As multitalented as he was prolific, as romantically restless as he was artistically ambitious, Mavor Moore worked all sides of the cultural street as an actor, director, producer, dramatist, impresario, composer, writer, critic, cultural commentator and academic. It is hard to believe that he was only one person. For five decades in this country beginning in the 1940s, he was the happening person for most cultural enterprises, including the CBC, Spring Thaw, the Stratford Festival, the Charlottetown Festival and the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto.
In all, he wrote more than 100 works for stage, radio, television and film, including the book lyrics and music for Sunshine Town, the book and lyrics for Johnny Belinda and the librettos for Louis Applebaum's opera Erewhon and Harry Somers's opera Louis Riel.
"He had great knowledge about the theatre and a great sense of history," said opera and theatre director Leon Major, who succeeded Mr. Moore as general director of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. "He took risks with young directors and then let young directors do what they wanted to do, guiding them as they went."
After commenting on how much he had learned from Mr. Moore, not only about the theatre but also about dealing with actors and writers, Mr. Major said yesterday: "In his heart, I think that he was a teacher more than anything . . . because he took a lot of time with young people to talk to them and listen to them and explain."
Mr. Moore was a man who truly believed in the development of Canadian theatre, he added.
"As I was growing up [in the 1950s and 1960s] he and Lister Sinclair were the two real Renaissance figures in Canada, the two people who were sophisticated and civilized," said Peter Herndorf, president of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. "Nobody in the country has ever been so accomplished and as effective in doing all of these art forms over a career." And yet, "for a man who had all of these talents and all of these accomplishments, he was very rooted" in Canada.
"He was a very, very likeable individual who didn't change over the 40-odd years that I knew him," he said, pointing out that the jobs Mr. Moore took on as an administrator were fraught with peril and that he always managed to avoid controversy and resentment without ever giving up what he was trying to achieve artistically. "He had a very good emotional quotient" that made him "comfortable enough in his own ego that it was easy for him to encourage younger artists," he said.
"He did everything," lyricist Elaine Campbell said yesterday. "He knew what was happening all over the world. . . . He wrote so many musicals and they were all good, but he was always there encouraging people by saying, 'We're Canadians, we can do it.' "
James Mavor Moore was the middle of three sons of John, an Anglican cleric, and the indomitable Dora (née Mavor) Moore. His Toronto childhood was culturally enriched because his mother was an actor and theatrical producer. He watched her play Viola in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night when he was only 7 and she returned the favour five years later by producing his first play for a girls' dramatic club.
By the time he was 10, he and his brothers were producing neighbourhood puppet shows (drawing heavily on the Bard for their plots) and he had made his first radio broadcast as part of a choir singing Christmas music. His parents separated in 1929 after his father, who appears to have been a bounder, left his mother to raise their three sons on her own. Young Mavor helped augment the family finances by acting in The Crusoe Boys, a daily radio serial.
After elementary school, he went to the University of Toronto Schools, then a boys only, academically elite institution. He expanded his theatrical range to play Falstaff and Macbeth in school productions. From UTS, he entered the University of Toronto in 1936, where he studied philosophy and English and participated in theatricals, becoming the first student director to win the University Drama Festival, serving as president of the Players' Guild and the Philosophical Society, as drama critic for the student newspaper The Varsity, and as literary editor of The Undergraduate. After failing a year because of his heavy complement 1 with a first-class honours degree.
He immediately joined the CBC as its youngest producer. He was 22. His poor eyesight made him ineligible for active service overseas during the Second World War, so, instead, he produced wartime radio features for the CBC. Later, he served as a psychological warfare officer in Canadian Army Intelligence attached to the Canadian High Commission in London. At the same time, he married Darwina (Dilly) Faessler on Oct. 14, 1943. They eventually had four daughters: Dorothea (Tedde), Rosalind, Marili and Charlotte.
From 1944 to 1945, Mr. Moore worked in the CBC's international service, becoming senior producer for the Pacific region in 1946. In the late 1940s, he also did summer stints in the information division of the newly formed United Nations Secretariat in New York, and with the UNESCO seminar on education, writing and directing documentaries, three of which won the Peabody Award.
Meantime, he was directing plays for Spring Thaw, the annual Toronto revue that his mother had created under the auspices of the New Play Society (which they had jointly founded in 1946). He directed the first Spring Thaw, which opened on April 1, 1948, and ran for three performances at the theatre in the Royal Ontario Museum. His mother produced the revue until 1961, when she sold the production rights to her son. He bumped up the production values and the performance schedule, extending the annual run at the height of Spring Thaw's success into midsummer and across the country. In 1966, he began leasing the production rights to younger producers.
Always in the centre of the cultural action, Mr. Moore was chief producer in TV's fledgling days at the CBC from 1950 to 1954, having turned down an offer from CBS to direct its top TV drama series, Studio One. One of the people who answered to him at the CBC was Norman Campbell, who had been working in radio in Vancouver. In 1952, he reported for duty as a TV director, along with his wife, Elaine Campbell.
"I will always remember him as the first person I met at the CBC," she said yesterday of Mr. Moore. "He was wonderful. He was so full of ideas." She remembers the CBC as expansive and accommodating, with nobody vacillating about productions by worrying about audience numbers or reactions. "If you had an idea, you went to Mavor, and said: 'I want to do this show or that show and you did it.' "
The Mavor Moore show she remembers best from that time is Sunshine Town, based on Stephen Leacock's classic Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. Mr. Moore wrote the book, lyrics and music for the show, which aired first on radio as The Hero of Mariposa on March 31, 1954, and then on TV as Sunshine Town that December. It was also performed on stage in Toronto and Orillia, Ont. (Mr. Leacock's home town), and later revived at the Charlottetown Festival and the Mariposa Festival. "He had beautiful songs and it was a funny script based on Stephen Leacock's humour," said Mrs. Campbell. "He didn't miss a bit of it."
In 1954, Mr. Moore quit the CBC to join Tyrone Guthrie at the new Stratford Festival, to act and to produce his own plays and musicals. His tenure was brief, but he did appear as Escalus in Measure for Measure in the festival's inaugural season.
His richest creative period was probably his years as the founding artistic director of the Charlottetown Festival, from 1964 to 1968. Mrs. Campbell tells a charming story about Mr. Moore's reprising some songs about Anne of Green Gables from a TV show that Mr. Campbell had produced, at the gala performance, in front of the Queen, at the opening of the Confederation Centre for the Arts in Charlottetown in 1964. Apparently, the Queen loved the songs but wondered where the rest of the show was. Mr. Moore interpreted these comments as a "command" from the monarch and issued an invitation to the Campbells to come up with a musical about Anne.
And that was the genesis of the musical Anne of Green Gables. Mr. Campbell wrote the music, Don Harron adapted the book and Mrs. Campbell wrote many of the lyrics. In the end, Mr. Moore contributed two key songs, The Words and Open the Window, which opens the second act. "He has been part of our trio ever since," she said.
After the breakup of his first marriage in the mid-1960s, Mr. Moore married literary biographer Phyllis Grosskurth in May of 1968. Nathan Cohen announced their nuptials by writing in the Toronto Star: "Double congratulations to Mavor Moore. He married literary historian Phyllis Grosskurth on Sunday, and on Monday Toronto City Council finally gave the go-ahead signal for the building of the St. Lawrence Centre." As general director, Mr. Moore saw the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts opened and passed on the reins to Leon Major in 1970.
The two men had met in the early '60s because Mr. Major had directed a couple of Spring Thaws. Mr. Major went to Halifax in 1963 to start the Neptune Theatre and invited Mr. Moore to play Undershaft in Major Barbara. "It was very important to me to have him there because he was so knowledgeable and he could bring some weight to Neptune," Mr. Major said.
Mr. Moore also directed plays for Neptune in subsequent seasons. The two men worked together years later when Mr. Major directed the opera Louis Riel, for which Mr. Moore had written the libretto. "Working with him on that was a joy because he was a writer who didn't think every word he wrote was sacrosanct and he was supportive about the production," said Mr. Major.
From the St. Lawrence Centre, Mr. Moore accepted an appointment in the faculty of arts at the newly established York University in Toronto. While teaching at York, he took on yet another responsibility as the first artist appointed head of the Canada Council, a position he held from 1979 to 1983. York designated him professor emeritus in 1984 when he reached 65.
By now, his second marriage had ended. In 1979, he and Harry Freedman attended the Courtney Summer Youth Camp in B.C., supervising the production of the opera Abracadabra -- Mr. Freedman wrote the music and Mr. Moore the libretto. Soprano Alexandra (Sandra) Browning was also there as a teacher and singer. "It was instant attraction," she said yesterday from Victoria. "Our eyes met in the cafeteria and we clicked." They were married the following year and have one daughter, Jessica.
He moved to B.C., settling first in Vancouver, then in Victoria in late 1980s. He made his presence known in the best possible way by teaching at the University of British Columbia, serving as co-chair of the World Conference on Arts, Business and Politics at Expo 86 in Vancouver, as founding chair of the B.C. Arts Council from 1996 to 1998, and as an adjunct research professor in fine arts and humanities at the University of Victoria.
He published his aptly named memoirs, Reinventing Myself, in 1994 when he was 75, although he largely limited himself to the first 50 years of his life. In reviewing the book for The Globe and Mail, Martin Knelman called Mr. Moore a "one-man cultural conglomerate." He praised the book as "a lively and informative memoir almost preposterously crammed with incident," but he chastised Mr. Moore for his frustrating lack of disclosure and introspection not only about his own life, but his relationship with his formidable mother. But then that was one of Mr. Moore's more charming qualities -- his diplomacy and his amicability that enabled him to get along with almost anybody, including his three wives, all of whom were on friendly terms with him until the end of his life.
James Mavor Moore was born
in Toronto on March 8, 1919.
He died in Victoria after a period of declining health on Dec. 18, 2006. He was 87. He is survived
by his wife, Alexandra (Sandra) Browning, his five daughters and their families, five grandchildren and one great grandchild.
A tribute to his life will be held
at the University Club in Victoria on Jan. 6, 2007, at 2 p.m. Another celebration will be held in
Toronto at a later date.