In 1965, full of passion and promise, the Buchans and the Marksons symbolized an exciting new generation. How did a boundless future turn into a haunting past?
George Buchan first saw Nadia Pavlychenko in 1960 in Paris. He was 27, working with a small architectural firm, one of a cohort of Depression babies who found that in the post-war era jobs grew like summer cherries, ripe for the picking. His dad, a butcher from Scotland who became an A&P meat supervisor in Niagara Falls, was a cautious man, but George looked at life differently. Fresh from the University of Toronto architecture school, he'd joined the Chicago office of Mies van der Rohe, the great master of modernism. After his U.S. visa expired, he'd gone off to Europe.
George grew a floppy moustache and lived in a left bank hotel, the Deux Continents. From his balcony, he could see the apartment of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. "Those were the days," he recalls. "The most incredible time to be in Paris." Easy relations between the sexes were a real eye-opener for a young Torontonian whose "modus operandi with women was just a con, a hustle." In Paris, everything was totally up front. No games.
One fall day, he spotted the painter Graham Coughtry, whom he'd met briefly years earlier in Toronto. Coughtry was in Paris to marry Larisa Pavlychenko, a model whose ravishing face appeared on the cover of English Vogue in the heady days of Swinging London. Amazingly, they too were staying at the Deux Continents. Graham asked George to show them around. For three days, they visited all the neat places. George was delighted when Graham asked him to be best man. Larisa's younger sister was coming over for the wedding. "You'll like her," Graham said. "She's a looker!" When Nadia arrived, George was bowled over. "She was unbelievably gorgeous, with this happy, childlike exuberance. A prairie flower in bloom."
That seems a fair description of the Nadia I remember. When I started at McGill, she was finishing her physical education degree. We both lived in Royal Victoria College. In the 1959 yearbook, beneath her photograph, it said she was from Saskatoon, born January 23, year unstated because RVC ladies didn't divulge their ages. She had a smiling oval face, perfect teeth, eyes wide apart, and a long, flat nose that might have been considered a flaw if the face hadn't been so symmetrical and the cheekbones so prominent. She glided the polished corridors like a dancer, tall and elegant in her red wool blazer. My snooty friends decided she must have been a bit thick, phys ed not being for the quick witted.
George was four years older than Nadia, and more worldly. She'd been to London and New York, but when she arrived in Paris for the wedding she was timid, an RVC girl who was still "good." Virginity was a great burden for some people. How could a thing so prized be shared as easily as a joint? It could drive a guy crazy. Or make him fall madly in love. Or both. "I backed right off," George says, and they had a great time.
Later that fall, George returned to Toronto to join some former classmates in their architectural practice, but Nadia stayed in Paris for a while. On her way back to Saskatoon to teach phys ed at the University of Saskatchewan and to run a dance program with her other sister, Lusia, she visited George. They wrote and phoned each other often. Three times in 1961, she came to Toronto. In September, she pulled up outside his ground-floor office at Isabella and Church in her little Sunbeam Alpine convertible, just to say hi. She was on her way to New York. "Hang on," George said, and ran back inside. "Hey, guys, I'm gone!" Just like that. George says he's always been intuitive. Despite everything that's happened since, he still believes that time his intuition was right on.
In New York, they watched John Cage tuning radios to different stations while David Tudor dismantled a piano and Merce Cunningham danced. George had never seen anything like it. They went to Chicago, then to North Dakota. George was a passionate man -- still is -- and he was ready to consummate their love. Nadia was passionate, too. But even passionate women could be frightened. There was poor Nadia, 24 years old, caught between terror and freedom, with all the rules collapsing. One night in North Dakota, when it looked as if things might spin out of control, she grabbed the car keys and fled back to Saskatoon. George hitchhiked his way north and showed up at her front door. "I knocked, and Lusia answered. She looked at me and said, 'You must be George.'"
Nadia's parents were both born in Ukraine. Her father was a scientist who'd apparently invented the dandelion killer 2-4D. He'd wanted three boys but got three girls he raised like boys. The mother, George says, "was the light, poetic side to this hard-nosed scientist." A week after George arrived, he and Nadia were married. George didn't understand a word of the ceremony. "There were candles dripping on me, and this choir singing in Ukrainian." The mayor was there, and the president of the university.
The newlyweds were pressured to stay in Saskatoon. The university wanted to keep Nadia, and offered George the chance to design a chemistry building. "I saw this whole family thing and thought, 'Oh, no. I've got to get her away.'" Like most women of her time, Nadia appeared happy to follow, and they were on the road again, to Toronto. Graham and Larisa were moving to Ibiza, and the Buchans took over their apartment, two floors over a furniture store on Yonge, south of Wellesley. George worked at home. Nadia started her own dance school over the Roberts Gallery at 641 Yonge Street.
That's what they were doing when Linda Munk, a young freelance writer, chose two Toronto couples to represent the promise of the '60s. She found her subjects among her artistic friends, those who drank at the Pilot Tavern, congregated at the Isaacs Gallery and partied in the Sultan Street studio of architect Irving Grossman. Her full-page Globe and Mail article, "Two Young Couples: The New Individualists," featured the Buchans and another couple, the Marksons -- Morley, a graduate of the prestigious Illinois Institute of Technology, was a busy industrial designer, and Gini, who had left Sarah Lawrence College to marry him, was a promising flutist.
Munk called the Buchans and the Marksons "people who do things and make things happen." They come across as highly confident and self-conscious. When Gini said, "Everything is symbolic in our relationship," she spoke for them all. They were determined to expunge ugliness from their surroundings, and make their lives works of art. Their horizons appeared endless. It wasn't hard to agree with Munk that couples like these were "the cultural leaders of a new generation."
