The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1936 Page 1 of 3

Happy Landings

April 4, 1936

“Wonky Clocks”

Beads of perspiration began to stud my brow. Jim removed screws, large and small, and laid them across the table.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 19, 1944

“For instance,” said Jimmie Frise, “a man could mend umbrellas.”

“True, Jimmie,” I mused. “When I was a boy, I recollect the umbrella menders. There would be one come along our street at least once a month. They would have a half a dozen tattered old umbrellas under their arms, and a little bag of tools, like a doctor.”

“They would rap at each door,” went on Jim, “and say to the lady, with a lift of the hat, ‘Any umbrellas to mend, lady?'”

“Nowadays, I still see scissors grinders,” I confessed, “with a little treadle strapped on their backs, and ringing a hand bell through the streets.”

“They are foreigners now,” said Jim. “But when I was a boy, they used to be our fellow countrymen. And the children would come and gather round to see the blue sparks fly off the wheel, and to hear him sing. I knew one Irishman, young Irishman, with a bright face, and he loved sharpening scissors and knives. And he used to sing a tune in time with his foot pumping on the treadle. A quick tune.”

“I can’t understand any man nowadays,” I stated, “being out of work even though he can’t do war work. There are so many things a man can do. Things men used to do, that seem to be forgotten. Why, I remember the spectacle sellers. Don’t you remember the spectacle sellers? Nicely dressed young men who, when you opened the door, were standing there, with a bright smile, and a sort of suitcase strapped around their necks and spread open in front of them filled with spectacles of all sorts fastened to the tray. From door to door, these merchants went, fitting spectacles to all the housewives.”

“And,” cried Jimmie, “the packmen! With a big black oilcloth pack on their backs with a tray in their hands, containing everything the home required – needles, threads, buttons, tape, elastic, bobbins, wool of all shades, hooks and eyes, buckles.”

“I remember,” I admitted, “my dear old grandmother searching all over the house one time for a bodkin, and finally saying – ‘I wish the packman would come by.’ And then she stopped still and looked wistfully out of the window, and said, ‘Why, I haven’t seen a packman in thirty years.’ And that day she grew many years older.”

“The packmen,” said Jim. “Merchants, with their stores on their backs. Today, it a man comes to your door with needles, thread, shoe laces, all he has got is a little bit of stuff in his hands and he is so shabby and importunate, you know he is only begging. But packmen never begged. They were proud men. They were merchants. Merchants of a prouder and older order than these modern ones that sit in stores. They belonged to that ancient craft of merchants who travelled by camel train and little ship across all the earth, selling as they went.”

“And the clock menders,” I cried. “Where are the clock menders? Don’t you remember the men, mostly with gray beards, who called at each door, and asked ‘Any clocks to mend, lady?’ They had a little handbag full of tools. I can still remember how they would come in and take the clock apart on the dining-room table, and we were allowed to stand there, with our hands behind our backs, and watch him in silence. And these clock menders were silent men, who breathed heavily through their beards as they bent over the mysterious million wheels and springs on the dining-room table. We always used to give them a cup of tea when they were finished, and the clock’s fine gong was ringing through the house again.”

Old-Fashioned Enterprise

“Now there,” said Jim, emphatically, “is an idea.”

“It sure is,” I agreed.

“This city, this whole country,” declared Jim, “is full of wonky clocks that people want repaired because some lines of new ones are hard to get on account of the war. Why, I’ve got two big clocks right now in my house that don’t go and haven’t gone for years and years.”

“I’ve got three of them,” I remarked.

“Isn’t that funny thing?” mused Jim. “I have, up in this minute, thought of those clocks just as ornaments. It is years since they went. I wonder why I haven’t done anything about them?”

“Because,” I stated, “the clock menders no longer call from door to door. Because you can’t think of anybody to come and take them away. Because they are too big and clumsy to take downtown yourself. I bet there is a million dollars’ worth of clock mending to be done right in this city.”

“I wonder,” thought Jimmie, “if it is because we have all grown lazy and indifferent? I wonder if, as the result of all the inventions of the past fifty years, life hasn’t become so soft, so easy, that the whole human species has grown lazy, careless, indifferent. Why wouldn’t I go to the trouble of taking a clock off the mantel, carry it out to my car in the morning and deliver it to a store downtown?”

“Nobody wants to do the little old-fashioned things any more,” Jim went on. “Even the piano tuners. Do you remember the piano tuners? You didn’t have to send for the piano tuner. He just turned up.”

“I remember, even,” I submitted, “a sort of general mender that used to come around about once a year. He had a wooden box on his back. He used to sit in the vestibule. He could resole shoes, mend leather gloves, sew up carpets that were torn, mend carpet sweepers, regild picture frames …”

“The country is full of work. And the grandest kind of work of all – working for one’s self,” said Jim.

“I guess the only kind of work anybody wants now,” I said, “is what somebody else tells them to do.”

“Well,” stated Jim, “one good thing has come out of this conversation. I’m going to get my clocks repaired.”

“The same here,” I said. “Only, it seems a shame that after all this talk about laziness and loss of enterprise, I have to confess that I am the great-grandson of a clockmaker.”

“Are you?” said Jim.

“Yes, my great-grandfather, born here in York, before it was Toronto, even, was Thomas Bradshaw McMurray, watchmaker, probably the first native born watchmaker in this city.”

“Indeed,” said Jim. “Maybe, some of these countless clocks that aren’t going all over Toronto were actually made by him.”

“Possibly,” I confessed. “But I inherit not the slightest aptitude with machinery of any kind.”

“You would hardly call a clock machinery,” pointed out Jim. “A clock is, after all, a very simple mechanism. It is, in fact, as simple as a child’s wind-up toy. It consists of a spring you wind up, a ratchet that holds the spring, and a series of geared wheels which relax the springs at a rate controlled by levers with tension on them. Really very simple.”

“Even so,” I confessed, “I have a horror of opening a clock. I must inherit some reaction from my great-grandfather. I shudder even when I take the back off my wrist watch. To look in and see all those tiny, delicate wheels and sprockets and springs breathing, as it were. Breathing and slowly ticking, ticking, like the beat of a heart. It gives me the creeps.”

