Monday, April 29, 2013

The Infamous Writers Hockey Pool Returns!!!

…And for the first time in its seven year history it includes something it’s never had before…

!!!!!!!!!!!!TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes! The team that has spawned a million Canadian boyhood dreams and just as many adult crying jags has finally made the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So let’s jump in the Pool!

This is the time for those with hockey smarts and the courage of their convictions to shine. Because next to getting stitched up on the bench or playing with a broken leg, the most venerable tradition in the quest for the Stanley Cup is the "Hockey Pool"!


Will Dixon and I have been organizing hockey pools almost as long as we've known each other. No matter where we were or what we were doing, we honored our on-ice warriors season after season by picking the best among them and placing a little wager.

Many seasons back, being thousands of miles apart and with most of the people with whom we regularly communicated passing through our blogs, we cooked up a plan to hold our hockey pool online. It was an astonishing success! As have been the years that have followed. And this year it'll be even bigger and better.

Because this year has !!!!!!!!!!!!TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS!!!!!!!!!!!!


You join "The Infamous Writer's Hockey Pool" by sending me an email at with "POOL PICKS" in the subject line between 8:00 AM Eastern Monday (today) and 7:30 PM Eastern on Wednesday night (May 1/2013).

Now, “Technically” in this rushed NHL partial season, that will be after two games will have been played in the Western Division on Tuesday night.  But that’s a deadline far too tight for even a seasoned prognosticator like me. So we’ll take our chances that nobody gets a leg up knowing those results.

In your email, list the 10 skaters and 2 Goalies who make up your team. They can be members of any of the 16 teams competing in the opening round.


At least THREE of your picks must come from one team. Three skaters, two and a goalie, your choice. The point is to make a small commitment (25% of your roster) to a team you think is either going to win it all, go deep or roll up a lot of points.

The scoring is as follows:

For every goal or assist scored by your skaters you earn 1 point.

Should one of your skaters score a “Game Winning” goal, that’s worth two points.

Every time your goalie wins you also earn 2 points and you tally seven points each time he earns a shutout.

Shutouts in Stanley Cup play are rare and skaters will always earn more points than a Goalie, but this is a way of evening things up.

In addition, the pool will also award one point to a goalie who loses in overtime.

The 12 players you choose are yours for the entire tournament. As the teams your players represent fall by the wayside, they cease earning points, but their totals remain part of your total.

In the end, the poolie with the most points wins.

I'll post your team online. From then on, you can check your progress by visiting our private online pool site whenever you like. All players will be provided with a login and password so they can check their progress throughout the playoffs.

Once you're inside the pool site, you'll see all the information on the teams you’re up against. You'll also receive a twice weekly (Monday and Friday) update of the pool standings, which I will post for all the world to see here at The Legion.

See -- easy and fun!

The only thing missing is the chance to share beer and wings and make fun of each other's choices. Anybody who wants to open a Facebook group to handle the trash talk or Twitter their opponents has our blessing.

Now, playing in a hockey pool is very simple. But a certain amount of strategy is involved.

I've seen poolies pick players from teams that exited early still win because their players racked up so many points in the early going. I've also seen poolies with terrible picks come out on top because they had a hot goalie.

Like everything else in the game, it's ultimately up to the Hockey Gods.

If you're new to pools or the game, you can learn more on who you perhaps should pick for on your team by visiting TSN or Sportsnet.


Well, since gambling is technically illegal around here and Infamous Writers entrants come from several disparate currencies, your entrance fee should be something either related to your career or a sports souvenir you've acquired as a fan.

What you choose to wager is completely up to you and never revealed to anyone but the eventual Pool Winner.

Once our winner is decided, all entrants ship him or her their prize. In the past, the winner's booty has included DVDs, autographed scripts, game worn jerseys, signed hockey cards and much more.

There will also be prizes for finishing 2nd and 3rd as well as our incredibly popular "Props" contest in the final round.

There are no other restrictions to participating. Just join up, pick your players and set aside your victory swag.

A lot of great Canadian artists (even some you might recognize) and hockey fans from here and elsewhere are looking forward to playing with you!

So jump in the pool!

Because this year has !!!!!!!!!!!!TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Game on!!!!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 270: The Cool Kids

Americans often take their measure of a leadership candidate by deciding if he’s a guy they’d like to have a beer with.

Maybe not the most scientific mode of assessing character, but it definitely lets them know how he rates in the –- just how cool is this guy –- category.

