She preached the gospel AND she sold War Bonds!

This rare photo is from the private collection of our friend Patricia Williamson and features Pat (the uniformed lass on the right) with the leading evangelist of the era, Aimie Semple McPherson, taking center stage at a World War II bond rally.

Hello, everybody.  Your Classic Movie guys, Joe Morella and Frank Segers, back again and musing about Aimee, who never appeared in a studio feature (but is the inspiration for at least one), and Hollywood. It’s fair to say the two were destined for each other.

Born in Canada in 1890, as Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy — she later took the surnames of two of her three husbands, Robert Semple (spouse No. 1) and Harold McPherson (No. 2) — McPherson was by the Twenties a spiritual rock star:  America’s most famous female evangelist and faith healer.

Her base of operations was The International Church of the Four Square Gospel in Los Angeles, which drew thousands to witness healings of the sick and congregations speaking in tongues. (No slouch in the marketing department, Aimee plastered the church’s logo on the robe worn in today’s photo.)

Inevitably, Hollywood and Aimee became intrigued with each other. Soon Aimee found herself palling around with Charlie Chaplin. Years later she supposedly had a fling with, of all people, comedian Milton Berle.

Upon seeing her for the first time and a charity benefit, Berle recalled in his autobiography, “I was both impressed and very curious … She was all dignity and class when it came her turn. The house went wild when she walked out into the lights.”

What especially sparked Hollywood’s (and the nation’s) imagination was McPherson’s supposed disappearance from Venice Beach near Hollywood in the late Twenties. She claimed she had been kidnapped, and forcibly detailed in Mexico. Later it was established she had spent an interlude with a married lover; she also was married at the time.

A Hallmark Hall of Fame tv series examined the incident in 1976’s “The Disappearance of Aimee” with Faye Dunaway in the title role and Bette Davis as her mother. Thirty years later, Mimi Michaels portrayed the evangelist in “Sister Aimee: The Aimee Semple McPherson Story,” an independently-made biopic.

Sinclair Lewis based the character of “Sister Sharon Falconer” on McPherson in his novel, “Elmer Gantry.”  Jean Simmons played the role in the 1960 movie version directed by Richard Brooks.

In her own way, Aime was a big Hollywood star of her time.  She died in 1944, just two years after that War bond appearance she made with our friend Pat.


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