Friday, April 19, 2013

Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors holds another successful Sports Celebrity Breakfast

Over 600 sports fans of all ages enjoyed a Sunday morning meeting their favorite Montreal sports figures past and present, as the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors (CJCS) held its 9th annual Sports Celebrity Breakfast on April 14 at the Gelber Conference Centre on Westbury Avenue.

The event, which was sold out for months beforehand, raised over $180,000 to benefit the CJCS’ Seniors in Crisis program, which provides a valuable service by giving much needed assistance to seniors who are unable to look after themselves on a financial basis, which makes sure that they live their golden years with a sense of independence and a high quality of life.

And everyone in attendance were not disappointed with the number and caliber of personalities who appeared at the breakfast. First there was NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr (pictured above), who received the Sports Personality of the Year Award for his “inspiring contribution to the sport of hockey," especially how he managed to end the players' lockout earlier this year and salvaged the 2012-2013 NHL season.  When asked about his trademark cool, calm demeanour, Fehr glibly replied "I've been accused many times of not having a personality!"

The 1993 Stanley Cup champion Canadiens team were honoured at the breakfast, and former coach Senator Jacques Demers, plus players Oleg Petrov, Mathieu Schneider and Sergio Momesso were in attendance to reflect back on that exciting playoff run 20 springs ago. And Demers expressed his confidence with this year's Habs squad, and their chances to finally win the franchise's 25th Stanley Cup. "The Habs are on the right track. They have the best defenceman around in P.K. Subban. But it starts with goaltending, and if Carey price stands up a la Patrick Roy in 1993, then their chances are good to win the Cup."

Montreal businessman Roy Salomon was this year’s Guest of Honour for his outstanding contribution and leadership to the development of Maccabi Canada. The Brooklyn native (and a member of the Duke Blue Devils basketball team), Salomon moved to Montreal in 1960 and got involved with the Canadian Maccabi team in 1969, when he was part of its basketball squad. He now plans to be part of the Canadian Maccabi delegation, along with 9000 other athletes at this summer's Maccabiah Games in Israel. "I don't remember an occasion when we weren't proud of our athletes," commented Salomon during his lengthy -- yet heartfelt -- acceptance speech at the breakfast.
Also seen at the breakfast were Anthony Calvillo and Scott Florey from the Alouettes;  former Hab Mathieu Darche; legendary broadcaster (and fellow classic film buff) Dick Irvin; Cy Young Award winning pitcher Eric Gagne; former Expos Warren Cromartie (pictured at right, who was selling and autographing t-shirts containing the logo of the Montreal Baseball Project, an organization he is heading that is trying to bring back a Major League Baseball team to Montreal) and Bill “Spaceman” Lee (pictured above left); TSN 690’s Ted Bird; legendary Gazette sportswriter Red Fisher; former Alouette Peter Dalla Riva (pictured above right); Bob Babinsky of the new City Montreal TV station, along with George Athans (who will be producing City Montreal’s new sports show “Montreal Connected”, which is slated to air later this spring ... I worked with George when he was a sportscaster for CBC Montreal's supper hour newscast "Newswatch" 30 years ago); and Sportsnet reporter Alyson Lozoff (who will also be reporting for "Montreal Connected"; both are pictured below).

The breakfast had plenty of highlights (including a video praising Roy Salomon's contributions to the Montreal sports scene from much beloved Habs Hall of Famer Jean Beliveau ... a hush fell over the packed ballroom when he began speaking). One highlight that practically every attendee tried to take advantage of was having their pictures taken with three of the NHL's top trophies: the Prince of Wales and Conn Smythe trophies and of course, the Stanley Cup. And believe me, when you find yourself standing next to these highly regarded pieces of NHL hardware, you can't resist the opportunity to have a picture of yourself posing alongside them, as if you just won one of those treasured awards (hence the picture of me below with two of the three trophies ... the Stanley Cup was located at the other end of the room!).

And finally, kudos to the breakfast's planning committee (lead by co-chairs Mike Wagen and Bram Naimer) for planning another topnotch events that the 600 local sports fans enjoyed immensely, and for the many seniors who will greatly benefit from living a dignified life thanks to the proceeds that were raised from the event.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A couple of brief "Thumbs Up!" memories of Roger Ebert

 It was with great sadness that I heard about the death of Roger Ebert last Thursday, just one day after he announced he was scaling back his writing work in order to face a third battle with cancer. He was the dean of contemporary American film critics, and thanks to his TV shows "Sneak Previews", "Siskel & Ebert" and "At the Movies", he made film critics and film criticism intelligent, accessible and entertaining. 

I was an avid viewer of "Sneak Previews" on PBS during the late 70s and early 80s. When I was in grade 11, I was involved in a student TV production project with a Montreal public access channel (Channel 9), called "Those Terrible Teens", in which we got to write, produce and act in our own sketches. Me and my friend Pat Hamou (who was also a regular "Sneak Previews" viewer) decided to do a spoof of the show (we called it "Sneaky Previews"), in which Pat portrayed "Gene Sissy" and I portrayed "Roger Eggbeater". We had a blast putting together and acting in that sketch. I remembered we "reviewed" two popular flicks of that time -- "Apocalypse Now" and "10" -- in which one of us would hate the movie and the other would like the movie (and vice versa), and got to the point when we would come close to fisticuffs over our differing opinions (hopefully, Gene and Roger never came to that point when they did their TV shows). In fact, exactly 33 years ago, we managed to tape the sketch and showed it personally to Gene Siskel, who was in Montreal for a PBS meet & greet event at Place Bonaventure. He gave our sketch a "thumbs up", but had two criticisms: he said Pat had to be taller, and I had to be heavier (pound-wise, that is).

