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"CHC" 2003 Obituary


CHCH o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-01-10 published
The castle lights are growing dim
Canadian television icon made his mark as star of The Hilarious House of Frightenstein
By John McKAY Canadian Press Friday, January 10, 2003, Page R11
Billy VAN, the diminutive, manic comic actor who starred in Canadian Broadcasting Corporation-Television's Nightcap in the 1960s and The Hilarious House of Frightenstein in the seventies, died Wednesday. He was 68.
Mr. VAN, who had been battling cancer for about a year and had a triple heart bypass in 1998, died at Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital, said his former wife, Claudia CONVERSE.
While a familiar fixture on Canadian television for decades, he also worked in the United States on variety shows such as The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, The Ray Stevens Show and The Bobby Vinton Show.
Mr. VAN even gained fame for the Colt .45 beer commercials he made for 15 years and for which he won a Clio Award.
But he invariably returned to Toronto in shows like The Party Game, Bizarre with John Byner, The Hudson Brothers Razzle DAzzle Show and Bits and Bytes.
His wife, Susan, said that while he had opportunities in the U.S., Mr. VAN had no regrets about staying in Canada.
"He was quite happy when he came back," she said. "He had the taste of the life down there and [said] 'Okay, that's fine, I'd rather be at home.' "
Ms. CONVERSE agreed that Mr. VAN had been happy with his career and had worked non-stop until his heart bypass.
"I don't know of many Canadians that stay in Canada who get their full recognition," she said. "When he went to the States, definitely. But there isn't a star system in Canada so it's kind of difficult."
Mr. VAN -- then Billy VAN EVERA -- went into show business at the age of 12 and back in the 1950s, he and his four musically inclined brothers formed a singing group that toured Canada and Europe. Most also went on to adult careers in show business.
After his heart surgery, Mr. VAN was semi-retired but continued to do voiceover work for commercials and animated programs. His last major on-screen role was as Les the trainer in the television hockey movie Net Worth in 1995.
Mr. VAN and long-time colleagues Dave BROADFOOT and Jack DUFFY made appearances in recent years to support the fledgling Canadian Comedy Awards.
"I'm all for that enthusiasm," Mr. VAN said about the awards launch in 2000.
"Billy was one of my closest Friends," said Mr. DUFFY, who added that he called Mr. VAN several times a week after he became ill.
"We were sort of buddies under the skin. We got to know each other really well at Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and then we worked on Party Game together for a number of years. He was a close friend and I will miss him very much."
Mr. DUFFY said a lot of doors opened for Mr. VAN when he did The Sonny and Cher Show,but he was happy to come home to his native Toronto, where he was born in 1934.
"He came back and we were glad to have him back."
Entertainer Dinah CHRISTIE, with whom Mr. VAN worked on The Party Game for a decade, called him a brave and glorious person.
"He would take on anything and was . . . a totally gracious guy," she said. "I'm just going to miss him like we all are going to miss him. He soldiered through this bloody cancer thing so wonderfully. I knew he was just trying to get through Christmas."
Ms. CHRISTIE said Mr. VAN had some hideous experiences in the U.S. He had seen a man shot to death next to him in a New York hotel, and had his Los Angeles home broken into twice.
"He never felt safe there. And he was such a Canadian that he always felt safe here."
Mr. VAN's picture is on the Canadian Comedy Wall of Fame at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Broadcast Centre in Toronto, along with those of Al WAXMAN, Wayne and Shuster and Don HARRON.
The Hilarious House of Frightenstein starred Vincent PRICE, with Mr. VAN as host and a variety of characters, including The Count, a vampire who preferred pizza to blood and who wore tennis shoes as well as a cape. The hour-long episodes were taped at Hamilton's CHCH-Television and are still seen in syndication around the world.
Nightcap was a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation satirical show that predated Saturday Night Live by a dozen years. Its cast included Al HAMEL and Guido BASSO and his orchestra.
Mr. VAN leaves his wife, Susan, and two daughters from previous marriages, Tracy and Robyn.
A private funeral will be held in Toronto on Monday.
Billy VAN, actor and entertainer; born in Toronto in 1934; died in Toronto on January 8, 2003.

