Jim St. Lawrence 1944-2018

Television Innovator Dead at Age 74

Movie director Errol Morris is justly praised for the use of the “Interrotron,” a system allowing even untrained subjects to speak directly into a video camera’s lens as though conversing with another person. Before Morris’s first movie, however, Jim St. Lawrence came up with the same technique for use on one of his series on TVOntario; he called it “the people prompter.”

I first met my dear friend Jim in 1977, when, after such shows as Night Music and Media Circus, he was preparing another television series for TVOntario, Fast Forward, about technological advances. He saw my picture next to a column in Videography magazine, decided I looked like him, and asked me to work on the shows. All of us who worked with him were fortunate to have done so. The music Jim commissioned from Harry Forbes could later be heard on TV commercials in the U.S.; animation and appearances by David Stringer promoted his long TV career; Barbara Morris began the research that led to a varied professional career. Fast Forward, itself, ran on public-TV stations in the United States and elsewhere in the world.

Pixar, the company that released such blockbuster hits as Toy Story, is now part of Disney, but the team that created Pixar started at New York Institute of Technology when Jim was there, and they seemed delighted to see him as he interrupted their work to show off the Computer Graphics Lab. So did his colleagues at the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment and his many students at Polytechnic University. And, when he “retired” to Stratford, Ontario, with Christine, his partner and spouse of almost 52 years, he remained a center of delight, whether entertaining neighbors with an informal film festival, hosting “The Last Rose of Summer,” or working on the music festival and Off the Wall artists alliance.

Many used the bathroom/washroom in their house, where, on the wall, they could read these words by Jim’s relative William Butler Yeats:

Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,
And say my glory was I had such friends.

Jim St. Lawrence died December 7 at University Hospital, London, Ontario.

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