“You surprise me,” said Jim. “All I see to clock mending, is, unscrew the works, take it all apart, laying each separate piece in a precise spot on the dining-room table, so that you will remember just when, rather than where, it goes back. Wipe everything with a rag dipped in gasoline or some such solvent. Reoil with great care, and very sparingly; and then reassemble. I should think it would be very simple.”

“Jim,” I cried. “Don’t do it. Don’t you do it.”

“Besides,” went on Jim, “if we learn how to mend a clock, then anybody can learn. And we could then not only advocate clock mending as a trade to the unemployed, but we could actually, when some poor chap calls at our door with a packet of needles or soap. bring him in, teach him the trick of clock mending in an hour or two, and set him on his way a free man, man with a trade and calling.”

“Mmm, mmm,” I said, doubtfully.

“How about the country?’ demanded Jim. “You pass all these little villages and cross roads in the country. There is no glazier there, but all the windows are mended. There is no clockmaker, no plumber, no tinsmith, no dentist, but all the country’s clocks are ticking in the kitchens, the pumps work, the roofs are tight … there must be men all over this country who do know about making things go.”

“Give it up, Jim,” I begged him.

But Jim went back to work at his drawing board with a hard dry look in his eyes, and that night, when the telephone rang right after dinner, I knew it would be Jim. And it was. And he invited me to come over to his place to see him mend a clock. And of course, a man would be a pretty poor specimen that wouldn’t do that much for a friend.

The clock, which Jim had standing on the bare dining-room table, was a large greenish yellow marble clock with gold pillars at the corners and a gold ornament on top. It was a clock made after the shape of a post-office or the British royal exchange or maybe the Greek temple or something severe. Jim had the dining-room doors closed and locked.

“I have here,” he said, “the small screwdriver from the sewing machine, a large screw-driver, a thing to tap with, in case of rust, a rag moistened with gasoline and an oil can. The whole outfit wouldn’t cost a dollar.”

Jim removed the back of the clock with four deft twiddles of the screw-driver. He peered inside, studied, examined, lit matches and peeked; and finally undid a large screw which let him lift out the bowels of the whole clock. It was heavy, brassy and compact.

“I will start at this corner of the table,” explained Jimmie, “and work across the table diagonally that way. I will lay each thing I take out, in its proper order. Thus, when reassembling the clock, I will start at that far corner. And so, as simple as falling off a log, it will go together again.”

I said nothing. Beads of perspiration began to stud my brow.

Jim removed eleven screws, large and small, and laid them, in a sort of row, across the table. Then removed the whole disjointed carcass forward to the head of the row, and delicately pulling, lifting, twisting, he began to take the machinery apart. Each piece he laid separately in the row.

“See,” he said, breathing heavily, “how simple it will be?”

I just moaned.

He worked straight across the table and then made a wide turn and started back on a second row. Still the machine came apart. Still grew that incredible line of wheels, screws, levers, bolts. The spring came away, a thick, dreadful looking thing, coiled like a serpent. Jim studied it, looked through its coils.

“Just as I thought,” he said. “Gummed with ancient oil. Glued, you might say. I will swish it in a bowl of gasoline.”

But on, on he went, finishing the second row and starting on a third. The face of the clock fell out. Jim picked it up and detached the hands.

“There,” he cried. “Was that difficult? Was that intricate?”

I stifled a groan.

With his gasoliney rag, Jim proceeded to wipe each part. He rubbed and scrubbed.

“Be careful,” I said hoarsely. “Don’t lean against the table. Don’t jiggle the least bit.”

“Imagine a man,” remarked Jim, “having a horror of clock insides!”

“It’s inherited,” I muttered.

And then Jim, shifting the duster in his hands to get a fresh clean bit to use, flicked with the tail of the rag the middle row of parts. It was just the lightest possible flick. But my rivetted and fascinated gaze saw a small brass wheel and a very tiny steel pin about the size of a one-inch nail, scamper across the table, and I let out a yell.

“You’ve ruined it, you’ve ruined it!” I shouted.

But Jim, bending down, picked up the wheel and the bolt and a sort of rocking beam sort of thing like on the top of an old-fashioned steamboat. It had a hole at each end.

“Not that, not that,” I hissed.

“I remember where they go,” said Jim easily, and he bent over, studying the rows of parts, and looking for the space the parts belonged to. “Here, this is where the wheel was. Or was it the rod?”

“I’m going home,” I stated.

“Just a second,” exclaimed Jim. “Let’s see. This flat thing was here. And this wheel was … there. Was it?”

“Oh, oh, oh,” I moaned.

“Mmmmm,” said Jim, “I remember this large sprocket was there. It must have moved, too. I’ll put it back there, and then this … Let’s see. This … Well, well, mmm, mmm, dear me.”

He straightened up. He stared narrowly at the rows of bits.

“Jim,” I said, taking his hand tenderly. “I’m off. Good-night.”

“Hold on, a jiffy,” said Jim, eagerly. “Now wait a minute.”

But he was frightened, and it showed. There was perspiration along the top of his forehead, too. I couldn’t leave the poor chap in such a plight. I hid my face in my hands and sat down.

“Mmm, mmm,” Jimmie kept saying, “Mmm, mmm.”

I heard little clicks. I heard snaps, clinks, snucks and taps. I heard things going together and things being grunted apart. I heard a loud tapping, and looked up to see Jim hammering a wheel on to an axle, using the butt end of a screw-driver.

“It’s all over,” I said brokenly.

“Well, anyway,” sighed Jim, holding small gear about the size of a dime, “I’ve found one thing I’ve been looking for for months. This gear will exactly fit my casting reel. The one with the black handles.”

“Please,” I begged, “don’t start trying tinker with your fishing reel.”

“It’s the very fit,” said Jim. “And now I know where I can get wheels and springs and anything like that.”

And he laid the clock on its back and rescrewed the face on it, and then laid it on its face and on its back door he just dumped, dumped all the works, packing them in and prying them in with the screw-driver and tamping them down with the butt of the screw-driver, and finally getting the back door closed and the little button turned.