* * *

Ebert's passion for movies was so well expressed with his written reviews he did for the Chicago Sun-Times, his website and for a whole slew of books that he published on a regular basis. I had the chance to meet Ebert in person. It happened in June of 1996 at the American Booksellers Association (ABA) convention, which took place that year in Chicago. Ebert was signing copies of the latest edition of his movie yearbook. Although I only got to say "Hi", "Thank you" and shook his hand, I still have that autographed copy of his 1996 movie yearbook, which is in my library. And I highly recommend his 2011 memoir "Life Itself", which is a fascinating story of the making of a well-respected film critic. 

Roger, film buffs and film critics everywhere will miss you, and unfortunately, as you used to say at the end of each "At the Movies" broadcast, "the balcony is closed".

Friday, April 5, 2013

Montreal Beatles fans ... get ready for a great nostalgia trip with "The Beatles in Montreal" exhibition

George Morris used to rule the local Top 40 airwaves as the popular deejay “Buddy Gee” on CKGM radio during the 1960s. On September 8, 1964, he shared the enviable task, along with Dave Boxer of CFCF and Michel Desrochers of CJMS, of being the MCs at The Beatles’ two concerts that day at the old Montreal Forum, which they performed in front of a combined audience of about 20,000 screaming fans.

“When I heard about 12,000 14-year-olds scream (when I introduced the Beatles), I thought the Forum roof would cave in!” said Morris in a video taped testimony that is part of “The Beatles in Montreal”, a brand new, not-to-be-missed exhibition that is now featured at the newly-opened Mariners’ House of the Pointe-A-Calliere museum of archaeology and history in Old Montreal, and runs until March 30, 2014.

The exhibition commemorates the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s first – and only – concert performance in Montreal, and shows how Montreal’s brief flirtation with actual Beatlemania (John, Paul, George and Ringo were in Montreal for a total of only 10 hours) helped to shape Montreal’s rock music scene, not to mention influence the creation of a whole slew of Quebecois rock stars.

“The Beatles in Montreal” is an exhibition that generations of Beatles fans should not miss, and serves as a wonderful nostalgia trip back to those heady days of the spring and summer of 1964, when Montreal Beatle fans were getting ready to see their favorite lads from Liverpool perform live onstage at the Forum.

The story is told through some 360 pieces of artifacts, including memorabilia, never-seen-before photos, rare film footage and audio recordings that have been generously donated from newsroom archives, as well as private collections. Two of the gems that amazed this visitor during a special press tour of the exhibition that took place prior to the official opening were the rare black and white film footage of Beatle fans camping outside the Forum on May 14, 1964 (the night before tickets for the two Beatle shows went on sale at $4.50 and $5.50 per ticket) and the pandemonium that went on at Dorval Airport and outside the Forum on September 8; and the extremely rare, never-heard-before recording of one of the Forum concerts in its entirety, which is played on a continuous loop in one wing of the exhibition that’s dedicated to the Beatles’ actual 10-hour stay in Montreal.

And there is plenty of rare Beatle merchandise and memorabilia for fans to gaze upon in amazement (including an actual copy of the Polydor 45 rpm single of “My Bonnie” that was done by the Beatles with Tony Sheridan (pictured above); it was a request for this single that sparked the interest of Liverpool record store owner Brian Epstein, who checked out one of the group’s shows at the Cavern Club … and the rest is history, as they say).

One item that is sure to attract a great deal of attention is John Lennon’s 1965 Rolls Royce Phantom V automobile (pictured above), which is best known for its psychedelic exterior paint job that was done on the car in May of 1967. The museum was fortunate to get Lennon’s car on loan from the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. And by the way, it was this car that transported the Beatles to Buckingham Palace on October 26, 1965 for the ceremony that awarded them their Members of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) medals.

The exhibition also has an interactive aspect to it. Visitors can be in the same league as Pete Best, Brian Epstein or Neil Aspinall and become “the Fifth Beatle” in their own right. This can be accomplished by a special karaoke presentation, as you can join the Fab Four (there are life-sized cutout photos of the group shown as if they are in concert), and sing along with the Beatles by choosing one of the nine or so songs that they performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” during their two historic appearances on the show in February of 1964 (I tried it out and did a pretty good rendition of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” with the group, and here I am being the "Fifth Beatle" with John).

Finally, the souvenir companion book to the exhibition makes for a great keepsake, which sells for only $9.50 a copy at the museum’s gift shop. The book itself is shaped like a 33 1/3 LP album cover (and is stored in an album cover-shaped slipcase). The book contains many of the rare photos of the Beatles in Montreal and in concert at the Forum that are featured in the exhibition, along with a hour-by-hour timeline of the events of September 8, plus plenty of interesting facts (such as how many Montreal police officers were on duty during that Beatlemania-filled day, which was 400), and an article dealing with the Quebecois rock groups that sprouted up as a result of the Beatles’ influence (such as Les Baronets, which included a young Rene Angelil).

The Pointe-A-Calliere museum gets an enthusiastic “yeah, yeah, yeah!” for the remarkable job they did in putting together “The Beatles in Montreal” exhibition. It vividly recalls that exciting time when a rock group from Liverpool was in the midst of forever revolutionizing rock music, and how that revolution made a brief stop in Montreal nearly 50 years ago that created a lifetime of unforgettable memories.

For more information about this exhibition, go to