Monday, May 23, 2011

Elwy!

Our host, Elwy Yost

Beginning in 1974, TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies presented to residents of Ontario and Western New York, a double bill of classic films uncut and commercial free, along with elucidating interviews relating to the subject of movies in general and specifically to the subject of the movies being screened. Contemporary viewers used to the proliferation of specialty channels may not realize what a boon it was for film fans to see movies uncut and commercial free, but let me tell you, it was as if we had died and gone to cinema heaven.

Elwy Yost was born in Ontario in 1925 and now lives in retirement in Vancouver. A former high school teacher who hosted for the CBC and a true film buff, he was the perfect host for Saturday Night at the Movies. Originally a producer of the program as well, he eventually handed the executive producing job to the inestimable Risa Shuman, who is held in great esteem by film fans of Ontario. However, it was Elwy who was the face of the show.



Imagine the thrill of tuning in each Saturday night for the likes of Dodsworth, I Know Where I'm Going!, Gun Crazy, Reap the Wild Wind, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Western Union, Mrs. Miniver, Act of Violence, The Informer, The Prisoner of Shark Island, Charlie Chan at the Circus, It Happens Every Spring, The Letter, Moulin Rouge and so on.

Elwy was our guide through the history of classic film. His unbridled enthusiasm for the subject made it alright for us to be movie lovers. He interviewed historians and experts, writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, set designers, composers, costumers, stunt men and foley artists.

I remember Greer Garson, both grand and twinkly, coming across as a lady who'd be pleased to put the kettle on and make you feel at home. Olivia de Havilland, all polite smiles. Bette Davis, all gruff annoyance. Joan Fontaine, trying to take charge and eventually relaxing. Vibrant and fun Betty Garrett. P.D. James discussing mysteries. A non-cooperative Robert Mitchum almost becoming human by the end of the interview. The intense and sharp Richard Widmark. Henry Fonda, cool and confident. The charm of Jimmy Stewart. Self-effacing Joel McCrea explaining that he was never anyone's first choice except for Preston Sturges, and that was enough. Keye Luke proclaiming the artistry in Warner Oland's portrayal of Charlie Chan. A friendly and seemingly shy Dana Andrews. Edward Dmytryk explaining that the lighting in his noirs was motivated by budget, not art. Jack Elam talking about playing chess with Duke Wayne and drinking too much with Sam Peckinpah. Michael Wayne taken aback and then grinning when told he was starting to look like his dad. Harry Carey Jr. getting misty talking about his dad. Noah Berry Jr. responding to Elwy's story of growing his first moustache because he was inspired by Noah Sr. with a choking "I wish I could tell him." So many fabulous and enlightening moments.

The interviews were donated to the Motion Picture Academy upon Elwy's retirement.



The sister program to Saturday Night at the Movies was Magic Shadows which ran weeknights at 7 and showed one movie per week split into four parts with a serial episode on Friday. The first movie shown was The Thing from Another World. The first part ended with the scientists and airmen at the crash site spreading out to determine the size and shape of the thing. Oooh! The number of times I have seen the movie since are lost in family legend. The following is an actual conversation with my mother some 15 years ago.

She (offhandedly while kissing the grandkids): Do you have any plans for tonight?
Me (incredulously): The Thing from Another World is on.
She (dismissively): Oh, you always watch that thing!

Sometimes a film would run the entire five nights and we would loose out on the serial. Such a movie was Sands of Iwo Jima. One episode ended with John Agar meeting Adele Mara at a dance. When we returned to the set/movie room Elwy looked at us and said "Ah, romance rears its ugly head." An immortal line used by our family to this day for the many movies that make that misstep.



Elwy - whose name was a source of curious amusement to a booming Otto Preminger.

Elwy - whose shock at guest Pierre Berton's disdain for John Ford movies matched my own.

Elwy - who, if he is a packrat has a copy of a movie quiz I gave him years ago. A copy of one I had made for my dad.

Elwy - who kept his son home from school with a note of excuse explaining that he was tired because Citizen Kane had been on the late show.

Elwy - whose apparent garbled relating of the plot of the movie Runaway Train inspired his screenwriter son Graham to write Speed, which Elwy proudly presented in 1999 on his final evening of hosting Saturday Night at the Movies.

Elwy - who was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1999.

Elwy - who created an atmosphere of appreciation for film for generations of fans.

