Interview with Gerald Wexler (July 2007)

by Nathalie Cooke and Norman Ravvin


On 17 July 2007, we meet with writer Gerald Wexler to discuss his role in the film and television adaptations of Richler’s work. Wexler was the first writer hired for the film adaptation of St. Urbain’s Horseman, and has also been involved with several adaptations of Richler’s short stories, such as Bambinger.

Mordecai Richler was intimately involved in screen writing throughout his career, beginning with his arrival in London in the 1950s. During his years there he produced his own original scripts and was hired to doctor the faltering work of others. The latter work proved financially rewarding and bought him time to work on his major novels. When his own novels attained success, he undertook screen adaptations of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Joshua Then and Now with the directorial collaboration of his friend Ted Kotcheff. Richler also prepared a treatment for St. Urbain’s Horseman. One triumph among these efforts was his Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay for the 1974 production of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.

Adaptations of Richler’s work by others offer examples of the way his fiction and memoiristic writing has been received and reconceived. In 1976, animator Caroline Leaf transformed “The Summer My Grandmother Was Supposed to Die” from his collection The Street into a short film for the National Film Board also called The Street. In 2007 CBC TV aired a two-part dramatization of St. Urbain’s Horseman. Gerald Wexler was the first screen writer hired for this project. His script was ultimately jettisoned for another shooting script, though Wexler retained his writer’s credit. Wexler previously adapted two of Richler’s short stories under the titlesBambinger(1984) and Mortimer Griffin and Shalinsky (1985). Both were part of a series produced by Toronto-based Atlantis Films, whose goal was to bring Canadian short stories to the screen for local and international audiences. Wexler’s skill with adaptation is evident, too, in his well-received screenplay for Margaret’s Museum, based on a Sheldon Currie novel.

Wexler was interviewed at his Montreal home by editors Nathalie Cooke and Norman Ravvin. His description of his work on the St. Urbain’s Horseman project offers a cautionary tale: it reflects the vagaries of screen work; the inner workings of a project with private and public funders; as well as the minefield that surrounds a major novelist’s work, even after his death, in the form of the author’s iconic status and the challenge of adapting his distinctive narrative style to a successful script. Wexler reflects on what he believes to be the strengths and lacks in Richler’s narrative art as he accounts for his notion of how St. Urbain’s Horseman might play successfully on the screen.

—Norman Ravvin

Interview [1] [2]

Wexler: My personal feeling is CBC hates me. I’ve had that feeling for a long time. The few times I’ve worked with them it seems to get confirmed. One of the films I’ve done is Margaret’s Museum. That was turned down twice by CBC, in fact discarded, and then after it won all the awards and grand prizes, I think they’ve shown it maybe six times.

Ravvin: In this case how did the CBC get you involved with the Richler project?

Wexler: I was called by the producer, Arnie Gelbart, and he recommended me. He said I would be the right person to write this because I had adapted Richler before, and those adaptations had won awards. I mean they were very good. They were produced in Canada but they were bought by A&E in the States and Showtime and ITV in England. I was born on avenue du Parc and grew up in Mile End and sort of know the whole community and everything, the whole world of Richler. So I think [Gelbart] thought that I would be the right person. It sort of amazed me that CBC would say, “yeah okay, we approve Wexler,” but anyway they did and it seemed to me like a very interesting thing to do. So then I wrote a treatment. Basically, a treatment is what the script is going to look like. Often I’ll write about sixty pages for a two-hour film, and since this one was four hours and two episodes because it’s a mini series, maybe about a hundred-and-twenty pages. A treatment is very detailed. Then I had a meeting with the CBC executive and he pretty much attacked everything I did. I said to myself, “I’m dead in the water.” And I said to the producer, “Should I even continue?” He said, “No, no, no, that’s just the way they talk” (laughs).

Cooke: I’ve never seen a response to a treatment but I have seen responses to screenplays when looking through the archives. Some were pretty nasty… So is it really unusual to have CBC coming in and being quite as vehement about the content?

