TIFF SPECIAL: Dressing daggers, part 2

Story by Leanne Delap, one of Toronto’s top writers (fashion or otherwise), who will be covering all the glitz, glamour and Glowerers for The Style Notebook during TIFF. Today: Celebrating the inimitable Jeanne Beker.

As of today, our televisions are peopled by a shiny perky army of celebrity presenters, chirpily presenting celebrities. I often can’t tell them apart, so pleasant, nondescript—well, nice looking—and even of tone are they.

They all follow in the footsteps of, and don’t hold a candle to, the woman who is our real cultural ambassador, the woman who introduces us to famous people and us to them: Jeanne Beker. Who is darn well tremendous looking, just not in that talking head kind of a way.

And though I’m a newbie to this spontaneous medium, I hope there is room between the ventilating and the fanning for some old-fashioned earnest appreciation. For I have tremendous admiration of and respect for Jeanne Beker, the hardest working woman in the business. She has been on-air since 1985, first at New Music where she belied the mold of bubbleheaded VJ with her feisty personality and gravitas. Yes, I said gravitas. Call her questions air-balls, call her fawning and you would be missing the target by a mile.

Jeanne has helmed FT for a quarter decade, along with innumerable newspaper, magazine and radio gigs, a relentless schedule of hosting duties at charitable events where she is unfailingly gracious no matter how tired a (divorced) single mum she ever was. Then there are the TV specials, shifts filling in on the anchor desk, and a stint filing for MovieTelevision—not to mention her tireless support of the Canadian fashion industry. Others dazzled by the lights of Milan and New York have forgotten their homeland; never Jeanne.

The great thing about Jeanne is that her voice—the pitch, the sway, how she does voice-over—is how she talks and how she writes. It is why she clicks: There is a through-and-through authenticity to her style. Watch other hosts, they follow a time-honoured formula of erasing their own personality. Their goal is to make it look easy.

Jeanne’s art is that you see the brass tacks. She hustles, she pushes her way through the throng. That is fashion! She fits!

And what she does is damned hard: Even as the senior vet among the television crews of the world, even beloved by all the players, she phones nothing in. Look, I’ve interviewed Karl Lagerfeld, to use the most extreme example in the business, and he makes you sweat blood. The famously taciturn Tuton breaks into a beam with Ms. Beker.

Work ethic is in short supply in our world. Re-reading this morning the devastating section of Jeanne’s autobiography, Jeanne Unbottled, about how her parents survived the Holocaust—a tale she tells with characteristic lack of varnish—I can’t shake the thought of where all that drive comes from.

I’ve known Jeanne for much of those 25 years, with a few periods where our paths crossed more frequently. She took me under her wing my first season in Italy, inviting me to dinner with ex-pat Canadians Dean and Dan at a restaurant that left me most agog. I’ve edited her at the Globe, where she cared more, was more enthusiastic and prompt and detail oriented than anyone I’d met. She wrote about people in her life, and readers responded to the intimate glimpses she offered there. We also go to the same hairdresser—she has Gregory Parvetan, I have Pino Spadafora, both at Rapunzel, which is a very Jeanne place. Warm, loyal, good quality: I haven’t been able to leave Pino for nearly two decades now, and I know Gregory has created Jeanne’s trademark brunette locks for longer than that.

But it is something she told me very early on that helped me most with my career, and with balancing it with motherhood. I saw her struggling for a cab to the airport just before the big show of the week that night. She looked sheepish and said simply: “It’s Halloween. I’m not missing it with my girls.”

And finally, I am quite certain that in an industry of stabbers, I have never heard an unkind word about a colleague or someone she was covering come out of her mouth.

A rare jewel indeed.

Below, Jeanne with Ivan Fecan, the president and CEO of CTVglobemedia, and FT co-creator Jay Levine.

Want more TIFF 2010? Read Leanne Delap’s first TIFF column, and check out our picks for the fest’s hottest parties. Torontoist’s complete coverage of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is all right here.

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