Bill Wolf








            I had 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 Los Angeles.  I remember my mother occasionally mentioning her with a kind of raised eyebrows look and I had always had a romantic fascination with her.  She was a flamboyant character who rode in parades and staged big spectacles starring herself.  Well, I got the idea of writing a play about Aimee and a cast of hundreds and lots of big musical numbers.  Joy Phipps was then our leading lady and seemed a perfect fit for Aimee.  I went to work on the script which took several months, and generally talking it up among our group and looking for more actors.




            About that time one of the dirty movie houses in San Francisco, The Mitchell Brothers’ O’Farrell Theater, announced midnight movies for a nickel!  Once a week, the dirty movies were replaced with corn-ball cult stuff popular at the time with hippies.  Well, you offer anything for a nickel to a bunch of totally broke hippies and they’ll all come.  I went a couple of times.  The movie was proceeded by a silly can-can number by a bunch of dizzy chicks with big plastic boobs sticking out and generally just prancing around laughing.  I loved it.  I decided to go back stage and meet the girls after the show.  They were all stoned and half-dressed and laughing and I told them I was a theater director and I loved their show, which they could hardly believe.  Turns out they were the ticket girls during the regular dirty movies and had dreamt up this nickel movie for something to do and the Mitchell brother went for it.  I invited them to one of our shows and we promised to collaborate on something real big soon.  Which we did.

            I had, of course, been thinking to do Aimee that fall, but things dragged on and the new year began and spring of 1974 was coming.


*  *  *


            Around then I had hooked up with the city’s Neighborhood Arts Program and a guy named Keith St. Claire, a skinny, bespeckled sort of gay-nerd type.  We always got along great and I liked him a lot.  At that time, they ran a big old auditorium on Waller  Street.  It was loaned out to groups and classes and such, and I had seen the Angels of Light there, a bunch of crazy, later-called “gender-fuck” drag queens who did big-dress productions around town.  I wanted the place for our production of “Aimee,” now called “Aimee Semple MacPhearson and the Pageant of Salvation.”  Keith said sure! and we got scheduled for one night only, to a free audience on the 6th of June.


          And I had my Aimee.  Joy Phipps was my leading lady in those days and I thought she fit perfect in this great role.  We started dressing her up and taking some pictures to see how she might look.  We sat her at the piano, and though she couldn't play a note, she got right into it (BELOW).



            The other important role was that of Aimee's mother, Minnie Kennedy, a hard-talking, bossy bitch who ran Aimee's public image and the Temple's finances.  Here was our other great actress, ready for her starring role, our own Diane Racine.  She loved every minute of it (BELOW).



            We roped in a few more actors and went into rehearsals in the basement of Vicksburg.  Maria Scatuccio also got excited about it and introduced us to a crazy girl who was doing belly dancing (!) around the Haight-Ashbury in an act which featured a live boa and she called herself and a couple of back-up girl musicians “Liela and the Scales.”  She was loud and funny and we loved her at once.  She and Maria would collaborate on the music.

            I had stayed close to Karolyn Kiisel from the Napa Valley Theater, now living in San Francisco, and she began collecting old clothes and dressing the cast of hundreds.  Then too, through some sort of gardening job we had, we came across a family in the Sunset district who were selling a bunch of boxes, sight unseen, of old clothes from their mother, I guess, who had died.  I told Karolyn about it and we decided to buy it and it would become the seed of our huge costume collection for many years.

            As a promotional gimmick we decided to stage a photo of the big number, the Paegent of Salvation, and went to work building an enormous cardboard set (BELOW).  In it Aimee, played by Joy, was leading her followers up into the clods, all dressed in long white robes, singing from open hymnals and the wretched writhed below in the flames of Hell.  We went into the auditorium on the 27th of April for a full day of setting up and shooting.  It was to become one of our classic photos and years later I came across a ridiculous old painting called the Road to the New Jerusalem and I realized I had seen it somewhere in my past, an exact copy of our Pageant of Salvation.



