Rick Salutin: The many faces of 'Conrad Black'
He first played a cartoon version of a bloated, heartless capitalist marked by wild verbal tics. Then he portrayed a maniacal press lord modelled on Citizen Kane, who lashes out at his own journalist employees.
In all his guises, “Conrad Black” has been infatuated with power — in the case of Margaret Thatcher almost literally. In one role, he takes a seat in the House of Lords and practises his maiden speech in front of a mirror.
Though he made an excellent villain, I think his greatest triumph was as a victim: charged, tried, convicted and jailed. He carried it off with real dignity. It was a shocking twist. But once he got out, he reverted to the old stereotyped “Conrad Black”: obnoxious, contemptuous and self-obsessed.
His latest role is as a shameless flatterer trying to con the idiot leader of the U.S. into giving him a pardon. It took everything in his bag of props and makeup, including a fawning biography. But it worked. It was a hit.
He’s been a Falstaffian figure in the best and worse senses: hilarious, obsequious, sometimes insightful. But this last part diminished him. It felt too desperate and needy. Self-pity is never an appealing quality onstage.
Rick Salutin is a freelance columnist and commentator for the Star about all things current affairs and politics. He is based in Toronto. Reach him on email: