Fonds SC510 - Holiff family fonds

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Title proper

Holiff family fonds

General material designation

  • Multiple media

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on the contents of the fonds.

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1928 - 2020 (Creation)

Physical description area

Physical description

2.25 m of textual records and other material.

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Saul Holiff was born in London, Ontario in 1925 to Joel and Esther Holiff. Joel immigrated to Canada in 1914 from the Kiev region of Russia. Esther, as well as Joel’s sister Ann joined him in 1921, their arrival delayed by the start of the First World War and by anti-Jewish violence in Russia. Over the course of his life, Saul pursued many career and personal endeavors including airman, salesman, entrepreneur, restaurant owner, promoter, talent manager, columnist and television host, and in later years, a student of history.

Holiff left school in grade 10. Soon after, he, along with his brother Morris, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). During World War II, he served as a physical fitness instructor, flight sergeant, and rear air gunner. With support from a Veteran’s fund, Holiff was later able to complete business courses. Following his discharge from the RCAF, Holiff traveled to Hollywood where he spent time on the film studio lots, met celebrities and became fascinated by the celebrity culture of the age and show business generally.

Following his service, Saul sold clothing door to door, ran the family business, Holiff Kustom Klothes, and opened a drive-in hamburger restaurant, Sol’s Square Boy. Holiff‘s interest in music (his own tastes ran to jazz and big band music) and the entertainment business led him to promoting concerts in London, Toronto and elsewhere. Holiff was one of the first promoters to bring the early rock and roll acts into Canada, including Bill Haley and his Comets, The Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly. Through these connections, Holiff met Johnny Cash, becoming his personal manager in 1960. At this point, Holiff started his entertainment management company Volatile Attractions. Under this name he managed several Canadian and American acts including, Tommy Hunter, Statler Brothers, George Jones, The Carter Family, Carl Perkins, and Debbi Lori Kaye, among others.

Saul married Barbara Robinson in 1964. Barbara was born in Winnipeg and moved to London, Ontario in 1957, where she worked as the personal secretary to the director of advertising at the London Free Press; it was at the Free Press that she met Saul. Barbara later provided assistance to Saul in his business affairs. Barbara and Saul had two sons: Jonathan, born 1965, and Joshua, born 1966. Barbara became increasingly interested in the nuclear disarmament movement after moving to Victoria.

Saul Holiff resigned as Cash’s manager in 1973. Following his departure from the music industry, Holiff studied history at the University of Western Ontario, wrote restaurant reviews and hosted a cable television program “Ego’s Nest.” In 1980 he joined Barbara, Jonathan and Joshua in Victoria, British Columbia, where he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Victoria in 1983. After moving to Nanaimo with Barbara, Holiff occasionally wrote for local publications. He was interested in the right to die movement and a member of the Hemlock Society. Saul Holiff died by suicide in 2005.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Jonathan Holiff is the son of Saul and Barbara Holiff, born June 8, 1965 in London, Ontario. Jonathan was raised along with his younger brother Joshua in London, Ontario and Victoria, British Columbia. Jonathan Holiff lives in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

Following high school graduation, Jonathan briefly attended the University of Victoria, but, like his father, was drawn to the entertainment world. He trained as a talent agent at the William Morris Agency in Beverly Hills, was founder and president of the Association of Celebrity Assistants in Los Angeles from 1992 to 1996, worked as a freelance producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from 1988 to 1996, and was managing partner of the celebrity endorsement recruiter Hollywood-Madison Group from 1993-2005.

Following his father’s death in 2005, Jonathan learned about Saul’s archives from his mother and embarked upon a project to create a documentary to cast light upon his father’s role in music history, and also to come to a better understanding of his father. Jonathan established New Chapter Productions Inc in 2006 to enable the production of My Father and the Man in Black (2012); he wrote, directed and produced what would become and award winning feature documentary. The film tells the story of Saul from his childhood in London to the significant role he played as a Canadian concert promoter and personal manager in the early days of rock and roll. It follows in particular the manager –talent relationship between Saul and Johnny Cash, the tagline of the film being: “Before there was Johnny and June, there was Johnny and Saul.” The film received a number of awards and nominations:

