In September of 1957, Orillia hockey star Rick Ley, who would go on to NHL and WHA stardom, was 9 years old, Orillia folksinger Gordon Lightfoot was 19, Bobby Orr, 60 miles up the road, was 9, and I was a month shy of being 7.
And in September of 1957, Hollywood funnyman Bob Hope, fresh from hanging out with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, close friends with a bunch of Presidents, and star of stage and screen, came with his family for a nice visit to Orillia. (The above photo is Hope in Orillia and comes from one of my dad’s photo albums).
I was there, although I don’t remember it. But my dad told me we were all there. He told me about Hope and his wife and kids riding in a parade down the main street. And he told me the Hope clan were guests of my dad’s boss, who happened to own a local factory.
It seems Hope had been invited to Orillia to help celebrate the expansion of Orillia’s radio station, CFOR. I’m thinking he must have been in the area anyway.
It’s also a beautiful thing when I can tie in CFOR to NHL hockey.
CFOR’s sports guy was Ken McDonald, and Ken was a great guy. My sister worked with him when she was a radio copywriter, and he would not only do radio sports, but on the side he would broadcast minor hockey games from the Orillia Community Centre. I can remember my grandma and I huddled by the radio one night in the early sixties when Ken described Archie Rankin scoring the big goal with just seconds left as the Orillia juveniles captured the Ontario championship in dramatic fashion.
In 1966, the Los Angeles Kings were granted a team in the league’s first expansion, and Ken McDonald was offered and accepted the big job of being the Kings’ very first play-by-play guy. I suppose it was owner Jack Kent Cooke who decided the name Ken McDonald just wasn’t fancy enough for the Hollywood market, and from that day forward, Ken McDonald became Jiggs McDonald. Over the years, Jiggs became one of the NHL’s best and longest-lasting broadcasters, with gigs with the Atlanta Flames, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Florida Panthers. He also had a brief stint doing New York Mets games.
When I ended up in jail for a week in Los Angeles during the summer of 1967 (breaking curfew after Sunset Strip riots), my sister phoned Ken/Jiggs in LA and asked him if he could help. I never learned if he did or not, but after a week behind bars, a plane ticket showed up from my parents, who had absolutely no money, to get me back to Canada, and I was set free.
Maybe Jiggs pulled some strings. If so it’s taken a lot of years, but thanks a lot, Mr. McDonald.