Marshall Bruce Evoy (1923-1998), a lover of liberty and one of the most important founders of the International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL), was an individualist activist, a prominent capitalist libertarian, and a laissez-faire entrepreneur. Perhaps more centrally, he was a fine actor and teacher.
He had legions of friends and admirers, more than anyone I have ever known. The writer Barbara Branden, friend and biographer of the Russian-American philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand (1905-1982), was one of them. Others were Peter Wylde, an actor and distinguished teacher of actors at George Brown Community College, with whom Bruce had acted in a memorable production of Othello; Jim Dickinson, a Toronto writer and teacher who died of AIDS about 1990; and Barbara Branden's sister-in-law (and Nathaniel Branden's sister), Florence Hirschfeld. A host of capitalist and libertarian figures, prominent and obscure, were Bruce's admirers and friends. He worked very closely for years with Vincent H. Miller, the editor of Freedom Network News. And Jean Bercovici, his one-time employer at a Muskoka resort, was his dearest friend, a person to whom he could chat with great fascination for hours (none of his other friends understood how he could do this). Of all his many, many friends, perhaps a dozen were closer to Bruce than I. They were more like him. But I liked Bruce enormously; loved him, as English poet Ben Jonson (1572-1637) said of his friend Will Shakespeare, "this side idolatry"; admired Bruce.
I was perhaps more critical of Bruce than were his other friends. Bruce and I did not see eye to eye on some things. My thought kept evolving, and took me slowly out of capitalist libertarianism in the mid-1970s. I increasingly thought Bruce too conservative, too stuffy, too pessimistic, too right-wing. Bruce admitted that he wasn't a great thinker. He felt his role was as an educator. But he once said to me that he felt as if I were his younger brother. I was touched.
Bruce was my mentor, my friend, my teacher; in acting, writing, life. As he did to others, he taught me an enormous amount of great value, and for a pittance. Even today, three years after his death, I am terribly in his debt.
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I first met Bruce in the fall of 1967. I had started to attend the University of Toronto. Simultaneously I had somehow found out that meetings of the Nathaniel Branden Institute were about to be held at the Lord Simcoe hotel on the northeast corner of University Avenue and King Street West in Toronto.
The Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI) was the creation of Nathaniel Branden, the designated "intellectual heir" of Ayn Rand. Now for several years I had been fully in the throes of my admiration for and worship of Rand. So I was eager to attend the meetings: at them, tape recordings of Branden's lectures about Rand's philosophy would be played.
The Lord Simcoe was at that time a well-thought-of hotel. It had been built in the early 1950s and was about 17 stories tall. The popular Canadian journalist and writer Pierre Berton, author of Klondike, kept an office there for writing his many books until the 1980s. Then the Lord Simcoe was torn down to throw up two 40-story towers for SunLife's head office.
At the NBI meetings I met many people I would know for some years. I met Monica Baer, a blonde psychology freshman at York University (and the most beautiful woman I ever met). I met Monica's mother Erika, a journalist for trade magazines. I met her father Hans, a globe-trotting salesman of tree-felling machinery. I met Olly Van Maurik, a Dutch immigrant who hand-painted beautiful golden business signs (and Olly's attractive daughter Anne-Marie). I met Richard Perkins, a St. Thomas, Ontario, chiropractor, and his wife Ernestine; together they wrote a fascinating book advocating laissez-faire anarchism. I met American University of Toronto physicist Ed West, later in charge of an important U of T cloud-chamber project, and his girlfriend, a nurse called Janet. These two later married and raised show dogs. I met Eric Layman, the talented, red-haired, near-sighted, eccentric poet.
And I met Bruce.
Bruce Evoy was a high school teacher of English at that time. His school (the David and Mary Thomson Collegiate?) was in Scarborough; he was head of the English department. Bruce was friends with Nathaniel Branden's sister Florence Hirschfeld, and, I think, with her sister Riva Fox; if I recall correctly, one of the sisters was a psychiatrist, the other an expert in social work. Bruce seemed to be one of the principals of the local branch of NBI. He was then a brown-haired, vigorous, interesting looking, obviously very fit man in his mid-40s. He wore fashionable blazers and turtleneck sweaters, and duffel coats.
