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Findley, Timothy (1930-2002)  
 
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Award-winning Canadian writer Timothy Findley produced works in a number of genres, including plays, novels, and short stories. While his works are impossible to pigeon-hole, they often examine the nature of power in society and the struggle of people to understand and achieve what is right.

Timothy Irving Frederick Findley--"Tiff" to his friends--was born into a prosperous Toronto family on October 30, 1930 and grew up in the fashionable Rosedale section of the city. His father was the first person outside of the founding families to head the Massey-Ferguson company. His mother's family had a piano factory.

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Although Findley grew up in a privileged environment, his childhood was far from happy. Under the influence of alcohol his father frequently terrorized Findley's mother and older brother. Findley himself generally escaped his wrath, but, in the words of journalist Alec Scott, "vicarious scar tissue developed nonetheless" in the sensitive young boy.

Findley suffered from poor health as a child. He nearly died of pneumonia in his second year, and shortly thereafter he was confined to an oxygen tent due to complications of an ear infection.

Findley was a bookish youth who loved creating his own worlds of make-believe. He was not, however, a particularly avid student. He dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen in order to study ballet.

A fused disc put an end to Findley's hopes of a career in dance, and he turned to acting. When he won a small role in Shakespeare's Richard III at the inaugural season of the Stratford (Ontario) Shakespeare Festival in 1953, he met Alec Guinness. Impressed by young Findley's potential, Guinness coached him for his performance and then sponsored his further training at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

Findley was soon appearing in productions in the city's West End, including Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker (1954). The show starred Ruth Gordon, to whom Findley showed a short story that he had written. She shared the story with Wilder, who urged Findley to try his hand at playwriting. Although Wilder did not consider Findley's first attempt a success, he nevertheless encouraged him, saying, "I do not mince words, but neither do I mince writers. You are a writer."

After a brief stint in Hollywood, where he attempted unsuccessfully to become a screenwriter, Findley returned to Canada in 1958, where he worked on his writing but also continued to act in order to make his living. While he was appearing in a drama for the CBC television network he met an actress named Janet Reid, whom he married in 1958.

The union was a disaster and ended after only three months. During the divorce proceedings Findley, who had never hidden his homosexuality, suffered humiliating treatment from his wife's attorney and from the judge. The former demanded that his genitals be examined to determine if he was "normal," and the latter flippantly told him, "You don't know what you're missing."

An encounter during another CBC production had a much happier ending after Findley met writer/producer William Whitehead in 1961. A week later, Findley recounted in a 2002 interview, "Bill invited me over to his place to watch television, and I never left." The two remained devoted companions until Findley's death.

Whitehead provided much-needed stability for Findley, who had developed a serious alcohol addiction. Whitehead helped him overcome it and also gave him the security to devote himself to writing full-time. In addition, Whitehead typed all of Findley's handwritten manuscripts.

The couple--and their menagerie of dozens of cats and several dogs--lived for over three decades on a farm called Stone Orchard in Cannington, Ontario before moving to Stratford in the early 1990s. Around the same time they bought a house in Provence and thereafter split their time between the two residences.

When asked in a 2000 interview if he and Whitehead had created the perfect marriage, Findley replied, "If such a thing exists, I think we've done it. Because it's in our equal determination to persist and not give up on the negatives--my drinking, the occasional dabble with another person on his part . . . . The basic love is so absolute, there would be no life without him as far as I'm concerned."

With the freedom to spend his time writing, Findley authored two novels in the late 1960s, The Land of the Crazy People (1967) and The Butterfly Plague (1969). Although the books received some favorable reviews, they were not aggressively marketed, and sales were modest. Findley continued to write scripts, some in collaboration with Whitehead, for CBC television.

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