As it turned out, they were leaders, but in ways no one predicted. Their story -- more cautionary tale than triumphal epic -- unfolded during a vibrant period in Toronto. It involves love and betrayal, New Age religion and old orthodoxy, spiritual gurus and failed promise. It was enacted against the backdrop of '60s youth culture, transcendental meditation, drugs, street riots in America, false prophets. Their stow is, in a way, the story of many young adults in the '60s, the story of a generation convinced it could do things better.
On April 1, 1965, I clipped that Globe article, because I knew three of the people it described. Recently, I came upon it again, while helping my mother move, and decided to find out what happened to them, and perhaps learn something about the fate of their generation. And mine.
"Yonge and Wellesley, man, that was unbelievable." George Buchan's eyes sparkle in recollection. The staircase to their apartment led directly from the sidewalk into a large living room. George designed and built the furniture, and Nadia upholstered the chairs "with multi-coloured fabric samples." The walls were covered with "paintings and drawings by Toronto artists" -- their friends. George was stubbornly doing his own thing, determined not to work for a big firm. As a result, he recalls, "There were times we couldn't even make the $90 a month rent." Even after the birth of their son, Keir, the Buchans relied on the kindness of their downstairs landlord.
"They live simply," said the Globe, "yet manage to create esthetic surroundings that relate to them and to the activities they choose." Creativity was the mantra of the '60s, the ultimate compliment. Gini Markson applied the term "creative" to her cooking. It didn't matter whether it was beef stroganoff or an opera, creative was good. Nadia was quoted swing adults should drop their inhibitions. "It's a free and exhilarating experience to create with your body." Everything in the photos of the Buchans looks sensual. A sheepskin lies invitingly on the floor, while George, on his knees, draws plans on a coffee table. Nadia, on a background sofa, plays with eight- month-old Keir, her long hair wrapped in a bun, her long legs, knees together, tucked to one side. In another shot, Nadia sets the table, smiling up at George while he uncorks the wine.
Saturday-night dinners at the Buchans were a ritual. Roy Brown, a friend of George's from architecture school, and his girlfriend at the time were regular participants in the Buchans' feasts, which began at the St. Lawrence Market. "George and Nadia were totally uncompromising in their tastes," Brown says. There'd be a stop at the liquor store, and at about one o'clock they'd put on some of George's great jazz records. George remembers "a little drinking, chopping food, sauteeing stuff, a little dancing, some more drinking, some more cooking, and the meal would be ready to eat at about midnight."
If they wanted to get out, the Buchans only had to walk up Yonge to the Pilot Tavern. Everybody was there. Especially the painters in the Av Isaacs gang, which included Michael Snow, Gordon Rayner, Joyce Wieland and John Meredith. In Toronto, the visual arts scene was the centre of the creative life. Before there was a thirst for Canadian fiction, there was a hunger for Canadian art, and Av Isaacs more or less fell into satisfying it -- starting from a framing shop on Hayter Street to his Yonge Street location, renovated by Irving Grossman and Roy Brown, in 1961.
It was a tight-knit group. Isaacs once showed some landscape photographs taken by Morley Markson, and Nadia danced a few times with the Artists' Jazz Band, a noisy freeform gaggle of Isaacs artists, including Gordon Rayner. "You seldom see a woman as beautiful as Nadia," Rayner recalls. "A raven-haired beauty with grace."
While Nadia danced, George designed buildings. Linda Munk mentioned "ultra-modern gas stations, a large summer home in Muskoka, a family house in Unionville." She also cited "a huge development scheme for a group of Toronto businessmen who have bought land in the South Pacific." One of those businessmen was Peter Munk, then Linda's husband. (He was involved with Clairtone at the time, a scheme to build hi-fi equipment in Nova Scotia with government money, but he was looking elsewhere to invest.) From time to time, George helped with other architects' projects: Jerome Markson, Morley's brother, thought George an "agile" architect and sent him perspectives to complete. George won a housing competition, but because he was on his own, and refused to join a larger firm, the job went to someone else. When the assigned architect had problems, George collaborated on the project -- Citadel Village, off the Don Valley near York Mills. He soon moved his office into a Prince Arthur Avenue house occupied by other architects, including Jerry Markson.
Meanwhile, the Toronto art scene flourished under the influence of various drugs -- recreational, professional and transcendental. It wasn't just self-indulgence or pleasure. It was investigation. A quest. I asked George if he and Nadia ever tried LSD together. Once, he said. They walked in Queen's Park in a snowstorm, then down to Switzer's on Spadina. George ate there all the time and knew the zaftig waitresses, but that night they seemed to come at him "like ogres." He says he never tried LSD again.
But the Buchans continued searching for a portal to mystic visions. Influenced by Allen Ginsberg and other Beat Generation writers, seekers had been turning to Hindu ashrams and Buddhist temples, reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Alan Watts and Timothy Leary. The invasion of eastern religions was propelled by travel, pop music and hip gurus who could pick the right medium to pitch the message.
One of the most celebrated local figures, Leslie Dawson, an ordained Anglican priest known as the Bikkhu, was connected with the Mahayana branch of Tibetan Buddhism, the Red Hats. George and Nadia went to hear him speak in a rented basement near College and Ossington. To George, the Bikkhu was merely an MC, introducing "brilliant, shaved-headed, orange-robed guys who read from the I Ching."
Unlike dozens of their friends, the Buchans never followed the Bikkhu on his global travels. George was more impressed by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles' man; Nadia would later become a devotee of a Vajrayana monk, the Black Hat school. It was a sign of the times. Transformations. Shedding beliefs like a snake sheds its skin.
Hairline cracks in the Buchan marriage were visible in the Globe stow. Nadia remarked that two weeks after Keir's birth in 1964, she was back at work. "Caring for a new baby is one of the most physically demanding jobs I know. No wonder so many mothers become tired and depressed. Their bodies aren't equipped for the job." She was already pregnant with their second child.
