Harold Ballard’s turbulent Leafs tenure: Jason Priestley digs deep in new film

Close to the top of the brand new documentary about Harold Ballard, a convicted felony who each owned and ruined the Maple Leafs, retired ahead Rick Vaive widens his eyes as he stares off-camera: “He ran it like a g–d—– circus.”

Ballard, who died in April 1990, wrested keep watch over of the franchise — in conjunction with its once-fabled house at 60 Carlton St. — following a sequence of internecine battles. He spewed racism and misogyny during the media, chased megastar avid gamers off the roster and inflicted harm that took many years for the workforce to fix.

With “Offside: The Harold Ballard Story,” Canadian director Jason Priestley, a veteran of each shinny and tv, makes a resounding argument that echoes of the overdue proprietor’s misdeeds can nonetheless be heard in an NHL town that has now not hosted a Stanley Cup parade since 1967. He additionally strives to be informed extra.

“A lot of people had done very brief stories on Ballard, but no one had ever tackled a feature-length documentary on a man whose story we felt was worth a deep dive,” Priestley stated right through a Zoom name with The Athletic on Wednesday. “The guy was such a larger-than-life character and was, in so many facets of his life, such a walking contradiction.

“He would say one thing and do something entirely different.”

The result’s an 87-minute exploration during the lens of archival video, audio and contemporary interviews with former avid gamers, executives and reporters who lined Ballard’s two-decade reign of error. The movie is about to debut on the Whistler Movie Pageant on Dec. 3 — it’s going to flow for a restricted time beginning Dec. 16 — and can debut on CBC/CBC Gem in January.

Outdated tales, some virtually too peculiar to consider, are resurfaced for the advantage of more youthful audience who don’t have residing reminiscence of Ballard’s tenure. He pulled a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II from the higher reaches of Maple Leaf Gardens to make room for extra seats, and thus extra income.

He resisted the NHL’s directive to incorporate names at the again of participant jerseys as a result of he believed it could have an effect on the gross sales of sport techniques within the area. (If enthusiasts may just evidently see the names at the again, he reasoned, they wouldn’t desire a checklist of names and corresponding numbers.)

When he relented, he simplest met the league phase approach to start with: Ensuring the names gave the impression at the participant’s again in the similar color because the jersey they have been dressed in, rendering them unreadable.

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He employed a ship mechanic he appreciated as workforce instructor. Overdue in his lifestyles, he moved into an condo within the Gardens, the place he would roam the halls in any respect hours, and dad up with out understand. He fired a trainer, then invited him to put on a paper bag on his head when he made a wonder go back to the bench.

“I don’t think he gave a shit about the team,” Vaive says at one level. “I think all he cared about was having people in the seats and making money. I don’t think he cared if we won a Stanley Cup or not.”

Ballard was once born of privilege, and after drifting via a sequence of ventures and maneuvers, he took complete keep watch over of the Leafs in 1972, which was once additionally the 12 months he was once sentenced to a few years in jail on fees of robbery and fraud. He was once launched a few 12 months later, telling a reporter: “Outside the humiliation and the disgrace, it wasn’t bad, because I had a pretty good time down there.”

In 1979, Ballard was once invited onto “As It Happens,” a well-liked CBC Radio display hosted by way of journalist Barbara Frum. The Leafs had strung in combination a few wins, however the proprietor was once virtually instantly belligerent.

“Females on the radio, they’re a joke,” he stated on air. “You know where they’re at their best, don’t you?”

When Frum asserted keep watch over of the dialog — it was once her display — Ballard snipped, “would you keep quiet,” and in the end hung up the telephone.

Priestley stated the filmmakers reached out to Ballard’s surviving circle of relatives. None authorised the invitation.

“We wanted them to be a part of it,” he stated, “and we wanted to hear their side of the story.”

He sought after to grasp, as an example, what it could were like rising up round Ballard.

“We didn’t want this movie to be a hatchet piece on Ballard,” stated Priestley. “I think that we were successful in showcasing all aspects of him, the good and the bad.”

Priestley, who could also be the documentary’s narrator, shapes a tale that means Ballard was once from time to time a lonely determine, particularly following the loss of life of his spouse, Dorothy, and his long-time pal, King Clancy. Ballard was once additionally famous for his quiet fortify of organizations such because the Particular Olympics.

“At the end of the day, he was a human being,” stated Priestley. “Of course, humans have their foibles and have areas in their lives where they’re lacking. We were trying to paint a more complete picture.”

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Michael Geddes, president of Lone Eagle Leisure, the Toronto-based manufacturing corporate that teamed up with the CBC for the venture, stated maximum interviews have been wrapped over the summer time of 2021, with stops in Toronto, Calgary and the USA.

Alan Eagleson, the disgraced former head of the NHL avid gamers’ union, who additionally lately gave the impression in a documentary in regards to the fiftieth anniversary of the Summit Collection, is without doubt one of the interviews incorporated within the Ballard venture. Nearly two dozen voices have been referred to as upon to explain how they considered Ballard.

Former Leafs defenceman Jim McKenny suggests Ballard’s concept of a public family members marketing campaign was once: “It’s my building, it’s the only building in town — if you don’t like it, f— off.”

“I think he was flipping a middle finger to people every day,” stated journalist Stephen Brunt.

“We’re always trying to find out ‘why,’” stated Geddes, the manufacturer. “What were his motivations to be so impulsive? Because he didn’t have this grand plan. Once he got control, I think he had something to prove and that it was he was the king of his own court.”

Priestley was once raised in Vancouver and become well-known in the USA as an actor, maximum particularly at the Nineties Fox TV display “Beverly Hills, 90210,” however he has evolved ties in Toronto through the years. In 2016, he was once inducted into Canada’s Stroll of Popularity along former Toronto captain Darryl Sittler, who could also be incorporated within the documentary.

Priestley could also be wrapping up paintings on an English-language Swedish biopic of former Leafs defenceman Borje Salming. Priestley performs former Leafs common supervisor Gerry McNamara (who could also be a part of the Ballard documentary).

He stated he has sympathy for Leafs enthusiasts, who’re within the grips of a 55-year championship drought fueled in its earliest days by way of an proprietor with a clearer need to win off the ice reasonably than on.

“We were trying to get to the bottom of why he was the way he was,” stated Priestley. “And part of that was showing these more positive aspects of his character. We were trying to get to the ‘why’ … why did he do all these strange things?”

(Nonetheless symbol of Harold Ballard from the documentary: Courtesy of Lone Eagle Leisure)

Printed by way of: theathletic.com

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