KELLY, Russell

Author Tags: Biography, Business

Russell Kelly was born in Toronto in 1949 and educated in England. He returned to Canada in 1967 and worked in radio news and current affairs for 13 years, mostly as an editor and reporter for the CBC in Halifax, Toronto and Edmonton. He came to Vancouver in 1982 and wrote the bestseller Pattison: Portrait of a Capitalist Superstar (New Star Books, 1986). Also a photographer, he worked at B.C. BookWorld in the mid-1990s. He died of cancer in 1997.

[BCBW 1992] "Biography" "Business"

Pattison, Portrait of a Capitalist Superstar

Call it a free trade agreement.

Lee Iacocca has given Jim Pattison an autographed copy of Iacocca, his bestselling autobiography. Now B.C.'s $1.4 billion man can repay the Chrysler king by autographing Jimmy, An Autobiography (Seal-Bantam $24.95), co-written with Paul Grescoe.

But far more important to Jimmy Pattison is the need to balance books with journalist Russell Kelly. Kelly's unauthorized 1986 paperback bestseller, Pattison, Portrait of a Capitalist Superstar (New Star, $5.95), according to Pattison's collaborator Grescoe is, "a hatchet-job, written mostly from news clippings. The facts are skewed and it makes Pattison out to be a complete ogre."

Rather than take Kelly to task for alleged inaccuracies and biased reporting, Pattison reluctantly agreed with the likes of prominent Toronto lawyer Julian Porter that the best defence against Kelly's book is a strong offense. A pervasive promotional campaign for Jimmy, An Autobiography, is being mounted from Toronto, complete with 60 second radio spots of Pattison in conversation.

"That's typical of Pattison," says Russell Kelly, "Rather than try to muzzle New Star, he'll do his own book. He knows that to say anything about my book in public would only raise the sales."

Pattison and Grescoe originally wanted their new book to be called You Gotta Wanna, a characteristic Pattison expression, but Toronto vetoed the notion, saying its book-buying business community might be put off. Clearly there are hopes that Jimmy, An Autobiography can take off as the Canadian equivalent to Iacocca's memoirs.

When finally agreeing to do the book, Pattison asked Grescoe how much time Iacocca's ghostwriter had spent with Iacocca to produce his bestseller (50 hours). Pattison wanted the same treatment.

Grescoe, a self-described 'small l liberal' and one of Canada's top freelance journalists, says his 'somewhat warts n' all' portrait of Pattison is full of surprises. "Jimmy said to me, 'I don't care what we say in the book it's got to be accurate.'" As a result Jimmy, An Autobiography does contain some unflattering anecdotes, some interviews with Pattison's adversaries, plus Pattison's own rationales for distributing allegedly pornographic magazines and his defense of his continued practice of firing his least productive employees.

Pattison did not wish to publicize his extensive philanthropy and tithing, says Grescoe, on the grounds that, "True giving, you don't talk about." The book discusses faith healing, a friendship with Oral Roberts, Saskatchewan during the Depression, car selling in the 50's, family life, trumpet playing on Skid Row, capitalism and much more. At the request of the publishers, it all opens with a chapter about Expo 86.

Meanwhile New Star Books of Vancouver, with the help of its wholesale distributor VanMag, will be pushing Kelly's book on Pattison, primarily an investigation of Pattison's business empire. (VanMag of Richmond is the only major competitor of Mainland Magazine, the province's other major book wholesaling and magazine distributor which is owned by Pattison.) Russell Kelly's book has sold over 22,000 in four printings. Approximately 90% of those sales have been in B.C.

"I'm looking forward to reading Grescoe's book," says Kelly, "I look forward to it the same way we might look forward to an autobiography by someone like Gorbachev. It won't contain all there is to know about Pattison but it is sure to be interesting. Under the circumstances it's bound to reveal more than I could do."

[BCBW Spring 1987]