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CHCH o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-12-19 published
The voice of Ontario horse racing
For three decades, the announcer added detail and drama to his calls at Woodbine, Fort Erie and Greenwood tracks
By Allison LAWLOR, Special to The Globe and Mail Friday, December 19, 2003 - Page R13
When the great Secretariat burst out of the starting gate at Toronto's Woodbine Race Track on that dark and miserable day in late October, 1973, in what would be his final race, Daryl WELLS was behind the microphone calling the race for fans.
"In a blaze of glory, ladies and gentlemen, he's all yours," Mr. WELLS cried as the Triple Crown-winner won the Canadian International by 12 lengths.
Daryl WELLS Jr. was there that day in the announcer's booth to hear what would be his father's most famous call and share his excitement of seeing the last career race of the horse, considered by many to be the greatest thoroughbred of all time.
"I thought it was the greatest thing that ever happened," said Daryl WELLS Jr., who carried on the tradition and now calls races at Ontario's Fort Erie track.
Mr. WELLS, the voice of Ontario thoroughbred racing for more 30 years, from just after the new Woodbine Race Track opened in the spring of 1956 to the summer of 1986, died last Friday of heart disease in Niagara Falls, Ontario He was 81.
For three decades, Mr. WELLS was at the Ontario Jockey Club microphone, describing the thoroughbred races at Woodbine, Fort Erie and Greenwood, entertaining fans with his calls that were both accurate and exciting. When the gates opened, fans could often be heard imitating his familiar, trademark call: "They're off."
Whether it was a small, weekday afternoon race or the prestigious Queen's Plate, Mr. WELLS made every call dramatic and detailed. "Every horse got his call," said his long-time friend Gary ALLES.
Behind the microphone, Mr. WELLS was a pro who also had a mischievous streak that could sometimes be seen in the announcer's booth. Mr. ALLES remembers one day sitting next to his friend while he was calling a race at Woodbine. A second after telling fans where their horses were in the race, he switched off his microphone and asked Mr. ALLES which horse he had betted on that day. Back to the microphone, he gave fans a quick update before turning off the microphone again. This time with the microphone off, he started giving Mr. ALLES the call he really wanted to hear that his horse looked poised to win. But before Mr. ALLES could get too excited the microphone was back on again and Mr. WELLS was giving fans the true account of the race.
"He had a mischievousness that emanated from his eyes," Mr. ALLES said.
Daryl Frederick WELLS was born on December 10, 1922, in Victoria. As a young boy, he would tag along when his parents went to the races. "That's what got him interested," said his wife, Marian WELLS.
By the age of 15, he had entered the broadcasting world as a disc jockey, after a local radio station allowed him to play a few records. "It [his career] took off from there," Daryl WELLS Jr. said.
Several years later, he headed east and got a job in the sports department of radio station CHML in Hamilton, where he worked in the 1940s and 1950s and later as a sports director for CHCH-TV. During the Second World War, he served for a time in Britain with the Canadian Army.
Ed BRADLEY, a former general manager of Greenwood, Mohawk and Garden City Raceways, can remember his first introduction to Mr. WELLS in 1955. Working then as an announcer at Long Branch track in Toronto's west end, Mr. BRADLEY recalls one day seeing a man standing around outside his announcer's booth watching while he worked.
The next day he saw the same man again. Mr. BRADLEY was curious about this mysterious man but thought nothing of him again until the following spring when the track opened in Fort Erie. He was in the announcing booth when his manager came to him to tell him he had a new guy for him to break in.
"The guy walked in and it was Daryl WELLS," Mr. BRADLEY said.
They got down to work and, right away, Mr. BRADLEY recognized Mr. WELLS's voice from his broadcasting work. After three days of training, Mr. WELLS was ready to call a race on his own.
"He turned out to be a real pro," Mr. BRADLEY said, adding that Mr. WELLS was very descriptive in his calls and got to know what the jockeys were doing during a race.
During a time when horse racing was among the country's favourite sports, and fans would regularly stream out of work to head to the bar to watch a race, Mr. WELLS was its voice, said Wally WOOD, a former long-time racing columnist. "He was the poster boy for the sport," Mr. Wood said. "He was willing to do anything to promote racing....
"He was very good for racing," Mr. WOOD added.
A true showman, Mr. WELLS not only had the voice, but he looked as though he had just stepped out of an Armani commercial. "Daryl was show business and he dressed like it," Mr. ALLES said.
After 30 years as a well-loved fixture in the announcing booth, Mr. WELLS left Woodbine in July of 1986 amid controversy. His employers suspended him after the Ontario Racing Commission fined him for his part in a 1983 wager that returned a $237,598 payoff. "Touting" (volunteering an opinion on the outcome of a race for profit) was the official description and is strictly against the rules. While it was never a case of Mr. WELLS affecting the outcome of a race, he was suspended and his career as a horse-race announcer was over.
"He missed the excitement of the track," Ms. WELLS said, adding that it was the people he missed most of all. After he left Woodbine, he seldom went to the track except on special occasions.
"He always wanted to be surrounded by people," said Ms. WELLS, who never knew when she would come home to find her husband throwing an impromptu party.
Mr. WELLS, who had been living in Lewiston, New York since the late 1980s, died on December 12 at the Greater Niagara General Hospital in Niagara Falls. He leaves his wife; children Dana, Daryl Jr. and Wendy; sister Velda SCOBIE; and stepchildren Michael, Kelly and Jeffrey.

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