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|Fri, 07-09-2010 - 8:10am|
Our next governor general inspired a character in Love Story
July 08, 2010
David Johnston, who's been named the next governor general of Canada, shown in 1963, when he was captain of the Harvard University hockey team. At Harvard he met teacher Erich Segal, who based a character in his novel Love Story on Johnston.
In the preface to Love Story — the 1970, um, love story by the late Erich Segal — is the standard disclaimer that it’s a work of fiction. Names, characters and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real life is “entirely coincidental.”
Not so with character Davey Johnston, captain of the Harvard hockey team, who plays on the same line as Oliver Barrett IV, a rich-kid law student who falls improbably in love with Jenny Cavilleri, a working class artsy type who improbably dies.
David Johnston, a kid from the Sault who will soon be Canada’s next governor general, was the captain of the Harvard Crimson hockey squad and knew Segal, who died in January at the age of 72.
Segal was a few years older than Johnston and was teaching at Harvard in the early ’60s when Johnston was there earning a Bachelor of Arts degree, which the Ivy League Boston school prefers to call an artium baccalaureus.
The author fashioned Oliver, the main character in the novel, from a little bit of Al Gore and a lot more of Tommy Lee Jones, two other Harvard types who went on to become a bit more famous than Johnston.
Segal himself became very famous for the book and the movie of the same name, which also came out in 1970 and starred Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw as the tragic lovers.
Segal’s daughter, Francesca Segal, said in an email to the Star that her father never mentioned the real-life Johnston to her. “I just checked with my mother, who doesn't remember hearing his name, either,” added Segal, who is a writer based in the U.K. “But I've no doubt that my father would wish him well — what an exciting appointment!”
Segal and Johnston, while not lifelong pals, were in the same dorm at Harvard and would go for runs together.
“He built (Love Story) around characters that we knew,” Johnston told The Sault Star in an interview after Segal’s death. “We had no idea that he, in fact, was writing his novel while we were living across from him and running with him at 6:30 in the morning along the banks of the Charles River. Life is filled with unusual things.”
Johnston, who played defence on the Harvard team, twice made the Ivy League Men’s Ice Hockey All-American team, first in 1962 and again the following year. In 1963, the Harvard squad topped the Eastern College Athletic Conference. In 1988 Johnston was made a member of the Harvard Athletic Hall of Fame.
While the book makes reference to Davey Johnston on five of its 187 pages, our next GG isn’t mentioned by name in the flick. Presumably he is there in spirit in the hockey scenes as one of the nameless players wearing the Crimson red.
In the book, we first meet Johnston during a game against Dartmouth’s “Green bastards,” as Oliver calls them.
“By the middle of the second period, we were beating Dartmouth 0-0,” wrote Segal. “That is, Davey Johnston and I were about to perforate their nets.”
With Jenny hollering, “Go, Oliver, go! Knock their heads off,” Oliver dishes a pass to Davey, and “Davey slapped it into the nets. Harvard score! In an instant we were hugging and kissing and back slapping and jumping up and down (on skates).”
Harvard wins but blows the final game of the season when Oliver gets a fighting major and the opposing team starts potting goals. We see Davey again skating past Oliver in the penalty box.
“Davey Johnston skated up-ice, red-faced, angry. He passed right by me without so much as a glance. And did I notice tears in his eyes? I mean, okay, the title was at stake, but Jesus — tears! But then Davey, our captain, had this incredible streak going for him: seven years and he’d never played on a losing side, high school or college. It was like a minor legend. And he was a senior. And this was our last tough game.”
For the record, the author took liberties on the tears stuff, Johnston said in his chat with The Sault Star.
“Total fiction,” he said.