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Nightclub toilet tours, KGW’s ‘girl newscaster’: Long-ago Ennui Awards showcased Old Portland media obsessions

OregonLive.com logo OregonLive.com 8/19/2020 By Douglas Perry, oregonlive.com
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Oregon Journal columnist Doug Baker knew how to get attention. In 1954, that meant wearing then-novel Bermuda shorts around town. \"The columnist drew looks of concern,\" the newspaper wrote. © The Oregonian/oregonlive.com/TNS Oregon Journal columnist Doug Baker knew how to get attention. In 1954, that meant wearing then-novel Bermuda shorts around town. \"The columnist drew looks of concern,\" the newspaper wrote.

He’s a handsome fellow. Sleepy eyes, the nose almost as perfect for a toboggan ride as Bob Hope’s.

He’s the Doug Baker statuette for the 1967 Ennui Awards.

For one year only, Baker handed out the trophy for “the performances of those Northwesterners who did the best job of inducing in readers, viewers, listeners and nightclub-goers a feeling of tedium and weariness, if not downright dissatisfaction.”

Baker at the time was Portland’s foremost newspaper columnist, scribbling away for the now-defunct Oregon Journal.

So why are we bringing up his tongue-in-cheek award ceremony now, more than 50 years after the fact? You can thank the Oregon Historical Society. On Monday it tweeted out a photo of an Ennui Awards statuette that was donated to the museum. (Most winners found other means of storage for their Ennui trophies; Baker gleefully recalled “a woman TV newscaster who received one of them and promptly deposited it in the nearest trash can.”)

an old photo of Karen Dalton: Norma Heyser in her Lake Oswego studio in 1962. © The Oregonian/oregonlive.com/TNS Norma Heyser in her Lake Oswego studio in 1962.

Baker explained, via a quote from author Budd Schulberg, why he came up with his unusual awards presentation: “We Americans have a compulsion to rate the unratable.” His Ennui Awards, with their memorable statuettes, didn’t make it beyond their January 1968 debut, but Baker couldn’t be deterred from rating the unratable. Every year he offered up a new set of winners under various award titles or none at all.

a close up of a book: A newspaper ad for Linda Gist. © The Oregonian/oregonlive.com/TNS A newspaper ad for Linda Gist.

For 1971, for example, the actress Betty White earned “Gusher of the Year” honors “for her effusions in describing the Rose Festival parade.” Gov. Tom McCall’s mother, Dorothy Lawson McCall, “still waspish and yet lovable in her mid-80s,” was named “Indestructible of the Year.”

The following year, “The Godfather” received Baker’s “Most Overrated Film of the Year” award; the columnist called the movie “an overstated, seamy carnival of sensationalism about as exciting as over-buttered popcorn.” (Three months later “The Godfather” won the Oscar for best picture.) In 1977, Baker gave the “Let-‘Em-Eat-Cake Award” to city commissioner (and future mayor) Connie McCready “who, during a discussion of awnings for downtown stores, said, ‘I’ve lived here all my life and the rain doesn’t bother me.’”

But let’s reel it back to the 1967 Ennui Awards. Below are the winners. If you’re a long-time Portlander, you’ll recognize at least some of the honorees.

The Ennui Radio Award goes to … KXL news director John Salisbury, for his own “A Message for Americans” commentaries, which Baker dismissed as “dreary platitudes and essays which border on bathos.”

Salisbury released his “patriotic” commentaries on LP and in book form and hawked them relentlessly on KXL. His run on Portland radio ended in 1986 “when surveys showed that listeners were more interested in upbeat features than in serious commentary,” The Oregonian reported. Salisbury died the following year at 71.

The Ennui Television Award goes to … KGW’s Linda Gist Royer, “for her unique ability to appear patronizing to all those news personalities she interviewed during the year, plus a video image of peerless hauteur.”

The late Baker wasn’t the only sexist local newspaperman who liked to give the pioneering Royer grief during her tenure at Channel 8. Just nine months after Royer received her Ennui Award, a reader asked Sunday Oregonian magazine columnist Howard P. Howard: “Whatever happened to Linda Royer, the girl newscaster on KGW? And why was she always crying?” Howard’s answer: “Linda is a housewife now in Seattle. Her contact lenses gave her trouble.”

The Boredom in Art Award goes to … the artist Norma Heyser, “who came out of retirement some years after her renowned show of ‘squidgicum-squees’ to portray the ‘freeway’ with zebra-striped boards and a random scattering of hubcaps.” This was a reference to Heyser’s installation “The Moving Line” at Linfield College’s art gallery.

The recognition from Baker had been a long time coming. Back in 1961 he viewed an exhibition of Heyser’s paintings and “did not like them,” he wrote some months after the event. “But because I thought the painter such a charming, sincere woman, I chose to ignore her canvases rather than write vituperatively about them. Since then, I’ve come to regret my gallantry.”

Heyser later became a Lake Oswego neighborhood activist and former Portland mayor Bud Clark’s significant other. (A squidgicum-squee, by the way, is a “bewildering and bashful” woodland monster from lumberjack folklore.)

The Tedium in Nightclub Entertainment Award goes to … Gracie Hansen, for her “inexplicable fixation about taking women clubgoers on nightly tours of the men’s toilet facilities.”

Hansen was famous in the Pacific Northwest long before she began leading women on sightseeing treks to the men’s room at her downtown Portland club. She created the bawdy “The Girlie Show” revue for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and then launched a similar show that ran for years at the Roaring ’20s Room in Portland’s Hoyt Hotel. In 1970, she ran for Oregon governor, placing third in the Democratic primary. She died in 1985.

The Ennui Public Service Award goes to … The Oregon State Highway Commission, for spending $127,000 (nearly $1 million in 2020 dollars) “creating and developing an ‘esplanade’ on the east bank of the Willamette River which remains unused except by grebes and is all but invisible to those who paid for it.”

A grebe, in case you didn’t know, is a bird. The Eastbank Esplanade you know today was conceived and built in the 1990s. Species other than grebes, including humans, have been known to use it.

So there you have it, the lucky recipients of the Ennui Awards statuette. At least one of the trophies was apparently dumped in the trash. Another is at the historical society. Maybe one is sitting on a shelf somewhere at the Oregon Department of Transportation.

-- Douglas Perry

dperry@oregonian.com

@douglasmperry

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