May we all burn in Hell.) But you have total recall of the good stuff. Memory is sweet.

And for Sun staffers of most of the last 40 years, there was a generosity of spirit afoot that quite simply was unique. 

Worth celebrating. 


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  1. What a great view on reality...well said!

  2. From John Downing:

    Read Dunf's remarks like I was drinking cognac. What a wonderful thinker! No wonder he didn't survive against the Barbarians.

  3. What? No memories of your Ukrainian Boys Club adventures? :)
    Yours is a sorely-missed voice from the wilderness, Dunf.