For many years, Rita Shelton Deverell wanted to produce a docudrama about a remarkable woman. But other careers got in the way. The actor, playwright and docudrama-maker has also worked as a TV presenter and head of current affairs for Vision TV, the Canadian network she co-founded; news director (mentoring her successor) at APTN, the Aboriginal People’s TV Network; professor of journalism and women’s studies in two Canadian universities;
Her achievements earned her a place in the Order of Canada – Canada’s highest honour.
At last, Rita is writing the docudrama screenplay about Florence James. She’s writing it at her country home in the ‘Sugar Bush’, outside Toronto. “We bought the country place 22 years ago when our son graduated from high school. Thereafter we started to rent apartments in Toronto. There have been five Toronto apartments in 22 years (plus two in Winnipeg, and one in Halifax where I worked three-year stints). The ‘Sugar Bush’ house remains home throughout these moves and always welcomes us.” Like Rita, Florence James found a productive life and award-winning career in Canada. Rita came to Canada from Texas as a young woman, but Florence came here past age 60, after some terrible events.
“‘McCarthy and the Old Woman’ is about a feisty, resilient real-life heroine who lost everything because of the communist witch-hunts in the USA. Florence James was blacklisted and bankrupted. She survived the loss of her money, reputation, life’s work, her home and the death of her husband.”
The planning, creative thinking and writing for the docudrama are taking place here. Two writers live here. Rita’s husband Rex is a well-known playwright. Each has an office on the house’s lower level. “Sometimes I write and plan in longhand at the drum table. But I have to get the feeling that I’m ‘going to work’. Rex has never gone to an office, so I have to keep his joke-telling self away from my work space.” Rita’s homes – country and city – are beautifully designed – by her. They are bright, comfortable, unpretentious places, where history, art, houseplants and flowers mix. Many objects were passed down from Rex and Rita’s parents. “Every place in the large five-area living space is for my favourite leisure time activity, reading detective fiction. “We have lots of family pieces by now: the drum table was my mother’s. “The small desk and dining room table were Rex’s mother’s. The rocking chair was Rex’s grandfather’s, though not upholstered in leopard print. “Outside, the yellow Muskoka chair is really the place I love to sit and dream and have nothing to do.” “I’m a home addict. The trivial side is I love to look at houses, read the real estate ads all the time, adore interior decorating, and can be cheered up by having a design idea.
“The important thing though is I’m an introvert, and actually draw my energy by starting each day from home base. That’s a place where my life is ordered, feels controllable, and beautiful. Then I can go out into the world and deal better with the dis-ordered, un-controllable, and sometimes ugly.”
Recently, another of Rita’s projects was launched to positive reviews. It’s a multimedia, educational kit called ‘Women, Contemporary Aboriginal Issues and Resistance’. Free and downloadable, it includes a DVD:
Photos by Rex Deverell.
34 thoughts on “At Home with Rita Deverell”
What a lovely post celebrating such an inspirational lady. I loved the style of her house which is a real home and I particularly like the fact that she needs to start each day in that safe refuge before she can go out and face the outside world. I can relate to that and draw strength from the comfort of home.
I love her yellow chair. I can sense a great sense of peace and also creativity in this fabulous home.
Thank you, Karen. Yes, you’ve summed it up well.
Remarkable that a house that has such interesting objects can also be so peaceful. I should take lessons…..
Wow, what a fantastic place, trendy but not threatening, smart yet relaxing. Also, Florence’s story sounds pretty amazing – no wonder Rita is interested.
I can hardly wait to see the story about Florence. So many good people lost so much back then.
Thankyou for sharing this, what a fascinating lady and she has nurtured a lovely home. I can relate to her thoughts about being a home addict too.
Me too. Though I’m more of a garden addict, I like my surroundings to be pleasing.
And now I want a yellow chair. Under a big ‘ole tree. Because of course I’m wondering why I didn’t think of that . . .
Kay, I think we should all get ourselves a yellow chair, under a big ole tree.
A very interesting post about an inspirational woman. How sensible to buy a home in mid-career even though she and her husband couldn’t live in it all the time.
Very sensible. And did I mention that Rita is also a great cook? All these women I know who are great cooks, floral arrangers, bakers and knitters. My goodness, they put me to shame!
What a splendid amount of affirmation! I am basking….and will survive next months. Thank you.
But if anyone should think I can bake and knit they would be wrong — maybe when I grow up I will learn. Admit to other trades named though.
But knowing you, if you tried those two things, you’d do splendidly. Whereas I’ve tried, and have the messes to prove it!!
I need the comfort of my home base, too, just to get me through my day, let alone produce anything like a book or play. I can’t imagine how some writers and artists produced ( produce?) great work in impoverished and harsh environments.
Must have been so tough for those artists. Makes what they did even more impressive.
Thanks for your comment on this story and the Wild Life one, Gallivanta. I enjoy hearing from you, as always. Sending you great vibes all the way from Canada to NZ.
Thank you Cynthia. 🙂
Every individual has an interesting story to tell. Now I know the story of Rita Deverell and look forward to the story of Florence James.
Me too. I am really looking forward to Florence’s story.
Thank you for stopping by my blog. You certainly have a lovely way with decorating with such beautiful character pieces. Nice to meet you.
Thank you. I’ll pass your compliment on to Rita, whose house this is. (I can’t decorate to save my life. See my post titled “Inferior Design…”
And thank you visiting my blog! How kind of you. Please feel most welcome.
Reblogged this on Cynthia Reyes and commented:
Another favourite of mine.
I’m surprised that she can find the time to sit down at all. She has a lot going on!
She sure does!
Thanks for introducing me to Rita Deverell. I was not aware of her work, which deals with some subjects I am very interested in, especially the anti-communist witch hunts.
You’re welcome. The anti-communist witch hunts — that was a dark period in America’s recent history.
An impressive woman in a beautiful home! xo Johanna
What an amazing lady and a wonderful home.
Well said, Chloris. Thank you.
It looks like a very creative home, no wonder it inspires her and no wonder such an inspirational woman created it!
Well said, Andrea. Rita has created a special place in the maple woods.
Cynthia, as usual, what a lovely post and beautiful pictures! And I love antique furniture! Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂 🙂 🙂
Thank you for this response, Maxine. Hope your week goes well.
It sure is!