From "The Memoirs, Chapter Seven":
come across a book called “Storming Heaven” by Lately Thomas, a biography with a lot of pictures all about Aimee Semple McPhearson,
the famous woman evangelist of the 20s and 30s in Echo Park, Los Angeles.
She was a flamboyant character who rode in parades and staged big
spectacles starring herself. Gee! She sounded just like
us! I got the idea of writing a play
about Aimee with a cast of hundreds and lots of big musical numbers.
Joy Phipps was
my leading lady in those days and I immediately saw her as a perfect fit for
So, I went to work on the script which took several months, and
generally started talking it up among our group of friends and looking for more actors.
We decided to stage a grand "promotional tableau"
to be photographed and used as publicity for the big show. It
would be called the Pageant of Salvation and take place in the grand
hall of the Neighborhood Arts Theater, where we had arranged to have
the full production in June. I printed up some fliers to
attract extras for our big tableau. We would need lots.
We passed them out to friends and passers-by.
We collected lots of cardboard and went about building the clowds of
Heaven and the flames of Hell on the sidewalk in front of our house.
I had to try on the flames of Hell, of course, for size.
The day came and we took everything over to the big auditorium.
David was set up with all his equiptment and the
plans for the tableau.
I gave last-minute instructions to the crowd.
Everybody wanted to try on the flames of Hell, of
I positioned our Aimee in her pulpit in the
All the others actors and extras were put into
I always like to put a naked, writhing, young
hunk right in front, of course.
I checked that all was ready through the camera
Aimee was pointing to her scripture for the day.
The Heavenly Hosts began to sing.
The good of the Earth climbed the Mountain of
Poor sinners feared for their souls.
And in the fires of Hell, things really got
Even, Aimee's mother, Minnie Kennedy must burn in
And the naked, young, writhing hunk down in front
was just perfect.
It was a glorious photo and would be reproduced a
* * *
But now it was time to begin in ernest to fill
our big One-Night-Only spectacular musical pagaent. We printed
up another flier.
We started to get some good publicity in the
We printed up a colorful poster for the show.
The second biggest word was FREE!
We printed a nice program with a picture of Aimee
and her mother on the cover.
On the back cover we used a photo of her mother,
Minnie Kennedy sending off the deep-water divers to look for Aimee's
body, the exact image of a scene in the play.
For the extras, we ran off some "scene guides" so they could fill in
what roles they were supposed to be playing at each point in the
play. Later some extras would tell me they didn't know what
they were supposed to be until they could see the costumes they were
being put into; cop, showgirl, reporter, Chinese, bum, etc.
Ah, the theater!
Our Aimee arrived in character looking wonderful
in the back of a pick-up.
That night the house was packed and our the actors and extras gave
it their all! It was a riotous evening and although the
Pagaent of Salvation wasn't exactly like the promotional photo,
you'll notice the young, naked, writhing hunk was perfect right in front.
The evening was over two hours long and at the
end the cast even brought out the director for his own curatin call.
Well, there were a
dozen curtain calls, of course, and standing ovations and the
hundreds of flowers carried on by the cast for the Vindication Tour
are soon flying through the air into the audience and then, soon,
back onto the stage and many in the audience retired that night feeling
they had been present a one of the seminal, underground theater
events of, certainly, the year, and for some that night, of many
years to come.
Our reputation was
growing and our now-huge group of actors, performers and hangers-on would go on to many shows
and events. But the night of Aimee and her Pageant of
Salvation would never be eclipsed.
* * *
(NOTE: See lots more of the
One-Night-Only performance of AIMEE AND THE PAGEANT OF SALVATION on June 25, 1974, in "The
Memoirs, Chapter Seven.")
...NEXT: "QUEEN ISABELLA GIVES HER JEWELS TO COLUMBUS"