George admits that as a father, he wasn't much different from his own. "I was really back to the '50s, where women took care of the children and husbands worked." He took his son for nightly walks but never bathed him or changed diapers. Keir, and later Tusia, often ended up in a basket in the corner of the dance studio when classes were going on. "I didn't see anything wrong with that," George recalls, "and I'm still not sure if it was good or bad."
Patricia Beatty, co-founder of the Toronto Dance Theatre, knew all the Pavlychenko sisters. She canoed with Nadia's sister Larisa, and met Nadia when she was pregnant with Tusia. Occasionally, she'd take over the studio to help out. Trish knew George as well. "I thought they were a wonderful couple. He was a very sexy guy. She was, despite being sensual, not very sexy. Maybe she was afraid."
Tusia's arrival made life above the furniture store congested, so the Buchans moved up Yonge to 45 Marlborough Avenue, a semi-detached in the row of workers' houses facing the tracks. George thinks they were the first Marlborough renovators. He did all the usual things -- gutted the place, moved the kitchen, built a deck. Still, space was tight. "I'd be lying in bed at night and feel that about 13 feet away there'd be other people sleeping the same way, and 13 feet from them, the same. I could sense all those other bodies."
There were office pressures as well. Too much work, so George took on staff, worked nights and worried about meeting the payroll. "I had no idea how to manage a business." Finally, when he couldn't stand it any more, he asked Nadia, "Why don't we run away to a desert island?" She said, "Great, why not Ibiza?" Graham and Larisa were there. The kids were not yet in school, so the Buchans packed it in. Nadia asked Trish Beatty to take over the studio, and George rented his office to Jerry Markson. They traded in Toronto for a new setting and, with luck, a new script.
Ibiza, the tiny Balearic island off the south coast of Spain, has a magic George felt the minute he got off the boat. The Buchans rented a farmhouse overlooking the sea, about five miles from Graham and Larisa. Nadia wore native clothes. The kids ran barefoot on the earth. Figs, olives and apricots were drying on rooftops, lambs were being born in their yard. At night, they'd take some wine, a little portable tape player and a few candles to the roof, and look at the stars.
After a couple of years, their marriage began to unravel. George won't talk about it now, but it was the '60s, so I assume drugs were involved, and probably sex. There were choices everywhere. Janis Joplin was singing, "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." A person needed an inner gyroscope. In 1970, Nadia took off. She returned to Toronto with the children, and left George a note saying it was over. Not to follow. She needed some time, alone.
Stories began to circulate. Someone told Av Isaacs that George had beaten Nadia. I asked George if it was true. "Once," he answered, "when we were still living at Yonge and Wellesley, we had this incredible fight that started with pillow throwing, then pushing and shoving, then punching. Physically, she was my equal. All muscle. But I hit her on the face, and her tooth punctured her cheek. It was the only time, ever." Their relationship, George told me, was always very physical, and spiritual, and sensual.
By the time George returned to Toronto, hoping to reconcile, Nadia and the children had moved into Citadel Village. The kids started school. Roy Brown had married by this time. He and his wife, Kathryn, tried to bring the Buchans together, but the Browns were packing up to follow the Bikkhu to North Africa for "psychoanthropological studies." There was little they could do. Trish Beatty felt helpless, too. She thinks Nadia and George might have worked it out, except that really creative couples didn't know how to go about it.
George seemed to have little heart left for his practice. He worried about Nadia and the kids. When Gordon Rayner went to Citadel Village for dinner one night, he found the children asleep upstairs and Nadia "kind of crazed." She'd go in and out of reality. "You weren't looking at a young woman who was high, but someone with aberrations in her head."
Once, in the middle of a November night, she stood barefoot in the snow, hitchhiking on the Don Valley Parkway. She later phoned George at three in the morning to talk about it. "I'm listening on the phone, and it wasn't really her," George recalls. "Everything was from outer space." Neighbours reported that Nadia was telling the kids to eat leaves. Three times, he says, she was admitted to the Clarke Institute. Then, the last straw. Nadia had found a new guru, Kalu Rinpoche, who was setting up a centre on the West Coast. Picking up Keir to take him to a hockey game, George realized Nadia wasn't there. "She wasn't even in the city. She'd flown off to B.C. or someplace." The kids were crying, and the housekeeper in charge was an ex-alcoholic who couldn't cope.
Thus began an ugly custody battle. George shudders when he talks about it. "It was the worst thing in my life. Work, everything else disappears out of your mind, and it's as if you're struggling to breathe." In the end, George got custody and began life as a single parent. But first he had to learn to care for the children. He took them home to his mother in Niagara Falls. "Where could I go but back to Mommy?"
George is alone when we meet at his large home on Leuty Avenue in the Beach. Roy Brown describes the place as "idiosyncratic, like George." The spacious front veranda is covered with assorted implements and boxes of firewood. There is Insulbrick on the outside and a new Miesian back facade. "That's the other side of George," says Brown, "and the other side of George's house."
Inside, there's a large living room, a dining table covered in drawings, a recent computer. There are paintings by Isaacs artists everywhere. Although it is raining and mild, there is a roaring fire, and on a low coffee table between two black leather sofas, a bottle of excellent white wine, opened, salmon pate, crackers, roasted almonds and candied ginger. George answers my questions for three hours, speaking into a tiny microphone attached to his black sweatshirt. Twice he rips off the mike, saying he wants me to know the truth but he doesn't want me to write it. It makes him terribly angry when I suggest that Nadia had abandoned her children. "She never abandoned them. Don't say that." I ask him if he still loved Nadia when they broke up. "Oh, God, I'm still in love with her. I've never been out of love with Nadia."
At 66, he's still intense, with little irony or humour, but an attractive man, blue-eyed and slim. No woman lived in this house when the kids were growing up. In fact, since he broke with Nadia 30 years ago, there's been only one serious relationship, and that ended five years ago. "And I'm a Scorpio," George says, "very 'that way' inclined. It's unbelievable how long I've been celibate!"
