Hindle proud, surprised to see ‘Face Off’ at Hockey Hall of Fame
Billy Duke, as the name plate on the back of the jersey the Toronto Maple Leafs gave him a few years ago says, is actually Art Hindle, a veteran Canadian actor with a resume at least as long as a d ‘hockey.
The Internet Movie Database lists 185 acting credits, his roles have spanned television and the big screen since 1971, adding work as a producer, director, cinematographer and voice actor. Still working with energy at 74, he headed to Newfoundland on Monday for a week of filming on his latest project, a television series called “SurrealEstate.”
The Derek Sanderson of the Boston Bruins tackles Billy Duke of the Toronto Maple Leafs during a scrum at Maple Leaf Gardens in a “Face Off” scene.
In the hockey community, Hindle is best known for his portrayal of Billy Duke in the 1971 Canadian film “Face Off”.
“A young hockey player becomes an overnight star for the Toronto Maple Leafs and falls in love with a beautiful young singer. Their relationship is plagued by her ‘jock’ nature and lifestyle decadent,” says the synopsis for the film, also known as “Winter Comes Early.”
The young player would be Hindle’s brash rookie Billy Duke, who arrives in Toronto after a brilliant junior career with a flashy skill set, a magnetic appeal to fans and a cocky attitude that would fill a duffel bag.
He falls deeply in love with hippie folk singer Sherri Lee Nelson, played by Trudy Young, while constantly testing the patience of no-nonsense Maple Leafs coach Fred Wares, played by the late John Vernon; the latter would become a cult classic institution for his role as Dean Vernon Wormer in the 1978 film “Animal House.”
Veteran actor John Vernon, playing coach Fred Wares, behind the Maple Leafs bench in a “Face Off” scene. From left: Bobby Baun, Jim Harrison and Art Hindle.
What makes “Face Off” a real treat more than half a century since its release is the grainy NHL film footage of the day, especially the in-game and backcourt views of the Maple Leafs, and cameo appearances by Gordie Howe, Jean. Beliveau, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and many more.
Footage of Hindle, wearing the #18 of Jim McKenny, his Maple Leafs stunt double, cuts to NHL game film, following Duke and his Toronto teammates to the Gardens and Mt. -real, Detroit, Philadelphia and California.
The film opened in Toronto on November 12, 1971 and featured speaking roles for Maple Leafs captain George Armstrong and Boston Bruins forward Derek Sanderson.
Maple Leafs rookie Billy Duke considers action against the Los Angeles Kings in a scene from the movie “Face Off.”
Now, this Sunday, 51 years and one day since “Face Off” premiered, Billy Duke is walking around the Hall of Fame, the first time his alter ego has been there since a 40th anniversary event in 2011 to celebrate the release of the film on DVD and Blu-ray, a limited release of 40,000 copies under a licensing agreement with the NHL.
I know exactly where a Blu-ray copy of “Face Off” is displayed in the sanctuary, displayed among other collectibles and novelties, near the Bobby Orr pinball machine. I slowly guide Hindle, who is not fully conscious, towards him in the background of our visit.
Still in its factory seal, it sits under glass a few feet from a 1960s stick hockey game, among other hockey movies.
“I used to play this, with a friend,” Hindle says gleefully of the board game, the Maple Leafs against the Canadiens. “We kept the stats.”
Art Hindle is delighted and surprised to find a copy of his film “Face Off” on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
And then he sees “Face Off”.
“Oh, there it is, in the Hockey Hall of Fame. I did it… I did it!” Hindle exclaims with genuine joy.
He agrees to kneel next to her for a photo, saying, “I can get down, but I don’t know if I can get back up.”
I’ve become friends with Hindle over the last few years on social media, our messages usually about ‘Face Off’. I am unashamedly a fan of the film and have often told him that the film is an iPad that is used on long flights.
Three months ago, at home, I fired it up on my Blu-ray player and texted him to tell him. I had no idea it would be online, and for the next 90 minutes we went back and forth in what would be an unexpected Blu-ray bonus feature, the star’s live commentary complementing the action.
Art Hindle wearing a replica Jean Beliveau jersey in the Hall of Fame mock-up in the Montreal Canadiens’ Forum locker room, and celebrating the career of his late friend George Armstrong. Dave Stubbs, NHL.com
Hindle was effusive in his praise of Armstrong, posing for a photo on Sunday with his Hall of Fame display. Hindle had acted in a car commercial with Beliveau decades ago, so he needed a photo in Beliveau’s No. 4 jersey in the sanctuary’s replica Canadiens locker room.
