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Telescope: John Vernon

The Story

CBC Television's Wojeck may be "too hot" for the U.S. networks, but its star John Vernon is sizzling in Hollywood. In just two years, he's got five movies under his belt and a fan in Alfred Hitchcock, who explains in this clip how Vernon snatched up a key role in his Cold War thriller Topaz. Surrounded by his "normal, average Canadian family" and a menagerie of animals, Vernon's keen for more and tells Telescope that regardless of all his success, his dream for the future is simply to continue being an actor.

Medium: Television
Program: Telescope
Broadcast Date: Jan. 12, 1971
Guest(s): Alfred Hitchcock, John Vernon
Host: Ken Cavanagh
Duration: 22:41
Movie Footage: "Going to a Fire" courtesy NFB, "Justine" courtesy 20th Century Fox, "Topaz" courtesy Universal Pictures

Did You know?

• Born Adolphus Raymondus Vernon Agopsowicz on Feb. 24, 1932, John Vernon was raised in Zehner, Sask., where he first discovered his love of acting. He went on to study drama at the Banff School of Fine Arts before winning a scholarship to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.

• After working with theatre troupes in London, Vernon returned to Canada and played Stratford. In the late 1950s he began working on film and television. Vernon starred in several National Film Board movies and CBC Television productions, from Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans to Antigone. In 1966, he landed the lead role in Wojeck.

• The pilot for Wojeck aired in March 1966, with the series beginning in full in September of that year. Modelled on real life Toronto coroner Dr. Morton Shulman, Wojeck took on sensitive social issues, including abortion, racism and homosexuality. More than 2.5 million viewers tuned in each week to watch the crusading coroner tackle deadly problems on the streets of Toronto. Shot on location rather than in a sound studio, sometimes with specially designed hand held cameras, Wojeck distinguished itself with an innovative visual style that reflected its gritty content. In its second season, it was shot in colour. Only 20 episodes were ever made. They aired on CBC Television from 1966 to 1968. In 1992, Vernon reprised his role in a CBC movie, Wojeck: Out of the Fire.

• Wojeck was the model for the 1970s U.S. television show Quincy M.E., and was one of the inspirations for CBC Television's Da Vinci's Inquest, which ran from 1998 to 2005.

• Despite the fact that Wojeck did not run in the United States, reaction to the series was so dramatic that a number of Hollywood producers sought out Vernon. He landed roles in several major films, including Dirty Harry, Topaz, Tell Them Willie Boy is Here and The Outlaw Josey Wales. He appeared on such television series as Bonanza, Hawaii 5-O, Mission Impossible and The Six Million Dollar Man.

• Vernon played the role of villain many times, but in 1977 he hit on one of his most recognizable roles, playing Dean Vernon Wormer in National Lampoon's Animal House. In all, he appeared in over 200 film and television productions and did voice work right up until his final year.

• Vernon died in Los Angeles on Feb. 1, 2005 due to complications after heart surgery. He was 72.




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