I must mention Bruce's face and nose. His face was an actor's face. I don't know if you have noticed -- but I have -- that actors trained in the English fashion sometimes have "actor's face." That is, they have very mobile faces which adopt an almost bizarre poker-faced quality when "at rest." Their faces often seem more thin-lipped and frozen than is natural. Well, Bruce had this kind of face in spades. It was blank, thin-lipped and dead; then suddenly came alive with fiery passion.
And as for his nose -- well, Bruce had a strange nose indeed. It is hard to say what was strange about it. The nose gave the impression of being slightly hooked, but I am not sure that it was. It gave the impression of being slightly snub-nosed or Jewish, but I am not sure it was. What it did, though, was to give Bruce a distinct appearance, somewhat like (I blush) a fox.
My first impression of Bruce was that he seemed a fussy, irritable sort. I don't recall when I first learned that he was gay, but it may not have been for five years. (I was very naïve.) Nor did I realize that his straight hair was a toupée for some years. Eventually, however, I learned that Bruce had been an actor in the 1930s and 1940s, acting in the Dominion Drama Festivals. He had then gone to war, and served in the Canadian Army in Africa and Italy. After the war he had worked in summer stock with the Straw Hat Players in Port Carling, Ontario. About this time he met his dear lifelong friend Jean Bercovici. In the 1950s he had gone to New York to become a Broadway star. This effort having failed, he returned to Toronto and went into teaching.
Bruce's efforts in teaching were semi-successful. True, his pupils seem to have loved and admired him. He coached his pupils in acting, and they put on memorable and exciting productions, the best of which was his ultra-romantic Romeo and Juliet. The Juliet, Trudy Cameron, later went on to act at Stratford, Ontario, at the Shakespearean Festival.
But Bruce also aroused enmity among the other high school teachers. Alas, Bruce was not tactful. If he thought something was wrong, especially morally wrong, he was blunt. Since he believed Ayn Rand's philosophy was both needed and right, in his capacity as department head he Bruce put Rand's 1943 novel The Fountainhead on his high school's English curriculum. This aroused a storm of antagonism among the other teachers. (The general critical opinion at this time was that Rand's novels were meretricious junk.) Bruce's nature exacerbated the conflict. At a meeting he compared Rand's novels to Michelangelo's statue of David, and the teachers' attitude to urinating on it!
Bruce became discouraged at what he felt were declining standards in the publicly-financed education system. For a while in the 1960s he led a very visible campaign against government-funded schools, pointing out what he felt were their high costs, compulsion, and dismal results. He published articles against the public system in major newspapers. The Toronto Star ran an editorial against him.
So some time after I met him Bruce gave up teaching and returned to the University of Toronto to study. We were both students there at the same time for a year or two about 1973-75. While teaching the rudiments of English literature and composition to first-year engineers, Bruce studied drama and received an M.A.
Bruce considered going on for a Ph.D. His thesis would have concerned St. John Hankin, an Irish dramatist of the early 20th century about whom little had been written. But eventually Bruce quit (he said that Hankin was a minor figure) and went to work for CTV, the first privately-owned Canadian TV network, at their head office on Charles St. East. Bruce was a (let's be blunt about this) junior censor in what was probably called CTV's Standards and Practices office. He worked there until retirement. He consistently defended the network's right to censor its own programs.
Meanwhile, he pursued his interests in making money and libertarianism. His interest in making money led him (about 1975?) to pyramid schemes like Amway, the Michigan soap products company. He tried to interest me in becoming one of his distributors. I attended the meeting, but turned down the proposition. (I had nearly been scalped for $3000 in 1973 with the similar but more egregious venture of the former Georgia plowboy and hare-lipped pyramid artist Glenn Turner, whose rickety conglomerate went bankrupt six months after my cousin Donald Armstrong helped me get back my money. I believe Turner kept his Orlando castle. Don't ask.)
