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|Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner|
Gortner with Margaret Ladd in Falcon Crest
January 14, 1944 |
Long Beach, California
Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner (generally known as Marjoe Gortner; born January 14, 1944, in Long Beach, California) is a former revivalist and actor who first gained attention during the late 1940s when, aged four, he became the youngest-known ordained preacher. He then gained notoriety in the 1970s when he starred in Marjoe, an Oscar-winning behind-the-scenes documentary about the lucrative business of Pentecostal preaching. The name "Marjoe" is a portmanteau of the biblical names "Mary" and "Joseph".
When Gortner was a child, his father, Vernon, a third-generation minister, noticed his son's talent for mimicry and his fearlessness of strangers and public settings. His parents claimed he had received a vision from God during a bath, but this was later conceded by Marjoe to be a lie his parents forced him to repeat. He claimed they enforced this by mock-drowning him because they could not beat him which would leave bruises which might be noticed during his many public appearances. They began training him to deliver sermons, complete with dramatic gestures and emphatic lunges. When he was four, his parents arranged for him to perform a marriage ceremony attended by the press including photographers from Life and Paramount studios.
Until his teenage years, Gortner and his parents traveled the United States holding revival meetings. As well as teaching him scriptural passages, his parents also taught him several money-making tactics involving the sale of supposedly "holy" articles at revivals which promised to heal the sick and dying. By the time he was sixteen, his family had amassed what he later estimated to be three million dollars. Shortly after Gortner's sixteenth birthday, his father absconded with the money and a disillusioned Marjoe left his mother for San Francisco. He spent the remainder of his teenage years as an itinerant hippie until his early twenties, when, hard-pressed for money, he decided to put his old skills to work and re-emerged on the preaching circuit with a charismatic stage-show modeled after those of contemporary rockers, most notably Mick Jagger. He made enough to take six months off every year, during which he returned to California and lived off the previous six months' earnings.
In the late 1960s, Gortner suffered a crisis of conscience about his double life and felt his performing talents might be put to better use as an actor or singer. When approached by documentarians Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan, he agreed to let their film crew follow him on a final tour in 1971 around revival meetings in California, Texas and Michigan. Unbeknownst to everyone else involved – including, at one point, his father – he gave "backstage" interviews to the filmmakers between sermons and revivals, explaining intimate details of how he and other ministers operated. The filmmakers were also invited back to his hotel room to tape him counting the money he had collected during the day. The resulting film, Marjoe, won the 1972 Academy Award for best documentary.
After leaving the revival circuit, Gortner attempted to break into both the film and recording industries. He cut an LP with Columbia Records titled Bad, but not Evil after his description of himself in the documentary. It met with poor sales and reviews. He began his acting career with a featured role in The Marcus-Nelson Murders, the 1973 pilot for the Kojak TV series. The following year saw him featured in the Academy Award-winning ensemble-cast disaster film Earthquake as Sgt. Jody Joad, a psychotic grocery manager-turned-National Guardsman and the film's main antagonist. He also appeared in the television movie Pray for the Wildcats. Oui magazine hired Gortner to cover Millennium '73, a November 1973 festival headlined by the "boy guru" Guru Maharaj Ji.
Gortner appeared as the psychopathic hostage-taking drug-dealer in Milton Katselas's 1979 screen adaptation of Mark Medoff's play When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder? He also starred in several B-movies such as the TV film The Gun and the Pulpit (1974; also released on home video as The Gun and the Cross), The Food Of The Gods (1976), Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw (1976) and Starcrash (1978). He appeared frequently in the 1980s Circus of the Stars specials.
Gortner hosted an early-1980s reality TV series called Speak Up, America, played a terrorist preacher in a second season episode of Airwolf, and appeared on Falcon Crest as corrupt psychic-cum-medium "Vince Karlotti" (1986–87) before ending his movie career in 1995 with an appearance as a preacher in the western Wild Bill.
Until 2009, Gortner produced Celebrity Sports Invitational charity golf tournaments and ski events to raise money for charities such as the Dream Foundation and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s Waterkeeper Alliance. He retired from this role in January 2010.
In 2007, the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival commissioned actor and writer Brian Osborne to write a one-man play about Gortner. The play, The Word, premiered at the Festival with Suli Holum as director and main collaborator.
In 2010, the play was re-imagined as The Word: A House Party for Jesus with director Whit MacLaughlin and sound designer Rob Kaplowitz. The new play opened October 14, 2010, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and has since been performed in New York (the Soho Playhouse), Los Angeles, Philadelphia (the 2011 NET Festival) and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (the Kelly Strayhorn Theater) with forthcoming productions in Austin, Texas (the 2012 Fusebox Festival), Chicago and Minneapolis.
- Stowe, David W. (2011). No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 121–122. ISBN 9780807834589.
- "Marjoe the Minister". Life 26 (3). January 17, 1949. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
- New York Times Movies Academy Award listing
- Marjoe Gortner at the Internet Movie Database
- "Marjoe Gortner". nytimes.com. Retrieved May 10, 2013.
- Gortner, Marjoe. (May 1974) "Who Was Maharaj Ji?", Oui.
- State of California. California Divorce Index, 1966–1984. Microfiche. Center for Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California. p 8613.
- Marjoe Gortner at the Internet Movie Database
- Resurrecting 'Marjoe' article by Sarah Kernochan.
- Interview with Marjoe
- THE WORD: A House Party for Jesus by Brian Osborne