Wexler: I don’t know, not necessarily. I think each project is different, so I mean that was just my experience on this project. I’m not part of their circle really. I’m not part of anybody’s circle, which is one of my problems I suppose, in that there are circles. I don’t know what you’d call it. You wouldn’t call it cliques, but circles. I’m an anglophone writer and I live in Montreal which, you know, sets me apart. I’m actually more connected to Los Angeles.

Well, so, I had a particular take on the book and how to adapt it, basically based on my knowledge of Richler. And anyway, that’s what I continued with, as the producer said, “Just keep going.” So I did, and my contract was to write a treatment and then two drafts of the screenplay. I tried to connect as much as possible with CBC, or at least get a sense of where we were. We had a meeting on the first draft of the script and this guy, this executive happened to be here. I think he came mostly because there was another CBC film that I think he felt much more favourable about, and that’s why he was here. So we sat to start talking about the film, and we only got about maybe two thirds of the way through the script and he said, “I have to go,” and that was it. I never had another communication from him. Then I finished the second draft.

And then, not long after that I was told basically, “You’re fired, and we’re going to hire another writer.” They did hire another writer, a guy called Howard Wiseman, who had done Richler adaptations before. I’ve never actually met him but I know I really enjoyed his radio adaptation ofJoshua Then and Now. I thought it was great. I thought it really put the series, the television series, that they produced, to shame. That really got the feeling of the novel and the feeling of Richler. I think he also did the CBC radio adaptation of Barney’s Version. And he was hired to basically re-write me, not to write a new script but they gave him a re-write contract. And then they fired him. I never read his script, so I really can’t comment. Although we have the same agent, and his agent told me that he liked a lot of my script and tried to keep a lot of my script, you know, in his version.

Then they hired another writer, Joe Wiesenfeld, who was from Canada originally but has lived in the States for about twenty years. That’s the version that they shot. I’m with the Writers Guild of Canada, or the Writers Guild of America. These are the unions that represent scriptwriters. If you’re replaced as a writer and then the film is released you have the right to go through what’s called credit arbitration to see if your name stays on the film. If your name is on the film, it often has money attached to it if you’re credited. I wasn’t sure if I should or not. I read Joe Wiesenfeld’s [script], and they have to send you the shooting draft to read so I did, and, you can take this the wrong way or the right way, but I really feel what I wrote was really much better. It was just a recapitulation of my previous experiences with CBC. So I really felt that [mine] was a much better script but I wasn’t sure what to do. Do I want to go through an arbitration? I mean, it’s not that big a deal. You have to send them everything you wrote. It’s all done anonymously. You don’t have your name on a script. It’s writer A, writer B, writer C—although Canada’s so small most people can figure it out. And the Writer’s Guild gets a voluntary arbitration committee together with three writers who have written this kind of material, meaning a miniseries, and there’s not many and these tend to be the top writers in Canada. So they’re probably fairly smart and know the business. There’s only about six of us, to tell you the truth, who have done this kind of work. And I called a friend of mine in Los Angeles who is like an old-time scriptwriter for Stallone and all kinds of features, very commercial, but he’s Jewish and very, very bright, just to ask his advice you know. Should I bother arbitrating? And he said, “Yes.” So I did, and the arbitration committee ran my script and said, “Gerald Wexler should get credit.” So I did. There are three names on the script [for] the final film.

Ravvin: Did you ever have the sense that the estate was involved in these requests?

Wexler: I did, yes, yes. I mean there is a man behind the scenes—and not even so far behind the scenes—Michael Levine. The first meeting I had on the project he was there and he had to approve me. And I have a hunch that, you know, I have a hunch I strayed too far from the book because I looked at it as an adaptation, not a hagiography. I really felt I had to honour the book, but I felt also that I was going to look at it the same way I did when I adapted W.P. Kinsella for Paramount in Los Angeles. Not everything on the page works that well on screen and especially a book like Saint Urbain’s Horseman. There were a few things that I changed. I mean, my script [retained] the story but a lot of Richler’s dialogue—if you read the book there’s actually very little dialogue in it. It’s like about eighty percent internal monologue…

Cooke: That’s right now I think of it…

Wexler: …And that internal monologue really doesn’t translate to spoken language. That’s Richler. That’s Richler’s language. And if you record that, it won’t work. I’ve seen it, I’ve seen people try not just Richler but other people and it doesn’t work. You know, sometimes, occasionally it will but very often a novelist’s internal monologue does not work on film at all.

Ravvin: Well they tried it with Joshua Then and Now. The voice over was terrible.

Wexler: It’s kind of a shame. It was a failure and I told the producers, I thought that was a lousy film and a lousy adaptation. Partly because they were trying to do the actual novel per se and it doesn’t translate. They also had some major casting problems. I think James Woods is a great actor but I don’t think he has an ounce of Jewish blood in him. R. H. Thomson is a pure WASP, but I set up The Quarrel based on a Yiddish short story and he played like an East European Jew really well. So some people can do it but James Woods couldn’t. He was playing James Woods. I’m pretty sure Michael Levine set up his own crusade to have every work that Richler ever published done as a film. It’s sort of like a small industry in a way to sort of keep that going, and I don’t know if it’s such a good idea.

Richler himself said, “I’m world famous in Canada.” I work a lot in Los Angeles and I know a lot of people in the studios and whenever you say, “Richler” [people draw a blank]. Then you say, “Duddy Kravitz,” [and the response is] “Oh yeah, I remember that.”

[In the Richler Challenge conference] there was one critic, or one academic who said one of the cons of Richler’s [writing] is, a lot of people today don’t get the references.

What I tried to do was make it the kind of story that, you know, hopefully would appeal, that would honour the book but that would appeal to a modern audience as well. And I think—don’t take it wrong—if anyone besides Kinsella had sent that book in to a publisher I think it would have been rejected out of hand. It was just a mess. Whole sections of it didn’t make any sense. And I tamed the beast and my exec was the vice-president of Paramount who just loved it.

Cooke: Is this Shoeless Joe?

Wexler: No, no. It’s another one, similar to Shoeless, similar to Field of Dreams. Also about baseball and a guy a bit obsessed with a dead father and a guy who goes back in time. Like inSaint Urbain’s Horseman, one of the problems I found, and I’m probably not the only person, is that Richler tends to write weak female characters. The women tend to be almost off screen. Like in Saint Urbain’s Horseman, in the novel of maybe four hundred-and-fifty pages, I think the wife is really, really present for about thirty. And she has about ten pages I think of good dialogue. This is a story about a guy who has a family and a wife and is faithful to his wife and has three kids and is going through a terrible time. The other side [of the story] is the world of the wife. It’s really important and it’s almost lost. What I try to do is give her a voice, and maybe they didn’t like the voice that I chose for her.

Richler married. His own wife isn’t Jewish. Richler has devoted his life to writing on Jewish themes and yet his wife is not Jewish and the kids […] none of them went to Hebrew [school]. You see my wife was raised as an Irish Catholic. Mary Helena Hooley. She’s the eldest of eight kids, you know, a very involved Catholic family and in church all the time, and the parents are always going to mass, but you know, she kind of abandoned that. Even before I met her and [she] became interested in Judaism. Then after we got married she converted. She’s very observant and belongs to two synagogues and she takes Shabbat very, very seriously, don’t turn on the lights and you know… So I looked at this kind of relationship and I tried to give her a voice, so I actually tried to create […] I forget, what’s her name again?

Ravvin: Is she Nancy?

Wexler: Nancy, yeah.