It's been hard financially as well. "We always had a living, but it was just above the poverty level." One satisfied industrial client kept returning, and there was a huge meat-packing plant for McDonald's. He did several houses, sometimes more than one for the same family, a good sign in the exacting world of domestic architecture. Still, there's no money for luxuries. "I had to give up my car a while back," George says.
And Nadia? In the early 1970s, the Pavlychenko School of Modern Dance, renamed the Pavlychenko Studio, moved a few doors south on Yonge Street. A Globe and Mail reporter described the new space as "wedged between a pinball palace and a gay disco...[occupying] seven paint-chipped rooms, three floors above the car fumes." Nadia ran it when she was able, but George thinks she spent most of her time meditating. Then, in 1977 when she was 40, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and refused conventional treatment. She wanted to be with her Buddhists, to prepare for the next step, so she went to Darjeeling, in West Bengal, to the Sonada monastery of the Kagyupa sect and became a Buddhist nun. Near the end, Graham and Larisa went to be with her.
"I was told she died in Larisa's arms," Trish Beatty says. Everyone says that. Two passionate sisters in a final embrace, nestled in the Himalayas, a million miles from Saskatoon.
Graham and Larisa arranged for the funeral rites to be observed as in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. It's believed that the dead person persists as a disembodied spirit within hearing in an afterlife realm of transition, or bardo, a place between incarnations. Thirty monks sat with Nadia's body for 40 days and nights, performing ceremonies intended to offer her the opportunity for enlightenment, to avoid rebirth and all its misery.
Graham brought back a stack of Polaroids taken each day of Nadia's bardo. George went to see them in Graham's studio. "You wouldn't recognize her. The skull covered with tight, parchment skin. I guess it's dry enough there so it didn't rot." Graham also sent a letter home from India to Gordon Rayner and Av Isaacs describing the cremation. "It was an astonishing letter," Isaacs remembers. "Graham described it as he would a flower. Not coldly, but objectively. How her colour changed. How suddenly rigor mortis set in and her arm shot up in the air."
After Larisa and Graham had fulfilled their obligations to Nadia's body, they returned to Toronto to run her school. They pledged to continue the integration of dance with other disciplines, and to turn the studio into a place where artists "could explore and experiment without fear of failure." On the wall was a huge photograph of Nadia.
The Pavlychenko Studio marked its 25th anniversary in 1987, but by then it was desperate for funds. Larisa feared they were about to lose everything she and her sister had worked for. She challenged the Canada Council to "finally honour the history of Pavlychenko." She needed $25,000 within a month, but fundraising efforts failed. The studio closed forever.
Outwardly modest about most things, george puffs up when he talks about his kids. Keir is married with three young daughters, and Tusia, recently married, is a home care worker for the old and sick. "She's got Nadia's heart," says George. "So does Keir. There's a lot of Nadia in both of them."
I meet Keir at an office in Metro Hall. He's tall and elegantly structured, with broad shoulders and a tapered body like a dancer, or a football player. He has a crushing grip, fierce blue eyes and a hint of baldness, like his father 35 years ago. I show him the Royal Victoria College yearbook and the Linda Munk article, which he'd seen but hadn't paid much attention to. "I'm amazed," he says, "that I haven't been driven to sort this out a little more." He thinks he might, someday, when he has the time or one of his children wants to know. "There's that saying that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it...I understand that they were part of the social scene, but because they were divorced when I was young there's not a lot of history there." After the custody battle, he had very little to do with his mother. "I don't really think of them as a couple." He remembers going to the Pavlychenko studio when Nadia was still there. He never met her parents.
The way Keir sees it, his parents didn't manage their relationship properly. "Somebody dropped the ball. Or they both did. Alert and focused people would have seen there was some difficulty and pulled it together." He assumes there weren't irreconcilable differences, thinks there never really are.
When I ask how his father raised two children on his own, I spot a flash of Buchan temper. "He didn't raise us. Our grandmother did." George had said he'd lived with his mother and the kids for six months. Keir remembers it as a year and a half, during which time his father lived and worked in Toronto. Later, there were weekends in Niagara Falls, and eight summers when Mrs. Buchan sent her grandson to Christian camp, one of the best experiences of his life. He doesn't attend church or have much respect for organized religion but says he has "a Christian philosophy."
When George bought the house on Leuty, Keir was eight and his sister seven. Keir says he ran the house, with Tusia's help. "My father taught us to shop, cook and do laundry. From my perspective, because I'm a Type A, I managed by assuming a lot of responsibility, whether by choice or not." He thinks his father has always been "younger at heart than his birth certificate says." That's been a good thing for George, "but it's meant that I've often behaved older than my age. Unfortunately."
Despite anxiety at home, Keir was a crack student. He completed an aerospace engineering degree and a masters in space robotics, then joined a Vancouver firm. He married his Toronto sweetheart after she finished her nursing degree, and they stayed out west for five years. When the babies came, Keir accepted an offer to work in Toronto and be near his family. He puts his children before everything. This baffles George, who worries that Keir might be letting his professional life slide. Keir's a bit worried, too, that he might be like his father that way.
He wishes George would show real interest in his grandchildren, the way he imagines other grandparents do. "Maybe it's because he doesn't have a partner. It's probably more a grandmother thing, but I think it's his loss, and the kids'." He thinks he understands why his father can't relate to them. "He likes to project his own ideas and his own concept of what's appropriate. I don't think he's too sensitive to what's coming back."
Before they had children, Keir and his wife, Judy, took a six-month backpacking trek through China, Russia and India. They'd intended to see where Nadia died. Somehow they ended up at the wrong monastery, but it was associated with the one in Darjeeling, with Kalu Rinpoche, and there were people who remembered Nadia. "That kind of satisfied me." He doubts his father will ever recover from the failed marriage. "It turned everything upside down." But George sees his life this way: "The '50s and the '60s were pretty much my whole life. They were the real times -- and all the greatest people I ever met, all the greatest experiences I ever had, all happened in those two decades." He's been back to Ibiza several times, once to reconnect with the son of the farmer whose house they rented.