Maybe someday you will be in Toronto for a film-related event like the Toronto International Film Festival. Perhaps you will become aware that some of the attendees are native to the town and if they are "between 40 and death" (Auntie Mame), stroll over and mention the name "Elwy". Watch for the smiles on their faces.

Addendum: Elwy passed away on July 21, 2011 at the age of 85. The internet became a place of sharing memories of "Saturday Night at the Movies", "Magic Shadows" and inspiration.


25 comments:

  1. Oh, NYOKA of the Jungle!! I remember watching the episodes - either in the theater or on tv at home, can't remember where. Good times! I loved those things!

    And, of course, I LOVED watching THE THING. I still do. I can watch that movie over and over. Absolutely love it. I've been meaning to write about it on the blog...

    DODSWORTH is another favorite. The more I see that film, the more I love it. I finally read the book last year and loved it as well. It's funny how the film pretty much follows the book.

    I was never a big Greer Garson fan, but I've seen Mrs. MINIVER and enjoyed it.

    Elwy sounds like he was a heck of a guy and a true movie lover. Great post!

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  2. You've really brought back so many memories for me. Elwy was the absolute best! Magic Shadows and Saturday Night at the Movies were a major part of my life. I remember coming home and commenting that I was sure I saw Elwy going to work on the subway.
    My younger sister commented, "Why would he be going to work, he shows us movies from his house." That's how comfortable he made the viewers feel. He was inviting us over to watch a favourite film. Elwy's enthusiastic love for film is unforgettable. His book, Magic Moments from the Movies, is a wonderful companion piece.
    Caftan Woman, thank-you so much for this terrific post.

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  3. Thanks for commenting, Yvette. I think Elwy would be just your cup of tea.

    Good old Nyoka. Wouldn't that be a swell name for a cat?

    Perhaps we "Thing" fans should band together and start a cult

    Some movies take root in your heart and are always associated with those first viewings.

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  4. Novabreeze, that's a cute story about your sister. Thanks for sharing your fondness for Elwy.

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  5. Great post! I love Elwy. When people don't know who Elwy is, I always, always know that they grew up out of province. Without fail. Someone should send this to him and Graham. I bet he'd just love it.

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  6. You're sweet, Miss Tracey. We're so lucky to have had Elwy.

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  7. Really fascinating and nostalgic article about one of your obviously sweetest memories. I grew up in Indiana, so I never knew about Elwy. Isn't that a great name?!! How unusual in 1974 to have had that opportunity for uncut and no commercials!

    Your presentation of the interviews was so interesting -- who would have thought Dana Andrews would be shy, Edward Dmytryk so modest about his art. Robert Mitchum actually dropping his shield a little, and Noah Beery, Jr. showing how much he loved his father. Elwy was the original Robert Osborne, wasn't he? And he sounds like someone I would love to have known even more than Robert, although I know that is TCM blasphemy.

    When I was a schoolgirl here in Indianapolis, I would hurry home every afternoon for "Francis Farmer Presents." She moved here to live after her tragic experiences with mental institutions. Every day she showed great old movies on our local station. She was older and very quiet, but you could still see the young beauty she used to be.

    Thanks for your memories, and for making me remember my own...

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  8. Becky, I know that the classic movie fans I have met on the "net" would all be Elwy fans if they had the chance.

    When we started getting TCM it fulfilled the dream of having "Saturday Night at the Movies" 24/7! I wrote to them a couple of times suggesting Elwy as a guest programmer, but nothing has yet come of it. Perhaps his son, screenwriter Graham Yost will make it one day.

    It's fascinating to hear about Frances Farmer. I knew she had gone into television, but now I have a six degrees of separation thing going because of you.

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  9. I had to come back and tell you something. When she lived here, Frances appeared at a theatre that no longer exists, The Avondale Playhouse. I never got to see her, but heard she was pretty popular. In her TV show, she was quiet and rather flat in manner. It makes you think that she really did have a lobotomy, which is questioned by some. Some said she was an alcoholic and that was the reason, but it didn't seem she was drunk, even to my young eyes.

    After she left Indianapolis, she moved just south of here to Brown County, a lovely place. I believe that's where she died, pretty much alone. She said to her dying day that she had never been an alcoholic. Such a sad fate for a woman who apparently was treated badly by her parents and the Hollywood and Broadway industries.

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  10. The tragedy of Frances' life is overwhelming. I hope she had some happy moments and kindnesses to remember.