“There,” he said. “Nobody will ever notice.”

“Let me see,” said Jim. “Where does this wheel go?”

Editor’s Note: Gasoline was also used as an all-purpose cleaner back in the old days.

This story is a repeat of “Mmmm, Mmmm!” which was published on February 29, 1936. The image from that story is at the end.

Missing

February 1, 1936

Star Gazers

Jim took a piece of chalk from his pocket and started calculating. “The farthest stars are 840,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away,” he stated.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 28, 1936.

“What a night,” cried Jimmie Frise.

“Did you ever see the stars so bright,” I agreed. “They are fairly dripping with light. Millions of them.”

“Millions nothing,” laughed Jim. “Even if you had good eyesight, which you haven’t, you could only see 3,000.”

“What are you talking about?” I snorted. Three thousand?”

“That’s the most you can see at any one time with the naked eye,” declared Jim. “Of course, there’s another 3,000 hidden around the other side of the earth. But even if you sat up all night and watched the whole parade of them go round, you could, with the best sight in the world, only see 6,000.”

“Why, Jim,” I scoffed. “I can see millions of them without turning my head.”

“All right,” said Jim. “Cup your two hands around your eyes, like this, and look up at one spot. Count the number in that one small section. You can count them easy.”

“Well,” I said, “I seem to see millions, anyway.”

“That’s the funny part of it,” said Jim. We seem to see millions. And there really are millions. Billions. Every time they build a bigger and better telescope, they find another few million stars. See all those dark bits of night, in between the stars? Well, even through a little bit of an amateur telescope, you find that each one of those dark bits, in between the stars we can see with the naked eye, has just as many stars as the sky itself now appears to have in it, without a telescope.”

“Jim,” I said, “suppose we don’t talk about it. This star stuff always gets me feeling kind of woozy after a few minutes.”

“You’re what they call an infinity coward,” said Jim. “You reel back from the edge of thinking about vast space the way some people reel back from the edge of a cliff, or a tall building.”

“I see nothing to be gained by thinking about astronomy,” I declared. “There are much more important matters to solve here on earth before we start exploring out into space looking for other things to solve.”

“You’ve got the infantile mind, all right.” stated Jim. “Science is not interested in problems. It is only interested in facts. Science looks in all directions. One scientist is sitting humped over a bottle of ketchup in a factory laboratory. Another is sitting humped up under a giant telescope, looking at something so far away, it took the light from it a million years to reach his eye. Yet they are both after the same thing. Truth.”

“Now, there’s something worth talking about,” I agreed heartily. “Ketchup. Let’s talk about ketchup and decide whether we like home-made or store ketchup the best. And why.”

“The stars,” said Jimmie, “are a perfect example of the distance that now exists between the mass of the people and the scientists. The average person thinks about stars as something pretty up in the sky on a fine night. If you ask them to think more than that, and ask them how many stars they can see, they will say, like you, millions whereas they don’t even know they can only see 3,000. If you ask them to pause and think about the vast endless empty space out there, filled forever and ever, amen with stars – they reel back, the way you do, from it. Yet the scientists working on astronomy are now somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 million light years off into space. The distance the stars are away from us is only exceeded by the distance the scientists are away from the mass of the people.”

“That’s why I say let’s talk about ketchup,” I said, “Now, my grandmother used to put a lot of mustard…”

“Do you know what a light year is?” demanded Jim.

“Not the faintest,” I said.

“The astronomers,” said Jimmie, “got into such large figures in trying to tell how far the stars were away, that they were using up all their books just with 00000000. For example, a scientist once wrote a set of books about the stars. Volume I consisted of the introduction and the first sentence of his monumental work, and then he started to write how far away the farthest stars were, so the rest of Volume I consisted of just 000000000 for another 240 pages. Volumes II, III and IV each was nothing but 000000000, and then in Volume V, he got down to his thesis. It was one of the greatest works on astronomy ever published.”

“I can believe you,” I said. “Now, with this mustard as a base…”

“Pardon me,” said Jim, looking dreamily up at the starry sky. “I have to explain what a light year is. It was the invention by which scientists saved paper. Light travels at the rate of 11 million miles a minute. See?”

“You mean the light of an oil lantern,” I asked, “or the light of a car headlight?”

“All light,” said Jim. “It travels at the rate of 11 million miles a minute. Now the astronomers multiplied the number of minutes in a year by 11 million and got what they call a light year. A light year, therefore, which is like counting ‘one’ to an astronomer, is six million MILLION years.”

“That’s just ‘one’,” I said.

Yes, that’s just the figure 1 to an astronomer,” said Jim. “So now when I tell you that the farthest star they have been able to see so far is 140 million LIGHT YEARS away – try and write that down on a piece of paper!”

“I tell you, Jimmie,” I said, “you write that down on a piece of paper and I’ll write down that recipe of my grandmother’s for ketchup with an extra mustard in it. You can have no idea the tang…”

“Would you like to see,” said Jim, “how far away the farthest stars yet found really are?”

“It wouldn’t register, Jim,” I protested. “Once I get over about 1,000, I don’t believe it anyway.”

Jim Does Arithmetic

Jim, always the artist, took a piece of chalk from his pocket and under a street lamp, started to do his arithmetic. We went along multiplying under seven street lights across one intersection and half way to the grocery store before he finished it.

There you are,” said Jim, gazing far along the street, “that’s how far it is, in miles – 840,000,000,000,000,000,000!”

“The thing,” I assured Jim, “doesn’t interest me. They haven’t even a name for it. Skillions, whillions -there isn’t even a word for it, and even the guys who think they’ve got only a million discover it’s all gone flooie in the market before they can count it. Why worry about things like this, Jim, when there are all the troubles we need just on this little world? Hitler and Mussolini, and Reds and Fascists, and winter coming on with thousands of babies with nothing to eat and only an old shawl to put around them. And disease and pain and old people dying in agony of ills we can’t solve so why bother about the stars?”

“Would you deny science the right to study the stars?” asked Jim hotly.

And hotly I considered the question.

