By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Mar. 8) — It was Dec. 4, 1971. A Saturday night, two months before my 13th birthday. My uncle, Ralph Blatt, took me to the Toronto–Boston National Hockey League game at Maple Leaf Gardens. In town were the Big, Bad Bruins of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Derek Sanderson, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman et al. A smokin’–hot ticket, to be sure.
For three weeks, at the Odeon–Carlton theater next to the Gardens, the movie Face Off had been playing. It starred 23–year–old Halifax native Art Hindle as Billy Duke: a self–ordained roughneck trying to make the Leafs while immersed in a love affair with drug–addicted musician Sherri Lee Nelson — played by Toronto–born Trudy Young. After the Leafs–Bruins game, my uncle — the dentist — figured we’d catch the late showing of Face Off next door. The movie, as it turned out, had started 20 minutes earlier and my uncle — the dentist — didn’t feel like paying for 75% of the show. Instead, he distracted the lone ticket–taker while waving behind his back for me to enter the darkened theater. Feigning concern, he said to the employee “Oh no… my nephew has gone inside. I’ve gotta go find him.” Whereupon my now–rogue uncle — the dentist — scrambled in to join me for the remainder of Face Off.
This came to mind on Saturday as I sat in the home/hockey museum of Mike Wilson — a stone’s throw from Upper Canada College here in Toronto — and listened to the now–66–year–old Art Hindle tell stories about filming the legendary hockey production. Not until he reads this will Art know that my uncle and I stole a portion of his royalty earnings more than 43 years ago. And, neither will Art particularly care. He went on to a successful career that included a leading role in the 1982 cult movie Porky’s and a starring role in the hit Canadian TV drama E.N.G. (1990 to 1994 on CTV). I met Art on a red–eye flight from Los Angeles to Toronto in late–1990 and occasionally saw him at events when I worked for The FAN–590. Just last week, he and I re–connected on Facebook.
FORMER LEAFS DEFENSEMAN JIM McKENNY SMILES AS ART HINDLE (LEFT) TELLS A FACE OFF STORY SATURDAY AFTERNOON AT A GATHERING HERE IN TOWN. PROMO–AD AND HINDLE (BELOW) AS HE APPEARED IN THE 1971 MOVIE, FINANCED BY THE LATE JOHN F. BASSETT JR.
Though Face Off turned into quite a tear–jerker — Sherri–Lee dies in a car accident, leaving heartbroken Billy alone with his life and fledgling career — the hockey scenes (real and created) were also memorable. Hindle’s character more than loosely resembled Jim McKenny, a young defenseman with the Leafs at the time who battled drug and alcohol addiction. Billy Duke, in fact, wore McKenny’s No. 18 Toronto jersey. For a touch of authenticity, Hindle accompanied the 1970–71 Maple Leafs on their final extended road trip of the season — to Philadelphia, Oakland, Los Angeles and Detroit, Mar. 21–28. Action shots of McKenny were filmed from various angles. Billy Duke was shown in front such landmarks as the Liberty Bell and the Golden Gate Bridge.
ART HINDLE ON SATURDAY AFTERNOON AT THE WILSON MUSEUM.
To the delight of producers, an actual brawl erupted during the Mar. 25, 1971 Leafs–Kings game at the Los Angeles Forum — Bob Baun and Bill (Cowboy) Flett in the main event. Both benches emptied and the melee was filmed in its entirety. Home games were more docile. The Leafs and Canadiens went to war just after Christmas at the Gardens, but filming for the movie hadn’t yet begun. Fight scenes, therefore, had to be created. This was accomplished by summoning a host of NHL players to Toronto after the Stanley Cup playoffs for a lengthy shoot on Victoria Day 1971. The public was invited to fill the east side of Maple Leaf Gardens as a background audience. I was among those in attendance as the NHLers tried unsuccessfully not to laugh during the choreographed fights. At one point, an aggravated Hindle hauled off and smacked defenseman Rod Seiling of the New York Rangers. That brought the proceedings into focus and the shooting continued until well after dark.
DEFENSEMEN JIM McKENNY (TOP–LEFT) AND JIM DOREY WERE TEAMMATES ON THE MAPLE LEAFS WHILE FACE OFF WAS BEING FILMED — THEIR CORRESPONDING 1971–72 HOCKEY CARDS, BELOW. THE TWO JIM’S WERE ON HAND SATURDAY TO REMINISCE WITH ART HINDLE.
JIM McKENNY ON SATURDAY WITH YOURS TRULY. I WATCHED McKENNY’S CAREER WITH THE MAPLE LEAFS AND GOT TO KNOW HIM LATER WHEN HE WORKED AS A SPORTS REPORTER AT CITY-TV HERE IN TOWN. JIM MIGHT BE THE BEST STORY–TELLER IN NHL HISTORY.
I have long heard about the basement of Mike Wilson’s home near Avenue Road and St. Clair here in Toronto. On Saturday, I saw it for the first time. Mike has acquired a phenomenal collection of hockey memorabilia, including game–worn jerseys and sticks. You would think that he eviscerated Maple Leaf Gardens, given the authentic items from the arena on display in his personal museum. It was Mike who hosted Art Hindle, Jim McKenny, Jim Dorey and a couple dozen more for the Face Off movie reunion. I toured his collection with my trusty NIKON:
A CORNER OF MIKE WILSON’S NOT–YOUR–TYPICAL BASEMENT.
MIKE’S GLASS–WALLED COLLECTION OF TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS GAME–WORN JERSEYS.
GEORGE ARMSTRONG (LEFT) AND TIM HORTON JERSEYS FROM THE 1960’s.
THE JERSEY OF FRANK FINNEGAN (LEFT) DATES TO 1936. FINNEGAN LIVED FROM 1903–91.
TICKET (LEFT) IN THE EAST GREENS AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS FOR TORONTO–BUFFALO EXHIBITION GAME OF OCT. 3, 1984. MATS SUNDIN GAME–WORN JERSEY (RIGHT).
A DOOR (TOP) FROM THE LEAFS DRESSING ROOM AT THE GARDENS AND A CLOSER LOOK (BELOW) AT AUTOGRAPHED PLAQUE. AMONG THE SIGNATURES: BOB NEVIN, BRIAN CONACHER, BOB COLE, WILF PAIEMENT, PAUL HENDERSON AND TERRY CLANCY.
AN ORIGINAL TURNSTILE (LEFT) FROM MAPLE LEAF GARDENS AND A SIGN (RIGHT) THAT DIRECTED FANS TO SEATS IN THE EAST–SIDE REDS. DURING THE 1970’s, MY DAD SHARED SEASON TICKETS IN SEC. 49, ROW L — BETWEEN THE SOUTH BLUE LINE AND CENTER ICE.
FAMILIAR FACES (ABOVE) FROM JUNIOR TORONTO MARLBOROS OF THE MID–1950’s.
EXPORT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS CALENDAR FROM 1948–49 NHL SEASON.
ORIGINAL ICE–LEVEL SEATS (ABOVE) FROM THE GARDENS. GOLD AND RED SEATS (BELOW) FROM LAST YEARS OF THE FABLED ARENA ON CARLTON STREET.
COMMEMORATIVE BUTTON FROM THE FINAL LEAFS GAME AT THE GARDENS: FEB. 13, 1999.
THE THREE AMIGOS: JIM DOREY, ART HINDLE AND JIM McKENNY.
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