I told George that when I first read the Globe piece, in 1965, I had the feeling he and Nadia would live happily ever after. "Me too, man," he said, gazing into the fire. "Me too."
Morley markson should have been an engineer, but he was a third son, and a rebel. According to family lore it was inevitable that the boys would range from conservative to liberal to radical: Elliott, the eldest, followed his father into medical school. Jerome moved a little to the artsy side with architecture. Morley, the kid who liked taking things apart even if he couldn't put them back together, enrolled in engineering at the University of Toronto, hated it, quit and went to work at Acme Screw and Gear. There he made enough money to go to his dream school, the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, to study industrial design, typography, photography, architecture, graphics and sculpture. When conservative designers wanted to make the school more commercial, Morley, as student president, led an early campus revolt that failed.
After graduating in 1958, he worked for Kaiser Aluminum on the development of the geodesic dome, then left for Europe and North Africa. He took pictures of buildings and bullfighters, and told his young nephew, Stephen Markson, about "racing drunken Spaniards through the mountains." Back in Toronto with his own design business, he created packaging for Bick's pickles and worked for Peter Munk at Clairtone, designing hi-fi cabinets. He met Linda Munk at one of Irving Grossman's parties. Linda figured he and Gini were perfect subjects for her Globe piece.
Morley once did a photographic portrait of Linda, but he concentrated on architectural photography. That's how he met Gini, while freelancing for Canadian Architect magazine. The editor's wife was a student of the Detroit art historian Ernst Scheyer, Gini's father, and when the Scheyer family came for a visit, Morley was invited to the party. Gini was an adorable and talented 20-year-old studying psychology and playing flute at Sarah Lawrence. Morley fell for her, but they didn't date immediately. At the time, he was engaged to a pianist named Janet. They broke up because Janet wasn't Jewish and Morley's parents didn't approve. That mattered to him; he knew he was "a testy character," and he thought parental approval might soften the relationship. After the breakup, Janet moved to England, and that's when Morley wrote to Gini. Before long, he and Gini were planning a wedding. But first, her family had to pass a background check.
Gini's German-born father, educated at Heidelberg and Oxford, founded the fine arts department at Wayne State University. Her mother, Evelyne Rodriguez-Pereira, was born in Holland and married Ernst in England. She was a talented amateur pianist and harpsichordist in an age that frowned on mothers with careers. Ultimately, she became president of a Detroit music society. Like many traumatized Holocaust escapees, Dr. Scheyer turned his back on Judaism, and joined the Unitarian Universalist Church, where his two daughters attended Sunday school. But Gini's boyfriends were always Jews, "those kinda smart, talky, blabby, arrogant guys." She loved Jewish writers and dancing the hora. "It seems to be in my fibre, although I had no formal training."
Morley's father was a fairly secular Jew, but his mother was the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi. That's why they had to find out if Gini was really Jewish. "They studied my bloodline, intensely," Gini remembers. Because Jewishness is passed through the maternal line, the tangled Mediterranean roots of Gini's mother were scrutinized. "It turned out," Gini smiles, "there were connections to Spinoza. Pretty impressive."
On May 31, 1964, under a canopy in a Detroit garden, Gini and Morley were married by a rabbi. "Gini designed her own wedding gown," according to the Globe article. She saw it in a dream, drew a sketch when she awoke, and had it made in the exact colour and fabric. Her five bridesmaids, all Sarah Lawrence girls, wore dusty-rose gowns that Gini had also designed. A quintet played music composed for the occasion by one of Morley's oldest friends, Srul Irving Glick.
George and Nadia Buchan were there. So were Roy Brown and his girlfriend. They all knew each other from Irving Grossman's parties or the Isaacs Gallery. Morley had always fascinated Roy Brown. "His brother Jerry was such a gentleman, but Morley, he was a contrarian." At the wedding, he says, Morley was, as usual, intense and edgy. "He always had this great grin, but at the same time you felt that he was looking at you sideways, sizing you up."
The Marksons had been married for less than a year when they appeared in Linda Munk's article, living in their "simple and personal" Gibson Avenue house. "Morley is studying computer applications," Munk reported, "writing a book on the esthetics of product form, making a movie, and designing a pavilion for Expo '67." He said he found Canadian design "dull and ordinary," and wanted to make it more exciting. "I've designed a skate sharpener shaped like the hand so that young people won't cut themselves in cold weather." He lapsed into '60s jargon. "I'm developing an esthetic system for interrelating all the creative manipulations of art, design and music."
In one photo, the young Marksons stare at one another, Gini smiling, Morley more tentative. He was eight years older than Gini, and the first man in her life. In another picture, Gini is holding her flute, while Morley, dapper in a wool vest, sits with his head turned toward his wife. Gini performed in CBC concerts and taught flute at home. She showed Linda Munk her engagement gift to Morley, a handmade papier mache unicorn. In yet another shot, several pieces of pottery are displayed above a Danish modern dining table, souvenirs of their trip to Mexico. "I have 47 spices," Gini was quoted as saying, without a trace of irony. "Cooking is creative chemistry. When I cook, colour and texture are foremost in my mind. I can't cook a simple dinner, even for my own husband. ... Cooking is my greatest outlet for feeling."
Shortly after the story appeared, the Marksons moved to a spacious renovated house on Madison Avenue filled with colour, music and two beautiful baby girls -- Joanna, born in 1966, and Selena, in 1968. Morley's friend, Srul Glick, loved the place because it was "so imaginative." When he moved to his own Farnham Avenue house, the two men competed to see who could live more beautifully. "We beat you downstairs," Morley said, "but you beat us upstairs."
