Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Saturday, October 4, 2014

O Canada Blogathon: ELWY YOST

Elwy Yost
1925 - 2011

Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy have combined to host the O Canada Blogathon running from October 4 to 9.  In her post announcing the blogathon whose time has come, Kristina said:  "You may want to write about some aspect of Canada’s impact on the movies, or something unique to the Canadian movie fan’s experience (Elwy Yost, anyone?)."  I am a proud disciple of Elwy and in May of 2011 posted a tribute to the TV host and educator.  Sadly, it was a few weeks later that Elwy Yost passed away.  Twitter and Facebook was filled with fans sharing their affection and appreciation for Elwy.  Here are some edited thoughts from that earlier post to keep the flame alive.

Beginning in 1974, TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies presented to residents of Ontario and Western New York, a double bill of classic films uncut and commercial free, along with elucidating interviews relating to the subject of movies in general and specifically to the subject of the movies being screened. Contemporary viewers used to the proliferation of specialty channels may not realize what a boon it was for film fans to see movies uncut and commercial free, but let me tell you, it was as if we had died and gone to cinema heaven.

Elwy Yost was born in Ontario in 1925. A former high school teacher who hosted for the CBC and a true film buff, he was the perfect host for Saturday Night at the Movies. Originally a producer of the program as well, he eventually handed the executive producing job to the inestimable Risa Shuman, who is held in great esteem by film fans of Ontario. However, it was Elwy who was the face of the show.

Imagine the thrill of tuning in each Saturday night for the likes of Dodsworth, I Know Where I'm Going!, Gun Crazy, Reap the Wild Wind, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Western Union, Mrs. Miniver, Act of Violence, The Informer, The Prisoner of Shark Island, Charlie Chan at the Circus, It Happens Every Spring, The Letter, Moulin Rouge and so on.

Elwy was our guide through the history of classic film. His unbridled enthusiasm for the subject made it alright for us to be movie lovers. He interviewed historians and experts, writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, set designers, composers, costumers, stunt men and foley artists.

I remember Greer Garson, both grand and twinkly, coming across as a lady who'd be pleased to put the kettle on and make you feel at home. Olivia de Havilland, all polite smiles. Bette Davis, all gruff annoyance. Joan Fontaine, trying to take charge and eventually relaxing. Vibrant and fun Betty Garrett. P.D. James discussing mysteries. A non-cooperative Robert Mitchum almost becoming human by the end of the interview. The intense and sharp Richard Widmark. Henry Fonda, cool and confident. The charm of Jimmy Stewart. Self-effacing Joel McCrea explaining that he was never anyone's first choice except for Preston Sturges, and that was enough. Keye Luke proclaiming the artistry in Warner Oland's portrayal of Charlie Chan. A friendly and seemingly shy Dana Andrews. Edward Dmytryk explaining that the lighting in his noirs was motivated by budget, not art. Jack Elam talking about playing chess with Duke Wayne and drinking too much with Sam Peckinpah. Michael Wayne taken aback and then grinning when told he was starting to look like his dad. Harry Carey Jr. getting misty talking about his dad. Noah Berry Jr. responding to Elwy's story of growing his first moustache because he was inspired by Noah Sr. with a choking "I wish I could tell him." So many fabulous and enlightening moments.  The interviews were donated to the Motion Picture Academy upon Elwy's retirement.


The sister program to Saturday Night at the Movies was Magic Shadows which ran weeknights at 7 and showed one movie per week split into four parts with a serial episode on Friday. The first movie shown was The Thing from Another World. The first part ended with the scientists and airmen at the crash site spreading out to determine the size and shape of the thing. Oooh! The number of times I have seen the movie since is lost in family legend.

Sometimes a film would run the entire five nights and we would loose out on the serial. Such a movie was Sands of Iwo Jima. One episode ended with John Agar meeting Adele Mara at a dance. When we returned to the set/movie room Elwy looked at us and said "Ah, romance rears its ugly head." An immortal line used by our family to this day for the many movies that make that misstep.  If my memory does not match Elwy's words exactly, don't tell me!

Elwy - whose name tickled a bemused Otto Preminger.

Elwy - whose shock at guest Pierre Berton's disdain for John Ford movies matched my own.

Elwy - who, if he is a packrat has a copy of a movie quiz I gave him years ago. A copy of one I had made for my dad.

Elwy - who kept his son home from school with a note of excuse explaining that he was tired because Citizen Kane had been on the late show.