And let’s face it, “Cool” matters.

Whatever your physical, intellectual or strategic skills, you’ll accomplish more if people relate to you in a positive manner; if they feel you “get” what’s important to them personally and yet still have an immutable handle on the zeitgeist.

For it’s those kind of people who truly can lead us where we most want to go and forge the kind of world we’d be excited to live in.

In my day, all the cool kids wanted to get into cultural endeavors. Maybe that’s because we had dads like Don Draper and felt while selling the sizzle earned a good living, owning it would be better.

Thus, as I watched the CRTC hearings last week and the parade of Cool kids of my generation asking for dispensations from the Canadian public regulator of all things media, I began to wonder which of these guys I’d still like to have a beer with.

Or maybe more to the point, to which I’d entrust one of my scripts or productions, feeling that under their tutelage it could surely find its own place within the ever-shifting zeitgeist.

But what I saw instead were people who had once been world beaters, eager to take on all challenges and above all “cool”, insist that it all just hadn’t worked out the way they originally envisioned it would.

I saw broadcasters who insisted they deserved 7 figure salaries whine that their networks were struggling financially. I listened as programmers explained that the audiences they’d failed to attract could be found if attendance were required –- with payment in advance.

And I wondered if some of those kids were not so much cool as just the same fast talking, “you wouldn’t believe how connected and with it I am” guys I’ve met at used car lots and investment seminars.

And I started to imagine what kind of movie or TV series these guys would make to not only reflect their presumed continued coolness but would fit what an audience hungered to embrace.

And this was it…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 269: Storm Surfers 3D

Internet “news” site, The Onion, summed up the past few days better than anybody…

“Jesus. This Week.”

Expanding that with –- “This fucking week, sources added. Christ.”

Whether the recent shit storm is over is anybody’s guess. But in such times, one of my tools for overcoming any inclination toward despair or cynicism is to find something to look forward to.

As the saying goes, “This too shall pass” although it never quit predicts exactly when the passing will occur –- or whether what follows will be better or worse.

Thus, amid the darkness, something caught my attention, bringing with it not only the promise of excitement and adventure but almost dismissing the gloom with a promise of sunlight and fresh air that its 3D format might almost make fully real.

I’m sure other documentaries have been shot in 3D, but their titles escape me. And its exciting to consider what that genre making such a move could mean.

I don’t know when “Storm Surfers 3D” will be released where you are. But I have a feeling it’s gonna lift your spirits when it does.

Let’s hope this taste erases some of last week and helps you to…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Boston Strong

Hockey Fans, man. Terrorists, you picked the wrong people to try to scare…

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 268: The Lewton Unit


Like most people, my taste in movies formed long before I was ever exposed to Art House films, Cinematic Masterworks and the Criterion Films catalogue.

Nevertheless, I still managed to see a lot of movies now considered among the essentials in understanding and evaluating what makes a film of artistic importance.

Many of those were made on what became known as “Poverty Row”, a group of low budget studios in the decades before television responsible for serials, westerns shot in a week and most of the melodramas, comedies and gangster films that made up the bottom half of double bills.

Among these was RKO, which occasionally released an A-list film like “Citizen Kane” but mostly stuck to a cheap and repetitive formula for what it churned out.

Early in the 1940’s, RKO acquired the services of a part-time writer named Val Lewton. Lewton had knocked around Hollywood for years after arriving from his native Ukraine.

He had written a couple of pulp novels and some porn to pay the rent and then cadged a job writing second unit scenes for David O. Selznick, which included the famous sequence of Confederate wounded lying in the vast Atlanta railyard.

RKO offered him $250 a week to produce that kind of iconic imagery in their horror movies. But they had some rules.

Lewton’s “Unit” or crew could not exceed a budget of $150,000. They had to deliver a film of 70-75 minutes to fit the accepted bottom half running time of a double bill.

What’s more, all the films had to be shot in-studio using only the standing sets were available and the “Monster” in the story could never be seen because monsters cost too much to do well.

Perhaps most restrictive of all, the studio would supply a pre-tested title they were sure an audience would flock to see. No already written script. Just a title.

It was a prescription for a predictable and probably forgettable final product. But Lewton took the parameters not as a set of creative handcuffs but the opportunity to see how far the imaginations and skills of his stable of artists could stretch.

From 1942 – 1946, he produced 11 films for RKO that have become classics including “Cat People”, “I Walked With A Zombie” and “Bedlam”.

Boris Karloff, who starred in three Lewton Unit films credited the producer with “rescuing me from the living dead and restoring my soul” after the actor couldn’t buy work when the Frankenstein franchise ended.

A change in studio hierarchy eventually ended Lewton’s phenomenal run and a subsequent heart attack prevented him from being able to work full time at another studio. But his mark on film history had been made.

Recently, I took a course in the ways Hollywood has traditionally responded to technological change and a couple of the Lewton Unit films were used to exemplify how the studios learned to use and then embrace Sound to achieve its artistic goals.

One of these was a film I’d never seen, “The Ghost Ship”. And I was stunned at the power the Lewton Unit’s desire to overcome their restrictions had in creating both an overbearing sense of dread and a satisfying movie experience.

A lot of filmmakers today feel hamstrung by not only rapidly changing technologies but having to compete with movies made at budget levels they can never hope to have.

But what any good filmmaker has in abundance is imagination. And the power of imagination overcomes all obstacles.

Youtube offers “The Ghost Ship” in its entirety and you should watch it there in full screen mode to get the complete effect.

Continue to believe in creative solutions and - Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Serial Killer Too Dark Even For Television

Serial killers are all the rage on television of late. And they have held that position for a while now. Dexter. Hannibal. Red John. Floyd Farrell. Kermit Gosnell.

Wait. Kermit who…?

You can be forgiven if you don’t know the name of Kermit Gosnell. And to be fair to the good doctor, I should call him an alleged serial killer since he’s still on trial in Philadelphia.

He’s also not a fictional creation. He’s real. And so is his body count.

But for reasons a lot of people are unable to fathom and the cultural fascination with lurid murder trials and mass killers aside, Dr. Gosnell is rarely if ever mentioned by any of the major players in the 24 hour news cycle and has not appeared on a network newscast since his trial began.

Gosnell is being tried for 8 counts of murder, one a woman who died on his operating table during a late term abortion. The other seven, babies born alive during abortion procedures, who (according to testimony) Gosnell dispatched rather than follow his Hippocratic oath.

Now, before we go any further, let me make it clear that I’m Pro-Choice. If a pregnant woman does not want to bring another life into the world, I believe that decision is hers to make and hers alone.

A lot of that belief comes from personal experience. I was a teenager at a time when abortion was illegal and had friends who married people they didn’t want to marry and had kids they didn’t want and didn’t come to love in time.

I also spent a horrific night on an NYPD ride-along when the cops I was with were called to attend a 12 year old in labor. A 12 year old pregnant as a result of incest.

You can’t witness something like that and not feel that there are Life events no one should be forced to endure.

Still, the battle for abortion on demand was hard won and still engenders passionate feelings. But in the process, one generation’s humanitarian achievement seems to have become the next one’s unchallengeable sacred cow.

Recently, in Canada, a cabinet minister was pilloried for suggesting abortion laws needed to be reviewed to prevent the gender specific abortions that have become common place in our country.

Maybe it’s right that no unwanted child should be brought into the world. But, like a lot of guys, I like women and don’t think the world would be a better place if there were fewer of them.

There’s also an ongoing debate about late term abortions (those occurring between the 29th and 40th week of gestation) in which a fetus can be born alive and viable.

This was the territory in which Dr. Gosnell specialized and according to his prosecutors the circumstances under which he ended the lives of babies who could have survived.

So why aren’t you being told this story?

It’s clearly got more emotional impact than moment-by-moment coverage of cruise ships with overflowing toilets.

If you’re a fan of serial killer tropes, it’s got jars full of tiny severed body parts which may have been kept as trophies and events one clinic worker described as: “It would rain fetuses. Blood and fetuses all over the place”.

Got enough slides for that much blood, Dexter? Thinking about going vegan, Hannibal?

Pro-Life leaning pundits would have us believe that networks who spent months promulgating a “war on women” being waged on the battlefield of abortion rights don’t want to look into the surrounding shadows.

Others believe the media are uncomfortable with the Gosnell case given that as an Illinois State Senator President Obama fought hard to make sure abortion doctors would be allowed to deny life saving treatment to live infants outside the womb.  

As for me, I think something else is at work, a form of network self-preservation. With so much invested in so many different shows in how clever, quirky and “edgy” serial killers are, nobody wants to remind the audience that the real horrors aren’t all that much fun.

What went on in Gosnell’s clinic is horrific by any standard. You can’t hear about it and still be eager to see what the crazy guy on this week’s “Criminal Minds” gets up to.