Like many Toronto artists, Morley had a good Expo. He designed the Kaleidoscope pavilion (sponsored by six Canadian chemical companies), which consisted of movie images projected inside three mirrored rooms. With each chamber, the images became more abstract. One reviewer called it "the acid pavilion without acid." Some people think it's his finest achievement, and he was only 32.
After Expo, the Marksons' marriage began to falter. They turned to Dr. Martin Fischer, psychiatrist to the well known. Morley thinks that might have been a mistake. "Gini and I loved each other, and if we'd gone to a more down-to-earth, transactional guy, someone who would have said, 'Hey, what's wrong? What do you want from your spouse?' it would have helped. Instead, we had an old man with the heavy mantle of Austria on him. He didn't think that people could handle their problems that easily."
One day, in group therapy, Morley blasted Dr. Fischer, telling him he wasn't helping. "People in the group were terrified that I had dared to challenge the man in the rocking chair." His outburst made him feel better, but it didn't save the marriage. It was Gini who declared it over, which stunned them both -- as she says, not what you'd expect from the compliant face in the photograph.
Shortly after the divorce, Gini learned a secret about Morley. He'd been receiving letters from Janet, the pianist, telling him that when she left to go to England she'd been pregnant with their daughter, Susanna. Gini learned about it from her own daughters. Selena says that she and her sister, Joanna, were "really happy about it." They discovered they "had so much in common with Susanna."
In 1972, "the really good psychological work" for Gini started at Therafields, a maverick therapy group inspired by the British lay analyst Lea Hindley-Smith. It was a uniquely '60s experiment in communal living and self-help, where analysts worked, and often lived, with their clients in properties along Dupont Street and through the Annex. Gini lived across the street from a Therafields group house. For 15 years, she engaged in intense personal "restructuring." She built things, broke through walls, planted onions and painted. While still in therapy, she married another talented Jewish man, David Miller, a cellist and conductor. Shortly before their 11-year marriage ended, Benjamin was born.
Srul Glick has watched all this from Morley's corner. He observes that in both cases, after having children, "Gini had to knock off the father, take the children and run." Gini thinks it's true; perhaps because of her parents' psychological distance, she was conditioned to be a single morn. "Being apart with my children was actually consistent for me. I could handle it better."
When the 1960s and his marriage both ended, morley moved away from industrial design to experiment with film. His brother Jerry thinks the switch might have been influenced by Marshall McLuhan. One of Morley's earliest short films, Electrocution of the Word, is an homage to McLuhan, written pages, floating down a stream, something about the end of books. Jerry suspects Morley was convinced by McLuhan that the printed word was dead. "What BS!" he says. "If somebody sounds like a guru, and repeats the same message often enough, people start to believe it." And Morley wanted to believe. Like many of his generation, he was turning into a serial believer.
Since 1970, Morley has made three feature films, two full-length documentaries and a few shorts. He also put together a half-hour screen presentation, part of the Holocaust Memorial Centre on north Bathurst, in a building Jerry designed. None of his movies is available commercially. The first feature, The Tragic Diary of Zero the Fool, follows three characters "in search of love...self-expression...the muse," who find themselves trapped inside the dramatic process of moviemaking. They had approached Morley to tell their personal story, and he agreed, but asked them to sign promises not to interfere with the final product. The performers then found themselves in something more threatening than they had anticipated; the process made them even nuttier. Zero was shown at Cannes in 1971, but rejected for the Canadian Film Awards. Like many of his movies, it found some favour on the university circuit and in some avant-garde galleries.
Morley's two full-length documentaries made him a minor celebrity. Breathing Together: Revolution of the Electric Family, released in 1971, sets out to show the power of electronic media to knit together the human family, then explodes with New Left politics, yippies, flower power and everything else going. Buckminster Fuller sits before a domed house, his hands and mind flying; Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and Timothy Leary act like buffoons; John Sinclair, leader of the White Panthers, high as a kite, tries to remember his party's platform; and Allen Ginsberg plays an organ, intones "Om," and sums it all up with a line from Howl: "Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!" One critic called it "the most important ideological comment on the radical American youth culture."
Morley's favourite, Breathing Together is shot in pulsating black and white, with psychedelic strobes, throbbing TV imagery, and shiny surfaces that reflect images and say nothing. I watched it on video recently and found it painful -- the childish egos, and Morley letting it all hang out as if he believed every word, which, on some level, he did. When the credits rolled, my name appeared on the screen. "Acknowledgements: Geraldine Sherman." I had dated Morley once or twice, before he met Gini, but I have no memory of any connection to the movie. Neither has Morley, who asked if I'd like my name removed. History is not so easily erased.
In 1986, Morley still hadn't finished with the '60s. For his second documentary, Growing Up in America, he went back to many of the same subjects -- Hoffman, Rubin, Ginsberg, Leary -- played them the rants they'd spoken 18 years earlier, in black and white, and asked them to respond in colour. Rubin, who once said that "America destroys our dreams," now admitted he believes the opposite, that "it's a fantastic opportunity to grow up in America." Allen Ginsberg, who once talked about "America destroying the planet," said he should have used his "instincts of generosity rather than paranoia." Timothy Leary still thought everybody must get stoned. And, amazingly, Morley still thinks these are the "good guys."
Twenty years ago, Morley shocked his friends and family by becoming an Orthodox Jew. His heroes now include Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, a Lithuanian teacher who told his students, when the Nazis were pounding at the door, to continue studying because Torah was the centre of their lives, and they had to atone for American Jews who'd left their roots; and an older rabbi, Chofetz Chaim, an authority on loshen hora, or evil speech, which says that words have great impact because the world was created with words. How did Morley the Rebel become Morley the True Believer?
