Playwright and leader Victor Gordon makes his final exit
Victor Gordon, who passed away this month due to COVID-19, had so many divergent sides. Gordon was a multi-talented man – a playwright, an artist, and a musician.
He was one of the Pretoria Jewish community’s guiding lights. He has been an active member of the Zionist Federation media team for the past 14 years, monitoring and countering antisemitism and anti-Israel bias in all facets of the media.
He served on the Carmel School parent-teachers association, Carmel’s board, the Jaffa management committee, and was chairperson of the Pretoria Council of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies for eight years as well as acting vice-chairperson for several years.
Gordon was pivotal in arranging events at Jaffa, bringing interesting speakers, films, and the like to the Pretoria community for many years. He also took over the running of Tararam, the South Africa Israel culture fund for a number of years, and wrote many speeches and articles for the Israeli embassy.
In his eulogy, Rabbi Gidon Fox said, “On the one hand, this is the easiest eulogy to write. On the other, it’s the hardest and one of the most painful to write. Easy, because there’s so much to say. Difficult, because the loss is unbearable. Difficult, because what words can one say about one of the world’s finest wordsmiths? What tribute can one pay that will do justice to a life that itself was such a tribute to the gift of life itself?
“Yet despite all these talents, Victor didn’t seek the limelight. Victor took on positions of import in the community not because he needed them, but because they needed him,” said Fox. “They needed his sage, wise, and eloquent advice, counsel, and leadership. In spite of all this fame, Victor was one of the humblest people I have had the privilege of knowing. A man who struggled to receive compliments due to his humility, yet had no trouble in dishing them out in spades.
“He lent his support, time, and abilities to communal organisations. Whether it be the history club, Jaffa, or indeed any time an MC was needed at a function or someone was required to give a vote of thanks,” said the rabbi. “And when Victor spoke, everyone listened. Every time he wrote or spoke, it sounded like poetry. Every time he opened his mouth, it was music to the ears. When a fabulous guest speaker or guest entertainment was provided in the community, it wouldn’t be uncommon for the highlight of the show to be Victor’s opening or closing remarks.”
His first play, The Clue of the Blue Vase, was staged at Brooklyn School on the final day of his school year. While living briefly in London, his interest in writing plays really started to germinate. Soon after their return to South Africa, it was announced that television would be introduced in 1976, and it became obvious that this would create opportunities.
For Gordon, these lay in scriptwriting, and in spite of having no experience whatsoever, when the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) announced the launch of an English drama and scriptwriting competition with guaranteed production of the winning play, Gordon was inspired to write Fever Ward. To his amazement, the script scooped first prize.
He also co-wrote what he referred to as “an awful TV series” with Paul Slabolepszy and Joe Stewardson called The Adventures of Scotty Smith, followed by a few episodes of the Springbok Radio series Squad Cars for Anthony Fridjhon. Victor then submitted The Stibbe Affair for the Amstel Playwright of the Year Award, gaining 11th place among more than 60 entries. He was so encouraged by that, a year later, he re-entered the competition with a play called Brothers, which scooped first prize and was subsequently produced by PACT (the Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal) at the State Theatre. It was a critical success, and was produced at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town. Two years later, a new play called Comrades won the Combined Performing Councils of SA Award, and it too was staged at the State and Alexander Theatres.
The demands of earning a living then took priority, but in 2009, Victor wrote Harry and Ed, a play based on the unusual friendship that existed between President Harry Truman and a nondescript Jew named Eddie Jacobson which had a vital influence on the birth of Israel. This play was staged at the Sandton Theatre on the Square.
Next, believing that the Jewish American, Jonathan Pollard, who spied for Israel, was the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice, Victor wrote a play titled Pollard’s Trial. This came to the attention of well-known Israeli actor and director Roy Horowitz, who translated the work into Hebrew. The play opened shortly thereafter at the famed Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv. Not only did it get a five-star rating from every critic, but Horowitz won the award for the best director that year.
It became the only play in the history of Israel to receive an invitation to mount a private performance at the Knesset before an invited audience of 350, hosted by current President Reuven Rivlin. Pollard’s Trial ran on-and-off throughout Israel for more than two years. The Gordons went to Sydney, Australia, not long ago when his latest play, You Will Not Play Wagner had its premier. It, too, was an outstanding success.
Gordon had just completed a play on the life of George Bizos, which got the nod from Bizos prior to his passing, and he was in the process of writing two further plays.
He began painting in his teens, with sales of more than a hundred, many of which are in foreign lands.
At 13, Gordon took up the clarinet and by joining the Boys High Military Band, was given a rudimentary introduction to the instrument’s workings. By 14, he had formed his first band. From there on, jazz dominated his life for many years, and he played semi-professionally for more than 40 years.
Gordon’s other interests included working with his hands. He was a devoted member of the MG Car Club for 12 years, during which he restored three vintage MGs, one dating back to 1938.
The Gordons have two children, Jonathan and Lisa, and are also the proud grandparents of Amy and Tali.