Elwy - whose apparent garbled relating of the plot of the movie Runaway Train inspired his screenwriter son Graham to write Speed, which was proudly presented in 1999 on Elwy's final evening of hosting Saturday Night at the Movies before retirement.

Elwy - who was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1999.

Elwy - who created an atmosphere of appreciation for film for generations of fans.

Maybe someday you will be in Toronto for a film-related event like the Toronto International Film Festival. Perhaps you will become aware that some of the attendees are native to the town and if they are "between 40 and death" (Auntie Mame), stroll over and mention the name "Elwy". Watch for the smiles on their faces.

BONUS:  Writer, producer Graham Yost (Speed, The Last Castle, TVs The Pacific, Boomtown, Falling Skies, etc.) with TCMs Scott McGee:


20 comments:

  1. This is so heartwarming and wonderful, I too am a disciple of Elwy's, couldn't ask for better than to be a kid growing up with him as our classic movie guide, such a warm and lovable man to watch with that infectious movie love. I'll always fondly remember his intros, those interviews and everything I learned from him. Thanks for including him in this event, He just had to be :)

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    1. Kristina, I think the most wonderful thing is that Elwy must have known how much he meant to all of his fans. You could feel the love at book signings or when he would show up at a film.

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  2. So wait, a single movie was shown in four parts over four days? Wasn't that kind of off-putting for something that's not meant to be serialized?

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    1. Not off-putting at all with Elwy to share the movie and the special guests. If the movie was too long for four parts, we missed out on the serial (Nyoka and the Tiger Men and that ilk) on Friday. It was really a rather relaxing way to unwind after the school or work day. Of course, "Saturday Night at the Movies" was the crown jewel of TVO.

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  3. A beautiful tribute, CW. I think some of those interviews are still on YouTube, but how neat if someone produced a DVD.

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    1. It is fun to check out the interviews. Elwy's enthusiasm was contagious, but it didn't overwhelm. We learned a lot about the movies and saw many of the actors in a different light.

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  4. Elwy Yost was unknown in our neck of the woods – we lived outside Yost's broadcast area. I have read a lot about Elwy Yost, and seen clips on YouTube, but none match the tribute you have posted here. I'm serious! This is a wonderful, loving tribute – and it makes me sad to think he's gone, even though I don't really know much about him.

    Thank you for including this remarkable Canadian in our blogathon. :)

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    1. Elwy's love of film truly influenced generations. It's wonderful that you can get a taste of what those days were like through the inestimable YouTube. Thanks for your kind words.

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  5. That is some fine and interesting stuff, but then again, you're a fine and interesting blogger! Nothing but unique stuff; I appreciate the info and the viewpoint.

    Clayton @ Phantom Empires

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  6. Didn't grow up in Canada or near New York, either, so Elwy Yost was the first post I decided to read. Enjoyed it very much and thanks for also including the podcast with his son, Graham. My husband loves his show Justified. I'm going to share this with him.

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    1. Elwy is still working his magic. Thanks.

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  7. This is lovely! Before there was TCM there was Saturday Night at the Movies with Elwy, and, we loved him as well as the great films he showed COMMERCIAL-FREE! My all-time favourite (Canadian spelling) was the double bill: 'Gilda' and 'Laura'. Thanks for a wonderful profile.

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    1. Truly a memorable double bill.

      The only time I was ever slightly disappointed in Elwy was during a night of baseball movies including "It Happens Every Spring". He just did not have a clue about the game and his questions showed that lack of knowledge.

      For some reason the night they ran "Dodsworth" as a look at set decoration in the movies has always stayed with me. Plus the night with "Charlie Chan at the Circus".

      Thanks so much for commenting.

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  8. What a wonderful tribute! Clearly Elwy's fame hasn't spread to the UK, but we have similar personalities that really capture something about 'watching' film, turning what can be an individual pursuit into a fun one. Thanks for sharing the love :)

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    1. There are special hosts who become like members of the family. It is a lovely and comforting memory.

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  9. Thank you for such an informative post. You can always be counted on for something unique.

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  10. Lovely post! I wish there has been a U.S. Elwy when I was growing up. I loved the CITIZEN KANE story.

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    1. I took that "Citizen Kane" story as my personal lesson in parenting!

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  11. Apart from giving us a break from our daily activities, I believe a movie allows us to experience a life that we may never really get to know.
    gangster movies

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    1. It is a way we can learn to walk in another man's shoes.

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