Tuesday, 6 October 2009

On the passing of Douglas Campbell

Douglas receiving the Order of Canada
(Taken from the CBC article about him)
It was with sadness that I heard today that the actor and family friend Douglas Campbell has died at the age of 87. He was a Shakespearean actor of the old school and indeed was one of the last survivors of the first Stratford Festival. He had an incredible voice and a great heart. Unfortunately, there are relatively few examples of his work that I can point to. The best I can think of is his recitation of Blake's Lullaby on an early Lorena McKennitt album. I had the honour of seeing him play Falstaff in Henry IV pt. 1 and 2 at Stratford in the 49th year of the festival, a role to which he was well suited. Apparently he was a little too frank with his opinions about the running of the festival as they didn't invite him back for the 50th! Among his characteristics was that he was a bit of a curmudgeon. Though perhaps crusty might be a better term as he was, in my experience, a fundamentally warm individual.

If he could be generous with his criticism, he was also generous with his insight into theater, especially that of Shakespeare. I once attended a fundraiser at Bishops' University that was titled "Shakespeare on request". Assisted by his wife Moira, he read/declaimed the requested passages from the Bard's work along with brief but thoughtful discussions about the passages. There was a passion in him for the theater and other aspects of intellectual life that burned liked a banked fire: he would seem placid and reserved until something would stir him up then he would give off a jet of intellectual fire. I remember one time when I was chatting with him, when I mentioned that I was working on my Master's of Library and Information Science (or MLIS) degree. He replied: "Oh, so they are calling Librarianship a Science these days? I suppose it is all computers these days? I remember when books were the thing." Written down his comments seem very harsh, but there was a humour to the way he said it. As well, he accepted my take on the subject: namely that we librarians didn't consider librarianship to be anything like an exact science but like a science we questioned what we were and indeed asked questions about what is a book in an age of computers and how do we deal with books and the internet.

So long Douglas and thank you.

More articles about Douglas from the Montreal Gazette here and here. Also, a 1984 interview with Peter Gzowski.

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