So there’s the mother who comes to visit from Montreal and I actually created a kind of subplot where, under the influence of the mother, Nancy starts becoming more interested in Judaism and actually starts lighting candles on Shabbat. She thinks it’s a way of creating a world for the kids and connecting with Jake’s family. Now that doesn’t exist in the book and I bet you that didn’t exist in Richler’s life. I know the family read that and—I don’t know if it’s happened or not, this is pure conjecture—and maybe Florence said, “That’s not me.”

Cooke: Do you know the family read it?

Wexler: I’m pretty sure. I was told the family was involved and the family had a say in this. So that was like one thing that I changed and also gave her a voice like in the book. She had been a model. So one of the things I did was I went through a book I have here of David Bailey’s photographs from that time. David Bailey was a famous, very big-time fashion photographer around the time that Saint Urbain’s Horseman happened. Jake is a television director. But in the book, you never actually see him direct anything. And so I thought that’s really important.

So I have whole scenes where he directs and you see his evolution as a director and the kind of material he does. In the book there’s just the odd reference to the fact that he spends more time with the technicians than the actors and is friendlier with them. For me that was important and something I wanted to deal with. And that’s something actually that survived from what I could see. Also you see a brief note of him being friendlier to the cast, to the technicians. But I actually created television plays. Now I should say I only read the first episode of the two so I can’t comment on the second, but from what I read in the first, you barely see him direct.

Ravvin: So did the finished version revert to something more literally-bonded to the novel in its original shape?

Wexler: I don’t know. Like I say I only read one, the first episode of the final shooting script. The book keeps going back and forth chronologically and that was a real question that I had to ask myself, because that was a real problem with Joshua Then and Now, that the novel keeps going back and forth. I decided I would do that—that I would keep that part of Richler’s [approach]. It’s a lot of work, and I think it did work. But they decided, in the final draft, the final shooting script, to get rid of that approach and just do it linearly. I mean I can understand why they did it. I think it’s intellectually, visually, less challenging. You know, jumping back and forth requires the viewer to come a bit closer. It’s a bit more intellectually challenging, you have to keep situating things and events. Godfather II, which many people say is one of the greatest films, greatest American films of all time, does exactly that. It jumps back and forth between the present and Don Corleone as a young man. It’s a kind of literary device, which is [also] a kind of filmic device which is very accepted.

In the book there’s virtually no connection between Jake and Joey. I think there’s only one scene in the book where they actually say a word to each other. And so I created the world of Jake and Joey and you know, these two kids. And how Joey is this sickly kid who then becomes a really tough kid and becomes a mentor to Jake. Joey’s the kid with the gun, and actually before he leaves town [he] gives Jake a gun and tells him if anybody calls you a dirty Jew or anybody tells you anything you don’t agree with, this is what you use with them, okay?

So there’s a whole scene, which I recreated, where someone actually draws a swastika on the side of the synagogue and Joey moves in, barges in to Tansky’s, and demands to know what the guys there are going to do about it and, you know, and they’re going to write a letter. So in what I wrote all of a sudden Joey pulls up at Jake’s house where Jake’s eating and says, “Hey come with me.” In his fancy sports car. And Jake doesn’t know what’s going on but you know he really looks up to Joey and Joey’s a bit of his idol so he gets in the car with him and he drives over to the synagogue where’s there’s that swastika on the side. Then he opens the trunk of his MG and there’s this French Canadian kid in the trunk all beaten up and Joey pulls him out of the trunk, whacks him in the belly with a baseball bat, and then gives him a pail of water with a sponge and orders him to start cleaning the swastika off the wall. Jake’s watching this and he doesn’t know if Joey is crazy. Is Joey somebody to be admired or is Joey somebody to run away from? I keep cutting away to Joey on the pampas, on the horse with the sniper’s rifle hunting down Mengele and getting him in his sights and that sort of thing. Jake needs to know if Joey is really out there… he’s become somebody he can’t shake and this is actually driving Nancy crazy. So, this is what I was trying to do, in a sense, create the mosaic. Joey is a character who stays very much alive, and what’s going on with Nancy is she has her own arc, which Jake can’t understand. [Jake thinks] they’re creating a Jewish cabal against me and Nancy isn’t even Jewish.

