Saturday, November 18, 2006

JOHN CANDY AND THE GREY CUP

John Candy was the first actor I worked with when I arrived in Toronto in the early 70's.

We were both 21 and had been cast as high school football players in a Colgate toothpaste commercial. John was a lineman, I was a running back and a really good looking guy was the quarterback. We each had a couple of lines, but doing most of the talking was Art Linkletter, who had apparently come into our locker room to explain that Colgate protected your teeth the way our helmets protected our heads.

The Quarterback had done several commercials, but this was the first time for John and me so we did the rookie actor thing of sticking close together, covering for each other and sharing whatever we seperately gleaned of this new world.

My parents had been thrilled that I was working with Linkletter. He was one of their favorites and they constantly regaled my brothers and I with quotes from "Kids Say The Darndest Things"; quietly insinuating (from our perspective) that we had to go some to be half as darn funny. I believe we regularly rose to the challenge.

But the Art Linkletter I met that day would have had most kids screaming, "Get me the F*** out of here!"

I'm sure he was normally a very sweet and charming man. Maybe he felt he was slumming it by flying to Canada to do a commercial. Maybe he was jet lagged or having a bad day. Maybe he was just used to working with actors who weren't goofs. Whatever the reason, he had a problem with everyone and everything that day and made our lives a living hell.

John and I had never worked with a BIG star before and tried to stay out of his way. But we still became the occasional focus of his dissatisfaction. As the day wore on and we sweated under the hot lights in our equipment, it felt like it would never end.

To keep our sanity, we talked about football. John had been a high school star and dreamed of playing for his beloved Toronto Argonauts. I was a die-hard Saskatchewan Roughrider fan and he did all he could to sway my allegiances.

Late in the afternoon, after a particularly nasty blow-up, Linkletter had once more retreated to his dressing room. As the crew labored over the lights or the set or whatever it was this time, John and I lounged against our lockers. He wondered what really was making the man so damned unhappy. I remembered hearing that his daughter had died a couple of years earlier after dropping acid and trying to fly out her apartment window.

John took this aboard and said, "A couple more hours and we'll all be looking for windows."

I cracked up. So did the crew. Even the Quarterback got it.

So did Art back in his dressing room.

John and I were so green we didn't know that the mics we wore were on all the time.

Linkletter stormed back into the studio, demanding that we be fired. But before he could take us out, one of the Colgate guys stepped in and told him that if we didn't finish in the next hour, he'd miss his plane. We banged off the rest of the commercial in 15 minutes.

John and I made plans to catch an Argo game the next week. But instead we both ended up working on a film we were mostly cut out of, "The Class of '44", sequel to the far more successful "Summer of '42".

That's when John discovered I'd gotten into Frank Sinatra's pants.

We were hanging up what the Wardrobe lady insisted were "terribly expensive period costumes" the studio had shipped all the way from LA, when John noticed a label stitched in my waistband marked "Francis Sinatra". We searched the pockets for further identification and found two beverage tickets for the Catalina Island Yacht Club. Figuring they were out of date, but still very cool, we each took one.

John and I never worked together after that and never got to a football game. When our paths crossed again, 22 years later, he was a huge star and I was producing a cop show for CBS.

By then John had bought the Argonauts, in a partnership with Wayne Gretzky and LA Kings owner Bruce McNall. Their first year, the team won the Grey Cup (Canada's much better version of the Superbowl). Unfortunately, a season later, McNall was imprisoned for fraud after trading in counterfeit Roman coins. John couldn't afford the team on his own and had to sell. I think it broke his heart.

In 1993, he was back in Toronto to film "Canadian Bacon" and the production re-dressed one of our police station sets for their shoot. I ran into John one morning and it was like the intervening decades had never happened. We were still those two goofs from the locker room.

A few days later, the Argos were playing out of town, trying to win a trip back to another Grey Cup and John asked if he could use my office TV at lunch to watch the game. When he arrived with his tray, I grabbed some files to work elsewhere and give him his privacy. He insisted I stay. But the game was an early blow out, so we turned it off and giggled about Linkletter and Sinatra's pants. I still had my ticket somewhere. John claimed he'd used his -- for a smoothie.

A few short months later, Frank Sinatra was sick and they were already writing the eulogies. But he pulled through and the paper that landed on my desk the next morning said John had died in Mexico on the set of "Wagon's East". I didn't have anything against Frank, but it wasn't a fair trade.

The Grey Cup game is today and that always gets me thinking of John. For a while it looked like his Argos and my Roughriders were finally going to vie for the trophy. But they both lost in the semis, so it'll have to wait for another time. Maybe that'll be the game we finally catch together.


5 comments:

wcdixon said...

I knew there were tales you hadn't told me. Thanks for that Jim - great story.

Jutratest said...

A friend of mine grew up in Regent Park in Toronto in the 70's.

There was a convenience store on Queen street where he and his friends used to play pinball. It was a "playboy" themed machine.

Anyway, a group of adults used to also play that machine, and whenever they'd show up they'd give my friend and his gang five bucks to let them have the machine. A few years later he realized those guys were John Candy and Eugene Levy.

Not much of a story but you reminded me of it :)

Anonymous said...

The making of the Colgate commmercial pops up in Martin Knelman's bio of John though no mention of the windows' joke.
According to Knelman, Linkletter gave John hell for smoking and John asked him why he was so upset.
"Are you afraid that its going to stun my growth?," joked Candy. Linkletter wasn't amused.

Anonymous said...

Do you have a copy of this ad?
I can't find it anywhere.

Kevin shea said...

Ok, I am the quarter back. Kevin Shea and went to see if these ads are on line and found this post. In 1988, I was the founding CEO of YTV and John did a huge personal favour in hosting our launch party at a significant reduction in his fee, and even got slimed! When I met him in makeup to thank him for doing us a huge favour, he instantly did the Colgate scripts , I was totally amazed! He was a true talent, very talented and generous soul! All the best Jim! Kshea.