Ever wonder how a backwater Ontario boy could come to the big city and attain success beyond his wildest dreams? Imagine, if you will, a tale of high-octane ambition and personal triumph, grounded in bone-deep street smarts learned while tilling the soil. Well, I’m sure that story’s out there somewhere awaiting your reading pleasure. But not here. A rural Ontario childhood was neither as stimulating nor educational as you might think.
My new book, PROMISED LANDS Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ‘60s, contains a different kind of tale. Predictable story elements are all there: bizarre characters, sex and drugs in exotic settings, a backdrop of violence and the threat of war – but none of that good stuff happened till I left home for distant lands.
My father was a small-town businessman who died when I was seven. My mother was a high school teacher, and the community that became our home exemplified many of the virtues of small town life. But Kingsville, Ontario, was also a racist, Christian fundamentalist enclave that had much in common with America’s deep south. Some twenty years after Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of an Alabama bus, Kingsville’s Epworth United Church still held an annual minstrel show, with white men in “comic’ blackface. As kids, we were told that no black people were allowed to stay in town over night. Kingsville girls who got pregnant outside wedlock just disappeared! I was kicked out of high school for reading books that were on secondary school curricula all over the western world. At a time when the Vietnam anti-war movement was gaining momentum on streets and campuses across North America and Europe, Kingsville high school featured compulsory military cadet training: uniforms, rifles and target practice, and marching around the football field. The world that I wanted to be part of was far from home.
College? University? A job? I decided to have fun instead. Once unleashed, I embarked on four years of delight and folly that I’ve seldom managed to duplicate in the decades since. Historians refer to the era as The Sixties, and I immersed myself forehead-deep in every liberating cliche for which the era is notorious. I accomplished this task – in England, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Italy and Switzerland – with the help of wild-eyed stoners, dystopian poets, apostles of enlightenment, troubadours of doom, the International Underground of the Beatnik Empire, various urban police forces, and a bevy of dazzling sexual partners. In other words, I went and did most of the stuff that many young men dream of, but seldom actually do. Fueled by feelings and ideas that were out of step with the rural community from which I sprang, my journey would veer between high adventure and a life lived perilously close to the gutter. This embrace of personal freedom set the tone for my whole life. I don’t regret a minute of it.
Back in Canada years later, I drew creative inspiration from my youthful adventures “on the road.” I directed TV movies, dramas, documentaries and hundreds of hours of television in a career spanning some forty years. But the most worthwhile project I produced is my memoir, PROMISED LANDS Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ‘60s. I hope you enjoy it.
Here are some Readers Reviews from Amazon:
REVIEW 5.0 out of 5stars Gorgeously Written Memoir, August 29, 2012 By Nina Queensolver (Toronto, Ontario Canada) – See all my reviews This review is from: Promised Lands: Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ’60s (Paperback)
Promised Lands took me completely by surprise. I thought I’d found something amusing to distract me on my vacation – and there’s no question about it, parts of this book are hilarious – but I didn’t expect to be so genuinely moved. Douglas Williams is a fearless writer. He exposes not just the desire for sexual adventure that sent him running off to see the world, but also his deepest regrets and longings – making this a book that does a lot more than just evoke Baby Boomer nostalgia. It also tells a story that is neither age nor gender specific, but presents truths about the human condition that manage to be both entertaining and profound. And the writing is so good that even though you could breeze through this book if you want to, you’ll find yourself savoring it, reading paragraphs again and again because the voice is so enjoyable. This is a great read, I really hope there’s a sequel!
REVIEW 5 out of 5 Stars A Brilliant Memoir, April 27 2013 By Proteus “Edward”
This review is from: Promised Lands: Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ’60s (Paperback)
Promised Lands, which deals with “growing up absurd in the 1950s and 1960s” is a compulsively good read and, I think, a brilliant book. It contributes significantly to the body of literature about the road-trippers and hippies of the 1960s, but it does far more than that. By stepping back in the middle of his narrative to give an account of his hometown, his parents, and his childhood, Williams gives us the back-story that shows why and how travel, sex, and art had such a liberating effect on him and many others of his generation. He also shows how the idealism and optimism of those years sustained him while also raising hopes for social and political change that were ultimately disappointed.