Another thing that I changed was the character of Ruth. My feeling in the novel was that Richler overdoes it. Like when Ruthie’s brother, what’s his name again?

Ravvin: Stein?

Wexler: Harry Stein, yeah. Like Harry is in a way a real, he’s a great character but—he’s like, you know, there’s a lot of caricaturist elements to him—and the way Ruthie was drawn in the novel, for me, was just completely off. She was just another caricature but an even sillier one to me. That’s really the way I felt. And I felt, okay my job as the scriptwriter is to keep everything that I think is good or that I can and to improve what I can. So I drew her as a very different kind of character, as a very high class call girl. In my version, she is a woman who’s very beautiful and well-to-do and very cynical about the world and actually tries to give him advice about Harry, which is to stay away from Harry because he’s a cunt. When I lived in England that four letter word seemed to be common. So I tried to honour the book as much as I could and change what I thought really should be changed, and CBC decided, no. I mean, it’s not that they decided after I had gone through it all, they decided just about when I started, that they didn’t like any of my ideas.

Cooke: But during those readings they never gave you a hint as to which particular change triggered the response?

Wexler: Well I got a few hints, like, “get rid of Duddy Kravitz, take him out of the script completely.” And my feeling was when Jake is a kid growing up Duddy [is] a really interesting character. Duddy is like the foil for Jake growing up, and you see the divergence—that Jake’s a guy who shares in a way Duddy’s world and the card games and the smoking and the [ogling] girls. But you can see that Jake is also the kid who is moving away from that too. So it creates a contrast, and also presents a character, presents the world. I was told to eliminate him and take out the baseball game on Hampstead Heath.

Ravvin: Okay, which is one of the more fun sections of the novel.

Wexler: Yeah, that’s right. I was told to take that out and I kept it in. Now I’ve got to admit that’s an expensive scene to shoot and the script that I wrote was a much more expensive script than the one that they ultimately shot. The one that they shot was shot completely in Montreal. They couldn’t get an English co-producer. But still, for me, England is really important, and even creating the character of the landlady in London. I based that partly on my own experiences in bed-sits in East London and that sort of thing, and that’s important and that world and most of that is not there.

Cooke: So these instructions came in that first meeting?

Wexler: That’s right, yeah. Well you see the executive said “Take it out,” and I said, “I think they should be there and this is the reason why I think they should be there,” and actually the producer backed me up. So the CBC guy said, “Well okay,” but I could see the way he said, “Well okay.” What I’m saying in my mind is, “I’m dead in the water. I can do what he wants or I can write a good, what I consider to be a good script.”

Ravvin: How did you deal with this thing you mentioned about people not getting the references these days?

Wexler: Well, you know, that’s harder. One of the things I try to do is to actually make Judaism not just something that you talk about but something that you see and that’s why I created Nancy’s journey and Nancy’s arc in the story. In truth, that’s something that’s actually common in a sense, one person in a couple converting if it’s a mixed marriage, especially if it’s Montreal. Montreal Jews, perhaps not elsewhere, but Montreal Jews very much so.

Ravvin: You touch on something that’s one of the worst parts of Joshua Then and Now, which is that every aspect of Jewishness in the up-to-date scenes is a little gag or a little joke. It’s got nothing to do with lived Jewishness, as you say, so that the only part of that film that seems true is the old stuff, which brings out what life was like on the street. I screened it with some people in New York and I was meant to give a talk afterward. I was in fact quite embarrassed. As I watched it I thought, “This has got nothing to say about Jewishness really.”

Wexler: Yeah. Like the book is really Jewish. I found all kinds of references in the book that set me off on little journeys. Like there’s a reference to Lord George Gordon. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him. In the 1790s, he was a British lord who got into some real trouble with the King and he converted to Judaism and became an orthodox Jew and started condemning other Jews who didn’t wear beards. You see these are the things that Jake in the book has on his mind.

Cooke: Richler hopes that they will notice and follow up on all the hints and tidbits of information, expects a lot of his readers. There are all the Jewish references for starters, some Yiddish terms as well.

Wexler: Yeah, see I tried to keep that as much as I could. For me these are things, you know, for me the Jewish world or Judaism is really the ocean that Richler swims in and that the book swims in.

Ravvin: Were there aspects of the book that struck you as being perfectly filmic, that drew you right away?

Wexler: Well I mean there’s images in the book that really stand out, stood out for me. Jake has these images of Joey on the Pampas and tracking down Mengele. These are things that I expanded and this becomes a whole narrative in Jake’s mind, and while he’s going through all these trials it drives Nancy crazy because the guy’s a fraud and Jake is refusing to admit it until the absolute end. You see I made Joey less of a fraud than in the book. This was something that I did when I adapted [Richler’s short story] “Bambinger.” Again, in that case, I changed Richler because I thought it would make it better and make it more believable, because one of the problems I have with the book is that very early on you really get the sense that Joey is a real, that there’s many things about Joey that are very shifty and he is not really that heroic a character. I wonder why does Jake have this obsession with this guy who went to Hollywood and did some jobs as a stunt man or a double or something? There’s nothing about him that’s very heroic.

So I did a whole scene where Joey takes Jake and Duddy, the city Jews, the ghetto Jews, up to the mountain, and in those days there were stables on the mountain and you could rent a horse and go riding. And he actually gets them up on a horse. While he’s getting Duddy up, the horse starts and Duddy just falls back, like he is terrified of horses: the big talker’s terrified of horses.

Ravvin: So casting would be key because the actors would have to convey the ambiguity.

Wexler: Yeah, exactly. Like in the book I just couldn’t buy why Jake was obsessed with this guy who was kind of a schmo really.

Cooke: But it sounds as though the subsequent script took off the edginess that you had given it.

Wexler: I think so, yeah. Like I said I only read the […]. I was very, very busy at the time when all this happened, this arbitration. You have to do things within a few days, so I just read the first draft, you know. Well I didn’t know if I should bother or not. Anyway in the end I did and it worked out but I didn’t like it. I thought Joey just seems like a shmuck, a shmo, you know.

Ravvin: Are there other Richler pieces that you’ve thought of adapting?

Wexler: Well there was a short story of his. After I did Bambinger and Mortimer Griffin and Shalinsky, I tried to get the producers to do a third one. There was one called “Benny.” One title it was published under was “Benny Myerson’s Daughter in the War in Europe.” I just called it “Benny.”

[It’s] about a kid growing up, you know, in Mile End in the late forties or before. He went off to war, and he was not considered the brightest kid, but a kid with a very good heart. And you know he was sent home with a note from school from Baron Byng, where the teacher says, “Benny is a very nice boy and very industrious and hard working but he is not a scholar. I suggest he learn a trade.” And then the father reads this [and] there’s a refrain through the whole story: Shapiro’s boy is the refrain, you know. Shapiro’s boy gets A’s and Shapiro’s boy later is going to McGill and Shapiro’s boy is a doctor. This follows Benny through his life, like he’s completely inadequate. He works as a mechanic and gets drafted and goes off to Europe. He actually becomes a combat soldier and comes back psychologically damaged by the experience. But he manages to get married to a woman who has a club foot. It’s a loving marriage, but he can’t shake what happened to him in the war. And then one day he goes to the movies and he sees an atom bomb and a mushroom cloud and everything. It seems to bring back just these horrible memories of the war for him and he commits suicide. So, it’s very, very sad. It’s a story I would really have loved to do, but I couldn’t get it done then. Who knows, maybe, you know […].

Cooke: Tell us about adapting the two short stories. Did anything come up as a kind of surprise in the process?

Wexler: There were things. “Mortimer Griffin and Shalinsky” is a great short story. It’s a really funny short story and we had a good cast: Paul Soles, he is a really excellent actor; and Ron Leigh played Mortimer Griffin. He’s a Canadian actor and I see him on TV a lot. I’ve seen him on stage and he’s just wonderful on stage. In Mortimer Griffin and Shalinsky he was just wonderful, but he’s a working actor and I see him on these TV shows where I feel so bad for him because the shows are terrible and he’s terrible, you know, and he’s such a good actor too. But he was perfect for the role.

Bambinger is about this German Jewish refugee who was taken as a boarder by this family and takes a room with a twelve year old boy, which really sets the two at odds. But the problem with “Bambinger” is that Bambinger himself was a real asshole in the story to start with, and he was a real asshole in the story to end with. And for me he didn’t have an arc. So I gave him an arc where there’s a coming together, where there’s a reconciliation between him and the boy. In the story Bambinger says at the end, “So you can have your room back now you little bastard.” But when he says that, that’s the way he talks at the beginning and that’s the way he talks at the end. Then what Richler did was there’s a kind of epilogue where the boy says that two weeks later he saw Bambinger walking down the street and the woman who held his arm was a blond. I thought I didn’t like that—I mean that was really Richler’s misanthropic tendencies—so I kept that scene but I made it like several months later and the kid says, “I thought of crossing the street to say hello to him but in the end I didn’t. What was there to say after that?”

Ravvin: Those were both NFB?

Wexler: They were co-productions between the NFB, Atlantis and Global Television. Global was actually the broadcaster and then they were boxed. They were good films so they were purchased all over the world actually. They travelled around. I had a consciousness inBambinger too that people are going to see this and look at Bambinger and think Jews can be real, are real shmucks. And even if he’s a shmuck I wanted him [to be] at least a shmuck with a soul.

Cooke: And in that process were the family involved at any point?

Wexler: No, as far as I know, no, no.

Ravvin: Because it was a real career at that point. There was a guy alive and he didn’t mess around with those kinds of things I guess.

Wexler: Yeah, yeah. You see I didn’t meet Richler at all when I did Bambinger, and then afterBambinger was a success Richler’s photo was on the cover of Broadcast Week, which was like the TV Times at the time. They didn’t mention me and so it appeared like this was written by Mordecai Richler, so I’m kind of used to that. And that was at the same time that Joshua Then and Now came out and was getting actually not very good press. But Richler was a scriptwriter too, and I think he knows that as the novelist you can’t, you shouldn’t and you can’t, interfere with an adaptation. Basically you can’t interfere because the producer buys the rights and if you don’t want somebody to tamper with your work don’t sell the rights. Once you sell the rights then, you know, it’s being passed off to someone else. So I had no communication with Richler at all when I wrote Bambinger.

And then when they hired me to do Mortimer Griffin and Shalinsky he actually asked to meet me and the director. So we met him. It was a very odd meeting because he sat with what they call the Actra book, and this is the book of actors, it’s like five hundred pages, a thousand actors in Canada, and he was going through the book and talking about which actors he might recommend. But, he never, he barely, looked at me and I really wondered what’s the point of this exactly? You know, the only thing I could think was that, you know, people have told me that Richler was shy or not the most communicative of people outside of his writing and this was his way of sort of acknowledging me and saying good job without saying it. That’s the way I interpreted it, you know. I mentioned this to Mavis Gallant and she said, “That’s exactly it.” That was her interpretation. That’s what he’s like. So, I barely had any communication with him. There was no interference from him in the actual writing of those scripts. But I really got the feeling [with] Saint Urbain’s Horseman that there was like a wall of people, you know.

[1] We gratefully acknowledge Lorna Hutchison who introduced Ravvin and Cooke to Gerald Wexler.

[2] Interview transcribed by Olivia Ward.