Albert Speaks: I’ve Been Holding Out On You Edition
Confessions Department: Since April, I’ve been keeping some pretty fun information from you all. Remember the Albert Canadian Tire commercial? Well “Albert” has spoken out. Here, at Heroes in Rehab: the blog.
I’ll tell you what the actor who played “young Albert” had to say when I “interviewed” him, but first, a little history.
Back in the 1980s, before that bearded guy and his wife annoyed the hell out of everybody on behalf of the nation’s favourite purveyor of hardware, auto parts and sporting goods, there was Albert. Albert was the protagonist in probably the single best-remembered commercial in Canadian history. This one minute ad featured prominently in hockey broadcasts at the time, and it became so widely known that – as I mentioned in a post earlier this year – disgruntled fans in hockey rinks (and football stadiums – see below, and remember it’s not confusing if you factor in the inevitable consumption of beer) across the country actually began chanting for Albert, as if imploring him to arrive and turn around the fortunes of their favourite team. I remember being at a Leafs game at the Gardens in the mid 80s when this happened. Here’s another reference to the Albert phenomenon in a 1984 Sports Illustrated article:
Simply put, Albert was huge here in Canada. To understand how huge, you have to remember that this was the mid-80s, several years before Al Gore’s Internet had made its way into peoples’ homes. We mostly received our culture back in ye olden days by osmosis (by which I mean “television”). It generally came from beyond our borders, because nobody could stand watching the CBC (sporting events excepted). Aside from the a Gordon Lightfoot record here and there or the occasional hoser explaining how to get a mouse in a beer bottle, it was pretty slim pickings for uniquely Canadian cultural products. It wasn’t hard for our own voices to be overwhlemed; our neighbours to the south were definitely feeling their cultural oats – these were, after all, the years of Reagan’s “Morning in America” – and Canadians were bombarded by Uncle Sam’s cultural exports – basically parachute pants, hair gel and more Lionel Richie than you could shake a stick at. The UK and Australia were also huge influences; Ol’ Blighty thrust Boy George upon us (ew) and ensured that Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics produced every recording we listened to from about 1985 to 1989 (little known fact), while the Aussies gave us Foster’s Lager, Crocodile Dundee movies, and the shared experience of shouting “vegemite sandwich” in time with the song on the car radio.
My point is that it was a cultural coming of age. The Americans had “Where’s the Beef?”, and we were painfully aware of it, but we also had our own unique commercial phenomenon: Albert. There wasn’t anything bigger on this side of the 49th parallel in those years. Canada was coming in to its own, and I’m saying that you can pretty much trace our cultural maturation to this moment in time.
Fast forward to April of 2009 when, evidently desperate for ideas to write about, I put up a post about Andrew Alberts, a defenceman for the Boston Bruins. I used Alberts’ surname as an excuse to take a couple of lazy cheap shots at the “Albert” Canadian Tire and to write an equally lazy bullshit manifesto (much like the one appearing above) about the cultural backdrop to Leafs games in the 1980s. A couple of weeks later, there was a comment from “Albert” appended to the post.
Because I am an idiot and incapable of thinking logically, I initially came to the conclusion (using the commenter’s email address and about a thirteen second review of imdb.com) that the commenter was the guy who directed the ad; my brother quickly set me straight on that one (he’s a genius – he can read), and I realized that my little site had been visited by a true Canadian icon: “Albert” himself, a former child actor by the name of Bill Novinski. “Albert” himself confirmed it about a week later.
I did a quick bit of research (mashing buttons on the computer) and learned that oddly enough, the advertisement in question was produced by an American ad agency. I learned from Whatever Happened To…? Catching Up With Canadian Icons by Mark Kearney and Randy Ray that when the ad was filmed, Novinski was a young kid from Long Island, New York. According to the book, he became a systems engineer for J.P. Morgan Chase in Delaware and now has two young daughters*.
I couldn’t let the opportunity go by. I had to ask a few questions of Bill. I sent him an email asking if he’d mind answering a few questions for the readers of this site about his experience as “Albert”. He very kindly answered back a couple of days later. I’ve been wanting to share our conversation with you all, but when it happened the NHL was right in the middle of the playoffs and – as monumental as this news was to me – I had a sneaking suspicion that it might fly well under the radar in the circumstances. Next came the draft and the free agency deadline, then my attempt at writing an article for the Maple Leafs Annual 2009-2010.
Now here we are in the dog days of August; hockey news is a little slow, unless you’re Patrick Kane’s bail bondsman. I thought now would be the perfect time to share my chat with “Albert” (I’ve re-arranged bits and pieces here and there to make it more comprehensible – Bill actually sent my email back to me with his annotated answers, but that format would be difficult for readers here to follow):
From this, we principally have learned that I am a terrible interviewer, possibly the world’s worst not named Paul Hendrick.
I should add that Bill stressed that he hadn’t taken any offense to the cracks I made about the ad (he actually pointed out that he’d left a “LOL” at the end of his comment that I’d obviously missed, because I was initially a little worried that he’d taken my stupid jokes to heart). He said he thinks that what I called a “sappy script” and “clumsy acting” is “what helped to make the commercial memorable”. He hastened to add that he never claimed to be a great actor.
Anyway, it occurred to me that there may be those among you who have a memory of the ad, or the phenomenon it caused here in Canada, that you might like to share with Bill. On the other hand, maybe you have a question that you’d like to ask him; I can’t promise he’ll answer it, but I’m prepared to make a nuisance of myself one more time and email him one more time, if you have something good.
How about it? Any love for “Albert” out there? Barilkosphere, I’m lookin’ at you….
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