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Autobiohagiography of Bill Casselman

The curriculum of my vitae zigzags in a most uncool pattern. I coined the jawbreaker title of this piece to make ironic comment on how autobiography can’t help but render its writer in saintly hues. Nothing saintly, alas, about your humble deponent, moi.


I think Peter Ustinov invented the truest title ever slapped on an autobiography, Dear Me. That said however, several readers of my six books have wondered in letters how I could possibly have attained my present state. They don’t say state of what? It’s tricky to put who I am into words. But if you really want to know, meet me tonight out behind the old rink and I’ll act it out for you with sock puppets. After seven books published and two more in the pipeline, frankly, I think it’s time to permit a biographical sketch of myself.

Pierre Bill Casselman
Bill Casselman
Born in Dunnville, Ontario, in 1942, I am a writer and broadcaster. Les Nirenberg bought the first prose I ever sold. A nervous nerd uncertain of any life direction, I was in Grade 11 at Dunnville High School in the late 1950s. Les was the editor and sole proprietor of “The Panic Button,” a Canadian satirical magazine of the late fifties and early sixties, that he published out of a variety store on Weston Road in Toronto called The Co-existence Candy Shop. Les paid me twenty dollars for a funny piece about eight hundred words long, and more for subsequent submissions between 1959 and 1963. On the day “The Panic Button” arrived in the mail and I saw my first column, I was ecstatic. I carried that issue around with me for months and kept a dog-eared copy in my high-school locker to show friends and to bore acquaintances and kept it so long it time-morphed into a glutinous cone of pulp slurry and hand sweat. Ah, the ardour of young authors!

After university where I chose the academic rigour of courses like Learn Bomb Disposal While You Sleep, my first media job was as story editor and then producer for the CBC Radio Current Affairs department, especially one of their daily programs called “Matinee with Pat Patterson” where I worked from 1968 to 1971. Pat Patterson and the wonderful CBC Radio technicians taught me more about editing, tightening, and shaping material than any grammar teacher I ever had. During this freelance production gig, I was allowed to do occasional features and on-air scripts for other programs, including a short series on linguistics for the CBC Radio series “Ideas” in 1969.

In the early 1970s I spent three great years as senior producer at “This Country in the Morning” (predecessor of “Morningside” and “This Morning”) helping put Peter Gzowksi on the radio every weekday. The production team who made This Country in the Morning, including executive producer Alex Frame, gave me the most enjoyable teamwork experience of my life. After Peter Gzowski left for an attempt at live television, I stayed on under the delightful leadership of executive producer Ann Gibson with hosts such as Michael Enright, perhaps the smartest and most likeable person I ever met in journalism or broadcasting and Judy LaMarsh, perhaps the most unpleasant person I ever met.

In 1975, at the invitation of Jack MacAndrew, head of the CBC-TV Variety Department, I left radio to try television, as executive producer of “The Bob McLean Show,” a network noontime talk show. I also appeared weekly with Bob as The Plant Nut to deliver cockeyed horticultural advice. Out of this early interest in plants was to come one of my later books, Canadian Garden Words (1997).

During 1977 I accepted an offer from Daryl Duke and Norman Klenman to move to British Columbia to my first job in private television where I was executive producer of “The Vancouver Show” at CKVU-TV. While living in Vancouver, I was television columnist for “Maclean’s” magazine (1978-1979) and daily television columnist for a feisty but short-lived newspaper, the Vancouver Courier. I was a panelist for one season on “Conquest,” a CBC Radio quiz show conducted by the delightful Chuck Davis. Then, in 1979 I returned to Toronto where executive producer Gary Michael Dault of “Morningside” asked me to write and direct comedy skits for CBC Radio’s flagship morning show. I also wrote and hosted a satirical news broadcast, “Large News,” weekly on “McLean at Large” on CBC-TV between 1979 and 1980 for executive producer Jack Budgell.

My happiest time in broadcasting was the decade I spent from 1979 to 1989 as word nut and movie reviewer on “Jack Farr’s Radio Show,” which was heard across the country Saturday afternoons on CBC Radio. Jackie was the best wacky host CBC Radio ever had. He helped me loosen up on air because Farr never let the regular guests on his show get away with even a minute of pomposity. CBC Radio was extremely short-sighted in letting Jack Farr fold that show. They have never been able to replace him. But Jack and I remain the best of friends to this day. And I await some enterprising producer’s call to return Farr to the national airwaves where he belongs.

During this time I did occasional editorials for Commentary on CBC Radio, and between 1982 and 1987 occasional film reviews for “The Journal” on CBC-TV.