“Yes, by golly, I would,” I shouted, so that a policeman walking along the dark street coughed warningly. “Yes, I would deny science the right to fiddle with the stars.”

“What a dreadful idea,” cried Jim. “Why, you belong in the middle ages.”

“All right,” I agreed. “I belong in the middle ages. I am glad to go back to that time in the middle ages where we all took the wrong turn and where science got off on the wrong foot, with its silly wild-goose chases after all knowledge.”

“What wild goose chases?” inquired Jim sarcastically.

“All the wild goose chases,” I stated, “that led the human heart away from the real problems at hand. The problems of this one small world. The problems of liberty, and poverty and disease and unhappiness. For all they have discovered about the stars and mathematics and physics and the mysterious contents of everything from pitchblende to ketchup, how far have we got since the middle ages in solving hunger, tragedy, fear, and death? With all the cowardly brains of the world for the past five hundred years running and hiding from these real problems and chasing the stars instead? Or molecules? Or theories of relativity?”

“What would you have the scientists do?” demanded Jim.

“I tell you what I would do,” I assured him. “I would put a world-wide ban on all idle science. I would forbid any man to waste his time or his brains on anything but the essentials. Let the whole scientific brain power of the world, Europe, America, Asia, everywhere, be devoted at once to the problems of society in this world – wealth, poverty, hunger, justice, wrong, pain, unhappiness. Not until all these so-called intellects have solved the human problem will they be allowed to go fooling around with the stars.”

Cringing Intellects

“My poor friend,” said Jimmie, “with every widening are of human understanding of the universe around us, a fuller understanding of humanity is implied.”

“Utter,” I cried, “utter poppycock. The cowardly cringing intellects that have been ducking the real problems have been putting up that bluff for ages. It’s time we called that bluff. All we have to do is ask them, for heaven’s sake, to look at the world. To pull their heads out of the sand, or down from among the stars, and look at the world. A great bewildered mass of misunderstanding, hate, poverty, pain, fear. Those are the facts. To hell with their theories.”

“Have you ever,” asked Jimmie, “visited a modern observatory? Do you know what you are even talking about? Have you ever looked through a great modern telescope?”

“No, and I most certainly don’t want to,” I assured him. “If I saw the Milky Way, all I would think about was the need of milk in a hundred poor streets not five miles, much less a million miles, from where we stand at this minute.”

“If I were you,” said Jim, “I would at least inform myself of the activities of science before turning myself into a street corner orator like this. I am willing to bet you anything you like that if I once got you into the new observatory up Yonge St., and had you set your eye to that wonderful reflector lens that will send your poor little soul sizzling out through infinite space for a brief journey, you would not be so free in condemning the intellect that has ventured into infinite space.”

“I could look through that telescope,” I stated loudly, “and say pooh!”

“Heh, heh,” laughed Jimmie sinisterly. “What time is it?”

“It’s 8.15,” I said, “and the second show doesn’t start until 9.”

“How,” said Jim, “would you like to come with me up to the observatory on Yonge St. instead of going to the show? I can drive you there in thirty minutes.”

“It’s a swell night for it,” I admitted, looking up at the glorious heavens.

“Come on,” said Jim. “I dare you. I dare you to risk one look at infinite space. If it doesn’t alter your notions!”

So we went. And up Yonge St. we drove, with all the myriads of traffic, and all the people just going along having fun, and being in love and going to shows and visiting the little fruit stores for beans and oranges, and at last we came out on to the big highway.

“It’s up here,” said Jim, “north of the prison farm, somewhere. You just turn off on to a side road.”

“Nice idea,” I agreed “Prison farm right here and a telescope for looking 140 whillion skillion miles somewhere else.”

We slowed down and watched for the turn.

“If I recollect,” I said, “I saw a sign somewhere along here.”

“We’re getting pretty far north,” said Jim. “Maybe this is it.”

Jim slowed down the car. Traffic behind us horned and hooted angrily.

“This will be it, I guess,” said Jim, making the turn into the side road.

But it wasn’t the turn. And we crept slowly along, looking for a lane. It was a clay road. A bad, holey, rutty road. With puddles.

“You’d better turn the first chance,” I warned Jimmie.

“I’ll turn,” he said.

But he didn’t turn and we came to a large clay bog hole and as Jim tried to negotiate the edge of it, I felt the wheels on my side slide easily and gooily in. Jim gave her the gas. A splurge, a surge and we backed splendidly right into the middle of it.

So we went and got garage men and lanterns and tow trucks and so forth, walking along under the stars.

“If those stars, Jim.” I said, as we walked, are as you say a hundred million light years away, how do we know they are there?”

“They aren’t there,” said Jimmie. “That’s the point. That’s where they were when the light we are getting now from them left them, a hundred million years ago.”

“So that at the moment,” I asked, “they might be right underneath us, or off to the side somewhere. or anywhere but where they appear to be?”

“The chances of them being where they appear to be,” stated Jim, “are very remote, considering the vast ages and ages and millions of years this light now striking our eyes left them.”

“Then,” I said, triumphantly, “maybe they aren’t there at all. Maybe they have died and blown up fifty million years ago. Maybe there are no stars by now!”

“That is quite possible,” admitted Jim.

“Then won’t it be a swell joke on your scientists if,” I cried, “just when they have discovered all there is to know about stars, they find there aren’t any stars?”

“That would be ironic,” said Jim.

“Very well,” I concluded, for now we were out where the bright glare of traffic on Yonge St. made the stars a little dim, “very well, I much prefer to think about starving babies wrapped in old shawls, who are with us to-day, than muddle my poor head about a lot of things that used to be where we think they are a billion years ago.”

“I give in,” said Jim.

And the garage man only charged us 75 cents.


Editor’s Notes: When Greg refers to “pitchblende”, is is the old term for Uraninite, a radioactive, uranium-rich mineral and ore.

The observatory they are referring to is the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill. When an observatory in downtown Toronto could no longer function due to light pollution, this observatory was constructed in 1935 (a year before this story). At the time, the main telescope was the second largest in the world and the largest in Canada. It operated from 1935 to 2007.