            The play told the story of Aimee and her rise to fame, beginning with her return voyage from China around 1906, as a young widow of a Christian missionary, sailing with her infant to New York and her reunion with her mother, Minnie Kennedy, leader of a hard-scrapple group of fundamentalist preaching in Union Square.  Aimee joins her mother’s group, biringing the much-needed razzle of the tens and twenties.  They travel across country preaching and gathering followers to Los Angeles where Aimee founds her Four Square Gospel Temple in Echo Park.  At the height of her popularity, she walked into the sea off Santa Monica and, supposedly, drowned until discovered later to have run off to Mexico with her lover, Keneth Ormiston, the radio engineer of her Gospel Temple.

            We were getting lots of talk and interest about the show and rehearsals heated up.  As a final promotional stunt, we carted Aimee and Minnie, now played by the fabulous Diane Racine, and a bunch of extras all outfitted in Karolyn’s old costumes, down to Daly City to board the commuter train north while the rest of us went to Union Station in downtown San Francisco, with big banners and signs saying “Welcome Aimee” and cheered her arrival.  It all looked great, of course, and we got a lot of pictures in the papers.


Below: Arriving commuters didn't quite know what to think.






            Well, at that time, in San Francisco, with all the hippies and such, if you do a free show of anything, you’ll pack ‘em in.  On our poster the biggest word was FREE. All across the bottom.  The day of the show arrived and the final dress rehearsal took place that morning in the big auditorium.  We were taking extras for the crowd scenes up to the last minute.  We told them just follow along with the crowd and do what they were doing.  Karolyn had laid out the costumes by scene and some of the extras didn’t know what they were supposed to be until they found themselves dressed, as cops or hookers or scuba divers.

            A friend from Seattle was in town, the theater director Brian Thompson, and he sat in on the dress rehearsal.  I was watching his reactions and in the end he said “You got some kind of show there. Bill.”

            Everything, it seemed, had gone wrong and backstage was chaos, but I walked out to the collected cast and extras and told them, “You got some kind of show there, kids.  Now you all know what went wrong and what needs to happen tonight,” I said, “and now you only lack one thing.”  I paused.  “You have to believe everything you do, really believe, believe you are the character.  Believe you are Aimee, believe you are Minnie, believe you are a cop, a hooker, a scuba diver.  Every word, every action, every move.  You have to believe.  Now get a short rest and see you back here to dress at six o’clock.”


*  *  * 


There was a make-shift stage in the place, made of platforms nailed together and about three feet off the floor, but nothing else.  So we rigged up our own black curtains on the sides and back wall making a nice proscenium.  But we also wanted to close the curtains between each of the thirty-two “acts,” to change the scenery, what there was of it.  Well, the place had no tracks or pulleys, of course, so we remembered the system of opening up the front curtain with wires threaded from the top sides, through the curtains, to the two bottom centers and when you pull it up from the sides it can be a quite dramatic effect. 

            The two ropes need to be threaded through little metal hoops sewn into the backs of the curtains.  We used safety pins instead.  Karolyn had a bunch of real big ones and we clipped them into the rough muslin which was our front curtain.  Well, the safety pins never did work very smoothly and kept popping out during the performance and by the end it was looking a little bedraggled and the actors had to stoop down to be seen through the gaps.  We counted it up to the “style” of the show.

            We knew the show was a little confusing and, as Brian Thompson had said, hard to follow, so it was decided at the last minute to have a microphone backstage where Jim Nettleton, with his nice deep voice, could read the “act” titles and a short sentence of explanation before each scene.  It helped a lot, I tell you.


            Curtain time was nearing and our hordes of actors and musicians and extras were all nervous and getting into their costumes, some for the first time.  Some of the extras told me later they didn’t know what they were supposed to be until they got their costume on and discovered they were a cop or a mermaid or a sailor.  Break a leg, everyone!

