famous faux: commemorating rocket richard’s 500

As It Happened: On the ice in 1957, Maurice Richard scored his 500th NHL goal with a slapshot, from 15 feet out, but by the time he and Chicago goaltender Glenn Hall were immortalized in wax in 1965, the Rocket had migrated into Hall’s crease.

The building was in a bedlam the moment the red light flashed. The crowd stood up, clapping hands and roaring acclaim. Programs were showered don on the ice. The Rocket’s teammates on the bench dropped sticks and gloves and stood up an applauded. The organ played “Il A Gagne Ses Epaulettes.” The Rocket himself leaped high in the air and landed on Jean Béliveau, who had fed him the pass that set up the goal.

* Dink Carroll, The Gazette, October 21, 1957

It was on a Saturday of this date in 1957 that Maurice Richard became the first player in NHL history to score 500 goals. The Chicago Black Hawks were in at the Montreal Forum that night, and the rink was packed with 14, 405 fans, as the biggest — and most expectant — crowd of the young season awaited the Rocket’s record-breaking goal.

Fifteen minutes and 52 seconds into the first period was when Dickie Moore passed to Béliveau’s at the side of the Chicago net and he found Richard in the slot, about 15 feet out. The Rocket beat Chicago goaltender Glenn Hall with a slapshot; Carroll said it whizzed. Once the bedlam subsided, Montreal went on to beat Chicago 3-1.

“That mark of 500 threatens to stand up as long as the Babe’s record of 60 home runs in a single season,” Carroll would venture in his Gazettedispatch. Ruth’s monument was, by then, 30 years old, and had another four years to run before Roger Maris got around to hitting his 61. Carroll was just a little off: Gordie Howe scored his 500th NHL in March of 1962,  just over six months after Maris did his record-breaking deed.

Still, Richard was first, and for that — and because he was the Rocket, and this was Montreal — one of his rewards was to be immortalized in wax. This was later, 1965, when Tussaud’s Ville Marie Wax Museum opened at the downtown corner of Ste. Catherine West and Drummond, 12 blocks or so from the Forum. Glenn Hall was rewarded, too, as a supporting actor, though for him it may have felt more like penance, all the more so if he ever saw the display, above, as it would later appear to paying customers.

Richard himself dropped by the Museum before it opened to check himself out. He’d donated the uniform and skates his doppelganger; I don’t know where Hall’s gear came from. Fashioned in London from photographs by Josephine Tussaud, a descendant of the original Madame, waxy Richard got some final adjustments before meeting the public. Joining him and Hall  in the museum were scenes featuring an array of the faux and famous, including  Abraham Lincoln (at his assassination), Jesus (partaking of the Last Supper), Joan of Arc (at the stake), and Brigitte Bardot (just out of the shower).

Model Citizen: Another, modern-day waxen Richard, this one from the Musée Grévin Montréal, in the Centre Eaton in the city’s downtown, wherein an ersatz Guy Lafleur, Mario Lemieux, and Sidney Crosby keep company with Jacques Cartier, Céline Dion, and David Bowie.

how I spent my summer vacation: ching johnson

Oil Change: In the summer of 1930, Ching Johnson (right) repaired to California to work in the oilfields he owned in Inglewood, near Los Angeles. That’s his father looking on; Johnson is busy (and I quote) “hoisting out a stop block on a drilling table.”

Ching Johnson began the 1929-30 NHL season, his fourth as a defenceman with the New York Rangers, refusing to man the blueline. It was the old story, and the newer one, too: the man who was gaining more and more reputation as one of the game’s best and hardest-hitting defencemen wanted more money. High praise for hockey players was often expressed in the United States in ballpark terms: along with Boston’s Eddie Shore, Johnson was in those years often touted as a hockey Babe Ruth.

When the Rangers’ president, Colonel John Hammond, mailed Johnson a contract to sign in the summer of 1929, it took a while to find him. With the season set to open early in November, late October came on without any word back from Johnson, and that launched a rumour that he was giving up hockey at the age of 31. Rangers’ manager Lester Patrick had the rest of his team training in Springfield, Massachusetts, and he said he’d make do without Johnson on defence — he was thinking about dropping Bill Cook back to help on defence.

Johnson’s mail finally found him in Minneapolis. He wrote Colonel Hammond to say that he wasn’t ignoring him, but he was negotiating. I don’t know how much Johnson was making before, but word that fall was that he wanted $8,500 a season. Hammond was offering $7,500. Either way, he’d be getting less that half what Shore, the NHL’s best-paid player, was taking in. When Johnson got to New York early in November, he and Hammond met and dickered and parted ways on the understanding they’d meet again.

A rumour had the Rangers trading him, possibly to the Montreal Maroons. Then, next, the retirement story was back, substantiated this time by the principals themselves.