Mayor Says Club’s Show “Too Crude”

Right next door we glimpse Jane Terry, one of the beauties of the Club Esquire, the opening of which has been attended with some discussion as to the propriety of dress worn by the stunning entertainers. Some opinions express shock, while other citizens are content to preach a policy of laissez faire. Adjoining Jane Terry, in the style of the gay nineties, is another gay lady, Mae West, those memory can hark back to the day when the police patrol wagon backed up against her theatre, with no great detriment to the box office revenues.

By Gregory Clark, November 28, 1936

“Too crude, too rough,” declared Mayor W. D. Robbins to-day when shown photographs of the chorus girls of the new Club Esquire at Sunnyside, which opened with a $7.50 per couple bang last night.

“I have been asked for a report,” admitted Sergeant George Eagleson, head of the Toronto morality squad, who attended not only an official police preview but the big bang as well.

“I shall report the matter to Chief Constable Draper on his return to the city Monday,” said Deputy Chief George Guthrie.

Thus once more the defenders of this good old Alcazar, Toronto the Good, are manning the ramparts to guard against the invasion of the city by fourteen Eves, with little more than a fig leaf and a few pine needles apiece to cover them.

“There were many eminent citizens at the opening of the club,” said Sergeant Eagleson, “I heard no adverse comments.”

Last night, when the Club Esquire opened, this reporter happened to be in Callander, Ont. visiting the Quints, which is a fine way for a newspaperman to miss the last boat. But a few discreet inquiries amongst friends who had $7.50 plus some loose change for hat checking and car parking and such emergencies of a gentleman of fashion’s life, discover the fact that compared with New York, Montreal, Chicago and Buffalo night clubs, the performance was decidedly prim and proper. But that compared with any previous attempts at introducing night clubs to Toronto. It was a long step either forward, backward or sideways.

Looks Like Free Ad

“In some of the numbers,” they told me, “the girls did that floating gauze dance like they do at the Skating Carnival, only they were dressed for summer, not winter, and they had no skates. They had, as a matter of fact, what is called a G-string in the night club business, plus a brassiere perhaps not quite as big as those bandana handkerchief brassieres that were so popular last summer at the swimming beaches. But of course, it was nothing like the strip-acts that have created former scandals in Toronto burlesque theatres, nor even remotely as daring as the acts to be seen at practically every night club everywhere in the world except Toronto.”

As a matter of fact, this whole action on the part of the city fathers come Monday will probably boil down to a beautiful free ad for Mr. William Beasley, promoter of the Club Esquire, a publicity which he couldn’t buy even if he did spend $70,000 on his new club.

In feeling Toronto’s pulse, as they say, about this matter, I did not interview any ministers, because we know anyway what ministers would think and say. Nor did I interview any furriers or ladies’ tailors, since obviously they too would condemn any move toward nudism. Being unable to reach Sir Edward Beatty, president of the C.P.R., I only talked to a ticket seller at the station, and he said it would certainly cut the traffic to New York and elsewhere if night clubs like this were allowed in Toronto, since the only thing Toronto hasn’t got, as a convention city, is a series of night clubs adequate to the convention business.

“Wow, Oh Boy”

But I did sneak the pictures of the girls off the editor’s desk and took them out into the snowstorm to show to the man on the street, as the saying is.

And was he ever interested?

“Wow, oh, boy!” and things like that were their comments, in the same tone of voice you will hear from the lads at the swimming baths in July and August, when a particularly daisy one strolls, ah, so unconsciously, along the concrete in a three-ounce bathing costume.

One thing that always stands out in this controversy every time it recurs in Toronto is the lack of humor displayed on both sides. The condemners are shocked beyond measure. The upholders are as mad as wet hens.

A quarter of a century ago, when I was a cub reporter, Rev. John Coburn created a front page sensation by attending a burlesque show disguised in smoked glasses and then reporting a sensational disclosure of the depravity of man or the theatre. I forget which.

Rev. J. Coburn’s View

Here, a quarter of a century later, Rev. John Coburn makes the following statement:

“Toronto does not need to import the American night club. There are already abundant means of entertainment for the people. I was shocked this morning to find that a group of people had spent $10,000 last night on that kind of thing. For thoughtless people to spend $10,000 a night in dissipation while multitudes of good folk are forced to live in semi-starvation here is to inspire and encourage violent discontent. Such callous disregard of the needs of the disinherited is one of the forces making for revolution. A newspaperman has shown me some photographs which he claims were taken at this club. If these photographs are true pictures I have no hesitation in saying that the entertainment was not of a wholesome character.”

Hard to Draw Line

I was thinking of going to see a snazzy movie to-night, but now I guess I won’t. It’s hard to draw a line. What tickles me doesn’t tickle these 1,000 top hatters who went to the Esquire last night at all. They probably wouldn’t even twitch their upper lip at Laurel and Hardy, whereas I actually get down under my pew and stuff my plaid neck muffler down my throat to prevent myself dying at Laurel and Hardy. It’s pretty depraved of me to enjoy myself so in times like these. And all I say is, anybody who has got $7.50 plus a little loose change in case of a flat tire or anything, and a silk hat and a dress suit, is probably so depraved anyway that there is practically no use trying to lift him up.

It each of those 500 couples who were at the Esquire last night will kick in $7.50 to The Star Santa Claus Fund, I personally will for give them this once.

And as for Mr. Willie Beasley and his fourteen little girls who were probably positively perspiring I under all that gauze and stuff, Mayor Robbins Chief Draper and Sergeant Eagleton, the eagle eye, will tell us Monday.


Editor’s Notes: $7.50 in 1936 is equal to $139 in 2020.

William D. Robbins was mayor of Toronto briefly between 1936-37. He was appointed mayor after the death of incumbent Sam McBride and remained in office until defeated by Ralph Day in the 1937 elections.

The Morality department of the Toronto Police was formed in 1886, to go after drinking, gambling, prostitution, Sunday opening, juvenile delinquency, and other “social evils”. Some context can be found here and here. Because of this strict morality, Toronto was known as “Toronto the Good”. As the article indicated, it was considered by some as much too strict.