I meet him in his apartment on Bathurst near Lawrence, an area ringed by synagogues and kosher food stores. "Judaism is his entire life," his daughter, Joanna, now 33, had told me. "We used to go for Chinese food all the time, then suddenly our whole lifestyle changed." They used to think he'd snap out of it, but he's 65 now, and they're not so sure. Inside the slightly seedy yellow-brick building, the hallways are narrow, the carpet stained, the air stale. Morley waits outside his door. He welcomes me with an amiable lie, that I look just the same. I can't offer a similar compliment.
He wears a yarmulke, black running shoes and black pants with suspenders over a white shirt, from which emerge a loose, unshaved neck and stubbly face. The apartment is cramped and messy, books everywhere, a tattered blanket thrown over a worn sofa. This is the home of an old Jewish bachelor, or someone's grandfather; I have to remind myself that Morley is both. He looks tired, and no wonder: up every morning at six, prayers, then more prayers and study at Rabbi Posen's yeshiva and sometimes at Kolel Avrechim Halacha, a post-graduate yeshiva, which you can see from his window. Weeknights, between 11 p.m. and midnight, he meets with his rabbi, and on religious holidays he devotes more time to observance and prayer.
We clear space on the plastic tablecloth in the dining room. I take out the Globe article and ask about the objects in his life: musical instruments, ceramic plates, the skate sharpener. "I was never a big collector," he says, distancing himself from the past. "Gini had nice taste in objects. We used to prefer more spare rooms; now she's in her Baroque period." I begin to see something familiar in his eyes, a little mischief. And once in a while, his voice takes on a mocking tone, and I think I know who this is. Suddenly, he retreats. "Most objects are trivial. The Torah is the rock. Everything else moves around it. Only Torah remains."
"Morley used to look to the future," his nephew Stephen had told me. "Now he looks to the past."
I try to pull Morley back to his marriage with Gini. At first, he refuses to discuss it, saying he won't get into "the bare heart stuff." He studies the Globe pictures and says, "Gini's interests and mine seemed to flow together. We felt we'd broken from our background and strongly identified with more artistic virtues." But at some point he lost interest in fashionable ideas. "Left brain? Right brain? Thinkers make a little bit of a splash, and they become your vision of the world for a while." He says he grew tired of temporary knowledge and wanted wisdom. He isn't interested in gurus but in elders.
Like other seekers of the '60s, he turned first to the East and flirted, briefly, with Buddhism. Then he took another path to wisdom: he made friends with Wilfred Pelletier, an Odawa wise man born on Manitoulin Island. They travelled together, filming and taking pictures of elders, people close to the land. Morley felt he'd found a culture with lasting values, "familial, with making-a-living-from-the-earth dimensions." He became disillusioned when he saw Indians in Toronto bars, "their culture disappearing in front of my eyes."
In the early 1980s, Morley started to wonder about his own past and what wisdom it possessed. As a young boy, he'd loved his rabbi grandfather. He'd had a bar mitzvah, but "God," he says, "did not put in an appearance." Gini believes that when their marriage failed, religion replaced the family he'd lost. She thinks he loves the intense concentration and commitment. "The stricter the better," she says, "but he's embraced it so much it's almost to the exclusion of the real, non-religious family." It's true he sees them less, and when he comes for dinner he often brings his own food in a paper bag. His nephew Stephen says it could be worse. "He could be living in India!"
In 1981, when Roy Brown returned from his own extended spiritual search, he met with Morley. Roy thought they'd have lots in common, but it didn't turn out that way. "I'd venture to say that I have as much problem with the little I know about Hasidic values and their attitudes toward women as Morley would understanding Tantric Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism." If they meet now, it's by accident.
Morley comes to my house, to talk mostly about his movies. We both inspect a carton of President's Choice orange juice. "There it is" -- he points to a capital U. "That means it's kosher." I pour it into a glass. Before he takes a sip, he prays. When we discuss his two major documentaries, Morley expresses no reservations about permitting the self-styled gurus of the '60s to talk, unmediated, for hours. He says he was only "conducting an investigation," that he was "free of ideology," that he was just "a photographer," and he thought "those people condemned themselves."
I tell him I think Leary was evil because LSD ruined so many lives: "He was like somebody who poisoned the water system."
"You think so?" Morley asks.
I quote an article that appeared after Leary's death in 1996. "His life was...an example of the extent to which it had become possible, in the '60s, to be ridiculous and profoundly destructive at the same time."
"That's a good phrase," says Morley.
Gini lives in the annex, on major street, a part of town she loves. "This is the first house I've ever owned," she tells me with pride. "Me, personally." It's semi-detached, with a wild front garden and old wicker furniture on the porch. I still call her Gini, but for 14 years she's been "Virginia Markson, flute" with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. She bubbles with enthusiasm, her tiny body, etched face and halo of curls always in motion. "She has lots of friends," her daughter Joanna says, "and really intense experiences with music. She loves her garden. Everything to her is spiritual. That's where she finds her centre. She never watches TV, because she can't sit still."
The house is festooned with objects, many from Gibson Street, including the terra cotta plates from Mexico. She's nostalgic, and still believes in symbols. She was never tempted to get rid of them. She's even added new symbols -- six ceiling-to-floor ropes with dozens of clay bells attached, a collection begun 25 years ago. Most are gifts from friends; each commemorates a special occasion. "Pain, failure, whatever, they're all symbolically potent to me." But as she sees it, her relationship to these objects has altered. "Now the objects are owned by me, as opposed to them owning Virginia."
In February, I went to Gini's 58th birthday party. "My astrologist said I'm entering the third stage of my life, sort of becoming an elder (most people don't have this until they're 60), and I should have a party and invite people from all strands of my life." Her 88-year-old mother came from Detroit with Gini's sister and her husband. There were members of her "adopted family," Jerry and Mayta Markson, Helena Grossman (Irving's widow), and both former husbands. Soups and bread were from Harbord Bakery, "because it's been in my life since I came to Toronto." There were two cakes, one with real roses made by a friend from Therafields, the other made by her aunt. There was Henkell Trocken -- and kosher wine for Morley. Six female woodwind players performed a piece based on "Happy Birthday," composed for the occasion by her second husband, David Miller. There were gifts everywhere.
