When Nonnie began her career at age 16 at the Red Barn Theatre in Ontario, I was a child beginning to sing on the local radio in Halifax. Years later, after she had studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England, and had become a radio voice staple in the golden age of radio playing all the ingenues, such Emily in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, and had become a favourite host on The Polka Dot Door, and the first Dianna Barry in Anne of Green Gables on TV, and won raves for Mrs. Rafi in The Sea at the Crest Theatre as well as Dolly at the Limelight Theatre, I actually met her.
Nonnie’s energy was overwhelming to anyone meeting her for the first time, regardless of their credentials. She invited me to see her in Sister Annunciata’s Secret, her first self-penned solo show, and then asked what I thought! I told her! Thus began our great friendship! We were “film buddies” as she called it, and we raced around to any theatre to see a film or play we both had on our separate “must see” lists, followed by hours of discussion and dissection of its merits or flaws. She had very strong opinions, and I had my NTS training to rely on to defend my opinions.
She asked me if I would re-direct Sister Annunciata to submit to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as I had been there the year before! Thus began our partnership as playwright and director. This was quickly followed by “Marilyn After,” which became her calling card solo show and for which she won Best International Show in the The Solo Theatre Festival in NYC.
We had cast The Piper’s Son with a full cast and hoped to mount it in September. We were also rehearsing another solo show, which was booked to open in 10 days when the aortic aneurysm in her neck ruptured. She had faith that it would mend itself during the year prior. Her faith was strong due to the twelve-step program, which she had followed for 40 years, winning her 40-year medallion just a few months before her death.
Nonnie was a wonderful actress on stage, in film and on TV, but few knew she was an even better playwright! And she was the best at being a friend and mentor to those who needed a friend in AA.
Everyone whose life she touched will miss her terribly.
Bill Luxton got his start in radio in 1948 in Thunder Bay, Ontario, after completing his military service. He later became known as the golden-toned studio announcer for internationally syndicated television programs like The Galloping Gourmet and The Amazing Kreskin. But in the nation’s capital, he was so much more.
Beloved as half of the riotous Saturday morning CTV kid’s show “Willy and Floyd,” co-host of the morning magazine show with Margaret Trudeau, tripping the boards at the Ottawa Little Theatre in productions like Annie, or playing with his “Grey Jazz” big band, Bill Luxton was a cherished fixture in the city. Like many kids in Ottawa, my weekend started with a bespectacled, wig-clad Uncle Willy and his obscenely over-bitten, goofball nephew Floyd (played by another Ottawa Legend, Bill’s long-time friend and partner, Les Lye), getting up to vaudeville mischief that could encompass anything from comedy skits, cartoons, puppets and old George Formby songs.
He was a very proud and dedicated life member of ACTRA, a long-serving member of council, and a recipient of the Lorraine Ansell ACTRA Award of Excellence. He truly enhanced the lives of all who had the privilege to meet him. Bill passed away in July, aged 92, and will be dearly missed by the entire community.
Sean McCann died in July 2019 at the age of 83. He lived a full life that led him through the best of times and the worst of times.
It would be easy to list the many exceptional performances, such as his magnificent Mackenzie King portrayal, but I’d like to focus on the man I knew.
I don’t think I’m letting the cat out of the bag to reveal that Sean McCann could sometimes be irascible, or that he had a very competitive soul and stood up for what he believed was right. In the early ‘80s, Sean coached a kid’s baseball team in Leaside (a neighbourhood in Toronto). He asked my son, Jesse, to play, along with his two boys, Jonah and Jeremiah. Sean knew baseball. He was a patient, natural teacher and taught them to win. The kids loved him. One day, an umpire blew an out call at second base. Sean jumped to his feet, ran towards the umpire full of piss and vinegar, and was shouting jaw-to-jaw with him. His anger was controlled, and his argument was sound and just, and we all knew we were watching a man who knew how to “seize the day!” The kids loved it. So did I.
The best of times for Sean didn't come easy, but he earned the best life had to offer.
He found success early and was quickly “on his way,” but, just as quickly, alcoholism brought him down. It could have resulted in the end of his career and maybe even his life. But letting that happen wasn't in his nature. He was a fighter. With the help from Alcoholics Anonymous, Sean beat alcoholism and remained solidly sober for the rest of his life, dedicating much of his time and energy to helping others beat alcoholism. Gradually, his career got back on track with one exceptional performance after another.
But Sean was many other things, too. He ran for office as a gutsy social progressive in a conservative riding. He believed in unionism and donated copious amounts of time to making ACTRA a better union. He knew baseball well enough to be hired by the Toronto Blue Jays as an official scout. And – as all who knew him were aware – he was a devoted husband and loving father. His family was his strength and his pride.
We know he was a superb actor. Acting was in his soul. To understand what it meant to him, consider the son of a working-class family in Windsor, Ontario, born during the Great Depression. Sean came of age at the same time as the new plays that shook Broadway after the war – those of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Clifford Odets and others – plays that reflected dark, socially conscious assessments of the lives of ordinary people.
It was the time of the “Beats” – of Brando, Clift and Dean. Theatre had evolved as the voice of the generation – viscerally exciting and inspiring to young artists like Sean. The zeitgeist of the era suggested that being a good artist wasn’t enough. One could do more – somehow express a deeper, more soulful “truth.” Performances in plays and films like Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, Marty, On the Waterfront and East of Eden were revelatory. Acting seemed a way to help connect all of humanity. Sean had found a home.
Acting styles ever change and evolve, but Sean’s work was so rooted in truth that he was always relevant, and his characters rang strong and true. He was a gifted artist. He was also a kind, compassionate, morally courageous, generous, loving man who worked hard, had a loving family, and earned the admiration and deep respect of his peers.
Sean McCann was a mensch. He gave. He will be missed.