            We could hear noises, then more noises and finally lots of noises from out in the auditorium.  Peeking through the curtain, we could see the place filling up.  Well, when you did a big, free show back in those hippie days, let me tell you, you got a crowd.

            Also we saw, stretched across the entire front row, a contingent of serious-looking adults, dressed in black, carrying Bibles and stony-faced expressions.  I knew immediately.  They had come from across the Bay from the Four-Square Gospel Temple in Oakland, still run by Aimee’s surviving son, the “infant” of our “act one.”  I had no idea what they expected, but it sure wasn’t what they got.


            So I was walking around back stage left, checking on things and kind of nervous, when I noticed it was awfully empty.  I thought, Oh, shit, where is everybody?  They’ve fled!

            I walked out onto center stage to look around.  Not a soul.  Then I noticed David De Montluzin, NOT an actor, frozen in fear on the deck of our flimsy cardboard ship, looking like Napolean, and staring straight ahead.

            And the others? I asked myself.  I stepped over to stage right and looked into the wings.  The appeared to be a hundred Chinese coolies, in place for the “Chinese parade” of the first act, every one starring straight ahead, frozen in fear.  Oh, brother! I thought, let’s get this show on the road!

            The light dimmed.  The audience gasped.  Jim intoned into the microphone, “Ladies and Gentlemen!  The AAA Acting Company!  And Les Nicklettes!  Present!  Aimee, and the Pageant of Salvation!  The True Story of Aimee Semple MacPhearson!  Act One!  It is 1906!  A Dock in China!”

            There was a slight pause and then Leila and her all girl Snakes hit it up with their lively Chinese overture and the crowd went wild.  Stomping its feet and shouting.  The front curtain creaked open to David standing on our flimsy cardboard ship as a half dozen guys and girls, lead by our friend Tommy Ammiano, in silly sailor costumes came running onto the stage.  They see the ship and Tommy said, real loud (!), “Whew!  We ain’t missed it yet, boys!”

            At that point the band went into “Happy Feet” and the sailors did a silly tap number to the crowd’s wild approval.  Big applause.

            “Get on board, you ASSHOLES!” shouts the captain cutting off the applause, “and get ready to sail!”

            The sailors stumble up the ramp to the boat as one says, “Something’s eatin’ the Captain!”

            “I heard they’re holding the boat for some important passenger.”

            “He’s late!”

            From the back of the boat enters Alma Becker and Sue De Groot, playing Gertrude and Alice, our little Roman de Clef joke, in rich old rags.

            “Captain!  Captain!  Why aren’t we sailing?  We’re late!”

“Well, uh, we’re expecting a very important passenger …and, uh,  well ...”

At this point Peggy, the captain’s daughter, played by Karolyn, followed by her “betrothed,” Reginald, a dork, come running on.  “Daddy, Daddy!  What is this I hear we’re waiting for a missionary?”

“A missionary!  Oh, how BORING!  Let’s go, let’s go!”

The Captain stutters back, “Um, well, she should be here soon and …”


Gertrude is shocked.  “A WOMAN missionary?”

“Er … and her infant ...”

“Infant!!!” says Gertrude.

Alice’s first line, “I’ll go boil some water!” and she starts off.

“Oh, shut up, Alice!” says Gertrude.

“Oh, Daddy, let’s sail without her.  She’s sure to be a stick-in-the-mud and an old prude!”

            (Noises off.)

Alice is looking off right, “What’s all that noise?”

“It sounds like a Chinese parade!”

“Oh, just another boring Chinese parade,” says Gertrude, “Come, Captain, let’s be off and sail for America!”

            The noises and gongs and cymbals increase as our giant Chinese parade enters, carrying a litter with Aimee Semple MacPhearson on a chair, fanning her.

            Reginald’s first line is “Look!  That’s not a Chinese parade!  That’s …that’s …”

The Chinese crowds are crying loudly, “Don’t go!  Don’t go, Aimee!”

