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Opportunity Is South : Canadians: They're All Over the U.S.

July 18, 1986|KENNETH FREED | Times Staff Writer

TORONTO — For years, some nationalistic Canadians have been complaining that American culture dominates their lives, the movies and television programs they watch, the books they read, even the consumer products available in their supermarkets.

But, now, it is becoming clear that Canada is exacting its revenge. Canadians and Canadian culture seem to be leading a counterassault on the United States.

The office building you work in may well be Canadian-designed or Canadian-financed. The drink you have on the way home could well be distilled in Canada. The man anchoring the evening news on television is likely to have come from Canada. And if you go out to a movie theater or watch a TV sitcom, a lot of the people you see are likely to be Canadians.

Everyday Influence

It may not always be possible to identify the Canadians, for they look like Americans and sound pretty much like Americans. But, suddenly, Canadians are everywhere. In show business and just plain business, Canadians now influence everyday American life to a far greater extent than the people of any other country.

"I doubt that you can find any other example where a society has been as penetrated as much as the United States has by Canada," said Norman Snider, a political and cultural commentator in Toronto. "For whatever reasons--a common language, shared values and views, even a failure of Americans to see us as aliens--Canadians are able to cross the border more easily than anyone else and win acceptance."

Anyone with doubts should consider Michael J. Fox, the young star of the television show "Family Ties" and the movie "Back to the Future." A Canadian. How about Howie Mandel in NBC-TV's "St. Elsewhere"? Or are you a Trekkie devoted to William Shatner as Capt. James Kirk? They're both Canadians, and testimony to the growing Canadian influence.

Lincoln's Image

Even the image Americans have of some of their great leaders is the product of this country of only 25 million people. The late actor Raymond Massey may have been the ideal Abraham Lincoln, but he was born in Toronto. And the man who played President Woodrow Wilson on the screen was Alexander Knox, another Canadian.

If you are a trivia fan, your passion may be "Trivial Pursuit," the creation of two Montreal reporters, Chris Haney and Scott Abbott.

In fact, the Canadian connection may start in the cradle and keep you from the grave, at least for a time. Pablum is a Canadian creation, and the life expectancy of many Americans has been increased because of a Canadian doctor, Frederick Banting, the developer of insulin.

Why do they head south to make their names, all these Canadians? Largely for the same reasons that Henry Fonda, Johnny Carson and dozens of others left the Midwest for New York and Los Angeles: the opportunity to display their talents and to make some money.

Mandel, a Toronto native and veteran of the long-running "St. Elsewhere," said in a telephone interview: "I'd love to work in Canada, but they don't ask me to do anything. My first job with the Canadian Broadcast Corp. was this year.

"You don't get international exposure (in Canada). Here in Los Angeles, I can go somewhere 15 minutes from my house and do something and I'll be seen all over the world."

If that is true now, it was doubly so when actor Lorne Greene went south in 1954, after a radio and theater career that had made him one of the best-known Canadian actors--in Canada.

"There were many performers who honed their talent and perfected it in Canada," Greene, who played the stern but fair American pioneer, Ben Cartwright, in the long-running Western "Bonanza," said by phone from his home in Los Angeles. "But they just couldn't get as much work as they would like. Art is worldwide. If people have to go to Hollywood or Timbuktu to practice their art, they'll do it. Of course, they might not get paid as well in Timbuktu."

'The Big Ocean'

In Greene's case, he said, "I was a fish and this was the big ocean and I had to find out if I could swim in it." According to Snider, Canadians do exceptionally well in the United States because they are often the top of the line in their fields.

"You get our best people, because the best need a large scope to work in, and they find that in the States and not in Canada," he said. "Also, Americans are a competitive people and they appreciate good work and success, no matter where it comes from. It also helps that Canadians are so apparently like you (Americans) that they aren't seen as threateningly different."

They get no special break, though, from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, except that as tourists they may cross the border freely, without having to show any documents whatever. The quota for immigrant visas is the same as for most other countries, 20,000 a year.

No Green Card Quotas

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