A Palpable Hit – Remembrances of ‘The Boys’ Wayne & Shuster

(L-R)  Johnny Wayne & Frank Shuster - Credit: CBC Still Photo Collection/Page Toles

(L-R) Johnny Wayne & Frank Shuster – Credit: CBC Still Photo Collection/Page Toles

by Tobi Gordon

If you grew up in Canada in the 40’s and 50’s, and, come to think of it, the 60’s, you grew up with Wayne and Shuster, especially if your father played in the band that accompanied their act in the Army Show, on CBC Radio and later, on TV. Johnny and Frank were the guys who made everyone laugh, but none more so than my sister and I. As little girls, we’d accompany our mother to tapings of the radio show and pick out my Dad, on the bandstand, trying to hang on to his saxophone while weeping with laughter at their clever ‘bits’. We’d flip through his scrapbook of old clippings from the Army Show, stopping at the images of their youthful faces grinning out at us. Frank and his family lived just down the street for a few years before he made the move to Forest Hill, as behooved an up and coming major TV star. My father worked on nearly all the weekly shows produced each night on the CBC during the heyday of its Variety department, including Jack Kane’s Music Makers, Your Hit Parade & Juliette, but his favorite, and ours by far, was The Wayne and Shuster Show.

During this tribute to their legacy at this year’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF), a lot has been said about their humour, how it was both high and low, silly and sophisticated. They were also lucky that they worked at a time when they could depend on their audience ‘getting’ their Shakespearean references. The material was consistently of a high quality, as were the performances.

Music was a major part of their body of work, from the lavish opening numbers they produced to the ditties and stings scattered through their skits. As an aside, not much, if any, mention has been made about these excellent musicians (many of them Jewish and often the only ones who appreciated the many Yiddishisms sprinkled throughout their work) who played in their shows.

(L-R)  Johnny Wayne, Ed Sullivan & Frank Shuster

(L-R) Johnny Wayne, Ed Sullivan & Frank Shuster

Their fans all know how many times they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show yet still remained in Canada, never tempted by the lure of New York or Hollywood, unlike practically every other performer, writer and producer working here in the arts at that time who couldn’t wait for an opportunity to fly south to fame and fortune.

Loyalty was their style. They were especially loyal to the people they gathered around them, over the years. I remember a story about how, in their later years, a new producer pressured them to let some of the older musicians ‘go’, in favour of some younger blood. They refused to abandon the guys who had been with them from the beginning.

This was much appreciated by their old friends, families and never forgotten. I know this because…ours, was one of them.

Tobi Gordon is a former Media Studies teacher in Toronto and an avid film fan.

– Encore Screening of the Wayne & Shuster Tribute on Tuesday, May 10th @ 12:30pm @ Innis College (click on link for more info)

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