I was music director of the CNE Grandstand Show from 1953 to 1968. Since this is my first blog post of the Canadian National Exhibition series, I thought I’d give you an introduction, and explain the events that lead to my being chosen for this wonderful job.
Prior to my arrival, the Grandstand Show was practically an all-American production. The stars, producers, choreographers, lighting designers, etc., were all Americans. The only Canadians in the show were pit musicians and backup singers.
Toronto’s new mayor, Alan Lamport, who always had a strong opinion on how things should be, was not at all happy with that arrangement. In 1952, he set out to change the spectacle into an all-Canadian production, with the only American being the star headliner. “Lampy” consulted his experts and was directed to Jack Arthur (vice-president of Famous Players Canada) as the man who could bring a show like that together. Though Jack was eager to get back into producing, he planned to keep his position at Famous Players for the first few years “just in case”. (So it wouldn’t appear that he had two jobs, I heard that his salary for the first year at the CNE was one dollar.)
The first “Canadiana” show that Jack put together featured Alan and Blanche Lund, Max Ferguson (Canada’s lovable radio character, Rawhide), Evelyn Gould, Celia Franca with the National Ballet, the Malvern Collegiate Precision Squad, The Canadettes, and the RCMP Musical Ride. The American star for 1952 was Tony Martin.
With the move to the new format, they were also looking for a new music director for the 1953 season. It so happened that the assistant producer under Jack Arthur was Jackie Rae, who happened to be a good friend of mine. He was also the producer of three of my CBC radio shows, so he knew my work very well. It was because of the recommendation of Jackie Rae that I came to be music director of the CNE Grandstand Show. (If the surname sounds familiar, it is because Jackie was the uncle of former Liberal Party leader, Bob Rae.)
I am forever grateful to Jackie for recommending me. He was a great human being and I miss him.
In my next post I’ll write about what I think is one of the most important parts of the whole Grandstand spectacle — the orchestra!
You can find that post (here)
29 responses to “CNE Grandstand Show Introduction”
Fascinating, as ever … keep them coming, Howard & Co.!
Excellent post Howard! Looking forward to reading more…
Thank you, Ward. 🙂
Oh, I remember Jackie Rae….and the grandstand! Thanks Howard.
Awesome Granddad! Can’t wait to read more posts about the amazing orchestra and revolving door of talent that graced your stage. 🙂
So honoured to say that I was one of the singers with that show & a few following….Thanks Howard for allowing me to work with you & giving me a “step up” in the industry when I was still “a kid”…Luv Ya!…Angie Antonelli..xo
I’m so happy to hear from you! I remember your beautiful voice very clearly. Glad you were part of the show.
(And after all is said and done, aren’t we all still kids.)
Keep in touch.
Fondly, Howard xo
Thanks, Jordan! It’s feedback like this that keeps me going.
Too weird that you should blog about Jackie today….I was at the Leuchars airshow in Scotland today, which, amongst many aircraft, featured a spitfire. I was able to tell my nine year old pal ‘I once had a friend who was a spitfire pilot’…..
Gwyneth: That is truly amazing! We both mention him at the same time from miles away.
(By the way, it is good to hear from you.)
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Hi, I just ran into an unused ticket from the mon. Sept. 7 1953 evening show @ the CNE grandstand. Who was playing that night?
Hello Brian: Thanks for visiting the blog. That unused ticket is a nice find, as they are probably very rare. The headline performer in 1953 was Victor Borge. Also performing were: Jimmy Shields, Darvis and Julia, Eric Christmas, Terry Dale, Billy O’Conner, Bernard Johnson, Boby Brandt, Irene Apine, Myrt & Gert, Warren, Latona & Sparks, and a few other group acts. Hope that helps.
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Hello Howard.Lost track of John Arthur we used to ride on moped Victor Borge rode on stage at the grandstand show.Bryan.
Hello Mr. Cable. My father-in-law Russ Farr (drummer) played with Mart Kenny, Bert Niosi, Art Hallman from 1946-1952. I believe he participated in CBC recordings, radio shows, performances at the Royal York and I know he toured with Mr. Kenny to the western provinces (Banff Springs Hotel etc). Would you by chance happened to have crossed paths or played with him?
We had a book-Bands Canadians Danced To-with mentions/photos of these and many more (including yourself of course!) but it has been misplaced. This was the one publication to my knowledge that chronicled Canadian dance bands during this time period.
Anyway, I thought I would get in touch with you-we will have the opportunity to meet on April 26th-I play in the Clarington Concert Band and I understand you will be attending!! I hope you can spare a few minutes to meet and have a chat!
I knew Russ, though never played with him (to my knowledge anyway). I also knew a lot of people in Mart Kenny’s band. I’ll do a blog post about that one day.
You are right about that dance band book being the only one. I have a copy of it myself, and refer to it from time to time.
Looking forward to meeting you in Oshawa. We’ll make time for a chat.
Hello again!! Thank you for your reply-I am really excited about meeting you!
My husband Roger (Russ’s first son) followed in his father’s footsteps and has been a professional drummer for over 50 years. We had a look at the participants of the Canadiana Symphony Orchestra and Roger knows of and/or has played with a number of the musicians. Of course, my father-in-law also played with many of them. Roger also remembers attending the Roy Rogers shows at the grandstand. I understand they were quite the productions in their day! He also mentioned that there was a restaurant under the bandstand-do you recall the name of it?
Looking forward to meeting you!!
Yes, Shirley, there was a restaurant under the grandstand. It was called Stoodleigh’s. The food was great and we ate there often.
Hello again! If your book is handy, Roger notes there are 2 photos in which Russ appears. One is with the Modernaires if front of the Seabreeze. Dad is holding a trumpet! He was quite young, perhaps 20, and quite thin!
The other is in front of the Lowe’s Uptown-I believe in this one he is holding his snare and a little “fuller” in his appearance.
Do you keep in touch with some of the originals of the Canadiana? Roger spoke with Ed Graf a year or so and I believe he attended one of his performances not too long ago. His son Len is also a gifted musician/arranger.
Roger also played with Norm Amadio a few years ago (in some recording). All of these gents must of been very young in the 50’s!!!
Howard do you remember playing shows up in Gravenhurst? I believe I saw you with a band on the barge at Gull LAke Park . It could have been in the seventies? Did you ever perform with a trumpet player Paul Adamson ?cheers
Hello Chris: Thanks for visiting the blog. Yes, I did play shows on the barge up in Gravenhurst, but that was in the fifties. I have fond memories of that time.
Paul Adamson was a member of my Royal York band in the seventies.
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Wonderful blog…I would love to use a few of your comments/photos. seeking permission
Thanks for these wonderful memories Howard. I was a young dancer with Midge Arthur, tho not in the CNE grandstand show.
My boy friend was Midge & Jacks youngest son, Rob Arthur. Though I left Toronto in 1968, I always wondered what had happened to the Arthur family. many warm. Memories of those years. Haven’t been living in Canada since 1980, so you have really jogged my memory. Do you know what happened to Rob?
Jack and Midge Arthur were my Aunt and Uncle. My dad was Margaret’s sister. I never really knew them, but Margaret called me several times before she passed while I was in college to chat and sent me a wonderful afghan that she made. I met one of their sons, Thom, back in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s. They were traveling through North Carolina and just stopped in for the afternoon to sit on the front porch and drink ice tea.
Thank you for posting this recollection. It adds nicely to the story.
Does anyone know what became of John Arthur?