It’s too raw. It’s too close. It doesn’t titillate an audience.

In other words, it doesn’t make good television.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Impossiblist

Over his 50 year career Reveen presented 6,000 live performances throughout Canada, the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom.

When Australian magician and hypnotist Peter Reveen was in his 20’s, he decided to see the world –- and got as far as Canada.

Arriving in Vancouver by bus from Los Angeles, something about the place and the people just felt right and he decided to stay.

Around 1960, he arrived in my hometown of Regina, taking over the classiest local movie house for a presentation of illusion and hypnotism. Live shows like his didn’t come our way much and I’m sure the people who ran the theatre figured they’d be back unspooling movies in a week or so.

But he was billed as “The Impossiblist” –- perhaps because it wasn’t just onstage where he worked his magic.

Reveen had a knack for both self-promotion and what would now be called networking but back then was just finding willing people and offering them an opportunity.

The man had talent and he knew that to make a living he had to share some of it and give some away for free.

So he would spend his days walking the streets of the cities where he played offering shop owners and pretty much anybody with a public window free tickets for putting up the B&W posters of his imposing visage.

He traded radio stations free ads for a percentage of ticket sales and made the same deal with the local TV station where he’d generously hypnotize the weather or sports guy live to show his potential audience the fun that was in store.

His show had barely opened and every kid in town was begging their parents to please, please, please take me!

Meanwhile, every small town has a coterie of folks who love magic or are certain they have show business in their veins.  Thus many in Reveen’s backstage crews and assistants were drawn from those bartering their talents for a closer look at how real magic was performed or just to be part of a big-time theatrical evening.

The names of those to whom Reveen gave a shot include famed Jazz pianist and Canadian Senator Tommy Banks and a kid from Moose Jaw named Shelby Craigen, who invented and built illusions for Reveen still used by Las Vegas icon Lance Burton.

Between the generous ticket deals that not only saw posters in new windows every day but encouraged radio and TV stations to plug his show at every opportunity, Reveen was selling out nightly all through a long, cold winter.

I thought I’d never get to see him. And then, one day, Reveen walked into my dad’s office with a poster under his arm.

It wasn’t the first magic show I’d ever seen. But to date it’s been by far the best. Reveen worked the family crowd with a few illusions and then his signature specialty of hypnotizing about a dozen volunteers from the audience.

The result was an evening of awe and side-splitting laughter that led to the inevitable standing ovation that concluded every Reveen performance.

Two or three decades later, I saw Reveen again in Toronto’s Elgin Theatre where, along with Montreal’s St. Denis, Vancouver’s Orpheum and Edinburgh’s Playhouse, he still holds the attendance record.

His show was bigger and flashier than before. He’d been a regular at Caesar’s Palace and on the Merv Griffin Show by then. Had his own comic book, best-selling academic treatise on “the superconscious” and a line of self-help hypnosis tapes.

But he was still the same guy.

Gentle. Down to Earth. Funny. Anxious to share his talent and enjoy the wonder on the faces staring back at him.

Peter Reveen passed away in Las Vegas on Monday, his death overshadowed by the departures from Life of Margaret Thatcher and Annette.

He leaves behind a son who carries on his legacy of magic and millions of fans who will forever remember a man who understood that giving away or sharing what you have returns unimaginable rewards.

Monday, April 08, 2013

My Moment With Margaret

In the late Spring of 1983, I was a Canadian actor touring a play throughout the United Kingdom and currently playing in Edinburgh.

One soggy afternoon, as I slogged through town in a downpour that hadn’t stopped in a week, a voice called from behind, a high pitched, “Haallooo. Halloo!”. I turned to find Margaret Thatcher leaning out of a taxi window, waving happily as she passed and the cab swung into a hotel driveway.

I recognized her, of course, aware as anyone back then of “The Iron Lady”, “The Fighting Lady of the Falklands” or “Attila the Hen” as the Scots at the theatre called her; then in the midst of an election campaign that dominated the papers and the telly.

I had been bound for the hotel to do an interview in the bar and when I ducked under its awning and shook off the wet, Mrs. Thatcher, who had been supervising the disposition of her luggage, despite the carloads of security and supporters who had preceded and followed her up the drive, immediately strove over with her hand outstretched.

“You need to find an umbrella.”

I smiled and shook her hand, letting her know I was a Canadian who couldn’t vote so she shouldn’t waste her time on me. She laughed and insisted there must be someone I could influence.

