Wasserman's Beat & Vancouver's Short MemoryTuesday, October 28, 2008
Sometime in the early 90s a few signs were put up on the lamposts on Hornby Street near the area of Dunsmuir and Georgia. The signs said Wasserman's Beat and by then Vancouver's memory was working as usual (we seem to have a short memory). As I have written here before, someone's face appears on the Vancouver Sun with the caption "crook" and a few years later that "crook" returns to Vancouver and becomes a successful developer, gallery owner and or stock promoter. Nobody remembers.
Jack Wasserman was certainly no crook. He was an influential columnist with the Vancouver Sun until the day he died of a heart attack, an evening on April 6, 1977. He was speaking at the Hotel Vancouver during a roast for Gordon Gibson Jr. While I cannot confirm her presence then, I would suspect that Valerie Gibson was there. She was the wife of Gordon Gibson Jr. who was the Liberal Leader for BC. Valerie Gibson would have been there since Gibson Sr. was her father-in-law. She was not yet the successful gossip columnist for Vancouver Magazine. Had she been working by then, the savvy editor Mac Parry would have dispatched her to write about it. During his editorship of Vancouver he made sure his magazine infromed readers the activities of City Hall, on Provincial politics, and the relative health and effectiveness of our newspapers and our TV and radio stations. In those years, the 70s, 80s and early 90s Vancouver Magazine was truly a city magazine that reported on urban affairs. It was often that I would read in the Vancouver Sun articles (even written by political columnists) who quoted writers from articles in the magazine.
Wasserman came to Vancouver in 1935 at age 8. He dropped out of law school to take a reporter's job with Ubyssey. He graduated from UBC (1949)and then joined the Vancouver Sun, becoming a police reporter. His biggest scoop was the sordid death of Errol Flynn in a West End apartment. Wasserman was a longtime gossip and self-described "saloon reporter" columnist. He was fired by the Sun (1967) for hosting a radio show but was rehired 18 months later.
Wasserman's society and celebrity columns and occasional political analyses wrote up the often-lurid details of the wild heyday, glitter and sleaziness of the Vancouver nightlife and society whirl in the 1950s and 1960s when famous dinner clubs such as The Cave and Isy's attracted big names from around the world. The power of his column was neither diminished nor magnified by the fact that it rarely ran with pictures. It was an age of the written word not the heard word or "seen" word.
Malcolm Parry at Vancouver Magazine realized the importance of good gossip and had hired Valerie Gibson for the job. In those early columns by Gibson (perhaps late 70s and early 80s) I was dispatched by Parry to take the photographs for her column. At the height of her popularity her column was the most read column of Vancouver Magazine.
So in the early 90s the city decided to tip it's hat in Wasserman's memory and established a few blocks of Hornby as Wasserman's Beat. Both the Cave and the several generations of Gary Taylor's establishments had been on that street. Some reader had sent an enquiry to Vancouver Magazine on why the street had the signs. I was sent to take pictures from which one would be used on the last page of the magazine to explain what Wasserman's Beat was all about.
In 1991 Malcolm Parry had worked as editor for just about every decent magazine in Vancouver and for one in Toronto called Vista. He was out of a job. It was during this period that he told me that he had a solution for his unemployment and that he was excited about it. He told me of his admiration for Wasserman and how Wasserman has established a style in his genre. Parry emphasized to me Wasserman's style. It even seems that he himself (Parry) had been present at Gordon Gibson's roast when Wasserman had suddenly collapsed. Shortly after telling me Parry emerged as the gossip columnist for the Vancouver Sun.
His Town Talk column is sometimes obscure and only those who know him know of his inside jokes and comments. I like Town Talk because of that! He often cites a particular Vancouver economist as the "early rising ..." It all has to do with Parry having entered a magazine office one early morning and catching the early riser on top of a woman, on top of a desk. He once told me, "I want him to know that I know. I don't want him to forget that."
And of course there is Parry's talent for photography particularly his interest in beautiful women and particularly in those who are beautifully endowed, too.
Looking for a possible random subject for today's blog I surfed my W,X,Y,Z file and found these slides of Wasserman's Beat. I had forgotten about them. But when I spot the sign on Hornby I always remember the night that I patiently tried to take pictures of it from every angle possible. I think that few might remember who Wasserman was and perhaps in some not so distant future someone will dispatch a photographer to take a picture at a corner (where would that be?) that will have a sign that says Parry's Beat.
Poor Vancouver with its poor memory.
I wrote to Malcom Parry to see if he could kindly check for inaccuracies. Here is his reply:
I wasn't at the Gordon Gibson Sr. roast. Valerie was, sitting alongside
or near Wasserman.
The early rising event was witnessed not by me but by ..., the .......
paste-up artist at ....Magazine.
I believe Jack was fired when he would not give up a CJOR show he had taken
during one of the lengthy strikes the newspapers endured then.
When did Valerie begin her column with you?
Her first appearance was with the Faraway Places column for March, 1977.
She wrote about Maui, where clan Gibson had the Maui Lu compound and hotel.
Jack Wasserman wrote about Hawaii for the same column in September, 1976.
Faraway Places became Garry Marchant's sole preserve in September, 1978.
Valerie took over the City Seen column from Terry Zacks in the November,