Joy is dressed for her first scene like a bedraggled Mae West.  “I gotta go, boys.  My Mama is waitin’ for me in New York City.  Where’s my infant?”

            An infant is brought to her, a little bundle of rags.

She takes the infant and looks up at the captain, “Is this the boat to New York?”

He stutters, “Uh …uh … uh … “

Peggy answers for him, “Yes, this is the boat to New York!”

Aimee turns to the throng, “Well, good-bye, boys!  I gotta be goin’ now.”

A Chinese chief, slowly played by Freaky Ralph Eno, stumbles up to her, “Miss Aimee!  Miss Aimee!  Before you go, one question, please.”

“OK, Chief, but just one.”

“Aimee, tell me.  How am I to be a better Chief to my people?”

“Chief,” she pulls him aside, “ … use your imagination.”



            The Chief is struck dumb with awe at her great wisdom.  Aimee boards the boat, waving to the crowds as the Chinese multitude cry and wail for her not to go as the curtain slowly descends.

            End of Act One!


            Our huge, free, crowd of stoned hippies went crazy!  They were loving it! 


            And so it went.  Jim intoned, Act Two!  The Docks of New York! as the curtain again rose on the exact same set, the boat of course, and now our leads descending the ramp, lead by Gertrude and Alice on either side of Aimee, laughing gleefully.

            “Oh, Aimee, this has been the most wonderful time, getting to know you.”

“We’ll always remember you, Aimee ,dear.”

“I’ve enjoyed it too, girls.  Now you take care and always remember, …”

The three women go into a dainty, little dance as they sing, “Every Day with Jesus, is sweeter than the day before …”



            Gertrude and Alice wave goodbye as strains of a solemn dirge is heard entering from the streets of New York.  It is a grim-faced, black clad Salvation Army band, and a spitting image of the front row of our own audience, entering to the hoots and hollers of the packed house.  They are lead by Minnie Kennedy, played by our great actress, Diane Racine, slowly and sadly singing “Follow the Fold.  Follow the Fold.  Follow, follow the Fold...”

Minnie begins preaching to the sinners, “I, too, my poor Brothers and Sisters, have a great burden to bear.  A great burden.  I can see her now, my own little daughter, and her little baby, in far off China, preachin’ to the Chinese sinners, and I may never see her again, the only child of my loins, my daughter … AAAAAAH!”  She suddenly sees Aimee and faints dead away.

The crowd shouts, “Give her air!  Give her air!”

Minnie regains her voice, “Give me air!  Give me air!  Oh, Lordy!  I have had a vision from the Lord!  A vision, I tell you!  It was a vision of my own daughter, Aimee, standing right there in front of me!  With her infant in her arms!  …”



“Mama!  It is I, Aimee, Mama!  The child of your loins.”  She holds up the infant, “And this is the child of MY loins.  I have come home, Mama, to work for the Lord!”

“Lord be praised!  Aimee, it’s really you!”

It was at that moment, too, when the straight-laced Christians from Oakland decided they’d been hoodwinked and rose to a man and slowly filed out.  Nothing could have pleased our audience more and another round of cheering went up.


            And so it went; Aimee goes off with her mother and her few grim followers.  There is another slow number at the Mission and Aimee tells her mother she’s got to “spruce up your act” if you want to get more sinners.  Soon, Aimee is singing the old gospel hymns with bumps and grinds and Leila and her all girl Snakes are really rocking.  They decide to take the show on the road, … to Miami!


            We had built a silly cardboard car, like an open-top Model-T or such, and hung banners on its side saying “Praise the Lord” and “Repent Sinners,” that kind of thing.  Aimee was driving and the car was full of the old, grim-faced troupe.  Soon they approach an old woman, in black rags and carrying a big, black Bible.  Dale Meador was perfect in that kind of role.

