London theatre veteran Art Fidler joins editorial staff of The Beat Magazine

The Beat Magazine is pleased to announce that long-time London theatre veteran and educator, Art Fidler has joined the Editorial Staff of The Beat Magazine, effective immediately.

Beginning with our September 2011 issue, Art's new column - Art on the Arts - will become a regular monthly feature of the magazine.

What follows is a sample of what readers can expect from Art on the Arts. In this column, Art reflects on the recent passing of Dorothy Downs and the Latin Quarter, the London landmark nightspot that she and her late husband Johnny ran for years in London's core. Enjoy this teaser!

HANGING OUT AT THE QUARTER

The news that Dorothy Downs, wife of London’s late big band leader Johnny Downs, had recently passed away, triggered a flood of memories.

I’m a 50’s kid. Everybody thinks that the 50’s was Elvis and Rock ‘n Roll. But my first long play record was the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and even in 1958, a big band was the preferred choice for the Graduation Formal in my gym at Strathroy High. The names of the area’s prominent big band leaders are still with me: Johnny Brennan, Lionel Thornton, and the top cat, Johnny Downs. And the places they played - Wonderland, the Stork Club, Kenwick-on-the-Lake, the 401 Plaza, the Grand Bend Casino….

Johnny was the epitome of cool. He acted , played and introduced songs with cool hepcat style, and, in 1953, when he and his sweetheart Dorothy, elegance personified, opened their place, the Latin Quarter, on Dufferin St. just west of Richmond , London had a night spot-and a hangout-to savour.

By day, it was one of London’s classiest restaurants. By night, the Quarter, as we called it, was a Canadian version of a Parisian Left Bank boite: an old house, exposed brick, grape vines, sexy lighting, and walls and ceilings hand-painted with blue skies and clouds. Hemingway’s Paris had its Café Select and Aux Deux Magots; London had the Quarter.

In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, our theatre crowd could be found there every night . No need for anybody to say at the end of rehearsal, “Where’ll we go for a drink? ” Our automatic hangout was the Quarter, and there we headed, all the Grand Theatre people, the university actors, the G & S gang, the crowd from the underground theatre community. Trust me, even if you weren’t working on a show, at 10pm a little birdie in your head would chirp, “Time for the Quarter”, and off you would go.

Dorothy and Johnny’s place was never so full that the theatre gang was turned away. Head waiter Angelo was famous for carrying tables over the heads of respectable middle class customers to make room for the ragtag theatre gang. If it was just too busy, Johnny would open the banquet hall in the basement, and phone a bartender to come in just for us.

As a band leader, Johnny believed in live musicians, so every night there they were. Lots of jazz and folk singers, but never so loud that we couldn’t talk. Western music student Jake Levesque was one of our favourites, with his guitar and his white Indian cotton shirt.

There was always a crowd in the place, and lots of people on dates, guys wanting to impress their gals by drinking one of the yards of ale. We, the raffish theatre crowd, loved watching for the beer to shoot over the faces of business-suited executives trying a yard for the first time.

We connected in the Quarter: the cast of a Western Purple Patches Broadway show, of a Grand drama, of an experimental absurdist play, and the rest of us who had obeyed that little birdie. Brilliant scenes and stage sets were plotted on the back of the Quarter placemats, and a lot of the guys wanted to date a Quarter Bunny. That’s right! The waitresses, all trained by Dorothy, were black leotard-clad Bunnies with little white puff tails. In those years that was cool too.

So then that all ended. We grew up. The Downs grew old. They sold the Quarter and it was torn down in 1990. Life, and local theatre folk, moved on.

Artists matter, but artist’s hangouts matter too. I drove across Dufferin St. this morning to recall the glow of that Latin Quarter sign. East of a huge parking garage, there’s now a little green space where that sign used to lure our theatre dreamers.

So Dorothy and your hepcat hubby, Johnny, as the big band song says, “Thanks for the memories…”

See more at http://dotydocs.theatreinlondon.ca/Archives/yesterday/downs.htm

Art Fidler is a retired but still passionate drama instructor/actor/director, currently Director of Marketing for Original Kids Theatre Company, and a grandfather x 6.

 


Talbot Centre