I was now spending much of my time working on my Bank of Montreal project. I now had almost fifty portraits in the can and many had already been at various openings around Canada. One of the wildest was in Toronto when Toller Cranston entertained the media and all in attendance. Before I did his portrait I met him during one of his training sessions. He was a total ball of energy! I knew shooting him would be a challenge, but I had his total attention and enjoyed his flamboyance. During the winter months I ventured to Grey Rocks near Le Circuit Mont Tremblant. I needed to complete a portrait of Linda Crutchfieldthat I had begun in the summer . Linda is a total athlete. She was on the National Ski Team, the National Luge Team and in the summer, the National Water Ski Team. When I was waiting to do the water ski portion of our portrait I was sitting in the living room of her small cabin in the Laurentians north of Montreal. I recall it had a steep staircase which led, I believe, to the bedroom. I was dumbstruck when this vision decended the stairs with a big smile. She was ready to take to the water. Now here I am, a virile young man in love with life and Linda was strikingly beautiful in an emerald green bikini! Oh! Some of the challenges I had to meet to complete my assignments! During our winter meeting I shot the skiing and ludge portions of our portrait. All went well and I even got to ride the luge a bit. Scary ride! I had driven the party wagon to Grey Rocks and was parked in one of their lots for the night. I had enjoyed a few beers with Linda and her friend Skat Peterson, the Grey Rocks School Director. I turned in early. I was woken by Scat knocking on the door of my motor home. He told me he thought there was a leak in my gas system. When I realized what the situation was I could smell the propane. One spark and I would be a central cast member in a Bruce Willis movie! As you can tell I got out of the situation and the right people were called to fix the problem.
I spent the winter skiing and preparing for the racing season and one of the big events in my life. I had been approached by the Montreal Olympics commitee to be a principal photographer at the games! Sixteen days of shooting! Fourteen hours a day! More on that later.
I seemed to be spending a significant amount of time in airplanes these days. Twice to Europe to races and back to Long Beach for the Grand Prix. Life was really picking up speed. In the early spring I had two openings in New York. My portraits were now part of the Canadian Sport Art Collection with such high profile artists like Hanni Rothschild, the sculptor and Ken Danby, the artist famous for his painting of a goalie called ‘At the Crease’. The opening at the Seagram Center was quite exciting for me, but the trip to New York was even more adrenalin pumping. The young man who had been hired to drive the truck to New York with the collection was from a small town in Quebec. Marc’s English was fairly good, but he had never seen a building over four stories before he appeared in Ottawa to pick up the collection. Everyone was worried about him getting it there in one piece. I volunteered to ride shotgun to the Big Apple. All went well until we were driving down one of the parkways in Manhatten. I had driven in New York before, but in reality did not know the city well. I looked at the city map, which was not too clear to begin with, and told Marc to take the next exit. Wrong! It was dusk and we had been driving all day. The exit led directly into Harlem! It did not have the best reputation at the time. The white truck were were in had a very large gold coin on the sides and back of the cargo box. It simply said ‘Olympic Coin Sport Art Collection’. I quickly looked at the map and told him to drive straight ahead until he got to ‘such and such’ street and turn left. I also added that he was not to stop! If he came to a red light he was to slow down, check both ways and keep going. I got down in the footwell. I know…you’re thinking ‘chicken shit’. I was a little excited by the situation. Marc was totally taken by all the tall buildings did not have a clue what my problem was. The first opening was going to be a big one for me. My publicist, Joy Hansen of Montreal, had done her homework. She had discovered that the art critic from one of the large dailies was very important to impress. He was of a particular persuasion. Joy and I had gone shopping while we were in Montreal the week before the New York opening. She had helped me select a beautiful pant suit with embroidered shoulders. The principal colour was a soft salmon. Soft salmon is about as close to a soft pink you can get! It was actually a beautiful suit and quite manly, but I think you can see who she intended to impress at the opening. It worked! We got a great review and I got away! We were staying at the Waldorf Astoria. No expense seemed to be too much! There was a funny incident in the hotel when we were getting on the elevator on the floor our rooms were on. When the door of the elevator opened, the elevator was full of a sea of ‘George Gobel’ types with their brush-cut hair. They just looked at the three of us with me in the center in my ‘soft salmon suit’ and shoulder length hair. Naturally I saw the opportunity to have some fun. In a harsh falcetto I simply asked, “Is there room for us fellows?” The door quickly closed! When we got to the lobby the same gang of crew-cuts were standing around at a distance. They were watching closely as I sashayed out the front door. I am sure Iowa has not been the same and the story of ‘the poof’ has been told repeatedly. I love to have a laugh at people’s conception of what they see. As my friends know, I am far from being light-in-my-loafers! I love women! I missed the second opening which was at Madison Square Gardens! Our flight was late and I got there just as they were about to shut down for the day.
The sixteen days at the Olympics in Montreal were about as exciting as anything I had experienced. I witnessed first hand the marvels of Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian gymnast, Vasiliy Alekseyev, the massive Russian weightlifter and the disgrace of the Russian fencer Boris Onishchenko in the Pentathlon fencing. This was the most blatant and pre-meditated cheating unearthed at any Olympic Games. Onishchenko, a KGB officer, was a well known competitor having won a silver medal at Munich 4 years earlier. Someone had constructed a special fencing ÃƒÂ©pÃƒÂ©e. All that ‘Boris the Cheat’ had to do was press a secret button in the grip to simulate a ‘Hit’ on his adversary. I also stood by while Howard Cosell interviewed Big John Tait before he entered the ring against Teofilo Stevenson, the great heavy-weight Cuban boxer. Tait made the comment to Cosell that he did not come to sit down for any ‘great’ boxer from Cuba. I got a shot minutes later with Tait sitting on his ass in his corner. he was right in front of me with Stevenson in the background with his hands held high and his feet off the ground! Another event introduced me to the political end of the Olympics. During the qualifying of one of the distance running events, Canadian Grant McLaren led the field to the delight of the Canadian crowd in the Big ‘O’ of the Olympic stadium. In the second last turn of the last lap I waited eagerly for Grant and his competitors to appear. I shot my camera in the instant when you just frame and get what is going on without seeing it. When I finished I realized Mclaren was suddenly out of the lead! In fact, he was around fifth! He was leading when he first appeared in my lens. The resulting image showed me what had happened to him. I wanted to see what had happened and looked at the string of images of this turn. There it was! A blatant violation of the rules by the winners of the event. McLaren would not qualify for the final! I tried to show the image to officials, but they would not look at it! It was over and McLaren refused to look at the image years later. His long hard work to get to the Olympics had been tainted by cheating.
The Canadian racing scene shifted to Trois Rivieres in September. It would prove to be a show few would ever forget. The Formula Atlantic event was seeded with Formula One regulars Vittorio Brambilla, Alan Jones, Jumper Jarier, Patrick Depallier and soon to be crowned World Champion James Hunt. Hunt had been dueling with Niki Lauda through the F1 season, but was almost 20 points back of the Ferrari driver when they got to the German Grand Prix at the old Nurburgring. During this event Lauda suffered severe injuries and was not expect to survive. He would prove everyone wrong and in the process set up what may have been the most dramatic championship that F1 has seen. In the Atlantic race in Trois Rivieres the ‘Big Guys’ from F1 were going to be shown the work of the master. Gilles Villeneuve would out qualify and outrun the whole field to such an extent that Hunt immediately called Teddy Meyer the manager of the McLaren F1 team. He could not say enough about this tiny Canadian. There were ten Formula Atlantic races in the Player’s Challenge Series in 1976. Gilles sat on the pole of each race and won nine of them with one DNF. It could have only been more impressive if he had won all ten! My first personal encounter with Gilles had happened one night at some race where he was entertaining the fans when a soft knock at my motor home door got me away from whatever was taking up my attention at the time. When I opened the door Gilles and Joanne were standing there hand-in-hand. They were like a couple of kids, yet they already had two of their own. I invited them in. He said he had heard I had done a portrait of him and wanted to see it. I actually had two portraits. He was very soft spoken. He said he wanted one for his Father. He also had no money. He was a member of the ‘real drivers’ racing club! We chatted for some time and when they left, he had one and I the other. Mine was signed by him. His was signed by me. Several years later the portrait I had would disappear and not show up again until 2010. It was like seeing an old friend from a distant past. I was gathering a nice base of friends and clients that allowed me to spread my creative wings. Bill Brack’s sponsor John Gardella of STP commissioned me to produce a portrait of Bill in his Atlantic car. Bill had won the Atlantic series three years in a row! All I needed to complete the portrait was a head shot. I met Bill at his home in Toronto and asked him to come outside. We went to his back lane and I am sure he thought I was nuts as I stood him in front of his open garage door. I used the dark background to set up a blend area for the images of the car I already had. STP made posters of the portrait which were sought out by Bill’s fans at the Atlantic races. It was one of my best to date. Back on the F1 scene, the Grand Prix circus arrived at Mosport. Lauda had returned to the Ferrari cockpit at Monza a mere six weeks since he had slipped into a coma after his blazing accident in Germany. The epic race for the Championship was on. By the final race in Japan, Hunt was now just three points behind Lauda. The race started in a monumental downpour. After 2 laps Lauda retired saying it was crazy to drive in such conditions. He was probably correct, but he was probably still affected by his Nurburgring accident. The rain soon eased. Hunt finished third despite a late tire change and collected 4 points to take the title. It had been a wild year with Hunt winning eight races to Lauda’s four.
The end of the year had a very strange twist for me. On November 15th Rene Levesque led his Parti Quebecois to power in Quebec. I was an Anglophone with a French name! The Bank of Montreal project was over. So were the Olympics! I was living in Montreal and my client list dried up almost immediatley. I was in a serious situation. The rocket ride had ended. I packed my bags and family and headed to Ontario and Toronto. I was not financially prepared for this change.
Next: Down, but not out!