Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Brian Linehan and the Notion of Celebrity

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Over the course of this book tour – whether during our twenty-four hour train ride through the rockies or on a park bench in Halifax – I’ve been reading Starring Brian Linehan, a book offered to us writers in residence so graciously by the good folks at McClelland & Stewart. As a biography of the recently deceased Linehan by his good friend – and reputable entertainment writer – George Anthony, the book does a decent job of exploring the psyche of its lead. Linehan was one of Canada’s best celebrity interviewers and, as host of City Lights on the fledgling CityTv during the seventies, was able to meet (and develop strong personal bonds) with many of the most celebrated film stars of the era – from Martin Short to Clint Eastwood. In the words of those who knew him best, we see Linehan the perfectionist who was – at times – a fawning star-gazer and – always – an individual with a distinctively mercurial disposition.

The author uses most of the biography to pick apart the minutiae of Linehan’s personality and the rest of it to reminisce about the glory days of the Hollywood junkets on which the two of them took part – with a healthy dose of name-dropping along the way. The problem is that, for members of younger generations, the stars referred to have become unknowns. The names of Joan Rivers and Candice Bergen don’t conjure up memories of Saturday matinees or red carpet premieres and they certainly don’t impress us. I found myself wishing I could wikipedia many of them – not simply because of my own ignorance (of which there’s plenty), but also because inherent in our formulation of “celebrity” is the inevitability of expiration. The stars of today are never the stars of tomorrow.

This is not to belittle Linehan’s work. He was clearly a professional. But for someone like myself who never had the chance to see him conduct one of his masterly interviews, this book does little to exemplify how good he truly was.

There is one great moment, adeptly captured by Anthony, which fits well with the Kickstart project we’re bringing into the world (see It has to do with Linehan’s big break at the beginning of his career. How did he become the primary Canadian interviewer of Hollywood personalities? Well, he did his research and learned everything there was to know about each subject. At one point, while working on City Lights, he was able to slip Kirk Douglas (who? Oh, yeah, the father of Michael) a personalized letter that revealed more about Douglas than the actor thought possible. As a result, Douglas agreed to do an interview with Linehan and the rest, as they say, was history.

We should also mention advertising exec and film director Barry Avrich and ballerina Karen Kain, both of whom are featured in our book, Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started (again, and figure prominently in Starring Brian Linehan.

- Alexander Herman, Halifax, Nova Scotia

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Alexander Herman, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel

Alexander Herman, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel are the authors of Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started (Dundurn Press, 2008). Kickstart profiles over 30 prominent Canadians who explain how they started their careers.

Go to Alexander Herman, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel ’s Author Page