Funt in Winnipeg

People with personality, and places with pizazz flash through my mind when I remember Winnipeg in the 60s.

Sometimes I remember a story. Never mind Elvis Presley and the Beatles. I’m talking about longtime mayor Stephen Juba, radio emcee Cliff Gardner, the Playhouse, the Paddock and Winnipeg’s Gingerbread City Hall.

If you google the Playhouse you read about famous people that came here like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and the Ames Brothers. Also Allen Funt, producer of television’s Candid Camera. It was January of 1964. His show was about capturing people who were unaware of being filmed as they fell into his setups, reacting wildly and sometimes uttering things that had to be beeped out. The show had a tremendous following. A popular slogan of the day was: “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera”.

“Two nights in Winnipeg”, the billboards read.

“We’ve got to do something about that,” my friend Reg Parker said.

Reg worked at Radio CJOB-FM when it was still classical with Bill Stewart as general manager. So did Cliff Gardner, who drove a big black Cadillac, famous as a broadcaster and his roles at Rainbow Stage. Another colourful colleague who worked there was Trish Mumford, a character all her own. They called her “Trish Trash”.

Parker and Stewart were full of the dickens and this time hatched a plan to pull one over on Funt.

Funt was to be met at the airport by Mayor Juba.

Being friends of the mayor, Parker and Stewart talked him into going along with the scheme. They borrowed Gardner’s big black Cadillac (Parker’s little Volkswagon just wouldn’t do) and went to the airport to pick up Funt. The flight arrived just before noon, so back they came for lunch at the Paddock, famous at the time for being a good restaurant.

Four of them at the table – Mayor Juba, Stewart, Parker and their guest Allen Funt, who sat next to the wall, his back to another table.

Trish was dining alone at the table behind. Even though it was winter, she wore a summer hat with a long pheasant feather that stood straight up when her head was bent down over her plate of food.

Conversation flowed easily between Funt and Mayor Juba, who wore half a smile the whole time because he was sitting across from Funt and could see what was going on.

Funt was bald.

Trish slowly moved her head up, which made the hat’s feather drop down to tickle Funt’s bald head.

Funt was no slouch. He was used to being victimized by his own antics during his travels. He slowly reached up his hand as if to scratch his ear, then grabbed the feather and turned around. There was Trish, the hat pulled from her head, and Stewart with a sign that said “Smile, you’re on CJOB-FM’s Candid Camera.”

Everything was topsy-turvy and it was time to go.

So how do I know all this detail?

Because I was in on it.

In those days you had to separate the drinking lounge from the dining room, and the Paddock did it with a huge cloth divider. Today there was a slit, making a narrow opening at the top where the curtains met.

I was on the other side of the curtains, up on a ladder, filming the scene through the opening. I had borrowed my Uncle Abe’s wind-up movie camera (he always had the latest gadget) to shoot this event.

When it was over I descended from my perch, slipped through the curtain and walked toward the group. I got to shake Funt’s hand before they left.

That’s my memory of the Playhouse, the Paddock, Cliff Gardner, Mayor Juba and Gingerbread City Hall.

How does the Gingerbread structure fit in?

It doesn’t, except to point out that it was demolished in 1962. Mayor Juba was poised in January of 1964 to take up office in a new City Hall, completed that year. He took up much of the conversation time at lunch, telling Funt all about it.

Everyone was gone now. I dismantled the setup behind the curtain and returned the movie camera to my Uncle Abe, who laughed and laughed when I told him the story.

Irvin James Kroeker

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