The history of Club Esquire at Sunnyside Beach can be found here. Built in 1917, the Sunnyside Pavilion held two restaurants and a tea garden with views looking out on to the lakeshore. In 1920, the building was enlarged and a new south entrance was added. At this time, the pavilion became known for the Blue Room, with a capacity for 400 diners or 175 dancing couples, and the Rose Room, which could seat 300 or hold 150 couples. Dancing would follow supper, with music often provided by a live orchestra. In 1936, the Sunnyside Pavilion was renovated and became known as the Club Esquire Supper Club, with stage shows and dancing. In 1941, the building was converted again, into the Top Hat Night Club. The building was eventually demolished in 1956 to make way for the new westbound lanes of Lake Shore Boulevard.

Greg and Jim Write Book Now It’s Up to Posterity

GREG AND JIM GO LITERARY
Twirling back the pages of time, Greg Clark and Jim Frise have taken a peep into the past to bring forth “Which We Did” – the official publication of their many and varied experiences on the bumpy road of life. It is their first attempt at book writing and the proud fathers of Birdseye Center and the Adventures of Greg and Jim have outdone any of their previous mirth-making efforts in this new brain child. Left is a picture of Greg Clark and on the right an adventure as depicted by the able pen of Jimmy Frise.

By R.C. Reade, November 14, 1936

Many of the Greg-Jim articles which have long been a feature of The Star Weekly are to-day issued in book form under the title “Which We Did.” The volume, published by S. J. Reginald Saunders, Toronto, contains sketches which have previously entertained Star Weekly readers in addition to several new ones hitherto unpublished.

A representative of The Star Weekly had in Paris recently an experience which shows that the fame of Gregory Clark and James Frise as humorists has spread far beyond Canada. The gentleman in question was introduced to an editor of Le Paris Soir, one of the largest and most successful of Parisian papers and especially famous for its feature articles and high literary standard.

“So you are from the paper that every week has the funny article,” the Paris editor ejaculated, with open arms. “They are wonderful, magnificent, classic!” Both the French and English language were totally inadequate on him.

This from a prominent editor in a country which still regards Moliere as its standard in comedy is high praise indeed and a great tribute to these collaborators’ power of comic invention.

Perhaps one of the great reasons for their success is their spontaneity and naturalness. No man knows what they are going to do next or write and draw next. Neither does Gregory Clark nor Jimmy Frise.

Necessity is often the spur to their invention, when the roaring presses will permit no further procrastination. They are like clever after-dinner speakers who, when unexpectedly called upon, can take a felicitous subject from thin air as a magician draws a rabbit from a hat. This gives their work the charm of the impromptu.

Their admirers invariably ask, “How on earth do you ever think of all the queer things you do?”

Their only answer to that is an expressive gesture which means, “Search me. How do I know?”

Their real reason is that they dip into the stream of current contemporary life, and that rich flow never fails to bring fish to their net. Their acute awareness of what is in the mind of the average man gives their work the authentic stamp of actuality.

Another question frequently put to this writer and his illustrator is, “Do you actually do all the queer stunts you say you do?”

“And the funny thing,” said Greg, “is that people will swallow our most fantastic adventures and refuse to believe some of the very simple things such as dropping a 50-cent piece on the pavement for a prosperous citizen to stamp on and claim as his own.”

“Last summer in the hot spell,” remarked Frise, “when the postman came to my door he said ‘Surely you fellows didn’t fry an egg on the city hall steps? You can’t make me believe that.'”

“I happened to have by me a photograph of Greg and I watching the egg sizzle in the sun with my dog Rusty looking over our shoulders. I showed that to the postman and seeing was believing for him. I am sure now that there is no adventure Greg can concoct which that postman won’t fall for, hook, line and sinker.”

After going through the ordeal this morning of a formal interview for The Daily Star, neither Greg nor Jim were in the mood for any further agony to provide a sprightly birth notice for “Which We Did.”

An efficiency expert would never approve of their methods of collaboration. There is good deal of artlessness in their art. They may arrange a rendezvous in an armchair lunch and the important conference may be adjourned since die without a scintilla of an idea.

Clark may climb to Frise’s tower studio and elevate his short legs to Jimmy’s littered desk while Jimmy drapes his long legs around his drawing board. There for half an hour or more they may commune like Quakers in silence. Then Greg suddenly, like Archimedes, may cry out, “Eureka! I have it,” or they may exclaim simultaneously, for their two minds are so well attuned that they often have a single comic thought.

The reading public that laughs at their printed adventures does not get half the humor that there is in their eccentric modes of joint production.

With regard to Liddell and Scott’s well-known Greek dictionary, there is a famous query as to which half was by Scott and which half was by Liddell. It is just as difficult to unscramble the partnership of Clark and Frise. Greg, of course, is the scribe who plays Boswell to Frise’s Johnson, but a Greg-Jim article without Jimmie as the eternally baffled stooge and without Jimmie’s characteristic illustration would be like “Hamlet” without Hamlet.

Frise in his modesty is apt to deprecate his own contribution, but without Jim’s art and whimsicality there would be no Greg-Jim.

Theirs is no artificial union, a mere stage partnership. Everyone who knows them is aware that they admirably balance one another’s qualities and are, as the slang phrase has it, a pair of naturals.

As it takes two greyhounds to course and capture a hare, so it is necessary for these two humorists to hunt their quarry together. Their book’s title “Which We Did,” bears witness to the duality of their comic existence.

To one who ponders the reason for the Paris editor’s remark that their humor is classic, it is apparent that it is a humor of situations, a factual humor, and not a mere fireworks of verbal wit. Their adventures can be filmed like those of Mr. Pickwick.

And so they have created a living human comedy, giving their readers a vivid sense of their essential reality as the long and the short of the genus homo, and go merrily on their way in their present book as in their past articles perpetuating as veraciously as any Mr. Gulliver, the popular illusion that their life is one long series of laughable, farcical adventures.


Editor’s Notes: This article was published on November 14, 1936 to promote their book, Which We Did (and reprinted again the next week on November 21).

