Remembering Mordecai Richler: His Love Story
Today, January 27, is the anniversary of the Auschwitz Death Camp Liberation. It’s also the same day that Jewish Canadian journalist, author and screenwriter Mordecai Richler was born on back in 1931.
Trilingual (English, French, and Yiddish) Mordecai Richler was born, raised, and educated in Montreal, Quebec. His parents divorced when he was 12 and Mordecai lived with his mother and brother as a teenager.
He moved to Paris beginning when he was 19, before coming back to Montreal in 1952 and working for the CBC. In 1954 Mordecai Richler once again moved to Europe and settled down in London, England at the age of 23. It would be 18 years before he returned to live in Canada. Below, a young Mordecai Richler talks about his perceived lack of opportunities in Canada in 1961.
Throughout his career, Mordecai Richler wrote articles and journalistic commentary for many different magazines and newspapers, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The National Post, and The Montreal Gazette.
Mordecai Richler’s first 7 novels were written while he lived in London, although they were mostly set in Montreal and included vignettes of life there. The novel for which he is perhaps best known, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959) was adapted by Richler for a screenplay. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974) movie starred Dustin Hoffman as Duddy Kravitz, and in addition to winning a Screenwriter’s Guild Award for best screenplay, garnered Richler an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay.
Below, a Mordecai Richler CBC newsbite in 1971 in which he talks about his writing process.
The Mordecai & Florence Richler Love Story
The 1954 summer that saw Mordecai Richler move to London also saw the publication of his first novel The Acrobats, and his marriage to older French-Canadian divorcee Catherine Boudreau in August.
The Richler family seemed to be as much shocked by Catherine’s non-Jewish background as the fact that she was 9 years older than Mordecai. Catherine is said to have had a somewhat abrasive personality and the couple was (according to several sources) not happy.
The nail in the coffin of Mordecai Richler’s first marriage however, was that he first met his friend Stanley Mann’s wife Florence (nee Wood) either the day before or the day of (accounts vary), his wedding day to Catherine. Like Mordecai, Florence had been born in Montreal (a year before Mordecai was born) and moved to Europe on her own to live and work as a model in her late teens.
Florence returned to Montreal and began acting, which is where she met Richler’s friend Stanley Mann, a writer for the movies and television. Florence and Stanley Mann married when she was 22 and moved back to London to live, where they frequently socialized with the Richlers after their marriage.
Florence told The McGill Daily in 2011 that at some point during those early days in mid-fifties London, she saw Mordecai often enough that she realized she was in love with him, and they began a relationship before their respective divorces were finalized in 1959. In his biography Mordecai Richler: Leaving St. Urbain, author Reinhold Kramer asserts that although Richler would claim that both marriages were unhappy and dissolving anyway, it was Mordecai Richler that fell for Florence when he first met her, and pursued her through their marriages.
Most accounts agree that Florence and Mordecai Richler were the true love of each other’s lives. His 1959 novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is dedicated to Florence, and so is Barney’s Version (1997), which has details from the real-life Florence and Mordecai Richler story woven into the narrative.
Florence gave birth to son Daniel in 1957, before her divorce to Stanley was finalized in 1959. Kramer’s biography states that Daniel was not only Richler’s son, but that Stanley Mann was aware and remained on friendly terms with the new couple, raising no barriers when Richler adopted Daniel after he married Florence in 1960. Florence and Mordecai also welcomed their son Noah that year, who was born in Montreal during a visit to Canada. Below, Daniel Richler interviewed his father Mordecai in 1990.
All told, Florence and Mordecai Richler had 5 children, all of whom were brought up in both England and Canada, and found careers in the arts. London-born daughters Emma (born in 1961) and Martha (born in 1964) were followed by son Jacob (1968), who was the inspiration for Richler’s children’s fiction trilogy Jacob Two-Two (1975-1995).
Florence and Mordecai Richler moved their family back to Canada in 1972 and settled in the Montreal area. Over the next 29 years Richler continued to work at his craft, producing some of his finest work during his 50+ and senior years. His last novel, Barney’s Version (1997), written when he was a senior citizen, was later made into a movie in 2010. Long a whiskey drinker and smoker, Richler had already beaten cancer once, but it recurred and treatment was unsuccessful. He was a septuagenarian senior citizen when he died in July 2001 at the age of 70.
Florence and Mordecai Richler were married for 40 years (and in love for more than 45 years).