Good memoirs tell us not only about the author but about the time and the culture. Williams’s description of Kingsville in the 1940s and 1950s, and of his parents’ lives and hopes, is both precise and evocative. While he is very funny on “the sheer, inescapable awfulness of hailing from Nowhere, Ontario” (138), he also shows the underside of a small-town philistine culture where racism and sexism were the norm. The meagre expectations, the indifference or hostility to art and intelligence, the Calvinist resentment of those who escape or even dream about doing so—Williams captures all of these in scenes as vivid as an Alice Munro short story set in the same barren territory. The effect is, paradoxically, not at all depressing, because the very young Williams, ignorant and innocent as he is, nevertheless knows that there must be more to life than this, goes off to find it, and grows into the intelligent, urbane and wry narrator of this book. That narrator can look back at his young self with both affection and irony, and it is that double perspective that makes Promised Lands both comic and very moving. He is especially good and excruciatingly funny on the inchoate but grandiose sexual ambitions of young men: “The oasis ahead was sure to be full of dancing girls and large pillows,” he writes (63), and “I would raise my staff and the Red Sea would be parted.” (165) The book shows us what life was like for the generation that followed Kerouac and Ginsberg and tried to follow the same path in the 1960s, whether in North America or in Europe.
Promised Lands is beautifully written, and the style is clear, slyly allusive, and full of superb turns of phrase. Williams can write about “putting blood-coloured roses in the hands of white marble women” in a Greek cemetery (62), or about the “undulating slurry of dead fish, plastic bottles, and used condoms” (132) at the Kingsville dock—an image worthy of The Waste Land. The final effect of the book is very poignant; comedy, coming of age, crazy happiness and idealism are set against the inevitable disappointments and disillusionments that follow. Most of this memoir deals with the good side of the 1960s, but towards the end of the book he touches on what came next (Reagan, Thatcher, the culture of greed and selfishness) and that sense of loss is something that every truly adult reader can understand and relate to.
REVIEW 5.0 out of 5 stars No Holds Barred!, November 10, 2012 by Trebor Revrac – See all my reviews Promised Lands: Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ’60s (Paperback)
They say that if you remember the 60s, you weren’t there – but Williams seems to have accomplished the impossible, recalling with great clarity an epic array of locations, characters and situations encountered while in the pursuit of becoming “interesting”! Perhaps, as his son Sam tells him, it is because the hashish was much weaker in those days, and he muses that maybe he was never really stoned at all! Colourful, cynical, funny, profound, tender and very, very candid, “Promised Lands: Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ’60s” has something to offend everyone!
REVIEW 5.0 out of 5 stars Humour, Adventure, Love and Growth.., November 5, 2012 by Pam Dineen – See all my reviews Promised Lands: Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ’60s (Paperback)
In his memoir Douglas Williams captures beautifully the stifling nature of the 50s and of small-minded, small town Ontario and the yearning of a young man who could only dream of what lay beyond its borders. His adventures in Europe are told with incredible humour, but it is his willingness to expose his humanity and his struggles in a clear authentic voice that sets this book apart.
REVIEW 5.0 out of 5 stars Existential Excursion, September 4, 2012 by
Not Svevo – See all my reviews Promised Lands: Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ’60s (Paperback)
Douglas Williams is an entertaining guide on this existential excursion from small town Ontario to Europe and the Middle East of the 1960s. Fuelled by angst, irony and outrage, Williams’ road trip takes us back to a nomadic hippie world that has long since been vanquished by the corporate power he so despises. But along the way, we also get to know the author personally and in-depth. Through a series of revealing side trips, audacious character studies and surreal fantasies, Williams delivers an engaging mise-en-scène of his life and loves. In the end, he may not have reached the fabled promised lands of the title but he has given the rest of us something more interesting: a compelling self-portrait of a man reflecting on meaning and memory.
