Wayne Gretzky: Stunt double?
A budding Great One appeared on CBC's Sidestreet in 1977
Two years before the start of his record-setting NHL career, and long before he began making regular appearances in movies, commercials and TV shows, a teenaged Wayne Gretzky was a body double on the CBC's police show Sidestreet in 1977.
Though it remains unclear today whether this was Gretzky's debut on screen, it was certainly one of the first for the future NHL legend.
According to Steve Latimer, who at the time was a goalie for the St. Michael's Buzzers Junior B team in Toronto, the CBC was interested in using a couple of local teams for some hockey scenes in an episode of the show and approached the father of a St. Mike's player whom Latimer understood had connections in the entertainment industry.
The episode, titled "Once a Hero," focused on an aspiring hockey star, the son of a retired sports hero, who turned to crime to further his career.
While some might believe Gretzky was enlisted because of his on-ice talent — he had a 378-goal season in peewee — Latimer, now 58, says it had more to do with Gretzky's resemblance to the central Sidestreet character, who wasn't a strong skater. Thus the need for the future Great One as a body double.
In the episode (video of which was provided to CBC Sports by freelance video archivist and sports historian Paul Patskou) Gretzky is shown splitting the defence, making a move on Latimer, taking the puck behind the net and completing a successful wraparound attempt.
Despite the impressive work, Gretzky's name didn't appear in the show's credits.
"We got a day off school [to film] at Chesswood Arena [in Toronto]. Nothing was planned, in terms of who would be in what scenes," says Latimer, adding three players involved besides Gretzky went on to play in the NHL: Bill Gardner, Pat Graham and Daryl Evans. "The director picked guys on the spot, so it was like, "Hey number 9 [Gretzky], you look like this kid."
Latimer, who was 17 at the time, says the show's director, the late Canadian actor Al Waxman of CBC's King of Kensington fame, did three or four takes.
"I stopped [Gretzky] at least twice," says Latimer, who now lives in Bobcaygeon, Ont. "I'd like to say I was a pretty good Junior B goalie. We were both able Junior B teams. I'll always remember Waxman in street shoes and a cardigan [sweater] on the ice at Chesswood.
"After about the third [take] and maybe the fourth, he came up to me, stands at the top of my crease, sort of smiling, and says: 'You know, he's supposed to score.'"
Latimer remembers "summoning all my courage" and telling Waxman that the planned play would never happen in a game and suggesting a more realistic scenario. In the end, each scene was shown on Sidestreet.
"For almost 40 years," says Latimer, "I thought I had done CBC and Sidestreet a service by taking this Mighty Ducks-type scene out of their TV show. But when I finally saw the footage and I saw they used both, I was aghast. If you look closely, you can see me pulling my leg away from the post, so Gretzky can score.
"It was so laughable, it made some very good hockey players look pretty bad, but we got it."
Latimer, who the year before filming the episode had been a teammate of Gretzky's on the Vaughan (Ont.) Nationals, remained friendly with the future NHL star.
"We got along fairly well," Latimer says. "I wouldn't say we were close but we would chat, and [as opponents] we would always talk in the [arena] lobby before games.
"He was an extremely shy kid, but nice and very humble," adds Latimer. "I think he had a sense of how good he was. There's no question he's arguably the greatest player ever and I was there to see it come together."
Speaking of The Mighty Ducks, Gretzky's later on-screen cameos included an appearance in the sequel to the hit Disney movie.
He also did commercials for Mr. Big chocolate bar and 7 Up pop …
Pro Stars cereal …
And made appearances on Saturday Night Live and the long-running soap opera The Young and the Restless.