Monday, March 10, 2014

Montreal's legendary pinball princess

  A delightfully contrived and fluffy faux celeb-cover story about my cousin made the cover of the Weekend Magazine of March 29, 1969. (below)
   It's mos'def' an article about nothing other than one girl's supposed fantasy of being a pinball champion.
  Similar articles had already appeared about her in a couple of European papers, so this one was just the most recent of a bizarre series on her invented persona.
   The subject, Pamela Marchant, my cousin, is now living in Florida, she's a generous, hardworking soul who is one of the only ones of my many family members (the old family, not my real family ie: wife and kids family who I see every day) who bothers to stay in touch.
   She had a bunch of amazing stories from her youth but tends to prefer talking about more current things these days.
   As a teen Pammy ended up in London where she started hanging around Nik Cohn who got her to adopt a persona based on a novel that he was working on about a mute (to hide her Canadian accent when introduced) pinball champion from Montreal.
  Pammy didn't act or sing or write but she had a great look that was not unlike Twiggy, hugely popular at the time.
    Pammy had met Nik Cohn through her older sister, who eventually ended up marrying Sean Kelly, a top writer for National Lampoon.
   Cohn's pinball book, Arfur, was eventually published in 1973 (that's Pammy in the picture) and Cohn's friends in The Who borrowed the character for Tommy the rock opera.
   The Who manager Chris Stamp also sought to turn Pammy into a singing star but she tells me that she saw them laughing at Arthur Brown - who had some talent - behind his back so she assumed they were doing the same 10 times more whenever she'd be sent into a studio to practice singing the Rolling Stones' In Another Land. So she solved her issues by fleeing to France.
   She eventually returned to Montreal for some time and acting in The Montreal Main and The Rubber Gun, although her roles might have been cut down because she wasn't very punctual at the time, (although she later went into nursing and became a model of efficiency, so no negative words at all)..
   She later moved to New York and married Nik Cohn, who went on to write a short story (claimed it was a real story at the time for New York Magazine) that became Saturday Night Fever. They split and she returned to Montreal for a while before marrying a recently-retired New York defence attorney named Bobby.
    Pardon the discombobulation of the article below as it's cut and pasted from a pair of teasers that corrupted a lot of the spelling. But you'll get a n idea pretty quick what it's about.
   By the way, my mother owned any boarding houses, but my father did at 1430 Chomedey.
   Arfur is 16 years old, was born in the slums of Montreal, orphaned young, and lived in her Aunt Patty's run-down boardinghouse until the age of 12 when she discovered pinball in a St. Lawrence Boulevard arcade. From the first dime, Arfur experienced a cosmic affinity with the machine and decided to make pinball her way of life. Recognizing the truth that nothing in life mattered to her except the mastery of the art of pinball, Arfur, with in her pocket, ran away to New York. Here she stayed with her dear friend, and pinball great, Porky La Motta, practising night and day to perfect her flipper techniques, inner balance, reflexes and serenity at the table. Arfur soon started playing money matches and, after a time, was discovered by Fat Frenchy, boss of the whole New York pinball scene.
   Arfur joined his team of hustlers, and for two years took on all com- ers, in the end beating Fast-Hand Eddie of Chicago for the American championship. Out of competition, Arfur then went to England where she immediately won the European title in a five-hand shutdown with Fancy Dan Andler of Belgium. Arfur is considered by everybody, from the U.S. National Association Of Pinball to professionals in every country where pinball is shot, to be the greatest genius in pinball today. Arfur lives!
   Arfur in the mind of imaginative 16-year-old Pamela Marchant of the Montreal sub- urb of Westmount. "Pamela always was fabulously inventive as a says her mother. "Instead of dolls, she had a family of stuffed monkeys, and she used to create entire personalities and lives for them."
   Former school friend Tina Garmaise, also of Westmount, remembers Pamela's monkeys but in a more relevant context. "Arfur's voice with that funny slurring accent" was one of her favorite monkey voices."
   Far from Arfur's life of hustling in penny arcades in Montreal's less fashionable areas, Pamela was born, the youngest of four children, in Ste. Adele, Quebec, where she lived for six years before moving with her family to Westmount. Pamela's early life developed in the prescribed Westmount manner.
   She attended Roslyn School and showed talent for music and dancing. She was a good student, but was con- sidered something of a dilettante. She was also a dreamer, and as she grew, so grew her flights of fancy. The adventures of her monkeys became more complex, and she often daydreamed about writing her monkey stories down for her friends. Enthralled by romance and high adventure, she imagined herstlf as the heroine of schoolgirl mystery books.
