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Hockey legend Gordie Howe straight as an “Aero” in new CBC biopic

- April 24th, 2013

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It’s an old line that has been repeated often in pro hockey circles, and I have no idea who said it first. But it went something like this:

For many years in the old six-team NHL, there usually were four good teams: Toronto, Montreal, Chicago and Gordie Howe.”

That’s not to discount or denigrate Howe’s teammates with the Detroit Red Wings. He had some great ones, especially in the early to mid-1950s, when the Wings won four Stanley Cups in six years.

Rather, the comment was meant as a great compliment to Howe, who carried the Wings through the rest of the ’50s and throughout the ’60s before he decided to retire in 1971.

What happened in the aftermath of that first retirement forms the narrative of Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story, a made-for-TV movie that premieres Sunday, April 28 on CBC.

Playing Howe is Michael Shanks (pictured at top and bottom), a veteran Canadian actor best known in recent years for his role as Dr. Charlie Harris in the series Saving Hope. Mr. Hockey also stars Kathleen Robertson as Gordie’s wife Colleen, and Dylan Playfair and Andy Herr as Gordie’s hockey-playing sons Marty and Mark.

Howe was 43 years old when he retired from the Wings, but he quickly grew bored with his glad-handing job in the Detroit organization.

An upstart league called the WHA offered Howe the unique opportunity to play pro hockey with his sons, who were ineligible for the NHL because they were too young. Also, the WHA gave Howe a chance to offset the astonishing underpayment he had experienced with the miserly Wings, particularly for a player of his stature.

So Mr. Hockey follows the Howe family from Michigan to the Lone Star State, where Gordie, Marty and Mark lace up their skates for the WHA’s Houston Aeros.

Shanks plays Gordie as a man who understandably is protective of his boys in the goon-ridden WHA, but he has to learn to let them fight their own battles. Conversely, Marty and Mark are just as worried about their old man, fearing he’s going to keel over and have a heart attack.

Many dismissed the whole thing as a publicity stunt, but Howe had the last laugh. Not only did he string together six productive seasons in the WHA, he then amazingly played a full final season back in the NHL when the two leagues merged in 1979-80.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Hockey is similar in feel and tone to a couple of other CBC hockey-related biopics in recent years, namely Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story (2010) and The Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story (2012).

Certainly if you wanted to touch upon the entirety of Howe’s hockey career, he would need at least two biopics as well. But the comeback is what people tend to remember most about Howe, which does a disservice to the true legend of what a dominating player he was in his prime.

Hockey fans love to debate who the game’s greatest players were. But exact order notwithstanding, everyone’s list includes the likes of Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

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Air Farce, Ron James plan an “ex-PSY-ting” New Year’s Eve, Stephen Harper style

- December 30th, 2012

Air Farce - Paul Henderson, Craig Lauzon as Don Cherry

Canada doesn’t seem to treasure as many traditions as it has in the past. That can be a good thing or a bad thing depending upon your point of view.

But one Canadian tradition that has hung on is comedy on CBC on New Year’s Eve.

First up at 8 p.m. (local time) is the annual Air Farce New Year’s Eve special. That’s followed at 9 p.m. by The Ron James Show’s New Year’s Eve Special.

Then at 10 p.m., it’s the news, which rarely is funny. So let’s focus on those first two.

The Air Farce extravaganza this year features a hilarious video parody starring Craig Lauzon, doing Prime Minister Stephen Harper, doing Korean rapper PSY. The words to PSY’s massive hit “Gangnam Style” have been changed to reflect Harper’s world.

Besides Lauzon, the usual Air Farce crew of Don Ferguson, Luba Goy, Alan Park, Penelope Corrin and Arnold Pinnock will be on hand. Guests include hockey legend Paul Henderson (pictured above left, with Lauzon as Don Cherry at right), Olympic gold medallist Rosie MacLennan, Yannick Bisson of Murdoch Mysteries, recording artist Victoria Duffield and David Chilton of Dragons’ Den.

Then it’s time for Ron James (pictured below), who – as we successfully head into 2013 – vows “never to listen to a Mayan again.” Damn straight.

Regular James characters Aunt Vivien, Buell Crawford and fan favourite Li’l Ronnie also stop by to help ring in the new year.

The real beauty of the back-to-back Air Farce and Ron James New Year’s Eve specials is that you can watch both and still have two hours to get drunk.

Now THAT’s a Canadian tradition.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Ron James New Years Eve

Gordie Howe elbows his way into CBC biopic

- June 13th, 2012

gordie howe:stephen harper

“So that twerp Don Cherry gets a biopic and I don’t? I think you need to have a little talk with your favourite organization the CBC, Mr. Prime Minister.”

That’s what Gordie Howe appears to be saying to Stephen Harper in the above photo.

Well, whatever Gordie did, it worked. The CBC announced on Wednesday that it has commissioned Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story, along with two other made-for-TV films, Smilin’ Jack: The Jack Layton Story and Still Life.

Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story apparently will focus on Gordie’s later era of professional hockey, when he came back in his mid-40s to play with sons Mark and Marty. I guess that’s the better “story,” per se, but I personally would be more interested in learning about Gordie’s early years. We now seem to remember Gordie Howe merely as an athletic freak of nature who played a long time, rather than the most dominant player in the game, which he was for an entire era.

There apparently was a saying in the NHL back in the early 1960s: “There are four good teams in the league: Montreal, Toronto, Chicago and Gordie Howe.”

Whenever I think of Gordie, I can’t help but recall a book I read years ago exposing hockey’s dark secrets that detailed some of Gordie’s contract negotiations with the Detroit Red Wings. The trusting Gordie would be told, “Don’t tell any of the other players what you’re making, they’ll be jealous.” Meanwhile, the truth was that Gordie was being criminally underpaid for a player of his stature.

So who gets to portray Gordie? Hey, why not Jared Keeso, the actor who played Don Cherry in two CBC biopics? After all, Keeso kind of looks like every hockey player who ever lived (well, except for maybe Doug Gilmour).

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv