by Jane O’Hara
If, for my sins, I was sentenced to spend the rest of my life locked in a press box, there is only one thing that would make it bearable: the thought that Trent Frayne, forever tanned and trench-coated, might have dropped by to make me laugh.
Or, as he did on so many occasions, fill me in on the heroes and the rogues who have populated those sports which have enjoyed his quirky circumspection. And that’s just about all of them.
Sure, Frayne was a great sportswriter. Any editor who ever hired him knows that. All the readers who joyed in his writing know that. But he was a great sports talker, too, dazzling in his recall, self-deprecating in his delivery, born with a novelist’s eye for detail.
He was a storyteller. Broadcasting lost a natural star more than 60 years ago, when Frayne filed his first high school sports dispatch for his hometown paper, the Brandon Sun, and forever joined the ranks of the ink-stained wretches.
In his memoirs, which bears the title: The Tales of an Athletic Supporte, here’s how Frayne described the beginning of what would become a luminous career. “I had to write my copy before I went to school in the morning, so I’d set the alarm for 5 a.m. and go into the bathroom and close the door to avoid waking my parents. I’d perch on the throne next to which was a small radiator with a wooden cover where my mother would pile towels and facecloths. I’d move them off and use the radiator cover for a desk. I’d write my copy with a thick black pencil, hike down to the Sun and drop it through the letter slot, then coninue on to school.”
From that first office in the bathrom of his parents’ home, Frayne reached the summit of Canadian journalism. He worked for the Winnipeg Tribune, CP, and scribbled for Maclean’s for well over 40 years. As well, he raised the level of literacy in the toy departments of four Toronto newspapers — the Globe and Mail, The Star, The Telegram and the Sun.
He’s written 14 books and covered all the world’s great sporting events, everything from the Olympic Games to Wimbledon, from the Kentucky Derby to the Super Bowl. And somewhere, amidst all this careering, he had the good sense to slow down and marry June Callwood, his equal in the land of letters.
Frayne once said that writers fall into one of two camps. They are either “Gee Whiz” writers, or “Oh Nuts” writers. He placed himself in the latter camp. But he must have been in a bad mood that day. Sure, he’d grown tired of the millionaire players. And he’d had a few run-ins with the colossal egos of sport. Hockey czar Alan Eagleson once called him a communist. Former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard once told him: “Trent, why don’t you get the f—out? You’ve got a kisser like a f—in’ prune.”
But Frayne still had a lot of Gee Whiz in him, a recessive gene from his days in Brandon, where he lived and loved sports. Only a Gee Whizzer could have composed the rhapsody Frayne once did on highjumper Debbie Brill’s legs. Only someone still capable of wonder could have described the soul of a racehorse, as Frayne did in a piece on Northern Dancer.
A sense of wonder. That’s what made Trent Frayne a great writer – and a wonderful man.
Oh, nuts, he’d hate me for saying that.