Ron Basford, Prime Minister John Turner, Audrey Hepburn & John BishopSaturday, March 31, 2007
More than perhaps any other date in my life I remember exactly where I was at 1:00 pm on Tuesday September 4, 1984.
This story could be a visual shaggy dog story as I have photographs to illustrate every aspect of it. It began sometime in October 1982 when I was taking photographs of Liberal MP, Ron Basford in his Vancouver office for the November cover of Vancouver Magazine. While attempting to take his portrait our session was interrupted by two phone calls. One was from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the other from Vancouver Mayor Mike Harcourt. To complicate my shoot, Basford had glasses that reflected my lighting umbrella, he had a shiny bald head and no eyelashes or eyebrows. I asked the receptionist if anybody in the office had face powder. Nobody had face powder and my short 30 mintute photo appointment was about to run out. I had an inkling on how to solve the problem. "If you think it will work, use it," Basford told me. The Coffee-Mate worked very well and the shine was off.
John Turner was Prime Minister from June 30, 1984 to September 17, 1984. Elections were to be on September 4, 1984. Vancouver Magazine editor, Mac Parry was planning an issue of Vancouver's top citizens for September. I told Parry that since Turner's riding was in BC he should be one of the citizens and perhaps even on the cover. Parry told me, "Get him for the cover."
The problem was that Turner's campaign manager rudely informed me, "Mr. Turner does not have the time to pose for your city magazine. He is too busy mingling and addressing his constituency." I pointed out that many in Vancouver thought Turner had parachuted into Vancouver and that his face on a Vancouver city magazine that would come out a few days before the federal election would certainly guarantee him a few more votes. My argument went nowhere.
So I called Ron Basford's Ottawa office and asked to speak to him. On the line Basford said, "I hope you have bought genuine face powder by now (I had). What's the problem?" I explained. "Leave it to me, "he said. That evening I received a call from Turner's campaign manager. "Mr. Turner will be waiting for you in his room at the Vancouver Hotel tomorrow morning at 8:15."
On the morning of the federal election, writer John Lekich and I were at the Four Seasons Hotel. We were there to interview and photograph Audrey Hepburn who was in town as a representative of UNESCO. Lekich warned me, "Don't ask her about any of her former husbands. Movie stars don't like that." Hepburn was wearing a black mock turtle neck top, a black skirt and black flat shoes. She had no jewelry and no makeup. She was only 55 but she looked older. I was shocked to see her alternate between cigarettes and cups of coffee. But she was tall ( I calculate she was 5 ft 10 inches). I asked her if she had ever not appeared with an actor because of her height. "Not true, she asserted, I made Sabrina with Humphrey Bogart." And then I had to ask her about the famous Bert Stern photograph of her as a bride with her bridegroom Mel Ferrer in a Paris hotel room. She looked at me as if she had had one too many bitter coffees. John had warned me.
To celebrate the occasion I invited Lekich for lunch at John Bishop's Bishop's. I knew that this expensive restaurant wouldn't be so expensive as we would not be able to purchase any liquor. It was federal election day.
While dining I pointed out to Lekich that there were a couple of men at a table who had wires coming out of their ears. We wondered if they were security guys or spies. We soon found out. From our window seat we saw a large car stop. From it emgerged John Turner. He sat down at a table with some men I could not identify. When he saw me he said, "Hi, Alex." I wished him good luck. But of course on that day he lost.
Lekich and I will never forget that day. I have an extra reason.
I was so in awe of Hepburn that my photographic instincts were in shambles and I realized that I could not make Hepburn look as she had in Roman Holiday. I could not possibly get close with my mercilessly sharp portrait lens. So I chose to step back and photograph her at a distance. I can assert that my subsequent takes were failures. I should have gotten close, Roman Holiday be damned.