Therafields doesn't exist any more. It disappeared in a wave of scandal, leaving behind the Centre for Training in Psychotherapy. Gini's been a student there for five years and is now working toward a psychotherapy degree. "Once I graduate, my plan is to use the flute and the arts in a form of play therapy. It has everything to do with textures, and creating papier mache unicorns, and music making." Gini smiles. "You see, there is a pattern to my life."
Family life is the heart of judaism. Almost nothing is more important than peace in the family, shalom bayit, but except for a brief time with Gini, around 1965, family peace has been missing from Morley's life. Srul Glick says there have been many women, and "rabbis all around the world have been looking for a wife for Morley."
In 1985, Morley married Roberta Chester, an American divorcee with five children, described by Srul as "a magnificent poet, vibrant and full of life." She moved to Toronto with her youngest, but the marriage lasted only a few months. It was a disaster that nearly ended Morley's friendship with Srul.
Gini met Roberta, and says, "I think, in a certain way, we were cloned! She went to Sarah Lawrence, and she was pretty and sweet." Selena also sees similarities between her mother and Roberta: "Her feet weren't totally planted on the ground either." She thinks that might have been one of "their issues." Morley describes his marriage to Roberta as "very short and very difficult." He admits she is a wonderful poet, a charming and persuasive person. "But she didn't quite fit into the life I was leading."
On the walls of Morley's apartment workroom, he's hung reminders of the important people in his life -- Wilfred Pelletier, the rabbis of blessed memory, Frank Lloyd Wright, and his three daughters. "That's Susanna, my English daughter. She looks a lot like me. She is a lot like me." All three girls look like Morley, dark and old-fashioned, as if they were Morley's aunts in photos of long ago. Joanna and Selena appear as toddlers, staring with eyes so wide you want to turn away. "That's before Gini and I broke up. With their eyes and their expression, see how completely safe they felt, how open they were. Inquiring. Intelligent. Secure."
Gini thinks Morley was a wonderful father, in the circumstances. "Without exception, for 10 years, he saw them twice a week, and gave them what he could." Both Joanna and Selena are professional woodwind players with Swedish orchestras, both are married to non-Jewish Swedes, both have young sons -- three-year-old twins for Selena. Morley has their digitized images on his computer screen. Elias and Joel. "I call them by their Hebrew names. Elias is Elyahu and Joel is Yoel." He calls Joanna's son, Teo, by a version of his middle name, Shlomo.
Gini's also terribly proud of her daughters. She shows me pictures of their weddings. Like their mother, both brides designed their own dresses. Both wore flowers in their hair. Joanna was in Toronto recently with her husband, Esse, and six-month-old son, blonde and milk-fed. They stayed with Gini.
"Right before my wedding," Joanna says, "there was a crisis. I was the last daughter to get married -- the other two also married non-Jewish guys, so I was the last hope. My dad had a hard time with that." They didn't know whether Morley would come to the wedding. At the last minute, he did. "But he wouldn't walk me down the aisle," Joanna says. She and Esse exchanged vows in the Swedish countryside in a secular service. In a wedding photo, Morley is seated in a windbreaker and baseball hat, arms crossed. I asked why, at his daughter's wedding, he didn't wear a yarmulke or a fedora. "I wouldn't go to a secular wedding as a Jew," he answered.
No one is sure how Morley earns his living. He recently completed a design project for the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Gini thinks he's made wise investments. His brother Jerry hopes there are residuals from his films. For years, morley has been working on a script about Nazis who enter a rabbi's home, interrupt the Seder, and engage in discussions about Judaism. At Gini's party, he forced me to tell him what I thought of the script, which he'd given me to read. I said I found it sentimental, melodramatic and silly. He told me sentiment was good. I changed the subject.
Joanna admires her mother but thinks she's more like her dad. "So many similarities. He sees them, too." She'd like to instill Jewish values in her son. It's good, she thinks, to be curious, interested in everything, turned on by ideas. "The not-so-good thing is the inability to think of other peoples' feelings, to live in your own world, to have anything that has to do with you be the most important." She thinks she and her dad were both born that way. "That sort of lets us off the hook, but it's also frustrating, because I know there's not much I can do about it."
I wanted to speak to Linda Munk about her article and everything that had happened since -- to the people she chose, and in her own life. I knew that she and Peter separated in 1968, the year the Clairtone deal soured. She went back to school, received a doctorate, and teaches English and theology at U of T. She's been married at least once since 1965.
I sent her a copy of the original article, which she'd forgotten, and a list of things I hoped we'd talk about. She replied: "For me, 1965 is a lifetime away. So much has happened since then, and I've lived in so many different places that when I saw the marvellously dated photos, I couldn't identify with the era or the people whom I apparently interviewed, though I do remember that Gini Markson was an accomplished musician. I don't know what my intention was when the piece was written. It all seems irrelevant. Forgive me if I decline to be interviewed. My reluctance may be due to my lack of nostalgia. Who knows?"
What happened to the Buchans and the Marksons? Many of us tried drugs, looked to the East, underwent psychotherapy, longed for old certainties. I did. But most of us didn't sign up for anything. Didn't make lifetime commitments, except perhaps, if we were lucky, to our marriages. Maybe we didn't trust authority, or rebellion. Maybe we were too cynical, too ironic, to ignore life's comedy. The "New Individualists" seem to have been swarmed by the '60s. Perhaps they had too many opportunities, too many easy beginnings. Back then, when Linda Munk published her article, many of us were envious. I was. We thought it was bad luck that we weren't as talented or beautiful or creative as the Buchans and the Marksons.
Maybe it was a blessing.