REVIEW 5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, Wise and Humane, August 28, 2012 by Sugith Varughese (Toronto, Ontario Canada) – See all my reviews Promised Lands: Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ’60s (Paperback)
Promised Lands details the author’s picaresque semi-stoned adventures in Europe in 1967. His account is by turn laugh-out-loud funny and profound as he runs away from his repressed small town Ontario upbringing for the ancient cultures of Greece. He then makes his way through eastern Europe and the middle East, where he gets trapped on the Jordan-Israel border during 1967’s Six Day War, eventually escaping to Italy where irate drivers threaten him as they ignore his outstretched thumb, and culminating in glorious France where his descriptions of the food delight. His eventual settling in London to study film brings the adventure to a halt as he embraces Trotskyism as a way through the Orwellian despair of the British class system.
His memory is acute and confirmed with the inclusion of faded photographs and artifacts, bringing faces to the names of the sharply drawn characters he meets along the way. The story Williams tells is enhanced with his personal self-deprecating voice which made me feel, not only along for the ride, but sympathetic to the driver. His political interpretations and wry observations coupled with a hilarious way of depicting cultures bewildering to his sheltered younger self make this book so much more than mere travelogue. It’s a journey of self-discovery.
By the end, I felt refreshed. I’d been told a wonderful tale by an old friend. Highest recommendation.
REVIEW 5.0 out of 5 stars Irreverant and Geopolitical, August 22, 2012 by Long Shadow (Silicon Valley) – See all my reviews Promised Lands: Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ’60s (Kindle Edition)
A ‘tongue in cheek’ – albeit a sharp tongued – recollection of coming of age in the 1960’s. A North American in Europe on $1/day meets poverty, drugs and geopolitics with humor, outrage and angst. A screenwriter would have a heyday with the well-written descriptive scenes Mr. Williams paints. A touch of “Stand By Me”, “Borat” and Reds (Special 25th Anniversary Edition) — the book was funny, thought-provoking and wistful. If you were ‘real’ in the sixties this book connects the dots. If you wish you were real in the sixties, this will take you there. Enjoy!!
REVIEW 5.0 out of 5 stars Promised Lands, October 1, 2012 by Brent Weaver – See all my reviews Promised Lands: Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ’60s (Paperback)
Promised Lands is a boy’s remarkable odyssey into manhood and becoming ‘an interesting person’. His quest for carnal and spiritual enlightment is well written, brutally candid, and thoroughly entertaining. Mr. Williams emerges indeed as a very interesting person.
REVIEW 5.0 out of 5 stars Fulfilled Promise, August 18, 2012 by jessoffel – See all my reviews Promised Lands: Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ’60s (Paperback)
The narrative alternates between travel diary and flashbacks to the author’s early years in the stifling atmosphere of small-town ontario, creating a sort of dialectic which leads us to examine questions of our existence and of reality itself. Promised Lands is, indeed, the classic tale of the wandering hero on a quest. On the way, we are treated to wild flights of fancy and biting, self-deprecating humor. Thrilling, thoughtful, and outrageously funny, this is a great read for all the searchers of the world.
You can buy PROMISED LANDS at:
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NOTE: You can access video of my TV hosting, writing, directing and producing skills on the VISION TV website in two episodes of SUPERNATURAL INVESTIGATOR, Parts 1 & 2 titled What Killed Joe Fisher?
In a career spanning over three decades, Doug Williams has directed hundreds of hours of television programming, written and directed award-winning documentaries, produced and directed a 26-episode series for the BBC, and directed shows in U.S., U.K., Morocco and Germany for CBC, PBS, Discovery U.S., ITV, CTV, History Television, Vision TV, Global, TVO and other broadcasters.
He specializes in single camera digital video, and multi-camera studio shoots. He has directed hundreds of blue screen, animatronix and special effects sequences. He directs, narrates, writes and hosts factual/documentary programs.
Besides feature, episodic and documentary television scripts and proposals, Doug has written film criticism and television and film industry-related articles for Toronto Star, NOW Magazine and RELAY. His memoir, PROMISED LANDS Growing Up Absurd in the 1950s and ’60s, was published in 2012 and is available on Amazon.
