Jul 29, 2011

The Night I Met Elwy Yost

In the 1980's, CTV used to run a television program called  "Thrill of a Lifetime".  Viewers would mail in their once-in-a-lifetime dream, and whichever ones were picked by the producers would be made a reality.  Thus, every episode would feature a lucky contestant living out their ambition of rock-climbing or recording a song.   In the summer of 1987, when I was devouring Elwy Yost's programs "Saturday Night at the Movies"and "Magic Shadows",  as well as his book Magic Moments From The Movies, I had seriously considered writing in, in the hopes that they will fulfill my modest ambition of simply sitting down and spending a day with Mr. Yost and chatting about movies.

No, this lofty request was never mailed.  However, this would-be "thrill of a lifetime" did occur in the fall of 1989, during my first year in the big city, at school, away from home.  One Thursday night, after seeing a double bill of Night of the Living Dead and Murnau's Nosferatu at the Nostalgic Cinema, while standing on the platform at Kingsway Station waiting for the subway to take me back to my university residence, who should walk by but Elwy Yost and his wife Lila!

"Elwy Yost sightings" were hardly rare in Toronto, however this one was all the more precious because he had just entered semi-retirement, and had moved to Vancouver.  He and I exchanged glances as they walked by, and after my first reaction of wonder that my idol was within my proximity, my second reaction was of how tall he was.  Because of his round face and that we mostly saw him on television in a seated position, his onscreen presence deceived me into thinking he was perhaps a head shorter.  Although the Yosts and I had entered the same car on the subway train, at first, I wasn't going to say anything to him, because I have never been (then as now), a celebrity hound (or as they say in my biz, "a star f***er").  But this was Elwy Yost, man!  This was the single driving force more than any other who influenced my love for cinema, which I was studying in the big city no less- how could I not?

Thus, I humbly went up and asked him if he was Elwy Yost.  He said, "No I'm not-- I get asked that a lot", then said he was only kidding.  So, for the next thirteen subway stops, I had the above "thrill of a lifetime" of talking to the legend about cinema.  I should add at this point that while Elwy was-is obviously a beloved icon in this province, never once in the conversation was there the impression of "celebrity and spouse"-- his charming wife Lila was-is just as much of a cinema lover as her husband, and was equally involved in the conversation.  They were a team-- acting as each other's rock.

I mentioned that I had seen Nosferatu at the Nostalgic, (by the way, this was a film I had wanted to see for years-- a lot of long held ambitions were being fulfilled on this night!) and that I was disappointed, and he concurred that when he had seen it, "I didn't know what to think of it either-- when I saw the monster in it, I didn't know whether to be scared or laugh."  (Okay- we have on record at least one film the always ebullient Mr. Yost didn't like).  This in turn got us on the subject of Murnau, in which we discussed The Last Laugh (he hadn't seen it!) and Sunrise, which was upcoming in the Nostalgic's schedule, and was highly recommended by both of the Yosts.

Throughout this delightful twenty minutes, other movies were discussed, such as The Killing, which was on his show the coming weekend, but the pinnacle of the conversation was perhaps when Mr. Yost said how surprised he was at the number of films I had seen.  St. George Station was on the approach and before the dream ended, and I asked for his autograph. "You're a living legend to me," I said. "You're very kind," he replied.  He signed the back of a little card that the Nostalgic had made to plug an upcoming program of science fiction films.  As I shook hands of both the Yosts and made my way to the subway doors, I thanked him for showing the restored version of Gunga Din

While subway whizzed by me, both Yosts gave the "Elwy wave" out the window.  What a class act.  I switched onto the northbound train to campus, with tears in my eyes, joyous at having met one of my personal heroes, and also elated upon the discovery that he was as exciting, charming and down-to-earth on or offscreen.  Over the years, I've met with and interviewed other celebrities, but this was the brush with stardom I shall always cherish.  "Thrill of a Lifetime" indeed.

(edited from an article published way back in ESR #7)

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