Percy Saltzman Interview: PAUL, PIERRE, PERCY, AND ME


My son, Paul (1943) began his career as an interviewer on CBC-TV at a very early age (his, and the network's).

He later went on to carve out a formidable career as a TV and Movie producer-director-writer on several TV networks, and also as a private entrepreneur producing films and books (primarily on the Beatles).

He also distinguished himself as an early martyr in the cause of the Freedom Movement for Blacks in redneck USA (Mississippi) where he clashed with the Klan and got jugged for (would you believe it) walking on the sidewalk demanding the right to walk on the sidewalk, in good Ole Miss.

He smuggled four articles from the redneck jail that made the very top of the front page of the Toronto Star (Canada's top daily) for four successive days with huge headlines, a feat never accomplished before, or since, by a jugged Jew.

He and I were the first and only father-son team to appear on "Front Page Challenge", not together, but on four separate broadcasts, each first as a mystery guest, and then each as a guest panelist.

Likewise, he and I were the first and only father-son team to interview Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, not together but on separate TV broadcasts.

My interview with Trudeau on CTV's "Canada AM" was noteworthy because it proved me to be an arrant coward, with a yellow streak, a foot wide, up and down my backside.

You see, although I had years of experience as a weathercaster, I had had very little as a news reporter. So when CTV sent me to Ottawa to interview PET (Pierre Elliot Trudeau) (Trudeau is French for a watery hole), I sought sage advice from Bruce Phillips, CTV's long time senior Ottawa news correspondent (later a federal government High Commissioner).

Bruce egged me on to query T. about his wartime (WW II) opposition to the war against fascism. According to Bruce, T. as a young intellectual in Montreal was wont to ride around the city on his motorbike, sporting a Teutonic helmet, and spouting anti-Brit, anti-imperialist, anti-war slogans.

That was nothing new in French Canada. Even in WWI there had been strong opposition to the imperialist wars of our Britannic motherland, to which our French-Canadian brethren were bitterly opposed. So much so that many Francophone youth fled to the boondocks to avoid conscription in WWI. This contrarian mood was echoed in WWII.

So in WWII PET was merely echoing Quebec quirkiness.

Well, as I say, faced with Trudeau face-to-face, I had no heart to put it to him. Here he sat, immaculately gabardined, sporting in his left lapel as was his wont, his usual rosy posy, backed up by a squad of sturdy RCMP, and who was I, this lowly son of a humpbacked Jew to beard this lion in his den, guarded as he was by his big-bodied red-coated gendarmerie?

So I chickened out, and have regretted it ever since.

And now, ages later, a new book has appeared ("Young Trudeau, 1919-1944", by M & M Nemni) in which Trudeau is limned as a fascistic anti-Semite, not quite the golden legend that we were force-fed in his later Trudeau years.

The book, written by two professors, both friends of Trudeau, depicts him in his early years as a member of a secret organization, planning a revolution to establish a Catholic, corporatist, authoritarian regime, and condemning parliamentary democracy and liberalism.

It was a time in P.Q. of ultra-nationalistic groups, with xenophobic and authoritarian ideology, both in the ruling circles of the government and of the hegemonic R.C. church.

It was a time of Father Groulx, and Adrian Arcand, and Camillien Houde, and Maurice Duplessis.

It was the time of Quebec government ads placed in American media extolling Quebec as a paradise of cheap non-union labor.

It was the time of the Padlock Law, and the smashing of unions by the RCMP.

It was the time of the Index Purgatorius with a list of banned books as long as your arm.

It was the time when ads for Blue Ribbon baking powder, featuring a naked baby, face down, and showing its cute bare bum, were banned from the billboards.

I lived in Montreal for three years (1934-1937) and I personally experienced the suffocating restrictions of the illiberal atmosphere, the mind control, the censorship by church and state.

It was the time when on a hot and sticky July day, my young wife and I sought relief from the oppressive mugginess in a local park, (we were too poor to own a fan, let alone buy a block of ice) and my wife was ordered by the local cop (Catholic, French) to go home and cover up her shame. Her shame was a full dress, but with shoulder straps. The straps were indecent, ruled the gendarme. Shove off, he ordered brusquely, so we shoved off.

It was the time when during a federal election, I was a scrutineer in a polling booth, and because I objected repeatedly and too strenuously to arrant and repeated impersonations, two strongmen barged into the polling booth, hoisted me up by the armpits, hustled me out to their car, then dropped me off in the far outskirts of town, and me without a bean in my jeans, not a sou. I had to find my way home by shank's mare.

This was democracy, Quebec style, circa 1934-1937.

Ah yes! The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation, said PET. What about the state intruding into the inner rooms of my mind, my beliefs, my credo.

What about freedom of thought, expression, religion, assembly, association, action, sexual orientation, and political coloration?

Trudeau was educated a Jesuit. And a Millionaire. Need more be said? Our PET indeed!

Oh yes! And that yellow streak? Still a foot wide. Still up and down my wrinkled backside.