Known for hav­ing been in­ci­sive, fear­less and fair

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - News - – BAR­BARA SIL­VER­STEIN

In March of this year, CBC Ra­dio re­broad­cast a 40-year-old episode of As It Hap­pens, a nightly news show that has been run­ning for al­most 50 years.

The episode that day aired an in­ter­view that took place in March 1977 be­tween the show’s iconic co-host, the late Bar­bara Frum, and a gun­man who had taken 11 peo­ple hostage at a Toronto bank.

Frum called the gun­man as the sit­u­a­tion was un­fold­ing. She kept him calm, ask­ing him what he wanted and why. He even let her speak to a hostage. Later, she con­nected the gun­man to a po­lice of­fi­cer and their con­ver­sa­tion was also heard live.

It was a grip­ping piece of ra­dio or­ches­trated by a jour­nal­ist who was known for be­ing in­ci­sive, fear­less and fair. Frum was not able to get the gun­man to re­lin­quish the hostages that night, but the whole mat­ter was peace­fully re­solved the next day.

That broad­cast was one of Frum’s many leg­endary in­ter­views that gar­nered her fans across the coun­try.

From 1971 un­til 1981, she was the co­host of As It Hap­pens. Her cu­rios­ity, her pi­o­neer­ing in­ter­view­ing style, her em­pa­thy and hu­mour made her a house­hold name across Canada.

In 1982, Frum be­came the found­ing co-host of The Jour­nal, CBC Tele­vi­sion’s flag­ship cur­rent af­fairs show. A year later, Frum was the show’s sole host, a job she held un­til her death from com­pli­ca­tions with leukemia in 1992.

Frum, nee Bar­bara Ros­berg, was born in 1937 in Ni­a­gara Falls, N.Y. She was the old­est of Harold Ros­berg and Florence Hirschowitz Ros­berg’s three chil­dren.

Frum grew up across the river in Ni­a­gara Falls, Ont., where her fa­ther owned Ros­berg’s Depart­ment Store.

She stud­ied his­tory at the Univer­sity of Toronto. At the age of 19, she mar­ried Toronto den­tist Mur­ray Frum, who later be­came a real es­tate de­vel­oper. The cou­ple had three chil­dren: David, Linda and Matthew.

David Frum, who is based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., is an au­thor, writer, and well-known con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor. He is also a se­nior edi­tor at the At­lantic.

Linda Frum is also an au­thor and jour­nal­ist. She has been a Con­ser­va­tive mem­ber of the Se­nate of Canada since 2009.

Matthew Frum, an abo­rig­i­nal child, was adopted by the Frums. He later re­con­nected with his birth par­ents.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Univer­sity of Toronto, Frum started out as a print jour­nal­ist, writ­ing for such pub­li­ca­tions as the Globe & Mail, Toronto Star and Satur­day Night. She joined the CBC in 1971. As It Hap­pens ba­si­cally con­sisted of in­ter­views con­ducted on the phone with newsmakers and other per­sons of in­ter­est.

Frum had many mem­o­rable in­ter­views. In 1975, Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme, a Charles Manson fol­lower and eco-ter­ror­ist, was ar­rested af­ter a failed as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on then-u.s. pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford.

Af­ter Fromme’s ar­rest, Frum had what she de­scribed as a very up­set­ting in­ter­view with Fromme’s room­mate, San­dra Good.

But there were many con­ver­sa­tions with lev­ity, as well. Frum in­ter­viewed Cookie Mon­ster of Se­same Street fame and she had a mem­o­rable phone call with a cab­bage farmer in Eng­land who was very hard of hear­ing. His re­sponses to Frum’s ques­tions were ap­par­ently so in­co­her­ent that by the end of the call, she was shout­ing her ques­tions.

The for­mat of The Jour­nal, an hour-long, news mag­a­zine, in­cluded field re­ports, short doc­u­men­taries, public fo­rums, de­bates, busi­ness, sports, and arts and sci­ence news, but the cen­tre­piece of the show was Frum’s air­time.

Her in­ter­views with such dig­ni­taries as Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher, South African pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela and celebri­ties like Paul Mccart­ney and Shirley Ma­claine at­tracted many view­ers. The nightly pro­gram be­came one of the most pop­u­lar Cana­dian tele­vi­sion shows.

Frum was a Cana­dian orig­i­nal and a na­tional celebrity. In fact, Cana­dian Se­same Street cre­ated a Mup­pet in her im­age, named Bar­bara Plum. She was the news an­chor of the show, The Note­book.

Frum also had a part in the Cana­dian an­i­mated se­ries, The Ra­coons. She played a re­porter named Bar­bara Lafrum.

She was of­ten par­o­died on the tele­vi­sion se­ries, CODCO. Ac­tor Greg Malone reg­u­larly im­per­son­ated her. She and Malone, who ap­peared in drag as Frum, even pre­sented a Gemini Award to­gether.

Frum was di­ag­nosed with leukemia in 1974, but only a small cir­cle of close fam­ily and friends knew about her ill­ness. Con­se­quently, her death in 1992 was a big shock to the na­tion. She was only 54 when she died.

Frum was a Cana­dian orig­i­nal and a na­tional celebrity.

She was such a beloved na­tional fig­ure that her fu­neral was ac­tu­ally broad­cast on CBC tele­vi­sion. There were also tele­vi­sion and ra­dio ret­ro­spec­tives on her life.

Frum was given many hon­ours dur­ing her life­time and posthu­mously. She re­ceived four Al­liance of Cana­dian Cin­ema, Tele­vi­sion and Ra­dio Artists Awards, she won the Na­tional Press Club of Canada Award for Out­stand­ing Con­tri­bu­tion to Cana­dian Jour­nal­ism in 1975 and she was named to the Or­der of Canada in 1979.

When CBC moved into its cur­rent broad­cast­ing fa­cil­ity on Front Street in Toronto, the cor­po­ra­tion named the atrium of the build­ing af­ter Frum. Her im­age was also in the fore­ground of a Cana­dian stamp that hon­oured the CBC in 1999.

A Toronto Public Li­brary branch in a pre­dom­i­nantly Jewish neigh­bour­hood was named the Bar­bara Frum Li­brary. Her hus­band do­nated funds so that the li­brary at 20 Cov­ing­ton Rd. could be named in hon­our of his late wife.


Bar­bara Frum on As It Hap­pens.

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