For Canadian international producer Robert Lantos, Doug directed a TV movie for PBS American Playhouse: Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, a sci-fi comedy starring Raul Julia. It was immortalized as an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 2000. His CBC TV movie, Best of Both Worlds, a romantic comedy, received a Gemini Awards nomination as Best Television Program of the Year.
Doug has directed numerous episodic dramas, including The Phoenix Team (CBC), Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future (Landmark Entertainment), T and T (Nelvana).
Doug’s current specialty is factual entertainment, which combines dramatic recreations with interviews and archive footage in a hybrid of the documentary genre. He recently wrote, directed, co-produced and appeared as on-camera investigator for two episodes of the new Vision TV series, Supernatural Investigator, titled What Killed Joe Fisher?, telecast in February, 2009. You can view this documentary on the Vision TV website: Supernatural Investigator, Episodes #103 and #104, What Killed Joe Fisher?
Doug wrote and directed the dramatized documentary, Hitler’s Canadians, for History Television, to wide critical acclaim and unprecedented ratings. The film won the Jury Prize, Best Historical Documentary, at the 2008 Yorkton International Film Festival. Other factual shows with dramatic recreations include JAL: Out of Control, for the Cineflix series, Mayday (National Geographic & TLC),
(You can view the Mayday episode here: http://watchdocumentary.org/watch/air-crash-investigation-s03e04-out-of-control-japan-airlines-flight-123-video_8b1a235c2.html)
Heart of Courage (Global TV), In The Nick of Time (Great North), and Real Kids, Real Adventures (Discovery).
Doug’s documentaries and sponsored shows include The Disability Myth (CTV), Teledon, hosted by David Suzuki (NFB), Hungry to Help for The Toronto Raptors, and the DGC award-winning The Molson Story.
CHILDREN’S TELEVISION CREDITS
Doug began directing television programs in the 1970s at CBC Children’s Television in Toronto, for the Mister Dressup Show. He then directed numerous children’s shows including episodes of Fraggle Rock (CBC/Jim Henson), Polka Dot Door (TVO), Join In (TVO), The Maximum Dimension (TVO), The Elephant Show (CBC), Eric’s World (CBC), Spread Your Wings (CBC), and two pilots: Great Work If You Can Get It (CBC) and The Wee Wonders (PBS).
In 2000, Doug produced and directed 26 episodes of BBCKids’ spectacular puppet series, Captain Abercromby, in Glasgow, U.K., and 30 episodes of the animatronix puppet series, Dog & Duck, for ITV/United in Bristol, U.K.
In recognition of his significant background in children’s television, Doug was asked to chair the program advisory committee for the creation of a new program, Children’s Entertainment: Writing, Production and Management, for Centennial College’s Centre for Creative Communications. The program commenced in September, 2009.
Doug teaches a 6-hour Television Directors workshop at Centennial College and has guest lectured in TV direction and directing puppet and children’s shows at Ryerson University, and television direction at Humber College.
EARLY EXPERIENCE & EDUCATION
While in high school, Doug began his career as a radio news reader at CJSP/CHYR in Leamington, Ontario. He directed his first film at age 18 in 1965: shot on 16mm film, it was a 30-minute adaptation of Frederick Duerrenmatt’s play, The Visit. Doug is now completing a documentary, Visiting Time, on the making of the film and its World Premiere in 2005.
Doug studied creative writing at University of Toronto, drawing and painting at Wayne State University’s School of Arts and Crafts in Detroit, photography at Ontario College of Art (OCAD) with Barbara Astman, and is a graduate of the legendary London School of Film Technique (now the London International Film School, headed by Mike Leigh). He is also a graduate of the BBC Television Directors Course.
Doug lives in Toronto and is married to the screenwriter Laura Phillips. He has two children: his son, folk artist Lotus Wight (of Sheesham & Lotus and ‘Son), composes scores for Doug’s films and other producers. His daughter, Zoe, received a doctorate, double summa cum laude, from the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies in Germany.
Doug is citizen of both Canada and UK, and is represented by Suzanne DePoe at CTI Artists Management, in Toronto.
You can buy PROMISED LANDS at: