Arguably more honest than some
July 3, 2015 3:09 AM   Subscribe

A lot of the “tent revival” footage throughout would be relatively unremarkable, except that you know the guy doesn’t really buy into one singular goddamned thing the he’s saying to the shouting crowds of gullible hayseeds and proto mega-churchers. You see how adept Gortner has become at getting people to hand over the “largest bill they have,” while behind the scenes we find him literally counting a pile of cash on a hotel room bed, shaking his head about how easy it is to get the money flowing.
Dangerous Minds examines the bizarre story of Marjoe Gortner (previously), child preacher turned evangelist conman as depicted in the 1972 Oscar winning documentary Marjoe, now available at the Internet Archive.
posted by MartinWisse (15 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
these people have my pity and hopes for realization
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 3:53 AM on July 3, 2015

A few months ago I had the dubious pleasure of watching Starcrash (part of a cult movie double-bill, the other movie was even worse). Given his background, it's shocking how un-charismatic he is on screen.
posted by daveje at 4:18 AM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Bizarre indeed. I've enjoyed hating his acting as a National Reservist in "Earthquake" for years, but never knew his backstory. Have to agree with daveje: his acting is so repellant (see also: Viva Knievel) that it's hard to believe he could be such a charismatic tour de force.

Then again, with evangelists, sometimes there's no accounting for taste.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:55 AM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

This SLYT video called "10 Craziest Child Preachers" opens with fifteen seconds of Marjoe, if you don't want to watch the whole movie (a great film, as I remember). Interestingly, Marjoe is the most awkwardly stagy of the ten. Many of the others (except a ridiculous toddler or two) are pretty genuinely religious.

Last week, the NYT Magazine had a feature on child preachers in Brazil, where it's quite a thing, apparently. A money-making thing.

A few of you might be old enough to remember the teenaged Guru Maharaj Ji (aka Lord of the Universe...SLYT trailer here, whose Divine Light Mission peaked at the Astrodome in 1973, but continued to be one of the Top Ten of the cult-crazed 70's for some time. Unlike Marjoe, he never fessed up, and at 58 has reverted to his birth name, Prem Rawat, and now calls himself a motivational speaker. He does, though, have enough wealthy followers who still view him as Lord and keep his Malibu garages full of expensive toys.
posted by kozad at 6:28 AM on July 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

In his defense, Gortner did turn in a great performance opposite Telly Savalas in The Marcus-Nelson Murders, the gritty, dark 1973 TV-movie that served as the pilot for Kojak. Its depiction of urban injustice and police corruption was well ahead of the TV standards of the time. It was probably the closest thing to The Wire you were going to get in 1973, and some consider it an overlooked classic.
posted by Kinbote at 6:28 AM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

My kudos to Gortner are reserved for his epiphany. Imagine being groomed as a child, having a talent for showmanship cultivated as a vehicle to scam people out of their bucks by feeding them pipe dreams--being precious and having immediate gratification (piles of money and all that audience feedback). Okay, the pillow smothering was a buzz kill, but he was coming into his own as an adult, in full, tax-deductible blossom. Then stepping out of that world, back into the ordinary one on this side of the mirror. Good for him, I say.

Also, I think I saw him in The Rockford Files, or maybe it was one of the old Hawaii 50 episodes.

My sister once went to a Billy Graham tent revival, back in the fifties. She and a friend had gifted the lord's collection plate, had sung the songs, then were queued up, shuffling to the stage to meet Jesus and get saved. Imagine the stage, the robed choir, and a serpentine bannister guiding a line of lost souls to the place where Billy would do the laying on of hands and shout his hallelujahs. Billy himself was attended by several husky helpers, whose task was to catch the newly saved as they, literally, fell into grace, and get them offstage so as to not hold up the proceedings.

Not too far ahead of them Billy was performing his signature move--the smacking of the forehead--on an old man who had walked up to the stage on crutches. The old gentleman threw out his hands and fell back, as per the accepted procedure, but Billy's assistants somehow got their needle in the wrong groove, and failed to catch him. Just before the old gentleman hit the floor, he smacked the back of his head on one of the iron rails of the bannister so loudly, said my sister, that Jesus probably heard it all the way up in heaven. (I'm not making this up, and I believe my sister's account was pretty accurate).

There was lots of blood and moaning, and four of the assistants took the old gentleman by the limbs and carried him off somewhere, one hopes to get medical attention. During all this, the choir never missed a note, and Billy continued to wave his hands and shout hallelujah.

My sister told me she saw this as a sign from above, telling her that this day was not the day for her to give her soul to Jesus.
posted by mule98J at 7:37 AM on July 3, 2015 [15 favorites]

(see also: Viva Knievel)

Or don't. It's 1970's all-star cast reaches unbelievable levels of Velveeta-tastic cheesiness. In addition to Marjoe Gortner, we're talking Evel Knievel (natch!), Gene Kelly, Lauren Hutton, Frank Gifford, and both Leslie Nielsen & Dabney Coleman in comedically non-comedic roles.
posted by jonp72 at 7:51 AM on July 3, 2015

Some day when I'm not as hungover as I am at this movement I'm going to do a When Ya Comin' Back, Red Ryder FPP.

posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:55 AM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Actually, I'm pretty sure "Pray for the Wildcats" is the movie you need to see -- Gortner plays second-fiddle to Andy Griffith, William Shatner, and Robert Reed, and you haven't really lived 'til you've seen those four dudes on a manly bike trip through the CA desert.

Spoilers (not really)...

Andy Griffith was so evil!
posted by allthinky at 9:44 AM on July 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

That movie was quite an interesting story. I have his autobiography on my shelf as well, and like everybody else in the 70s he recorded an album. And he did a nude love scene with future Wonder Woman Lynda Carter. (SFW)
posted by jonmc at 10:24 AM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wonder what happened to the couple he married.
posted by clawsoon at 10:59 AM on July 3, 2015

Watching the contrast between the revival scenes and the hotel scenes makes me think of the band KISS. It's a business venture that offers catharsis in exchange for cash.

There's nothing wrong with that exchange per se, but there are some authenticity problems in both cases.
posted by clawsoon at 11:46 AM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

This SLYT video called "10 Craziest Child Preachers" yt opens with fifteen seconds of Marjoe

My God, that's Lynchian.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:20 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can God deliver a dope addict? YES HE CAN!

Can God deliver an alc-oh-holic? YES HE CAN!

Can God deliver a hom-OH-seckshual!?? YES HE... [oh shit the fucking 70s man]
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:58 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just watched the documentary -- fascinating. Also, totally worth it just for the last couple minutes with the black lab.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:38 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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