At around 24, I worked on various projects after leaving my job as assistant advertising manager at Atlas Copco Canada.
I also lived with a stunning young redhead named Danielle Sarrazin that I’d met shortly after being dumped by my beloved Nicole.
Now Danielle, who didn’t have a creative bone in her body and with whom things didn’t end well, had a sister named Dominique, who was an up-and-coming abstract painter.
Dominique was also recently married to Guy St-Onge, an accomplished and sought-after musical arranger and director. They happened to live in our apartment building on Van Horne in Montreal.
Guy’s clients were mainly French-Canadian crooners, such as Fernand Gignac, Donald Lautrec, and Pierre Lalonde.
While visiting him one night, I helped him write the Swing City* song, which Pierre Lalonde would later record. That earned me a meeting with Lalonde, as Guy had mentioned that I was a pretty sharp cookie.
At the time, Lalonde was handling his own bookings and promotion, an odd situation as he was a very well-known Quebec personality.
Being perfectly bilingual and with loads of game show hosting experience, he had also been offered a lucrative game show hosting gig in the US from Goodman-Todson Productions, which I offered to renegotiate. Still, he turned that idea down as he wouldn’t leave his adoring Quebec public. He told me a bird in the hand in Quebec is worth two in New Jersey.
So we met a few days later at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Montreal to discuss my producing an evening show featuring him on St-Valentine’s Day in a smaller market so I could get a feel for the business.
Joliette, Quebec, a town of fifteen thousand souls just north of Montreal, is my choice, and I pay Lalonde in advance by cheque as was the custom for two evening shows at $1,500 a show. I’d borrowed the $3,000, considering this a no-risk investment.
Then, for six weeks, I went about promoting the event within a radius of twenty miles around Joliette.
I contacted all the radio stations, stapled posters on hundreds of telephone poles - in the dead of a Quebec winter - the local papers were all alerted, and advertising was purchased.
By the limited means available back in the mid-seventies, I checked all the events that might compete for attendance in Joliette and the surrounding region.
Nothing came up. We would be the only show in town.
St-Valentines’ would fall on a Thursday that year. So I booked the entire Governors Inn hotel in Joliette, the largest in the area, with instructions to prepare for up to 500-600 attendance expecting that men would accompany their sweeties to the soiree.
At $30 per couple, tickets would be available at the hotel right up to fifteen minutes before the start time of the first show.
This price would include a rose for each lady, a few glasses of champagne per couple, and heartthrob Lalonde would even walk around the tables and sing a little to each woman.
The hotel got all of this organized, including the champagne and roses, without even asking for a deposit as Lalonde’s name carried a lot of credibility. They opened up both of their main ballrooms, rented extra chairs and tables, prepared decorations galore, and even hired additional staff.
So St-Valentines day arrived and with it a significant snowstorm which fell all day and well into the night.
Undeterred, I was sure that this wouldn’t affect ticket sales.
As I arrived at the hotel about 2 hours before the start of the first show, with Danielle, her sister, and her husband in tow, I settled them into a suite and went directly to the hotel manager’s office to enquire about the ticket sales.
He had been looking for me as well.
They had sold four tickets.
Impossible, I said, and he repeated the figure.
Stunned, I tried to reassure him that people wouldn’t make two trips and would simply pay at the door because of the storm. No problem.
Pierre Lalonde showed up about thirty minutes after me, having also battled the snowstorm.
And it snowed and snowed. And no one showed up, not even the two couples who’d bought tickets.
As I sat there in Lalonde’s suite, embarrassed beyond belief and belting back double rum and cokes, he told me he felt terrible, and nothing like this had ever happened in his 30 years in show business. But, being a true gentleman, he said that he'd like to assume some of the blame, possibly because he knew the amount of work I'd done and the money I was on the hook for.
Although devoid of any blame, at that point he ripped up the $3,000 deposit cheque I’d paid him, plopped the pieces into my hand, patted me on the shoulder, and as he slipped on his coat to leave, said to me, “Don’t despair, it can be a tough business. You did your best.”
As he opened the door to leave, I remarked that he, Donald Lautrec, and Michel Louvain, all crooners of about the same age and stage in their careers, should think about doing a three-man show. He smiled at me and let out a little hmmm with a quizzical look as he closed the door.
Of course, they eventually did, under the name Les Trois L (the Three Ls), and it ran successfully for nearly a decade in Quebec’s most prominent venues earning significant money for each of them.
Back in Joliette, after dodging the hotel manager, I made it to my car - Danielle having left earlier with her sister and brother-in-law - and I drove home some fifty miles away.
As I was driving with the radio on, the station played the score of that evening’s hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Quebec Nordiques, and then it hit me.
Joliette has always been a hot hockey town and lies geographically between Montreal and Quebec City.
So the boyfriends and husbands most likely told their wives that because of the storm, they’d stay home, watch what was an important divisional game, and take them out for St-Valentines the next day, believing the Lalonde shows had likely been canceled or postponed.
It never dawned on me to check if hockey games, especially that one, would be on TV that night and run up against our event.
So after selling my brand new car, a fully equipped Chrysler Le Baron, the one with the “rich Corinthian leather interior” as pitched by Ricardo Montalban back then, I paid off the hotel bills and advertising.
And I’ve happily avoided show business and the town of Joliette ever since.
* Swing City on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfTkOFg-2C4
Excerpt from my upcoming e-book "Recollections from my time on earth - Snackable short stories."
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