WINNER "Best Documentary" at 2013 EDINDOCS Edinburgh (Scotland)
WINNER “Best Documentary” at 2012 RADAR Hamburg International (Germany)
WINNER "Best Documentary" at 2013 Available Light Film Festival (Canada)
WINNER "Best Documentary" at 2013 Lewiston Auburn Film Festival (USA)
WINNER "Best Documentary" at 2013 Buffalo Niagara Film Festival (USA)
WINNER "Best Documentary" at 2013 Memphis International Film & Music Festival (USA)
WINNER "Orson Welles Award" at 2013 Tiburon International Film Festival (USA)
WINNER "Audience Favorite" at Valley Doc Fest (Canada) [no date]
WINNER "Best of the Fest" at the 2014 Detroit Jewish Film Festival (USA)
TOP 10 Audience Favorite at 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival (Canada)
TOP 10 Audience Favorite at 2012 Calgary International Film Festival (Canada)

Custodial history

Materials were accrued over Saul’s lifetime were eventually kept in a storage locker in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Family members inherited the contents of the storage locker following his death in 2005. Jonathan Holiff’s materials were accrued from 2006 to 2015 and remained in his personal possession until donation of the Holiff Family fonds to the University of Victoria in 2016.

Scope and content

The fonds consists of records relating to the personal and business lives of the Holiff family, in particular, Saul and Jonathan Holiff.

The records relating to Saul’s life date from 1914-2005 and include letters, notes, financial records, photographs, newspaper clippings, an oversize scrapbook, audio-visual recordings and publications that encompass Saul Holiff’s life, including years as an RCAF airman, salesman, entrepreneur, promoter, talent manager, columnist and television host, student of history, husband and father, in London Ontario, briefly in California, and later, British Columbia. The fonds documents Holiff’s early businesses in London as well as his entertainment management company, Volatile Attractions, his work and relationships with several Canadian and American music acts from 1956 to 1978, and most notably as manager to Johnny Cash from 1960 to 1973, amongst Cash’s most successful but personally challenging years. Correspondence between the Holiffs, Johnny Cash, June Carter and other members of the music business continues until 2005. Saul Holiff recorded an audio diary between circa 1967 and 1997 and these recordings provide an intimate look into his personal life, business and, importantly, his relationships with family and business associates, including, Johnny Cash.

The records relating to Jonathan Holiff primarily concern the research, preproduction, feature release of and promotion for My Father and the Man in Black, dating from 2006-2015, and consist of 2.85 Terabytes of born digital audio, video, and digitized textual, graphic, and audio visual files, as well as textual, graphic and published materials. Digital materials include items digitized from Saul Holiff’s portion of the Holiff Family fonds for the production of My Father and the Man in Black, commercially published print and music materials primarily concerning Johnny Cash, interviews, production administration records, video masters, commercial release retail DVDs, and promotional materials.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

Donated to the University of Victoria by Barbara Holiff and Jonathan Holiff in 2016. Additional materials donated in 2022.


Records were arranged by Jonathan Holiff for use in his documentary film, My Father and the Man in Black.

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Availability of other formats

Jonathan Holiff created digital copies of key items from the Saul Holiff portion of the fonds for use in the research and production of My Father and the Man in Black, these materials were produced in a variety of digital file types.

Notably, the fonds includes the “Liff [Life] Album”, 1914-1994, 61 x 45 x 5.5 cm, a large format scrapbook, assembled by Saul Holiff, of which a hardcopy and digital reproductions were made.

Restrictions on access

Access to family correspondence requires permission of the donors.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Access on a by-folder basis in the reading room.

Please request access to electronic files in advance of your research visit.

Fonds is made available for research and private study; all other uses require permission of the copyright holders.

Finding aids

Finding aid available with file level control for physical records; electronic file listing available at folder level.

Generated finding aid

Associated materials

UVic Libraries' digital exhibit "Volatile Attractions: Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash, and Managing a Music Legend" features select items from the Holiff Family fonds, including materials related to Saul Holiff's early years and later life, his management of Johnny Cash, and to Jonathan Holiff's documentary "My father and the Man in Black."

Related materials


2016-018, 2022-003

Physical description

Includes 812 photographic prints, approximately 600 letters, 71 graphic items (including posters and other promotional materials), 66 publications (monographs and periodicals), 54 video recordings, 52 audio recordings, 4 objects (awards) and 4 hard drives containing 2.85 terabytes of audio, video, photograph, graphic, textual and spreadsheet files in various formats.

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Dates of creation, revision and deletion

Revised by JF, January 28, 2022.

Language of description

  • English

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Accession area