Something about Marjoe Gortner has always fascinated me. I remember being a lad and watching him in a made-for-TV opus called The Gun and the Pulpit, in which Marjoe portrayed a gun-totin' preacherman in the Old West. I don't think it was a particularly memorable movie, but I watched it intently.
I saw Marjoe in numerous other movies after that, and I always enjoyed his performances. There was always kind of a controlled madness in his onscreen personality. Marjoe did a lot of TV work, and some decent films as well as some awful ones. He shined in films like Pray for the Wildcats, Bobby Jo and the Outlaw, Earthquake and most especially in When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?. He also appeared in one of the worst SF movies ever unleashed: Star Crash.
Good or bad production, Marjoe Gortner always stood out. Something about the man made us want to continue to watch.
I later learned that Marjoe had a deep history in the field of evangelism. Not only was he an enormously successful minister, Marjoe was the youngest ordained minister in history. he began his career at the age of four and within a year he was presiding over marriage ceremonies and traveling the circuit, raising money for the Lord. He continued to spread the Gospel into his adulthood, but at some point he had a change of heart. Marjoe desired to be a rock star, or perhaps an actor.
In the early 70's, Marjoe Gortner released a documentary simply called Marjoe. In it he exposed himself as a fraud and he pulled the curtain on other religious leaders as well. Though Marjoe (the documentary) won an Academy Award, its release was limited. The distributor didn't wish to start a backlash in the deep south Bible Belt.
Now Marjoe is available again, this time on DVD. I watched it last night and found it to be endlessly entertaining. I wasn't exactly shattered by the revelation that most evangelists are greedy, dishonest shysters. That's common knowledge to me. Yet Marjoe was incredible to watch. Both the man and the movie. This guy had charisma to spare and he could work an audience into an orgiastic frenzy of religious epiphany. And he could get them to fork over the dollars and the checks. Marjoe Gortner personally saw thousands of people and laid his hands upon them and washed them in the blood of holy exuberance. He really was the rock star of the religious right and brother did the money roll in.
The funny (and scary) thing about Marjoe is, even thought we know he was doing something despicable, it's hard to not like the guy as we watch. In a way he reminds me a lot of Jim Jones or Charles Manson. Or even Adolf Hitler. People believed in Marjoe Gortner and he made them like and trust him. Follow him.
Marjoe, the documentary, is the result of the change of heart that the man had. He wanted to blow the whistle on the whole fraudulent business of taking advantage of gullible people in the name of God. It was made in 1972 and if the god Business was as corrupt and foul as was depicted in the film, what do you think it's like now?
Marjoe is a film that needs to be seen by anyone interested in faith healers, snake handlers, holy rollers and other charlatans. It's fascinating, enraging and also very funny.
One final note: In case anyone thinks I am attacking their faith, I'm not. I'm talking about those that would use the name of a deity for cynical greed. If there is a Hell, its fires wait for them.