||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (November 2012)|
|Born||Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner
January 14, 1944
Long Beach, California
|Occupation||Christian revivalist, actor|
|Spouse(s)||actress Candy Clark (1978-79; divorced)|
Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner (generally known as Marjoe Gortner; born January 14, 1944 in Long Beach, California) is a former evangelist preacher and actor. He first gained public attention during the late 1940s when his parents arranged for him at age four to be ordained as a preacher, due to his extraordinary speaking ability; he was the youngest known in that position. As a young man, he preached on the revival circuit.
He became a celebrity during the 1970s when he starred in Marjoe (1972), a behind-the-scenes documentary about the lucrative business of Pentecostal preaching. This won the 1972 Academy Award for Best Documentary Film.
Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner was born in 1944 in Long Beach, California. The name "Marjoe" is a portmanteau of the biblical names "Mary" and "Joseph". His father Vernon was a third-generation Christian evangelical minister who preached at revivals. He noticed his son's talent for mimicry and his fearlessness of strangers and public settings. His parents claimed that the boy had received a vision from God during a bath, and started preaching. Marjoe later said this was a fictional story that his parents forced him to repeat. He claimed they compelled him to do this by using mock-drowning episodes; they did not beat him as they did not want to leave bruises that might be noticed during his many public appearances.
They trained 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 throughout the United States holding revival meetings, and by 1951 his younger brother Vernoe had been incorporated into the act. As well as teaching Marjoe scriptural passages, his parents also taught him several money-raising tactics, including the sale of supposedly "holy" articles at revivals. He would promise that such items could be used 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. A disillusioned Marjoe left his mother for San Francisco.
Gortner spent the remainder of his teenage years as an itinerant hippie until his early twenties. 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 rock stars, most notably Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. He made enough to take six months off every year, during which he returned to California and lived off his earnings before returning to the circuit.
In the late 1960s, Gortner experienced a crisis of conscience about his double life. He decided 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 during 1971 on a final tour of revival meetings in California, Texas, and Michigan. Unbeknownst to everyone 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 also shot his counting the money he had collected during the day later in his hotel room. The resulting film, Marjoe, won the 1972 Academy Award for best documentary.
After leaving the revival circuit, Gortner tried to break into both the film and recording industries. He cut an LP with Columbia Records entitled, 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 disaster film Earthquake as Sgt. Jody Joad, a psychotic grocery manager-turned-National Guardsman, and the main antagonist of the film. It won an Academy Award with its ensemble cast. He also appeared in an episode of the 1974 ABC police drama Nakia.
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 television 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. He also 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). His last role was as a preacher in the western Wild Bill (1995).
From 1978 to December 14, 1979, Gortner was married to actress Candy Clark. 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, retiring in January 2010.
Stage play and film retrospective
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 recreated 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 other productions planned for Austin, 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.
- "Marjoe Continues by Popular Demand (advertisement)". The Tuscaloosa News. March 16, 1951. p. 2.
- "World's Youngest Evangelists (advertisement)". The Tuscaloosa News. September 22, 1951. p. 2.
- New York Times Movies Marjoe Academy Award listing; accessed May 2, 2014.
- Marjoe Gortner at the Internet Movie Database
- "Marjoe Gortner profile". 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