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McGill Reporter
September 22, 2005 - Volume 38 Number 03
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Sex and the city

McGill freshman protagonist of novel

William Weintraub sees the question coming. The 79-year-old author of the just-released Crazy About Lili, knows he can't very well write a coming-of-age novel - especially one about a McGill undergrad's randy post-war exploits - without inviting accusations of trading in thinly-veiled autobiography. Such speculation is understandable, but utterly unfounded.

Caption follows
Writer William Weintraub in his home office. The McGill alumnus just released Crazy About Lili, a coming-of-age novel about a McGill undergrad in the ’40s who makes the acquaintance of a noted stripper.
Owen Egan

"I studied at McGill from 1943 to '47," quips Weintraub. "The novel is set in 1948."

Crazy About Lili details a galvanizing year in the life of Richard Lippman, a sheltered Westmount lad whose freshman studies at McGill take backseat to an entirely different kind of education at the (ahem) knee of burlesque sensation Lili L'Amour and her titillating colleagues. Fans of Weintraub's non-fiction tome, City Unique: Montreal Days and Nights in the 1940s and '50s, will instantly recognize the fictional L'Amour as a surrogate for the very real Lili St. Cyr. From 1944 to 1951, writes Weintraub, St. Cyr's sultry bump 'n' grind at the now-defunct Gayety Theatre made her "Montreal's most famous woman, the city's femme fatale, a person whose name invoked sophistication, mystery, sin and - for many males - instant arousal."

The mildly ribald Crazy About Lili is rich with period details about campus and city life during the late '40s (including a cameo by venerable McGill landmark "The Three Bares"), culled from Weintraub's own undergrad stint. Like Richard Lippman, young Weintraub was a budding wordsmith smitten with the power of storytelling. Like Lippman, Weintraub was skeptical of his fellow students' trendy enthusiasm for Marxism and psychoanalytic theory. Like Lippman, Weintraub's grades also suffered at the expense of his extra-curricular activities. (Crazy About Lili doesn't elaborate on Lippman's academic fate, but Weintraub graduated with a general BA.) And, yes, Weintraub took in a performance or two at the Gayety.

The author hastens to clarify, however, that his distractions were far less carnal than those of his fictional creation: "One of the reasons I didn't have such a distinguished academic career was because I was also working as a reporter at The Gazette."

So, for the record, Weintraub saw the notorious Lili St. Cyr perform, "but I never met her."

Crazy About Lili is a novel about young love (read: obsession), and an idealist's struggle to accept his god-given "gift for fraud and hypocrisy" (read: literary talent). High-minded subtexts aside, it's also a comic romp about frisky strippers - and, if Weintraub's past success is any indication, that's guaranteed to turn heads.

"City Unique was a socio-political-economic look at a period of Montreal history," he recalls, "so I was amazed at the amount of response I had to the five pages about Lili St. Cyr. All the codgers were phoning me and wanting to discuss their memories of her."

"Including," he impishly adds, "one or two retired McGill professors.

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