From Old Hollywood to New Brunswick by Charles Foster

After reading this book (it only took a few hours; it is that fascinating and breezily written), I couldn’t help think of a quote from the Joseph Conrad novel The Rescue in which Edith Travers says to herself after Captain Tom Lingard has related all the imminent dangers of the island near where her yacht has grounded. She thinks: “Can all these things be possible? No – but they are true.”

The entire time I was reading this book I was in disbelief at all the things that figuratively fell into Mr. Foster’s lap over the years. Some I still find difficult to believe, like how he was responsible for the first meeting between JFK and Marilyn Monroe (and the crazy circumstances surrounding it).

Charles Foster who was born in England in 1923 and now lives in Moncton, New Brunswick attributes all of his adventures to “being in the right place at the right time” but I think there is more to it than that. Being in an RAF uniform amongst the civilian population of L.A. and New York during the WWII years certainly helped too. In addition, I get the impression that Mr. Foster has one of those “auras” (for lack of a better word) around him that make people instantly perceive him as someone trustworthy, honest and generally enjoyable to be around.

An RAF pilot in training in Canada, Mr. Foster encounters some health issues and after hospitalization, he is granted leave. Being under the watchful care of his flight instructor (a story in itself), he arranges to get to Hollywood, a place he always wanted to visit. There, he encounters many Canadians (Mary Pickford and Louis B. Mayer amongst them) who welcome their fellow countryman with open arms. Mr. Foster gets to not only tour the movie studios, but shares meals and parties with all of the major stars of the day: Errol Flynn, Greta Garbo and too many others to list. Then he gets invited to the Hearst mansion courtesy of Charlie Chaplin, which was no easy feat at the time. The gust list there includes W.C Fields, Greta Garbo, Henry Mankiewicz (who wrote the script for Citizen Kane) and others.

Another leave to New York has him encountering all the major big bands of the era (except for Duke Ellington’s; perhaps they were out of town at the time?). He even gets a private concert with the Jimmy Dorsey band because he showed up at the venue thinking it was open that night, only to find it closed. The entire band, exiting the theater after rehearsal, find Mr. Foster (in his RAF uniform) standing outside and inquire what he is doing there. After explaining his plight, Jimmy Dorsey orders the band back inside where they change into their performance attire and seat Mr. Foster front and center and play an entire hour for him.

See what I mean by incredible?

After the war, the decides to use all his many celebrity contacts to become a publicist in England, and this leads to many more sensational memories with persons such as Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Agatha Christie and others.

As I mentioned previously, I am still skeptical about some of the things
he relates, but I see no reason why they couldn’t be true.

So, are all things possible? Are they true? There’s no proof other than the author’s word.

This would be a great book for any fan of old Hollywood; there are several delectable anecdotes, including one about Marilyn Monroe that I found particularly amusing.

I would definitely like to read some of the other works by Mr. Foster such as Stardust and Shadows and Once Upon a Time in Paradise both about Canadians in early Hollywood.

From Old Hollywood to New Brunswick: Memories of a Wonderful Life

By author: Charles Foster
ISBN: 9781771080729
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing
Pages: 216
Product Format: PaperbackPrice: 
CAD $17.95