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  11. Even those of us whose only connection to tv was through an antenna in years past knew Elwy when we lived close to the Canadian border, so I was awash in memories as you described his programs.

    Are there any of Elwy Post's interviews on video tape or digitally preserved (I HOPE!)?

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  12. Moira, I just knew you were an "Elwy" kinda gal.

    Look what I found! TVO The Archives
    http://archive.tvo.org/program/119641?page=1

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  13. Caftan Woman, I just spent 1/2 hour mesmerized by Elwy's interview of John Huston. I picked that one first because I love Huston. Elwy just charmed the pants off Huston, didn't he, and was good at it. Huston was charming, as well, and I guess I thought he might be a more difficult interview. What a treat! I'm saving your email so I can go back for more!

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  14. Becky, we struck the motherlode!

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  15. Omigosh!! Thank you so much for unearthing Elwy Post's interviews. Thank goodness they have been preserved, (instead of thrown away).

    I will probably be happily lost for days among the videos, so I'm going to have to pace myself.

    Thanks again.

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  16. I apologize for my error in spelling this gentleman's name: Elwy Yost

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  17. With over 25 years of interviews, pacing yourself is a good idea, Moira.

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  18. That was a great post. Elwy's show sounded magical. I definitely need to check out some of those interviews.

    During the 1970s, in the Chicago area, we had a weekly Sunday evening (10:30 p.m.) show called "When Movies Were Movies." They showed classic films but with commercials.

    What used to annoy me though is the programmers were afraid the opening credits on movies were too long, so moved them to the back of the movie! We're talking Warner Bros. and M-G-M films were the average opening credits were what, maybe 90 seconds top?

    The movie would end, we'd get commercials, and then the opening credits would be shown. Then more commercials.

    I, and I know others did too, wrote letters of complaint but nothing ever changed. They showed lots of old movies on WGN and it was only on that Sunday night show they did that.

    To this day even with DVDs and TCM, I think of titles like "Captain Blood" and "The Maltese Falcon" opening right away with a huge splice sans credits.

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  19. Kevin, it sounds like some strange alternate universe with the credits at the end. The stuff of nightmares. My apologies to all the filmmakers who wait until the end as part of their artistic approach. When opening credits are designed as such, don't monkey around.

    The TVO interviews are amazing. You will find much to enjoy. Because many of them still air on the channel, I hadn't thought of checking their availability online until the conversations on this blog which was my way of strolling down memory lane. l

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  20. Caftan Woman, I always enjoy personal recollections of how and when film buffs first watched classic films. Along those lines, this was a delight post! What a great way to spend a Saturday night. (In the states, I watched NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies, but it didn't have a knowledgeable host...just the flicks). Thanks for sharing those beautful memories.

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  21. Caftan Woman, I loved your fond reminiscences of Elwy Yost! It almost makes me wish I'd grown up in Canada so I could have watched his clearly awesome show regularly; Elwy really does seem to be Canada's Robert Osborne. There were plenty of movie shows when I was growing up in the Bronx in those pre-TCM days, like the MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE and the 4:30 MOVIE. They always showed the films in two parts, since they had a 90-minutes-including-commercials time slot. (Indeed, I prattled on about that last year: http://doriantb.blogspot.com/2010/10/midnight-movies-at-tv-oasis-bleary-eyed.html). It warms my movie-loving heart that Elwy's son Graham Yost became a screenwriter himself.

    By the way, Caftan Woman, you had recently expressed an interest in seeing THE DARK CORNER covered in TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED. It's up even as we speak! :-)

    http://doriantb.blogspot.com/2011/05/dark-corner-you-picked-fine-time-to.html

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  22. Rick, even a good Canadian boy like my dad would forgo Hockey Night in Canada for "Elwy". A small sign of his impact.

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  23. Dorian, so now more of your posts are on my must-read list!

    A local channel has started running older films. I joke that it's movies the way they were meant to be seen - late at night with commercials. Sometimes I'll watch a movie and recall precisely where the break was the first time I saw it.

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  24. This was great, I love this post. I've only recently become aware of Elwy Yost through a couple of YouTube videos of his interview with Greer Garson. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8irGzD7h_PE).

    There are other Yost interviews on YouTube as well.

    Great tribute to Mr. Yost.

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  25. The inestimable YouTube. Now Elwy is not just for Ontarians, he belongs to the world.

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