On Thursday, my backyard was turned into an impromptu TV studio. It was all for a good cause, however, as I was asked to help pay homage to the late, great Elwy Yost.
Yost and his over-sized noggin never wore out their welcome on TV screens throughout Ontario back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Well before TCM became every film buff’s favourite channel, TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies, hosted by Yost, was the place to watch classic films uncut and properly introduced by a knowledable and enthusiastic host.
Yost also flew to Los Angeles each year and banked interviews with Golden Age Hollywood masters such as Frank Capra, John Huston and Jimmy Stewart and also writers such as Robert Towne and Ray Bradbury. The former Burnhamthorpe Collegiate school teacher did hundreds of these Hollywood one-on-ones and left behind a treasure trove of first-hand anecdotes from elite storytellers. These legends were taken in by his genuine love of the movies but also because he wasn’t intimidated by them. Yost would utter the occasional “gosh” or “golly” but he was never a fawning entertainment reporter. He looked, in fact, more like a seasoned Hollywood producer.
Now Karen Shopsowitz — daughter of another Toronto icon, Sam “Shopsy” Shopsowitz — is directing “Magic Shadows: Elwy Yost a Passion for Cinema.” The documentary, written by Barry Stevens, was originally scheduled to air this fall when TVOntario celebrated its 50th anniversary, but COVID delays have push things back until probably early in the new year.
Yost passed away at 86 in 2011. His son Graham (left, at a TCA session a few years ago) is a very successful TV showrunner in the States, responsible for such critically acclaimed dramas as The Americans and Justified. Early in his career he wrote the movie “Speed,” which made his pops proud as punch.
Graham Yost was at the University of Toronto around the same time I was and while we had but one class together we had friends in common. Among them were future CP24 business anchor B.J. Del Conte and some other lads who played in a band called The Crispy Critters. Yost would occasionally sit in on drums. The band did the music for a short film I made while at U of T, “Varsity Blues.”
I think it may have been through those connections that Graham’s famous dad, Elwy, came to take part in a sketch me and my comedy team partner Pat Bullock did on our early ’80s, zero-budget community cable series Etobichannel. We found out Elwy was an Etobicoke resident and somehow talked him into making the trek to MacLean Hunter Cable near Toronto’s Pearson airport for a studio taping. We didn’t send a limo or even pick him up in my dad’s car — he drove there himself.
And that’s the story I told the camera crew — which included Amazing Race Canada shooter Blair Locke — Thursday in my Brampton back yard. Many others will be singing Yost’s praises for the project, including fellow critics John Doyle, Peter Howell and Rob Salem.
I’ll write more as the doc draws near, but suffice to say it was quite a kick that day back in 1984 meeting Elwy Yost. He was a kind and generous man and every bit as professional and good-natured as he appeared every week for 25 years on Saturday Night at the Movies.