Bruce preferred to call these ventures multi-level selling. (Amway was far from the worst of these; it cleaned up its act sufficiently to remain in business, though it eventually got in trouble with the Canadian government, which accused it of swindling it out of millions of tax dollars. I never heard how this was resolved, but I think the company still exists in 2001.) "Multi-level selling" ventures still exist today, wherever greedy suckers are found.
Bruce was one of the founders of the Libertarian Party of Canada in 1974. (Though it ran candidates in two or three federal elections, got two or three hundred votes per riding, and spawned an Ontario party, it does not seem to exist today.) Bruce struggled inside the party for several years, but hated the politics. Eventually, like so many others, he gave up and left. Bruce came to agree with Ayn Rand that a lengthy period of education of the public would be necessary before it would be time for libertarian parties to exist.
Bruce's political interests therefore gradually turned to laissez-faire anarchism. He was one of the founders and pillars of the Society for Individual Liberty (later known as the International Society for Individual Liberty, ISIL). He gave everything he could during twenty years to ensure its success.
At (capitalist) libertarian and other conventions Bruce performed as American patriot and orator Patrick Henry (1736-1799) in the delivery of Henry's famous 1775 "Give me Liberty, or give me death!" speech. He performed in 18th century apparel. (I believe he used several costumes: one, I remember, had a tricorne with a bizarre checked fringe; another costume was startlingly-fluorescent light green.) As Henry he built to the thrilling climax that ended, "But as for me . . . give me liberty . . . or give me death!" This became the schtick for which he was best known and admired in the libertarian movement.
Bruce loved theatre and the theatrical. Give him something, well, completely over the top, and he was in his element. Bruce seldom underplayed; his specialty was the titanic role. Over the years I saw him act quite a few times, and developed my own opinion of his talent.
Throughout his life, Bruce attended an enormous amount of theatre and ballet. He critically loved the dancing of the National Ballet of Canada, once effusively thanking Canadian ballerina Veronica Tennant in person for her career when that lady was about to retire. He seemed to know everything there was to know about dance, and said that English actor John Gielgud (1904-2000)'s performance in Toronto of Hamlet in the 1930s was the finest acting performance he ever witnessed. As Hamlet, Gielgud writhed with neurotic fervor; when he turned and saw the ghost of his father, Gielgud nearly jumped out of his skin. Bruce loved Gielgud's singing musical delivery, and also admired and loved English actor Sir Laurence Olivier (1907-1989). Several times he demonstrated to me how Olivier had performed speeches in his films of Henry V (1944) and Richard III (1955).
It is time now for me to discuss Bruce's acting.
Bruce was the most exciting actor I have ever personally observed at length. In his best speeches, his best parts, he was as fine and intelligent an actor as I have seen. At these moments I would rank him above nearly all Canadian actors, indeed with English dramatic actress Claire Bloom (1931- ) and other fine performers. But Bruce was inconsistent. He could miss the point entirely. He could misunderstand a role, or how he simply did not and could not fit that role. Like Napoleon, he lost one-third of his battles. His excerpt from King Lear (sometime in the 1970s, in a vivid green robe and fake white beard) was a clear miss. Execrable rant.
But his Patrick Henry chestnut was intelligent, if uneven. I fully believe that from time to time he must have been electric in the speech. I heard this speech several times. When I heard the speech, it was uneven; he did not quite have the build to the climax. But it rattled with fire.
In other parts, he was much better. In Canadian poet Earle Birney (1904-1995)'s dramatic 1941 narrative poem "David", one of his schticks, Bruce was moving and extraordinary. (But even here he was sometimes more moved than moving.)
At some time, I presume in the 1950s, Bruce had somewhere acted the title role in Hamlet. He had a pastelly drawing of himself in the role on the wall of his apartment bedroom. Bruce understood Hamlet's soliloquies perfectly. In "How all occasions do inform against me," he took Hamlet to the very edge of suicide by dagger -- and dragged him back by accident! it chilled me to the bone. Of all actors I have seen, Olivier is the finest, the most exciting, the most volcanic. But Bruce was better than Olivier in this speech.
