Friday, 24 October 2014

The way I sometimes write about Richard Rohmer you’d be forgiven for thinking that I can’t stand the man. In fact, the opposite is true. Sure, we often disagree, but I like the guy as much as you can like anyone you’ve never met. Generally Speaking makes me like him all the more. Rohmer's story is remarkable, even if the book isn’t. He’s accomplished so very much, is famous in his own right, and yet so often becomes star-struck in the presence of fame. There’s something endearing in that trait, and the effort expended in reproducing grainy video and coffee mug images.

Generally Speaking reads like a self-published memoir written by an amateur and published by a service like My Family Memoirs. Heavy on the positive, light on the negative, Jack Rhind’s autobiography is a good example. You’ll remember the former Confederation Life CEO as one of the men who provided a blurb for Retaliation. What makes this all really interesting is that Rohmer is an old pro, and Dundurn is no vanity press.

Though he doesn’t appear in Generally Speaking, I think Jack Rhind and Richard Rohmer were friends. I’m mentioning this only because it points to one of the more amusing quirks of the book. Friends and good friends populate its pages, they often appear out of nowhere and, once mentioned, usually disappear. This is exactly what happens with “friend King Michael of Rumania” – who comes and goes within a sentence. You want to put on the breaks, and ask Rohmer for more. An editor would do this, but I don’t see one in evidence. It's worth noting that Dundurn routinely credits editors on its copyright pages, but here lists only a copy-editor.

Is this part of a pattern he set with Ultimatum? The book doesn’t say. Having come to the man through his novels – as opposed to, say, his legal work for Bramalea – I found the most disappointing aspect of the biography to be how little attention is paid to his writing career. A few asides aside, it comes late – page 525 – and has to share a chapter – number 78 - with some unrelated stuff about George H.W. Bush and Brian Mulroney.

Generally Speaking numbers 590 pages, but I found myself wanting more. Too often things skim along the surface. You come away wondering why he quit the Progressive Conservatives or how, in late middle-age, he came to see E.P. Taylor as a “father figure”.

There’s a really good biography to be written about Richard Rohmer. He'd be the first to appreciate the amount of work involved.


  1. Well get on it then.
    Who would be better?

  2. Somehow I don't think he'd want his biography to be written by anyone associated with this blog.

    Which begs the question - is he part of the 75,000 hits we receive per day? Has he seen it? Does he care?

  3. I think Rohmer is a fascinating character. The perfect center of the kind of novel no one writes anymore or a movie no one makes. The man who led an entirely unexamined life.

    What did it all mean?

    You can see him in his law office in Toronto in 1975, trying to cut some tax deal to make some rich people donate their art collection to the province, and then suddenly going: Wait. Why? Why do I care about this again? How did I get here? I used to fly fighter planes.

    My dad played in the Grey Cup.

    Wait, was he a good guy or a bad guy?

    Why did my hero/buddy/boss just kill himself?

    Who cares about me getting the pants let out on my uniform?

    Why am I flying this jet fighter around Perry Sound?

    What does that prove?

    These questions never occurred to Rohmer. But they would, to Jack Lemmon or Dana Andrews.

    A cool place for the story to go? Our guy decides to make the biggest score of all time, and find some Arabs to lend him some money to guy General Motors. And ends up destroying the economy and starting a war.

    But I'm just spit ballin'.

  4. Buy General Motors. I meant to write "buy." But guying works too, when you think about it.

  5. You're right in comparing Rohmer's life to a movie. Lemmon would've been too tall, and dead, but I can see it.

    The film I envision might star Jimmy Stewart. It's about a smart man who goes through life without self-doubt. He's the sort who will spot a media mogul in a shopping mall, pitch an idea off the cuff, and reap the benefits. The catch is that the harder he pushes something - say, development of anything north of Timmins - the less likely it will come to fruition.

    Both modest and boastful, the character Stewart plays is complex. He's awestruck by wealth and privilege, never quite appreciating that those he holds in such regard - like the sons of Westmount and Rosedale - haven't accomplished nearly so much, despite their advantages.

    And he took Rommel out of the war.

    The story doesn't really go anywhere. It plays on his having had something to do with events, and supping with famous people. Rosemary Clooney would make a pass, then pass out. It's a thinking man's Forrest Gump, in that it features a thinking man… or maybe it isn't. I've never been able to watch more than five minutes.

    Guying works.

  6. The finest actor alive: Ian Holm. (If you started with Rohmer today, and flashed back to everything.) Mostly Tom Hollander.

    Someone call Sarah Polley.

    Oh, this movie could make hundreds of dollars. Hundreds.