Mario Prizek

CBC producer/director broke sexual barriers


In the fall of 1970, having just moved to Canada from Boston, I was drinking beer in the crowded male-only backroom of the Parkside Tavern – one of the best and cruisiest gay bars of its day. An entourage led by a handsome man dressed in high boots and a long flared coat (similar to that worn by Alexander Wood on the statue at Church and Alexander streets) walked in.

“It’s Mario,” everyone around me whispered.

Mario Prizek was indeed an imposing figure. The well-known CBC producer and director died on Feb 5. He was 89.

Prizek was a man of taste and style who had a fashion sense that stood out in a sometimes-bland Toronto. The Globe and Mail once ran a photo essay on “The Prizek Look” that featured photos of Prizek in clothes he’d designed.

Prizek was as openly gay as one could be in the ‘50s and ‘60s, during the time of don’t ask, don’t tell at the CBC, where he rose to fame as the producer/director of many shows, including Eye Opener and Bamboula. Prizek produced and directed more than 60 dramatic productions at the CBC and Granada TV in the UK.

“Mario was brave and courageous,” says former CBC executive Richard Nielsen. “He had stylish, artistic sensibility, which he always carried in his persona, and he gave heart and comfort to those working at the CBC who were afraid to even hint at a gay orientation.”

Prizek was with the CBC from 1951 to 1985 and is probably best known for producing, directing and collaborating on many shows with pianist Glenn Gould, including the series Music in Our Times.

“Mario was functioning at a time when gays were only one part of a large group of people underrepresented in the media,” says Daniel Bazuin, former co-owner of This Aint the Rosedale Library bookshop and a long-time friend of Prizek. “Mario was a pioneer in many human rights struggles: racial, political, social and sexual.”

Bazuin says Prizek also helped break racial barriers when he produced The Eleanor Show, starring black singer Eleanor Collins, in 1955 in Vancouver.

Through the years, Prizek’s shows tackled difficult subjects, from nuclear proliferation to homosexuality. He also enjoyed avant-garde drama and highbrow shows about opera, ballet and the symphony.

Prizek was one of the earliest residents of the City Park complex on Alexander St, after he moved to Toronto from Vancouver in 1955.

He continued to live in City Park on and off for almost 50 years, leaving only in early 2008, when he moved to a Toronto nursing home.

 

A memorial celebration of Prizek’s life will be announced in the coming weeks.

Read More About:
Culture, Books, Power, News, Tech, Toronto

Keep Reading

J.D. Vance’s appointment is a big threat to bodily autonomy

OPINION: The Trump VP pick’s statements about LGBTQ2S+ issues and abortion raise serious red flags

Job discrimination against trans and non-binary people is alive and well

OPINION: A study reveals that we have a long way to go to reach workplace equality for trans and non-binary people

The new generation of gay Conservative sellouts

OPINION: Melissa Lantsman’s and Eric Duncan’s refusals to call out their party’s transphobia is a betrayal of the LGBTQ2S+ community

Over 300 anti-LGBTQ2S+ bills have been introduced this year. This doesn’t mean we should panic

OPINION: While it’s important to watch out for threats, not all threats are created equally. Some of these bills will die a natural death