Ottawa Citizen

NAC’s keeper of memories retires

Gerry Grace amassed thousands of performanc­e keepsakes in his 32 years at the National Arts Centre, 20 of them as the NAC’s archivist, writes. TONY LOFARO

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Gerry Grace remembers the night when a screen legend caused a stir on the stage of the National Arts Centre.

It was no less than Marlene Dietrich, shortly after the NAC opened in June 1969, says Grace, who retires this week as the NAC’s archivist.

“She stopped her show several times to admonish people who were taking photos of her during her performanc­e,” he says in an interview in the archives — known as Graceland — deep in the bowels of the NAC. One treasured item in the archives is a signed telegram from Dietrich to David Haber, the NAC’s former director of programmin­g. The telegram simply reads, “All my thanks, Marlene.”

Mr. Grace retires after 32 years at the NAC, 20 as the keeper of a vast collection of posters, photos, costumes and programs.

“It’s been a fantastic job,” he says, and one he worked his way up to after starting in the NAC mailroom. The archives are certainly full of celebrity moments. An autographe­d photo of Richard Nixon is dated April 14, 1972. The U.S. president was in the company of then prime minister Pierre Trudeau for a performanc­e by the NAC Orchestra.

“There was quite a to-do that the president always had to be in touch with the White House and a direct link to Washington had to be set up at the insistence of the U.S. Secret Service,” Mr. Grace recalls. “We installed a special phone linkup in a room off the NAC Salon for the time Nixon was watching the performanc­e. We had to rip it up afterwards; we still call it the ‘Nixon Room.’ ”

In January 1970, Mr. Trudeau came with his date, Barbra Streisand, which, needless to say, caught the attention of the audience gathered for a performanc­e by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. “She wore an eye-catching white fur hat,” Mr. Grace says.

Ms. Streisand’s surprise appearance overshadow­ed the presence of American choreograp­her Agnes DeMille, who was there to see the performanc­e of her work Fall River Legend.

Other meetings were more tense, Mr. Grace says. New York producer Joseph Papp came to the NAC in 1975 and “really upset the apple cart.

“One of the first things he said was how much he disliked the building and how much he disliked huge performing arts complexes,” Mr. Grace says.

Hamilton Southam, the first director-general of the NAC, rose to the building’s defence and declared it one of Canada’s pre-eminent cultural institutio­ns, Mr. Grace says.

 ?? PHOTOS BY WAYNE CUDDINGTON,THE OTTAWA CITIZEN ?? Retiring NAC archivist Gerry Grace shows off a model of Henry Bardon’s design for Cinderella's carriage, built in 1979 for the opera Cendrillon. It’s one of his favourite pieces from the collection of memorabili­a kept in the National Arts Centre’s...
PHOTOS BY WAYNE CUDDINGTON,THE OTTAWA CITIZEN Retiring NAC archivist Gerry Grace shows off a model of Henry Bardon’s design for Cinderella's carriage, built in 1979 for the opera Cendrillon. It’s one of his favourite pieces from the collection of memorabili­a kept in the National Arts Centre’s...
 ??  ?? A Nana Mouskouri program is among many saved.
A Nana Mouskouri program is among many saved.
 ??  ?? This poster was used to promote the film The Grey Fox.
This poster was used to promote the film The Grey Fox.
 ??  ?? Brian Mulroney mask used in the Legend of the Avro Arrow
Brian Mulroney mask used in the Legend of the Avro Arrow
 ??  ?? Costume from play L’Année de la Grosse Tempête.
Costume from play L’Année de la Grosse Tempête.

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