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The entire Blue Jays team, in fact, was sworn to secrecy, having surreptitiously flown to Nova Scotia to work out with their new pitching sensation. And management stayed mum on the 18-year-old that one team insider called the “equivalent of the Stealth Bomber.”
And thus the newspaper continued a long tradition of tongue-in-cheekiness that these days might be termed “fake news.” Some of the pranks were simple sight gags, like the whale in Toronto Harbour that renowned staff photographer Boris Spremo snapped in 1983. Or the too-good-to-be-true scoop that the Toronto Maple Leafs might be signing Wayne Gretzky back in ’82. The hockey superstar was photographed in a Leafs jersey flanked by a beaming team president, Harold Ballard.
Five talented singers, who included a 51-year-old former psychologist and a 45-year-old Britney Spears wannabe, were brought together to form “Canada’s next big thing.” The group would use music to “ratchet up awareness of social issues” in a way that shallow boy and girl bands didn’t, said pop culture reporter Vinay Menon.
“The world is a very different place,” explained managing editor Mary Deanne Shears quite truthfully. “So a newspaper can’t just be a newspaper any more. It has to deliver information in new and innovative ways.”
In interviews with the musicians, who were all profiled and photographed, 24-year-old Kiwi professed the desire “to change the world.” The groups repertoire, Menon’s lengthy yarn continued, included song titles such as “You Say Adversity, I Say Diversity.”
The journalist added layer upon layer to the leg-pulling, even documenting the “thundering response” of more than 10,000 would-be stars who jammed phone lines and sent demo tapes when The Star first publicized its band plan.
It’s hard to say how many readers were reeled in but more than 1,200 called a hotline to hear a sample of the group’s music. A brief warbling recorded by Star staffers was followed by a confession to the tomfoolery.
The paper was far from alone in turning the news funny side up.
A few years ago, the Toronto Transit Commission also took the public for a ride on April 1 with a video introducing the “personal car” where subway customers could put their feet on the seat, clip their nails, play loud music and “do whatever you like.”
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is a perennial prankster with truth-stretching shenanigans that range from TV personality Peter Mansbridge unearthing a story about kindergarten students being fed baked worms as a snack in 1990 to radio host Lister Sinclair documenting a strange 19th century disease in which victims appear dead but come back to life days later.
But one item that listeners had a hard time digesting, according to the CBC’s digital archives, was a 1979 radio interview with a Willowdale entrepreneur who was supplying high-end food shops with stuffed, cooked budgies.
As happy chirping filled the airwaves, “Fiona Curtis” revealed she bred the bite-sized birds by the hundreds in her basement.
“Is there much meat on them? They seem to be so small,” interviewer Jim Wright asked.
“No, but the incredible thing about them is that you can eat the bones as well. They just crunch,” Mrs. Curtis said.
With the right spices, the “delicacy” was juicy and delicious, she raved. Mrs. Curtis added she was thinking about expanding her line to include gerbils “because they’re really quite meaty and they grow very quickly.”
If the host had trouble stifling his snickers, that’s one challenge print reporters don’t face as they weave their tangled web. In 2005, The Star’s movie critic Pinocchio, er, Peter Howell pulled off a masterpiece of straight-faced fabrication when he awarded four stars to a “vibrantly modern” remake of the 1942 wartime romance Casablanca.
While he admits “doubters may scoff” over the choice of Ashton Kutcher and Paris Hilton for the lead roles originally played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Howell gushes over their performances.
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