   She especially loved the fantasies of Enid Blyton, and longed for the mystical escapades of Peter, Mollie and Chinky in tales like Adventures Of The Wishing Chair. The teenage Pamela, in the tradition of West- mount, started at Trafalgar School and left after one year to attend Westmount High. And although dem- onstrating creativity and promise, she was a restless student. "Pam was too rebellious to fit in at West- mount another school friend remembers.
   "She just wasn't the Westmount type. She was very straightforward and outspoken, and this made her unpopular with many of the kids." Private fantasies declined, too. The monkeys were put in the closet with other childhood toys, and even interest in Enid Blyton waned.
   The usual teenage rebellions took the form of boys, "And Pam is such a dabbler, remarked a friend, "the idea of her practising anything for three to six. hours a day is pretty remote." - Arfur has no home, no roots, no desire for any. She rooms from place to place, shooting pinball.
   Her possessions are few, and she has little interest in clothes. A yellow-and-black striped jersey is Arfurs , usual costume, worn with a man's snap-brim hat, and bright red socks. Matching red suspenders hold up a pair of high-waisted sailor pants. (l won them . from a sailor in New York a year ago.) She plans to hustle in London until she runs out of competition, then move on to Paris, where lr tilt', as pinball is called in France, is one of society's most fashionable games. But the constant roaming doesn't bother Arfur. "I've travelled so much since I left home, it just doesn't mean anything to me any more. Pamela's mother is less blase" about it. "Pain's trip lo England was the first in her life, except for occasional trips to New York with me."
   "Pinball holds the secret of all human lives." Arfur stated recently to the English press. I have always lived on pinball. with pinball, and around pinbalL It is my way of life. Arfur will shoot pinball until slow reflexes force her away from the tables; Pamela's ambitions are broader. In one of her first letters home, she hinted that she planned to make a record, and that she eventually hoped to write a book of all her Arfur escapades. "But whether or not this is another dream like the monkey stories, muses one friend, "remains to be seen." .
   Pamela has also ' achieved the remarkable feat of breaking Into the London modelling scene in a matter -of months; Through Arfur. she has received a great deal of personal publicly (including a cover on one of the English glossy magazines) and has come to the attention of the current hierarchy of English starmakers. Why did Pamela Marchant become Arfur? Perhaps it was ambition ; perhaps she considers it a career opportunity Arfur will eventually cease to exist but the contacts that Pamela makes as Arfur will remain; or perhaps it was just one little Westmount girl's way of escaping from a background she didn't dig.  Pamela's mother believes the real reason will remain in Pamela's mind and what she will do in the future is anybody's guess.
   "But for now, if she wants to be pinball queen, that's OK with roe. Aunt Patty, actually a respectable Westmount lady with nary a run-down boardinghouse in sight. Insists it's all beyond her. A school friend is convinced that Pamela is enchanted by the idea of conning the whole world with a mythical character, an invented hfe, and a marvellous mystical career. Pain's idea of happiness is to see her fantasies and dreams come true. And Arfur is a dream (though, adds the friend, Pam tends to . forget that) coming true.' ' And Arfur. What does Arfur say? Arfur simply , Nays, "Think clean, live clean and you will shoot  clean pinbaIl."


Lauriate Roly said...

Fascinating column to-day Kristian. A most interesting story, and confirms my impressions of you as a most interesting and unique character and creator of a most interesting and unique website. I can't say how I came to find Coolopolis, but I sure am thankful that I did. Your subject matter always engages me entirely; often re-igniting precious and treasured memories.

Lauriate Roly said...

Off topic Kristian, sorry: but don't know how else to reach you. I can't get "megaforce at gmail" to work for me. I have tried several times.
I've been working on something for a couple of years now on Montreal vaudeville, burlesque, Gayety theatre strippers etc.
Would you have, or can you help me find a photo of "Peaches". She was a great feature at the same time as Lili St. Cyr. She was very popular and a favorite of Montrealers. I have tried several possible web site resources, but no one has a picture of Peaches. . .at least, not the one I knew.
Much obliged if you can help me.

Kristian Gravenor said... will work.

And yeah I think I posted a pic of Peaches in the comments last time you asked.

Lauriate Roly said...

Yes you did and I can't thank you enough for helping me out.
I knew that if anyone could find what I needed about anything that is connected with Montreal, you would be the one. You are the expert and the great storyteller and modern historian of that wonderful city.
Again, many thanks Kristian.