Untapped “well of talent” is missed

For a while before it shut down, the Roxy Theatre at Danforth and Greenwood screened one movie every Friday and Saturday night — the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Fans of the cult comedy-horror musical know to bring squirt guns for the rainstorm scene and confetti for the wedding, never mind the glitter and your favourite fishnet stockings.

Tucked by the Roxy’s 1930s-era lobby, now a coffee shop, Rocky Horror fans could find some of the props they needed in a little store called The Peanut Gallery II.

Its owner, the late Jack Kwinter, had a genius idea.

“He made a deal with Hilroy,” said Denis Akiyama, a long-time friend.

Kwinter would go into the office-supply store and pick up bags full of paper circles — leftovers from Hilroy’s three-hole punch.

After pouring the circles into smaller bags, Kwinter sold them as confetti.

The confetti was a hit, with one exception.

“He told me when the janitor of the theatre would see him, he would shake his fist and yell, ‘You! You!’” said Akiyama, laughing.

The late Jack Kwinter is pictured on the set of Heart of Perception, a 2012 short film in which he plays a homeless man who reconnects with his daughter over photography. An actor, clothing designer, closet songwriter and long-time Beacher, Kwinter was top of mind among friends and family this December, a year after his passing.
The late Jack Kwinter is pictured on the set of Heart of Perception, a 2012 short film in which he plays a homeless man who reconnects with his daughter over photography. An actor, clothing designer, closet songwriter and long-time Beacher, Kwinter was top of mind among friends and family this December, a year after his passing. PHOTO: Shervin Mandgaryan

Jack Kwinter was top of mind for many friends and family this December. He died a year ago, on Dec. 25, after a fire broke out in the kitchen of his Queen Street apartment. He was 61.

At the time, police told reporters the apartment was cluttered, making it hard for firefighters to work in. They suggested hoarding.

Beach Metro News joined Toronto’s daily newspapers in reporting that a 61 year-old man had died in a Christmas Day fire, and that he may have been hoarding.

None wrote a follow-up.

Akiyama says the average person may have been surprised by the amount of stuff in Kwinter’s apartment, but he wasn’t a hoarder.

The reports upset him, he said. They diminished a remarkable man to a one-liner.

But Kwinter’s many friends know better.

“People used to refer to us as ‘the Jack Factor,’” said Stan Tait, a singer-songwriter and jewelry designer who met Kwinter in 1989, the first of many years that they both had a booth at the One of a Kind Craft Show.

“We just absolutely adored him,” said Tait.

“I think any negative energy that might have been around the universe just avoided him like the plague – it didn’t stand a chance.”

The Peanut Gallery II was the sequel to Kwinter’s first store, a West End curio shop, where he kept a shop dog named Gypsy.

What followed was ‘Buncha Yahoos’ — Kwinter’s own line of airbrushed baby clothes. He sold them at craft shows, expanded into adult casual wear, and opened a Buncha Yahoos store at Queen and Lee.

Making clothes, or as Kwinter called it, the “schmatta”  business, may have been his main line, but it wasn’t nearly all he did.

Guitarist Neil Chapman now lives near Sutton, Ontario, but he grew up in the Beach and met Kwinter some 30 years ago in the Toronto music scene.

“We just became instant great friends,” said Chapman.

It turned out Kwinter was a closet songwriter.

While he never formed a band, Chapman said Kwinter would play his own songs at parties, together with his left-handed guitar. They recorded several songs in Chapman’s home studio, once with a Toronto Symphony oboe player who Kwinter happened to meet in a bank line.

“He talked to everyone,” said Chapman. “He was everyone’s immediate friend.”

If proof is needed, readers can flip through a June, 1969 edition of The Toronto Star. There’s Jimi Hendrix sitting on the steps of Old City Hall, facing a drug possession charge that was later dropped.

Jack Kwinter stands by rocker Jimi Hendrix on the steps of Old City Hall in a Toronto Star photo published June 19, 1969. PHOTO: Jeffe Good, Toronto Star
Jack Kwinter stands by rocker Jimi Hendrix on the steps of Old City Hall in a Toronto Star photo published June 19, 1969.
PHOTO: Jeffe Good, Toronto Star

Standing by him, hearing him out, is Jack Kwinter.

“Jack was a bit of a Forrest Gump,” said Akiyama. “He ended up on stage with John Lennon when they played here at Varsity Stadium. He had brushes with Marvin Gaye.”

“Most people would just be standing back and kind of waiting for things to happen, but Jack was able to step up to the front of the line and push that window.”

In the years before he died, Kwinter was pushing at another window – acting.

Akiyama, himself an actor with dozens of film, TV, and voice acting credits to his name, said his friend’s break-out role was as lead in a Gilbert and Sullivan musical.

Kwinter also had roles in Michael McGowan’s first film, My Dog Vincent, on TV shows like This is Wonderland, and in commercials for the likes of Ford and Leon’s. In 2012, he co-starred in Heart of Perception, a short film about a homeless father connecting with his daughter through photography.

“He was an unexplored well of talent,” said Akiyama. “He was a full-spectrum guy.”

“I think he was a much deeper river than a lot of people suspected, because he played the clown so well.”

Born to parents who survived the Holocaust, Akiyama said Kwinter was a deeply empathetic and supportive person.

Except for his wife – a painter who Kwinter also encouraged, especially in her early career – Akiyama said Kwinter is the only person who came out to every one of his shows.

Tait said for him, the key thing about Jack Kwinter is just that he loved other people so much.

“He didn’t ask for anything, he had no agenda,” Tait said. “When you were in his presence, you were just totally entertained at all times.”

“He was a gift to be around.”


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6 comments

Jack Kwinter gave me the chance of a lifetime when he had me apprentice under his 2nd hand Frank Defillipes as an airbrush assistant at his shop Buncha Yahoos. This was in 1987, I was so greatful to him for this opportunity and worked with him for almost 3 to 4 years.
Jack was truly a wonderful man with gifts galore including an immense sense of humor and compassion. My heart was broken once more when I learned of his death yesterday. He will never know how much he helped me to feel comfortable in the world and in my own skin. Love you Jack, you were a godsend!

Jack was a life raft for many of us when the chips were down for all the reasons mentioned and many more that we can’t find words to express. Hell my family and I were in Miami on a vacation when things suddenly went awry and like Barbara Eden’s ‘Genie’ suddenly Jack was there with us at South Beach making things right again. I know that a lot of our shared pain about Jack is that we couldn’t save him. His memory though we can all cherish.

I lived in the apartment above JAck at 2191 Queen st. east for 11 years. We became very good friends, we would converse daily he always had something interesting going on in his life and would do anything he could to help me. RIP JAck love PAul and Laurie

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