R.C. Reade was a staff writer for the Toronto Star and Star Weekly, who had some of his stories illustrated by Jim in the 1920s and 1930s.

Whoa – Steady Boy!

September 26, 1936

Photo from “Our First Canadian Citizen”

August 1, 1936

In a news article about Sir William Mulock, a photo was included showing him with Greg when they were trout fishing.

It’s His Beauty Sleep

August 8, 1936

This is an ice house, where ice from the frozen lake is stored in sawdust to keep it from melting. This was the only way to get ice (usually for iceboxes) in the warmer seasons before the advent of electricity and refrigerators or freezers. They would exist in rural areas well into the 1950s.

Groundhogs

By Greg Clark, July 18, 1936

“Groundhogs,” said Jimmie Frise, “are at their best right now.”

“For eating?” I begged.

“For shooting,” said Jim. “The fields are deep with grain or clover. The groundhogs have lost that anxious alertness of the spring. Fat and free, they sit on their little mounds. They make a perfect target.”

“A target, eh?” I asked.

“An animated target,” said Jim. “The mind of man can’t discover any other use for a groundhog. Their meat is too soft. Their fur is sleazy and thin. The divine purpose of a groundhog, as far as I can figure, is to provide an animated target for farm boys and city sportsmen in the offseason.”

“Hmmm,” said I.

“The bad points of a groundhog are well known,” said Jim. “They not only cat crops, such as winter wheat, clover and so forth. I’ve known farmers to have their entire crop of brussels sprouts ruined by groundhogs. But in addition to their damage to crops, groundhogs cause a lot of damage to horses, Horses step in groundhog holes and break their legs.”

“The survival of the fittest,” I explained. “Nature realizes that the horse has numerous and powerful friends, while the groundhog has none.”

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim. “I can’t figure out why Nature ever invented a groundhog. It has no earthly use.”

“Nature,” I stated, “didn’t figure the way man was going to steal the show when she did her designing. She simply set loose a lot of guesses. Nature is a gambler. She doped out a few hundred designs and then sat back and said go to it.”

“Wouldn’t it have been swell if the groundhogs had won?” jeered Jimmie.

“I can’t think of any life more agreeable than a groundhogs,” I admitted. “They have no economic value, therefore they are not enslaved like the cow and the horse and dog. Their fur is valueless, therefore they have not met the fate of the beaver and the fox. Their meat is of no interest, therefore they are not hunted as deer are.”

“Thank heaven,” said Jim, “for the sporting instinct of humanity, or the entire face of the earth would now be pitted with groundhog holes.”

“A groundhog,” I continued, “has a delightful life. Unlike the fox and the raccoon, he lives in a dugout of his own building, safe from life’s war. A nice warm dugout, with two or three entrances in case of danger. On his fast little legs he can jump into one of his dugout entrances at the first sign of hawk or human. He is a wise baby who digs his home in the midst of human endeavor. He selects a nice clover or grain field, and makes himself a home where he won’t have to move more than ten jumps from any one of his strategic entrances.”

“They’re stupid,” said Jim. “They sit erect like fools, right on the doorsill of their burrows, a perfect target.”

“In time,” I countered, “the groundhogs will learn that they can’t take any chances with men. The more groundhogs learn about us humans, the more they will develop long range rifles and telescope sights. So that in time, no groundhog will ever sit up at the door of his burrow. That is Nature’s way. Don’t think men are entitled to win in this gamble of Nature. Sooner or later, one of the other contestants in the race will get the bulge on us. And believe me, it will be a bulge.”

Winter Doesn’t Bother Him

“Do you mean,” demanded Jimmie, “that groundhogs might some day conquer the human race?”

“Why not?” I inquired. “Just because we humans have been top dogs for a few million years recently is no reason to suppose that Nature’s gamble is ended. The way men have been behaving lately. I’m willing to put a bet on the beetles at any reasonable odds.”

“Beetles!” ughed Jim. “Make it groundhogs.”

“Think,” I said, “of the way groundhogs hibernate during the winter. There is reals civilization. There is genuine economy. A groundhog. when the time comes, simply goes down into the deepest depth of his dugout, curls up, draws a few pebbles and handfuls of sand around him, and goes to sleep. Not for him are the hardships and rigors of winter. Not for him are starvation wages. He simply goes to sleep and spends all the winter months dreaming idly of the pleasures of summer. Then when spring comes, he wakes, and finds his winter dreams true, new shoots of grain growing, and life ready to amuse and feed him. Don’t you wish we humans had thought of hibernation about two hundred million years ago?”

“It would have been an idea,” agreed Jim. “No doubt Nature missed several good bets in connection with men, and hibernating was one of them. And wings was another. And a sting was another. I often wish I had a great big sting like a bee’s. But all the same, you haven’t mentioned any good reason for groundhogs. I don’t see why we shouldn’t consider them as just something to shoot at.”

“No doubt, you’re quite right,” I confessed. “Judged by the same standards, a great many human beings cut no more figure in this life than so many groundhogs. They might be regarded as something to shoot at.”

“The only difference is that the groundhogs can’t complain to the authorities. They can’t get even.” said Jim.

So when Wednesday, Jim’s half day off, came along and he signalled me to follow him from the office, I did so, and we walked down to the parking lot, and in Jim’s car was his rifle and several boxes of shells. And it being a lovely day and the birds likely to be mad with love and song. I went along, mostly to see the birds. Jim said that south of Georgetown were some wonderful sandy and gravel hills just lousy with groundhogs, and that way we went. And long before we spotted the first groundhog I was well paid by a no less beautiful sight than two cuckoos flying with their curious snakelike motion, and a Blackburnian warbler and no end of commoner birds which are to me like people I know as I pass along, and so life is less lonely.

Up a hill waving with green clover, and against a beautiful old boulder fence, we spied our first groundhog. He was all unaware, busily feeding, and not until we were within about forty yards of him did he suddenly sit up, the picture of indignation, his dark brow’s making him look very like an indignant fat man disturbed in his rightful business.

We lay down. Jim put the rifle to his shoulder and drew a careful bead. He drew and drew, breathing heavily and then holding his breath, and finally he touched off the trigger.

There was a loud plunk.

“Got him,” cried Jim, leaping up and racing towards the fence. But I saw the little brown beast scamper furiously and vanish into his hole in a sandy knoll of his own building.

“You only winged him,” I accused, as I ran alongside. “He got down his hole.”

“We’ll find him lying dead just inside the entrance,” said Jim.

But when we got to the little mound, and found the dark and secret entrance to the cave, there was no groundhog sprawled at the gate, nor was there any sign of blood.

“I heard it go plunk,” said Jim.

“Listen,” I commanded.

And from out the hole in the ground came, as from a distance of several feet, a faint squealing sound. It was a sound like newborn puppies make, and it was interspersed with a snapping or chopping sound which groundhogs make with their teeth as a warning.

“Jim,” I declared hotly, “there are babies in this den.”

“It’s the one I hit,” said Jim. “Squealing its last.”

“Pardon me,” I said, “but that is baby groundhogs making that squeaking sound.”

In the pleasant afternoon, soft with light and tenderness and joy and the love that broods in summer, we stood listening and then we knelt and finally we lay down with our ears at the hole.

“Suppose,” I accused, “that you have killed the mother of a brood of baby groundhogs?”

“Let’s go and find another,” said Jim, getting up.

“Jim. I’m going to dig these out,” I stated. “I’m going to go to that farm we passed back there and borrow a spade.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “why be a silly sentimentalist? Groundhogs are vermin. Why don’t you do something about all the beautiful baby sheep and baby pigs that are being slaughtered every day at the packing houses?”

“Wait till I come back with a shovel,” I commanded.

It was only a couple of fields back and the lady at the farmhouse gladly gave me a shovel.

“For groundhogs?” she said. “I hope you dig them all out.”

Jim was asleep on the mound when I got back. He said he would stand guard over the other exits of the groundhog burrow while I dug.

“It isn’t likely more than three or four feet down.” I assured him. And anyway. I want to show you what you have done.”

At first I intended to dig out the burrow the way drain menders dig out a sewer pipe, that is, by making a ditch that reaches down to it. But the entrance penetrated straight down for about five feet and then slowly sloped deeper still, and by the time I had burrowed six feet, I was under the stone fence and Jim was squatted at the entrance of the tunnel, watching me.

“Make it bigger,” he said, “so I can come down.”

“Go get a board off a fence,” I directed, “and come half way in and scoop the dirt back out as I dig.”

Ahead I could still hear the faint squealing of small animals, and this served to excite me on. Jim returned with a board and kneeling on knees and hands, he skited the earth I dug back between his hind legs like a terrier. We began to make progress.

The tunnel straightened out and ran like a gallery ahead. All I had to do was cut the earth around the hole already made by the groundhog and pass it back.

“Look,” I cried, “here’s a branch tunnel leading off. Isn’t this smart? Just like a German dugout in France.”

Something stabbed me on the knee.

“Jim,” I cautioned, “be careful with that plank.”

“It isn’t near you,” said Jim, skiting sand.

“Ouch,” I said, “what the dickens are you doing?”

Something whistled sharply, and a heavy furry object like a bag of something soft, such as flour, struck me violently in the pinnie.

“Back, Jim,” I shouted loudly. “Back.”

“What is it?” asked Jim, not backing, but leaning forward as if to see in the dark over my shoulder.

By now, there was a scuffling and a scurrying a whistling and a chunnying, a teeth-grating and a scratching; with a dexterous movement, I let Jim follow his curiosity while I heaved past him, and left him in rear. In the darkness, there was a sense of danger and of menace.

“Look out,” cried Jim in his turn, pushing at me to make way. “They’re attacking us.”

And with Jim assisting me, I made good time up the tunnel and we burst into the blessed wide open spaces with sand in our hair and grit in our teeth. We backed a respectable twelve feet from the hole we had made and stared down.

“For heaven’s sake,” said Jim, “the little brutes actually attacked us.”

From the shadows far at the bottom of our excavation there rose a chorus of menacing sounds, curious hoarse whistles and grindings, chucky grunts and snappings. Like a jack in the box, a brindled fat figure popped out a foot and then instantly back. It repeated this bold maneouvre three or four times while Jim and I stared ready for instant flight.

“I’ll be jiggered,” I said. “The little savages.”

So I stooped and grasped a boley, which is a pebble egg-sized or up.

“Easy,” cautioned Jim. “Don’t irritate them. We’ve only got a little twenty-two.”

He picked his rifle up gingerly, and held it behind him.

“In the case of bears,” I suggested in an undertone, “they say the best thing to do is walk quietly away. Don’t run.”

“Come on, then,” agreed Jim anxiously, for the sounds in the cavern were increasing, as if ground hogs were gathering from all the subterranean passages for miles around to man this pass of Thermopylae.

We backed slowly. We did not remove our eyes from the excavation. No fierce sabre-toothed groundhog head showed. We turned. We walked smartly. We ran. We got into the car and slammed the doors and rolled up the windows. Jim held the twenty-two on his knees.

“Ah,” we said.

“That’s gratitude for you,” I said. “Me trying to do a noble and humane deed, and they attack us.”

“You can carry humanitarianism too far,” said Jim. “Sometimes, humanitarianism is against the laws of life.”

“The ungrateful little brutes,” said I, bitterly.

“To tell you the truth,” said Jim. “I was afraid they might have rabies. That’s why I didn’t want to let them near me.”

“It was the shock that made me hurry,” I explained. “Shock and rage at their ingratitude. The vermin.”

Jim rolled down one of the car windows and stuck the twenty-two out. No fanged heads showed above the sandpile high up against the stone fence.

“Just fire one,” I said, “to show our contempt.”

So Jim fired one, and the little spurt of sand showed he had hit the fortifications.

“Yah,” I yelled. “Take that.”

So we drove back around through Georgetown and all the pretty little towns and scorned groundhogs from then on.


Editor’s Notes: Jim shows his farm-boy roots in this article, with his contempt for groundhogs, and his feeling they serve no purpose.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing, 1980.

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