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: