The Reader XIV II - Reinventing Myself

Reinventing Myself

By Mavor Moore
Stoddart, Toronto, 1994, 374 pp., $27.95
Reviewed by Peter Buitenhuis

At age 38 Mavor Moore, after yet another a row with his mother, the redoubtable Dora, Mavor Moore, felt that he was approaching a nervous breakdown. He consulted a psychiatrist. "You, sir," the psychiatrist said, "are a manic-depressive. Like every artist I've ever come across, you also have obsessive compulsive tendencies. You have a guilt complex, you have a mother problem, and I expect they are related." Mavor Moore's father, an Anglican clergyman, had been thrown out of the family home by Dora, and Mavor told the psychiatrist that he thought that he had a father problem.

Not so said the psychiatrist, "That's his problem. Yours is your mother. I don't know how the hell you've lasted this long without going berserk." Moore replied: "Neither do I. Tell me more."

Twelve years later, in response to a critic's question: "How and why does he keep up the frantic pace?" Moore unwittingly supplies the answer to his problem. His first marriage was breaking up and for more than a year he had been running as fast as he could from himself. In truth, Moore probably both in competition with and to escape from Dora, has been running all his life. In the process he has become one of the great creators of Canadian culture.

In a career that has been full of extraordinary effort, he has founded theatre companies, been the instigator of the Charlottetown Festival and one of the main forces behind the arts at Expo '67 and CBC TV. He was the founder of Toronto's St. Lawrence Centre and has also been an actor, a writer, producer and director of dramas for stage, screen, television and opera; a propagandist for the Allies in the Second World War and for the United Nations; chairman of the Canada Council; critic; influential academic, and jack of every possible artistic trade.

He has also been a passionate, life-long Canadian nationalist. Moore put his mouth where the money wasn't when, in 1950, he turned down an offer from CBS TV drama division at $1,500 per week to accept an offer from CBC TV at $165 per week. The fact is that Mavor Moore could have had any number of lucrative careers in Europe or North America, but for his evangelistic vision, inspired in large part by his mother, to make the arts in Canada matter. This has been done in the face of massive public indifference, political chicanery and administrative incompetence.

Reinventing Myself is the rich, entertaining, and witty account of these years as the Canadian Sisyphus. The autobiography reveals everything except his private life-- although that has clearly been part of the rock that he has pushed uphill again and again. For example, his ten-year marriage to biographer Phyllis Grosskurth gets two mentions in the book, and his current wife of fourteen years merits another two, his five children scarcely more.

This is the 75-year-old smiling public man using a collage from his capacious memory, quotations from his own writings and reviews of his work by other critics, and his ironic commentary on everything, to build this autobiography---fragments shored against the ruin of time and tide. No future history of the theatre---or entertainment in Canada in general---can afford to ignore it.

He began his career as artist at age seven when he shook the hand of the New York impresario, Daniel Frohman. Frohman impressively traced that handshake back through the generations to the hand of Shakespeare. "So I say to you, sir, you have this day shaken hands with the Bard himself," Frohman asserted. Moore adds: "Anyone who thinks a seven-year-old could not recall this inaccurate recital word for word has never experienced an epiphany." This hand has shaped the future of Canadian culture to a degree scarcely matched by any other. Yet Reinventing Myself is completely without self-importance and free from either complacency or prophecies of doom.

In the last piece that Mavor Moore wrote as the roving culture critic for The Globe and Mail, he articulated the central problem of the Canadian identity, which he has spent his own life defining:

If multiculturalism works in Canada we shall have given the world a useful model. But multiculturalism presupposes a respect for cultural opportunity in general. If the Canadian mainstream (however defined) cannot be maintained as an alternative to the American, what chance have the alternatives to the alternative? What price multiculture if culture fails?

Mavor Moore does not supply all the answers, but he always asks the right questions. Anyone who seeks to know where Canadian culture has come from and where it may be going is warmly recommended to read this book.

Peter Buitenhuis is the author of The Great War of Words and is currently working on a book about propaganda fiction in World War II.

Prev Next

{ Literascape } { What's New } { The Reader } { Fall 1994 }

Copyright © 1996 Duthie Books Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Literascape is a Trademark of Duthie Books, Ltd.
Information Desk -=- Order Desk -=- Webmaster