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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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Marilyn Lightstone recalls role in classic film

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Marilyn Lightstone in her art studio

TORONTO — The newly restored version of a classic Canadian film, Lies my Father Told Me, will be presented by Vision TV in a world premiere television broadcast Dec. 27 at 9 p.m.

Probably no one is more thrilled by this announcement than Toronto actor, radio broadcaster and multimedia artist Marilyn Lightstone, who appeared in the 1975 movie and considers her role in it as one of the finest of her career.

“The role and the movie are very special to me because the characters are iconic, and a lot of people identified with it in a very personal way,” she said, calling the film something of a time capsule. “It has stuck in the consciousness of the community.”

Lies My Father Told Me, based on a story by Montreal writer Ted Allan and directed by Academy Award-winning Czech director Jan Kadar, was nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay and won the 1976 Golden Globe for best foreign film.

Lightstone, starring in her first feature film as Annie Herman, a 1920s Montreal Jewish housewife and mother, picked up prizes as best actress from ACTRA (the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) and the Canadian Film Awards, the precursor of the Genies.

Thirty-five years on, Lightstone’s upbeat appraisal of it remains remarkably intact.

“I thought it was a jewel when we made it, and I think it is every bit as meaningful now,” she said. “Perhaps because it was a period piece, it doesn’t feel, sound or look dated in any way. It’s a film about family relationships, the basis of the greatest dramas ever written.”

Shot on location in Montreal, Lies my Father Told Me unfolds through the eyes of David Herman (Jeffrey Lynas), a precocious seven-year-old boy caught between two opposing forces – the traditional Orthodox Jewish values of his grandfather (Yossi Yadin) and the material ambitions of his parents.

Widely praised by critics, it was described by the Canadian Jewish News as a film about “a boy’s evolving view of the world, the vagaries of human nature and the Jewish experience in Canada.”

Lightstone – the current host of Nocturne on Canada’s only all-classical radio station, 96.3 FM – was in her mid-30s and playing Mary, Queen of Scots, at the Charlottetown Festival in Prince Edward Island when she was asked to audition for the part.

“It was at the very beginning of my career, so I imagine I wanted it a lot,” she recalled. “Mostly, I thought I was a natural for it because I’d grown up with people like this in my family and community.

 “In fact,” she added, “the locale for the film was very close to the streets where I was born and grew up. Not much research was required.”

To Lightstone, the story line was similar as well. “All I had to do was think of my mother, who was also caught between her parents and her husband. The situation was very familiar to me, as I was born into it and didn’t have to look anywhere but my own childhood for inspiration.”

Lightstone’s parents, however, were not immigrants.

“They were both born in Montreal, as were their brothers and sisters. My maternal grandmother was still very much of a Yiddishe bubbie, but my paternal grandparents immigrated to Canada when they were children and were really quite assimilated.”

Although Kadar (The Shop On Main Street) cast her, Lightstone exchanged few words with him on set.

“He was a childless man who loved children and was very absorbed with Jeffrey Lynas, who was at the heart of the film. Kadar was having a lot of problems and was very stressed.”

Looking back, Lightstone expressed contentment at having been hired.

“Ted Allan’s script was wonderful, I had a fair amount of screen time, and the actors I worked with were great. Except for little Jeffrey, we all understood this world viscerally, inside and out. If we hadn’t lived in it ourselves, our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles had. Yiddishkeit is imprinted in the bones, after all.

“As for little Jeffrey, he was a revelation. He did instinctively what adults study how to do for years. I’ve worked with many, many children over the years, but Jeffrey was special.”

Three years after Lies My Father Told Me, producer Robert Lantos cast Lightstone in the movie In Praise of Older Women.

“That was nice, but the character I played didn’t nearly have the same emotional scope or screen time as Annie Herman.”

In its wake, she acted in a succession of films and television shows, notably as Ms. Stacey in two popular mini-series, Anne of Green Gables and Road to Avonlea.

But there was a downside.

“Frankly, the ‘biz’ in Canada had a way, and perhaps still does, of stereotyping you ethnically. Not in the theatre, but on screen. If there was a role out there for a Jewish gal, I could always be sure of getting a call, which was nice.

“But it could be a millstone around your neck professionally. Thankfully, there were producers and directors out there, like Kevin Sullivan of Anne of Green Gables and Road to Avonlea, who were not of that ilk.”

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