Sunday 30 October 2011

Joan Sutton

Memories of the Toronto Sun - Joan Sutton Straus

It is two o'clock in the morning; I've poured myself a single malt, stream of consciousness time. 

I won't be at the party at the Westin, not because I don't want to be there, but life, duty, love, get in the way. 

Love, what else would you expect from Sutton's Place? 

Do all roads lead back to the Sun? Not all, but this one does. I write this from the 46th floor of an apartment in Manhattan that overlooks the East River and the lights of the city. 

How did I get here? Doug Creighton suggested I interview Mona Campbell, who had just become the first woman to be appointed a director of a bank. Mona and I became friends, she introduced me to Oscar Straus and here I am. That was 31 years ago.

Forty years ago? It was McKenzie Porter who taught me about expense accounts. I had come back from covering the fashion shows in Paris for the Telegram. Ken happened to see my expense account. 

"There are no dinners," he said. And I explained that friends had taken me out to dinner. "That won't do, you'll make the rest of us look bad," he said. Thereupon, he fixed my expense account. Shortly after that - very shortly - I met Art Holland. A memorable meeting.

McKenzie Porter was an elegant writer. Elegant is the only word to describe his use of language. We had adjoining desks at the Tely where, after his daily visit to the Spadina Hotel, he would ask me to type his column while he dictated. His fingers were intoxicated. But not the flow of words.

Why did Doug Creighton invite me to be a day oner? That's a mystery only he could answer. I had been at the Tely for less than a year, had written only fashion, except for my one excursion into journalism when Creighton sent me to Ottawa to cover the return of Pierre and Margaret Trudeau after their surprise marriage.

I suspect that I was the columnist's equivalent to his Winston lunches - I had access to interviews with people Creighton wanted the Sun to reach. Whatever his reasons, the result for me was work I am proud of and  friends I cherish. 

And it's all about people. The people I worked with who became friends. The people I worked with who taught me so much - John Downing, Kathy Brooks, JDM. The morning hug from Donato. The daily flirt with George Gross. Ed Monteith, who thought boobs was an acceptable word but crotch was not. So I gave him a cactus. 

And letters from readers sharing their lives. Pouring over all those entries to the Sun's Dunlop Awards . . . debating them with Monteith and Arnold Agnew. Being awed at the flow of talent that was turning the Sun into the little paper that was no longer little.

There have been some references in these blogs to the uprising that took place in the Eclipse building. I don't remember that it was about Creighton's expense account. Certainly that was not an issue with me. I had been Doug's guest at Winston's and ridden in his limo far too often to complain about that.

For me, it began with Peter Worthington introducing me to Eddie Goodman. Goodman called me the next day and invited me to lunch where he quizzed me about morale at the paper and particularly what I thought about the proposed launch of a Sunday Sun. 

I said I thought that we needed to beef up the daily paper first. I was, of course, wrong on that. But that did lead to George Anthony and I getting a secretary and to additional shares being offered to day oners who had not received any in the first round. 

And it also led to my tempestuous affair with Eddie Goodman. But that's another story. (Why should I start being discreet now? In many ways, I think the Sun was the precursor of reality TV, with Rimstead getting drunk publicly and me, offering up love, loneliness and the very personal on a daily basis.)

I think a lot of the Sun's early financial success can be credited to George Anthony, who not only covered movies, television, the theater, supper clubs and everything else that came under the heading of entertainment, but he brought in pages of ads. 

And let us remember that, yes, we had fun but by God we worked! I turned out daily columns, weekly interviews, cooking, fashion, plus supplements designed to get advertising - bride's, career girls, salutes to volunteers. And we were all encouraged/expected to be out in the community at speaking engagements, doing good works. 

The Sun was our life. There wasn't time for much else. 

I'm not going to rework the incident with (Paul) Rimstead that made me leave the Sun the first time. That was - and still is - a very painful experience for me. 

A couple of years ago Andy and Diane visited me in New York and after a glass of one thing or another, Andy asked "You weren't really happy at the Star were you Joan?" And my answer is, I was happy at the Sun. I didn't go to the Star to be happy. I went to the Star to earn a living. There is a difference.

For me, the Sun I loved ended with the firing of Doug Creighton. I will never forget the phone call I received from him, telling me that he had been fired and asking whether I could put him and Marilyn up at the River Club in New York because he needed to get away. 

Hours later, he was in New York and it was devastating to see Doug, all that ebullience and joy drained from him. I don't believe that the real story of his departure has ever been told. It should be. He made a lot of people very rich and they were not there for him when he needed them.

So, 40 years. lots of stories. Successes, failures, friendships, betrayals, work, rewards, laughter, tears.

Time to go to bed Joan. As we used to write: 30. 

Joan Sutton Straus
New York

If you are a Toronto Sun Day Oner and have a bio or memories to share, please email with a photo before Nov. 1.

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