Statement made on 09 December 2010 by Senator Tommy Banks (retired)
Hon. Tommy Banks:
Honourable senators, the American film industry — or Hollywood, as we have all come to call it — has, from the very beginning, been peopled with a disproportionate representation of Canadians.
Many of the earliest movers and shakers — including Jack L. Warner and Mack Sennett — were Canadians. Louis B. Mayer was not born in Canada, but he spent his formative years in New Brunswick.
Honourable senators, our famous moviemakers have included Norman McLaren, Arthur Hiller, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg, Jason Reitman, Paul Haggis, James Cameron and Toronto's Howard Shore, who won three Academy Awards for his music for Lord of the Rings.
Among the actors, Mary Pickford, "America's Sweetheart," was from Hamilton. Norma Shearer, Marie Dressler and Deanna Durbin were all Canadians, as were Walter Houston, Raymond Massey, Alexander Knox, Walter Pidgeon, Hume Cronyn, Jack Carson, Glenn Ford — it goes on and on. Fay Wray, with whom King Kong first escaped, was from Lethbridge. Yvonne De Carlo hailed from Vancouver. The list is endless.
Leslie Nielsen was perhaps, in his provenance, the most Canadian of them all. He was born in Regina, the son of a Mountie. He lived in the North. He moved to Edmonton, the most Canadian of all cities, where he went to school, grew up and went on to become a successful and distinguished classical and dramatic actor, on the stage first, both in Canada and then in New York, and then in films and on television.
His first film role was as the King of France in a movie with Kathryn Grayson, called The Vagabond King. He called it "The Vagabond Turkey."
He was first a dramatic actor, and latterly turned into a deadpan comedy actor, the best of them all. He became a master. Siskel and Ebert called him "the Olivier of deadpan comedy."
His most quoted film line was in response to the question, "Surely you're not serious," to which he responded, "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."
Leslie Nielsen never forgot his Edmonton roots and he came home to Edmonton often. I had the honour and pleasure of working with him often, and of having been the butt of some of his more outrageous practical jokes.
The Leslie Nielsen School of Communications at the Northern Institute of Technology in Edmonton is named for him; and he was often seen in the halls of the Victoria School for the Arts, from which both he and his famous classmate, the great director Arthur Hiller, are distinguished graduates.
Leslie Nielsen died last week at the age of 84. He was a fine gentleman, an inveterate prankster and a world-famous actor whose work will be studied and admired by the ages.