And Bruce was the most extraordinary Richard II anyone will ever see. In a black Renaissance Italian costume with pink (!!) gloves he was a shocking, regal, gay Richard. (He had played the entire part in some 1950s festival somewhere.) His "Down, down I come like glistering Phaethon," and his speech about the buckets, one going down, one up, wholly realized the humiliation, the savage-yet-tearful indignation of a born King: it froze my blood.
Bruce had been, somewhere, an excellent Cassius; his slim body and odd features, I am sure, worked for him. He comprehended that part, I am sure, from studying Gielgud in American film director Joseph Mankiewicz's 1951 film. In Cassius' speech about swimming the river Tiber against his rival Julius Caesar, Bruce lived the scene, hissing and spitting contempt. "And this . . . man . . . is now become a god! And Cassius . . . is a wretched creature, That must bend his body if Caesar . . . carelessly but nod at him." His whole body threw off contempt. Formidable and terrifying, he out-Gielguded Gielgud.
One of Bruce's most successful roles must have been Iago, which he essayed in a Toronto production somewhere with his friend Peter Wylde as Othello. To me, Bruce several times delivered Iago's speech to Othello about how Iago had recently shared a bed with Othello's lieutenant Cassio. Cassio had spoken in his sleep about lying with Othello's bride Desdemona. "Sweet Cassio, let us hide our loves!" Bruce's delivery was . . . astonishing . . . Beyond praise. . . Bruce equipped Iago (Iago!) with an utterly unexpected high nobility. It was convincing . . . chilling. Read the damn part. You cannot find nobility anywhere in Iago. But Bruce gave it to him, in sheer witchery that worked. I do not understand it . . .
O, but it worked. Bruce's interpretation made Iago a terrible, awesome enemy . . .
Bruce could reproduce exquisitely the speeches that Olivier performed so perfectly in his magical film Henry V (1945). "Once more into the breech, dear friends, once more" and "Tomorrow is the feast of Crispian. He that outlives this day . . ." Bruce was wonderful. (Oh, all right. His face didn't look quite right.) And my friend was a repertoire of other Shakespearean delights.
In his last decade or so he stumbled on Shakespeare's Coriolanus, with its many speeches of contempt for the Roman mob. (I once did an audition for director Leon Major (formerly of the Neptune Theatre in Halifax, lately directing opera in Washington, D.C.) with "You common cry of curs." I had studied the record set of Welsh actor Richard Burton (1925-1984), absolutely the best Coriolanus -- and one of the best Hamlets -- I have heard.) Bruce delighted in these speeches, but wasn't much good at them. He was all of a level: monotonous ranting. (But few modern actors understand this part. Usually they depict Coriolanus as Orson Welles did, as a mere fascist. Coriolanus, as T.S. Eliot realized, is much more, and more subtle.)
Not wanting to miss the chance of such a teacher, in the 1970s and 1980s I took a number of acting lessons from Bruce. He taught me to breathe from the diaphragm. He taught me all he could about movement (I wasn't very good). He taught me warming-up exercises and lip-stretching exercises. He taught me speech interpretation and delivery. I don't know how many times we essayed the Prologue's first speech from Henry V, "O, for a muse of fire". Finally, I did this acceptably. (I still work on it; I don't think I've nailed this sucker.)
From Bruce I learned to interpret (and, a little, how to write) great poems and speeches for actors. I learned something of how to communicate to actors how to speak their parts. I owe Bruce so much.
When a girlfriend left me in the early 1970s, and my life slowly fell apart over several years, Bruce was a true and understanding friend. He comforted me. And his life's example showed me a person of high integrity. He felt that the public schools had fallen apart; private schools with high standards must replace them. He took his ground; he held it: he never wavered.
"Who will follow an uncertain trumpet?" the Bible says. Bruce was a certain trumpet, a banner aloft in the wind to which all honest persons could repair. I might not have agreed with him at all times, or he with me, but I deeply, deeply loved and respected him.
There was a man . . . Take him, as your example.
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Books by Bruce Evoy
Evoy, Marshall Bruce, ed. Eight One-Act Plays. Toronto: Dent, 1966.
Last modified: 5:36 PM 4/28/2002