“Ching demands a salary beyond anything we can pay,” Colonel Hammond lamented. “We have removed him from our plans for this season.”

For his part, Johnson said he was just as happy devoting himself to the oilfields he’d recently bought out in California.

Within a few days, though, the two men had hammered out a deal. Johnson’s new contract was three years. One “authentic” report said he’d settled for $10,000 a year; big, if true.

Johnson didn’t skate in New York’s opening game in Montreal against the Maroons. For his debut a few days later, he did play 68 of 70 minutes in a 5-5 overtime tie with the Detroit Cougars, resting only to serve a minor penalty.

The following February, a crash involving Boston’s Dit Clapper broke Johnson’s jaw in three places. He was out of action for a month; when he returned it was with a custom-rigged leather jaw protector that one wag said gave him a certain Abraham Lincoln air.

After Montreal’s Canadiens ousted New York from the playoffs in 1930, Johnson headed for his California oil patch, in Inglewood, where he also seems to have owned fruit farm. It was October again when he motored north for another season of hockey with New York. Lester Patrick convened his training camp in Toronto this time, centred on the west-end rink at Ravina Gardens. By the time it broke in early November, Patrick was thinking Johnson and Leo Bourgeault would serve as the Rangers’ frontline defensive tandem.

A little while later, Harold Burr of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle caught up with Johnson as the Rangers arrived at New York’s Penn Station en route to Philadelphia to open the season against the newly minted Quakers. Johnson looked “very fit and cool in a blue suit, gray soft hat and no overcoat.”

Johnson took off some 37 pounds during the summer and is down to 200 pounds, just a nifty weight for a defense man.

“I didn’t eat,” said Johnson, explaining the phenomenon.

Ching, once a cook in a lumber camp as a vacation lark, is said to like his chow reasonably well. He didn’t go on a diet because his broken jaw hurt when he started the mastication of a beefsteak, but to get into hockey trim. The jaw, broken in the service of Colonel Hammond last winter, hasn’t given him any trouble. Perhaps the California sunshine did it.

waxworked

waxhead rocket

Waxen-Rocket Richard was 15 pounds lighter than the real article, and he didn’t have enough hair.

That’s what the flesh-and-blood Richard noticed when he showed up, above, in March of 1965 to visit his doppelgänger at Montreal’s new Ville Marie Wax Museum a month before it opened.

“It scares me a little,” said the Rocket and, well, yes. I mean, the man’s head was working independent from its facsimile body — they hadn’t attached the two yet — plus Richard found that the birthmark on his actual chin had migrated on his double to the cheek.

Fortunately, artists named Winifred Mills and Margaret Brooks were on hand in Montreal to correct the errors. They worked for Madame Tussauds in London, the famous waxworks, which had decided that the time had come to open up a franchise in Montreal. Richard’s display commemorated the occasion of his 500th NHL goal, scored on Chicago’s Glenn Hall on October 19th, 1957. Others featured Abraham Lincoln (his assassination), Jesus (the Last Supper), Joan of Arc (at the stake), and Brigitte Bardot (taking a shower).

Richard was in a good mood. He noticed that many of the famous women, Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor as well as Bardot and Arc, had yet to be dressed. “They’d be embarrassed,” he said. Looking himself in the eye, he added, “I lost my head a few times in the NHL. Maybe I could have used this one for a spare.”

It had been crafted in England, from photographs. In Montreal, Mses. Mills and Brooks took the opportunity of meeting the real-Rocket to add more hair to the dummy, and to relocate the birthmark chinward. Local newspapermen noted that in wax, the Rocket maintained his NHL playing weight, 185 pounds, rather than 200 he was currently carrying as a former NHLer. The uniform he’d be wearing in the museum, equipment and skates, too, were authentic enough: the man himself had donated the garb he’d been wearing the year he’d retired from the Canadiens in 1960.

Is it worth adding what people stole once the wax museum opened? I’m not sure; probably not. But just in case: Christ’s sandals often went missing, along with Lee Harvey Oswald’s handcuffs (he was in there, too) and (regularly) the towel that Bardot was wearing in the shower.

And in 1968, Bardot herself disappeared. Curator Blake Lilly was stunned; towels were one thing, but “to lose the whole thing,” he said, “is unbelievable.” He called the police and posted a $100 reward leading to Bardot’s return.

“The thing’s worth at least $2,000,” Lilly told Montreal’s Gazette, “if you consider shipping costs from England and customs duties.”

The culprits were soon revealed: students from the University of Montreal had, it turned out, kidnapped her. It was carnival time in Montreal, and students were out competitively swiping stuff for pranks. That same day they also absconded with one of the Canadian Army’s armoured cars; a cow named Judy LaVache; and the Lieutenant-Governor’s throne from Quebec’s Legislative Assembly.

(Top image: David Bier)