As it happened, I had a great uncle and aunt who lived in her riding and had, on a previous tour, recounted how odd it was that the girl who used to help them bag produce at her father’s green grocer shop was now the Prime Minister.

I mentioned that and she asked their names. Although they weren’t at all politically active, she knew them and her next question was “And how is Millie?” Millie being the sickly maiden aunt who had recently moved in with them.

I was astonished that this woman, mostly known for battling Russians, Argentines, coal miners and the IRA was aware of the most minor goings on a few blocks from where she had grown up.

“I’ll be campaigning there next week and expect to hear you’ve put in a good word for me”.  She smiled again and was gone, swallowed up by security and campaigners.

When I mentioned my encounter to the journalist I was meeting, he suggested I wash my hand before any infection set in. The Scots at the theatre were equally disdainful and on election night a couple of weeks later in Glasgow were cheering the fact that Scotland hadn’t sent any of her candidates to Parliament.

I’m sure they had good reason for how they felt and it was clear that among the artists and theatricals I encountered on the rest of the tour she was despised.

But I’ve never shaken the feeling that under that iron, determination and lack of compromise was a very nice lady.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 267: The Old Joke

When I was a kid, comedy albums were all the rage. Shelley Berman, Bob Newhart and, of course, Bill Cosby all had a place in my parents record cabinet, hauled out on Saturday night, once the adult’s party in the rec room was in full swing and everybody was tired of dancing.

I often sat on the basement stairs in my PJs laughing along with routines we had all heard a hundred times but still loved hearing again.

There was always somebody in the crowd who wasn’t familiar with the jokes and it often felt like there was as much enjoyment in sharing in their discovery as there was in hearing a beloved quip one more time.

In my teens, Bill Cosby came to town and I managed to score a front row seat. Much of his act was from those years old albums. But the laughter was as genuine and appreciative as if it was all brand new.

There weren’t a lot of comedy venues back then. Some of the big names toured their own live shows but most stand-ups were either the warm up act or inserted in front of the curtain while the next act set up or the last stripper picked up her sequins and feathers.

Now, comedy is everywhere. Every city has at least one comedy club. There are entire networks where stand-up is available 24/7 and the jokes told in those places turn up on Youtube virtually before the laughter they elicited has died out.

Some comics, most frequently Canadian Russell Peters, have bemoaned the pressure this puts on them to come up with new material. And maybe that’s a valid beef.

But I still find myself stopping the remote or turning up the volume on the satellite radio when Louis CK, Jim Gaffigan. Kathy Madigan or Larry The Cable Guy launches into a bit I’ve heard many times before.

Maybe it’s the joy of watching how the joke is constructed or the mastery with which an audience is worked. But sometimes funny is just funny no matter how many times you’ve heard the punchline.

One of my current favorite comics is Dov Davidoff, whose chaotic stage presence belies a studied mastery of the craft. Even if you’ve heard it all before, it’s still good to laugh.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

One From The Vault

45 years ago tonight, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee. 39 years later, I wrote what follows. Luckily it included the words of somebody else that better capture the essence of not only that night but many of the problems we continue to face.

I hope you find them worth reading.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Welcome To The Show

The 2013 Baseball season opens in Canada today, with little doubt among most Canadians that the home team will be the last one standing in the American League come October.

While our last World Series hero, Joe Carter, might remind us that there are still games to play first, it’s been a long time (like 20 years) since I’ve been this excited about my beloved Blue Jays.

But sadly, there is one category in which the Jays are not shining.


And you’d think this would be a foregone conclusion, residing as they do at the center of the Canadian Media Universe and owned, as they are, by one of the nation’s largest media conglomerates.

Yet, oddly, it’s the conglomerate and not the team who are at the forefront of the opening day hoopla, with ads showcasing Rogers’ websites, leading radio personality and mobility options as onscreen fans crowd toward a stadium named after the company founder.

Is it the enjoyment of baseball that’s being sold here or the options Rogers feels you need in order to fully enjoy what’s to come?

Is it perhaps reflective of the eternal need for Canadian broadcasters to place themselves ahead of the talent?

Elsewhere, the Jays are pwned by teams selling players, excitement and attitude.

For example. On the field, Toronto will own the Chicago White Sox this season. But when it comes to hype, the Chisox are already striking them out.

Of added interest is that their video is geo-blocked in Canada. But you can find it here.