Frank Shuster (1916-2002)

Year Born: 
1916
Year Died: 
2002

Pioneer

Shuster, Frank (1916-2002)

For 50 years he was one half of a team, with Johnny Wayne, that dominated the comedy scene in Canada, with a record of 67 appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and a long career at the CBC.

Frank Shuster was born in Toronto, the son of a movie projectionist: he once boasted that he learned to read off movie screens. He watched the comic art of Charlie Chaplin at Toronto's Pickford Theatre, where his father worked. He teamed up with Johnny Wayne, son of a Spadina Avenue garment manufacturer, to write, produce and perform comedy shows at Harbord Collegiate, the University of Toronto and later, overseas while in the Canadian Army during the Second World War.

Originally billed as Shuster and Wayne when they landed their first radio program - Wife Preservers, on CFRB, in 1941 - the advertising agency felt that Wayne and Shuster rolled off the tongue more easily. Neither thought the order was important. So the reverse billing remained for the rest of their career.

Known for their highly literate satire, both comedians earned degrees in English literature and were working on postgraduate degrees when the war intervened.

The first Wayne and Shuster television show debuted in New York in 1950 on CBS. At the time, they were doing a popular CBC radio series, which began in 1946. But Frank Shuster's most important work with Johnny Wayne was a long and creative career with the CBC. Their first television special aired in October of 1957 and they continued to produce a regular series until Wayne died in 1990. Host Ed Sullivan had so much respect for their comedy that they were the most frequent guests on his U.S. Sunday night CBS variety show, being invited to appear 58 times.

In a 1992 interview Shuster said, "The basis of our humor is Canadian. Our strength is we are Canadian. We find that the thing that unites Canadians everywhere is that they all detest Toronto!"

After Johnny's death, the CBC asked Frank to edit their library of Wayne and Shuster specials into a series of comedy half-hours, which continued to delight Canadian audiences well into the 21st Century.

Source material: Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, TV North by Peter Kentner.

Written by Pip Wedge - June, 2004

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