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Ted Allan

Screenwriter, Actor
(b. January 26, 1916 Montreal, Quebec - d. June 29, 1995 Toronto, Ontario)

A Zelig-esque figure who experienced first-hand – then wrote about – many prominent events of the twentieth century, Ted Allan was a prolific and award-winning screenwriter, playwright and author who was described by cultural commentator and family friend Daniel Richler as Aa man of incredible strength and vigour,@ and by book publisher Anna Porter as Aprobably the most interesting person I=ve ever met.@ Allan=s nephew, the documentary filmmaker Paul Jay, once said that Allan is best understood as Aa searcher. He never gave up trying to find out the truth, and he never stopped fighting for what he thought was just.@                    

A natural storyteller, Allan was born Alan Herman and raised in Montreal=s tough Saint-Urbain Street neighbourhood. A child of the Depression, he quickly developed an affiliation with Communism and at the age of fifteen began working as a reporter for the Communist newspaper The Worker. By seventeen he was reporting for Montreal=s Daily Clarion. At the age of twenty-one, he fought in the Spanish Civil War as the youngest member of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, the Canadian division that aided the Republican cause against the fascists.

Allan was eighteen when he first met Norman Bethune in Montreal. The famous doctor and devout Communist became a surrogate father to Allan, who served as Bethune=s assistant in Spain and as the political and press officer for Bethune=s unit in China where they fought with Mao Tse-Tung=s Communists against Chang Kai-shek. Following Bethune=s death in 1939, Allan returned to North America and began what would become a forty-nine year quest to bring Bethune=s story to the big screen. He first optioned a treatment in Hollywood in 1941, and in 1952 he co-wrote, with Sydney Gordon, the first biography of Bethune, The Scalpel, The Sword: The Story of Dr. Norman Bethune. An international bestseller, it was translated into nineteen languages and sold more than two million copies, the majority of them in China.

Upon his return to Canada, Allan wrote more than one hundred radio plays for the CBC, an experience he credited with teaching him the art of drama. In 1954, upon learning that the RCMP were investigating him due to his Communist allegiances, he left for England where he wrote several stage plays and became a pioneering writer in early British television.

Much of Allan=s writing was autobiographical, often drawing from his experience growing up in Montreal. His plays were staged in Toronto, New York and London. Double Image was produced in London by Laurence Olivier and enjoyed a four-year run in Paris under the title Gog et Magog. His script for Jan Kadar=s Lies My Father Told Me (1975) – based on his 1949 short story, which he had also adapted into a play – received a Golden Globe award and an Academy Award7 nomination for Best Screenplay. After shuttling between London, New York, Montreal and Los Angeles for much of the seventies, he finally settled in Los Angeles, where he became close friends with John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. Cassavetes=s Love Streams (1984) – based on Allan=s stage play and adapted for the screen by Allan and Cassavetes – went on to win the Golden Bear and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Unfortunately, in spite of his many accomplishments, Allan may be remembered in the popular imagination mostly for the production debacle behind Bethune: The Making of a Hero (1990), and more specifically for the vicious in-fighting that erupted between him and star Donald Sutherland over the issue of how best to portray the legendary Bethune. The culmination of nearly a half-century of Allan=s dedication and perseverance, the film=s beleaguered, five-year production was plagued by delays, firings, crew mutinies, technical disasters, bad debts, quarrels between international co-producers and a budget that spiralled from $11 million to $20 million. The film=s numerous production difficulties, including the bitter feud between Allan and Sutherland, were well documented in the press, a factor that may have contributed to the film=s almost universal critical flogging upon its release. (See Bethune: The Making of a Hero for an extended discussion.) (In the film, the character Chester Rice – played by Colm Feore – who first admires Bethune before becoming disillusioned with his drinking, womanizing and selfishness, was based on Allan.)

Allan also published numerous short stories in The New Yorker and Harper=s and wrote the children=s book Willie the Squowse. He was awarded the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour in 1985 for his novel Love Is a Long Shot, and in 1990 received a Gemini Award in recognition of his large body of work in Canadian television. Ill with heart problems for the last decade of his life, he died of respiratory failure in 1995 at the age of seventy-nine.

Film and video work includes

Son copain, 1950 (writer)
The Moneymakers, 1952 (writer; TV)
Lies My Father Told Me, 1960 (writer)
The Webster Boy, 1962 (writer)
Mandjes uit Mexico, 1976 (writer)
7 fois... (par jour), 1971 (writer)
Falling in Love Again, 1980 (co-writer with Steven Paul, Susannah York)
It Rained All Night the Day I Left, 1980 (writer)
Love Streams, 1984 (writer)
I'm Almost Not Crazy...: John Cassavetes - The Man And His Work, 1989 (appears as himself)
Ted Allan: Minstrel Boy of the Twentieth Century, 2002 (appears as himself)