During four years (1990-1994), I conducted a weekly radio feature called “Word Clout” on CBC’s “Later the Same Day” with a warm, intelligent and superb host and now university professor Kathryn O’Hara. For the 1995-1996 season of CBC-TV’s “What on Earth?” I did a series of interviews with host Bruce Steele about regional Canadian folk expressions from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland. I was a panelist on linguistic topics on the TVO program “Imprint” between 1990 and 1995 when it had an exceptional host, Daniel Richler. As a columnist for Canadian Geographic magazine from 1995 to 1999 I wrote “Our Home & Native Tongue” in every issue, exploring our national word-ways.

In the fall and winter of 1996, I tried my hand as a comic actor in CBC-TV’s six-episode comedy Newsroom. Ken Finkleman, the writer, director, and star, chose me for the part. I was a principal on the series, but it’s only a small role. It was a hoot to shoot, and is still very funny to watch. Ken has developed from Hollywood gag man to maturing artist, and I think he’s a living national treasure of Canadian satire-and I say that only because he hired me for so many of his projects! His sallies have teeth and are not couched in typical sitcom gag lines. That and his unique comic view set Ken’s work far above blander Canuck comedy fare on television.

Many hundreds of times I have guested on local radio phone-in shows and on television shows across the country, talking about my books and receiving fabulous information from listeners and readers.

In September 1995, I published Casselman's Canadian Words: A Comic Browse by Bill Casselman through Words and Folk Sayings Invented by Canadians. The book spent ten weeks in the top ten of the Toronto Star National Best-seller List for paperback non-fiction, including two weeks at Number One. The book reappeared on the national best-seller list the next summer, reaching sixth place on August 3, 1996.

In October of 1996 was published my second book, Casselmania: More Wacky Canadian Words & Sayings, featuring sections that examine our weather rhymes, our use of Eh?, and a satiric tour of my very own Canadian National Museum of Bafflegab & Gobbledygook.

The Nelson Canadian Dictionary, published in the fall of 1996, contains a full page of “Canadian Folk Expressions collected and annotated by Bill Casselman.”

In September 1997, came my third popular word book, Canadian Garden Words, subtitled: The Origin of Flower, Tree, and Plant Names, both wild and domestic, entertainingly derived from their sources in the Ancient Tongues, together with Fancy Botanical Names & Why You Shall Never Again Be Afraid To Use Them.

My textbook about medical vocabulary, A Dictionary of Medical Derivations: The Real Meaning of Medical Words appeared in June 1998, published by Parthenon Publishers in England and the United States. I wrote it with the editing assistance of my urologist brother, R.C. Casselman, M.D., F.R.C.S.(C) and his wife, Judith Dingwall, R.N., D.P.H.N. Both Ron and I were born and grew up in Dunnville, attending Dunnville Public School where our father Alfred Casselman was principal for many years. We both graduated from Dunnville High School, as well. The medical dictionary has been placed on introductory courses in scientific vocabulary at various American and British schools of medicine, and has been purchased by medical reference libraries wherever in the world medicine is taught in English.

My examination of Canuck kitchen lingo, Canadian Food Words: The Juicy Lore & Tasty Origins of Foods that Founded a Nation, was published by McArthur & Company of Toronto in October 1998, , and sold out its first printing by Christmas of 1998.

July of 1999 saw the publication of my first original mass-market paperback: Canadian Sayings: 1,200 Folk Sayings Used By Canadians, Collected and Annotated by Bill Casselman. Published by McArthur & Company, the book stayed in the top ten on Canadian best-seller lists for eight months, all through the summer, fall, and winter of 1999 and well into 2000 to become the best-selling book I’ve written so far. For the year 2001 I have written a calendar based on Canadian Sayings. If I had to name the amigo de mi corazón of the books I’ve written, it would be that little paperback.

Looking back, well past the halfway point of my life, it might seem to have been a jumpy affair with occupational hops and skips every nanosecond. It may well have been. To be honest, I’ve been too busy to notice. Life can slip through our fingers like silky sand. If we are not careful, we can stand mesmerized by the shoosh of those temporal sand grains, and miss what is all about us on this blessed earth. I hope I have not done that. My work has taken me to every province and territory of Canada, where I always try to find time to pursue my chief delight and hobby, the study of words, particularly words and sayings that Canadians have added to the mighty hoard of English. I have travelled in Europe, Africa, and Central America. But my favorite posto al sole is an old stone farmhouse in Italy which I rent now and then. This little place in the sun, where lemon trees bloom in the garden, has a splendid perch on a hillside overlooking the Bay of Naples near Sorrento. When I’m there, I am.

Bill Casselman

See also
Canadian Personalities
Casselman's Canadian Words

External Links
Bill Casselman's Official Website

Copyright Craig I.W. Marlatt