“I don’t think I should touch it,” the heavy wool replica sweater said respectfully, pointing to Beliveau’s name.
And he enjoyed an exhibit from his friend Doug Gilmour, who he recalled years ago giving Hindle’s young son, Zeke, a Maple Leafs jersey and a few dozen Gilmour hockey cards.
Hindle’s online commentary a few months ago pulled back the curtain on much of the film and the rich behind-the-scenes goings-on.
In scenes from “Face Off,” the Maple Leafs’ Bobby Baun reads a paperback from the novel “Love Story” and Jacques Plante answers fan mail on a commercial flight to a road game.
“I did a joke where I walk up to the camera and fall out of the shot,” he said. “Everyone laughed, except the director.
“I went on a road trip with the Leafs before shooting any dramatic scenes: Philly, Oakland, LA and the Motor City. [Detroit]. While I was in Los Angeles, I went to an actress friend’s party and missed the morning [commercial] fly to Detroit Boy, were the Leafs impressed with me. They had a new respect for the boy!”
Hindle explained how he had landed the role of Billy Duke. McKenny of the Maple Leafs had been considered for it before Hindle was pursued by producer John F. Bassett Jr.
A happy Billy Duke walks into his team’s Maple Leaf Gardens locker room in a scene from the movie “Face Off.”
“I didn’t want to do it because Bassett’s previous film was [not good]” he said. “Finally, casting director Pam Barney called me and told me that Bassett would cast American actor Michael Blodgett in the role if I said no again. She begged me. I talked it over with my friends and we thought we couldn’t let an American play Billy.”
Hindle spoke fondly of Maple Leafs goaltender Jacques Plante’s cameo — “What a sweetheart. I wish I had a few scenes with him” — and the off-ice appearances of Maple Leafs’ Ron Ellis, seen as a training room scrubbing; by Rick Ley, recording a stick; and of Duke walking into a locker room with linebacker Jim Dorey as the team battles a losing streak.
Maple Leafs coach George Armstrong (right) offers some advice to rookie Billy Duke in a scene from “Face Off.”
There’s a memorable scene early in the film of Duke and Armstrong going for a beer, the latter offering the rookie a tip for a pint. Armstrong was so into it, he even wrote some of the lines that he would deliver to an old man in the tavern.
Just a few years earlier, Hindle had no idea he had become a fictional NHL star.
A girlfriend had to fill in for her sick friend as Mickey Mouse in a “Disney On Ice” intermission promotion at Maple Leaf Gardens, so she followed him. It turned out that the performer who would play Goofy was also sick, so Hindle piled into the costume and was then given a crash course in how Goofy acts.
“Here’s me and my date, riding down the Zamboni track, waving like Mickey and Goofy while the announcer calls the event,” Hindle recalled, laughing. “This is as close as I ever thought I’d get to the Gardens ice.”
Billy Duke in the Toronto Maple Leafs locker room in a scene from the movie “Face Off.”
Bassett would arrange for Hindle to skate for him at a local rink. A good athlete who says he excelled in road hockey, Hindle admits he wasn’t much of a skater. But he made a good turn with a snow stop for the on-rushing Bassett, who promptly shut down his star.
“If he had asked me to skate backwards or do a few moves, we probably wouldn’t be talking, that’s how bad he was,” Hindle joked.
But two months of filming would precede Gardens’ action sequences, so Billy Duke laced up and got to work on his skating.
“We started shooting the hockey scenes and [Maple Leafs forward] Paul Henderson, who had seen me a couple of months earlier, pulled me aside at the court door and whispered, ‘How did you do that?'” he recalled. “The Oakland Seals players laughed when I they saw, until Paul said it. I was the idiot the Leafs had drafted for the next night’s game.”
Art Hindle studies the “At The Crease” statue outside the Hockey Hall of Fame gift shop at Toronto’s Brookfield Place. Dave Stubbs, NHL.com
Fifty-one years after its release, Billy Duke is delighted to have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Ninety minutes into his visit, having driven 40 minutes from his home north of Toronto, Hindle walks up the exit stairs to the gift shop to pick up his souvenir photo with the Stanley Cup.
He had happily raided the priceless trophy in the Great Hall, but never touched it.
“That’s pretty simple,” he says, smiling. “I don’t want to curse the Maple Leafs forever!”
Top photo: Art Hindle, in his Billy Duke jersey, approaches, but misses, the Stanley Cup at the Great Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 13, 2022.
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