            As the cars pulls to a stop, she says, “Oh, I see you are God-fearin’ Christians like me!  Can you find it in your hearts to give a God-fearin’ Sister a ride, dear Brothers and Sisters?”

            Aimee looks behind her at all the rest of the old folks, who are smiling and nodding their heads, “Sorry, Sister, we got too many Sisters,” and the car drives off.  Dale slowly turns to the audience with a scowl and gives ‘em the finger.

            The car continues on until it comes to a young hussy woman walking along with a suitcase.  Aimee gets out and excuses herself, then goes walking off into the woods  like she’s got to take a leak, taking the young woman with her.  Soon, they return together laughing uproariously.

            Aimee helps the young woman into the front seat between her and Minnie.  She announces with a big smile, “Mama, this is Sister Mae.”  Mae and Aimee laugh, “New sister, Mama.”

            They drive off singing, “Let’s all sing like the birdies sing,

                        Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet!

                        Let’s all sing like the birdies sing,

                        Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet! …”


When they get to Miami, the car pulls to a stop in front of a fancy nightclub.  We even went to the trouble of making a sign so the doorman could say, “Hey!  You can’t park there!”

And Minnie could answer, “Why not?  The sign says “Fine For Parking.”


            Inside the nightclub, who should we encounter but the one and only Carmen Miranda, doing a big number.  Our friend Marge Rooney, one of our actress friends from New York, really gave it her all, even pulling out a tit at the end of her song.



            Aimee sees the opportunity to jump up on the stage and give the crowd a rock-n-rollin’ preaching with an up-tempo version of the hymn,

“Have you counted the cost,

                        If your soul should be lost,

                        Though you gain the whole world for your own?”


            After her huge success in Florida, Aimee Semple announces that she’s goin’ to Hollywood, where the real sinnin’ is!


            The scene switches to the editorial offices of the Los Angeles Examiner, where the editor, Mr. Daily, is reading some wire clippings and laughing uproariously.

            “Jimmy” he calls out.

            Her we are introduced to Jimmy, the cub-reporter, played by Terry McDonald, our hippie leading man.

            “What are you laughin’ about, Boss?”

            “It’s this crazy woman preacher, Jimmy, makin’ lots of news wherever she goes.  And it says here she’s comin’ to Echo Park, Hollywood!  I want you to get out there and cover this story, kid!  Ya’ hear?”

            “Sure, Boss!”  He turns to the audience, “Oh boy, this could be my lucky break!” and goes tearing off.


            Somewhere on the road in Arizona, our gang is still singing, “Let’s all sing like the birdies sing, …” when Aimee sees a sign for a local airport.  She pulls the car to a stop and gets out carrying a large satchel of money.  Aimee and her little band of Christians are fairly rolling in it these days.  She tells a pilot she wants some announcements delivered by air.


            It’s Echo Park, Los Angeles, in October of 1918, and thousands of paper fliers descend from a small plane overhead as the leggy Les Nicklettes as a bevy of Hollywood beauties, sing,

                        “Hooray for Hollywood!

                        Hip, hip, hip, hooray for Hollywood!

                        Hip, hip, hip, …



            We even had big, cardboard palm trees around the stage.  Of course, no scene was ever long enough to actually hook down the scenery, so we had extras holding up the trees.  It looked great.

            The car with Aimee and the others pull as a large crowd has gathered to see this notorious woman preacher come to town.

“Oh, look, Mama.  Here we are in Echo Park, Hollywood!  Ain’t it beautiful?”

“You like it here, Aimee, darlin’?”

“Oh, yes, Mama!  I want to build my new temple right here!”  The crowd cheers.

            She walks over to a sign that says Echo Park and begins drawing on it.  “And here’s where I’ll put the pulpit, and here’s the choir, and here’s …”

            That sign with Aimee Semple’s plan is still in Echo Park to this day.



As newsboys run by shouting the latest headlines about Aimee, Mr. Daily tells Jimmy he’s doing a great job on this story!

“Golly, thanks, Boss!  Well, I better run on over to the new Four-Square Gospel Temple, Boss!”

“Go get ‘em, Jimmy!”


At the Four-Square Temple, Jimmy is scouting a new angle when he comes across the beautiful, Mae Waldon.  Mae storms off, telling him she’s too busy working for the Lord to stand around talking to a reporter.  Jimmy is struck with love at first sight.  He sings “Sweet and Lovely.”


            Meanwhile, on the main stage of the Temple, Aimee is rehearsing her next big tableau with a bunch of extras carrying a cross, as high in the radio booth overhead, the suave radio engineer, Kenneth Ormiston is watching her.

Aimee is saying, “If I could only touch … uh …the hem of his … uh …garment …”  She notices someone up in the booth.  “Sister Mae, who’s that up there?”

            Mae answers, “Why that’s our new radio engineer, Aimee.  His name’s Kenneth Ormiston and he’s very professional.”

            “Hmmm.  I see.  Hmmm.”  She turns to the extras, “That’s enough rehearsing for today, boys.”

            “Sure, Aimee,” and they go off.

            Aimee wanders up into the radio booth.  She gives a big smile, “Well, hi there!  What’s your name?”

            “I’m Kenneth Ormiston, Aimee, your radio engineer.”

“Nice to meetcha, and what’s all this stuff?”

            “Why this is the most advance radio booth in all Hollywood, Aimee!”


            Kenneth convinces her to say a few words to the listeners and Aimee walks to the microphone.  Soon she’s exhorting all the sinners of Hollywood to come to the Four-Square Gospel Temple where Aimee Semple MacPhearson is workin’ miracles every day!

As she signs off, Kenneth tells her, “You were terrific, Aimee!  You should do that every day!”

“Well, maybe I will,” she answers looking into his eyes.

“You’re …you’re beautiful, Aimee.”

            They dance, as the curtain slowly falls.


Aimee has announced “The Pageant of Salvation,” the greatest living tableau ever produced on the gospel stage.

            In front of the curtain, a spotlight pick up a well-dressed man, stutteringly played by Freaky Ralph Eno.  He solemnly intones,

“Broad is the road to Hell, and many there are who follow it.

            Narrow is the road to Heaven, and few there are who enter there.”


            Slowly is revealed the broad road to Hell and many sinners burning there, as Aimee Semple MacPhearson leads her followers into Heaven and the clouds above.  They sing. 

            The curtain slowly closes to wild applause.



            But Aimee is not content.  She is wandering listlessly through the halls of the Temple.  Her mother, Minnie, comes up to her.

            “What’s this I hear about you spendin’ so much time up in the booth with that fancy radio announcer?”

            “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about!”

“You better watch yourself, you hear me, you hussy?”

“I’m sick of this ol’ place.  I’m goin’ out!”

“Where you goin’?”

Aimee thinks a minute.  “To the beach!”

Just then, the old Sister Emma is walking by carrying flowers to the altar.

“To the beach, huh?  Well, Sister Emma can go with you to the beach.  Right, Sister Emma?”

Sister Emma is terrified at the thought, “But …but …but …”

“I ain’t takin’ no old Sister with me!”

Minnie is very firm.  “Sister Emma, you’ll be going with Aimee to the beach now!”

Aimee looks disgusted.  “Com’on, Sister Emma.”

“But …but …but …”


As Aimee and Sister Emma go out, a sad Minnie sings,

“Nobody’s Chasing Me.”


Act 15 takes place at Ocean Park, Los Angeles, amid cardboard beach umbrellas and scanty clad teenagers.  It is May 18, 1926.

            Aimee and Sister Emma enter and spread out a blanket on the sand.  Aimee is in a cute 20’s bathing suit.  Emma is in a long black dress.

            Aimee looks around longingly.  “I’m goin’ for a hot dog, Sister Emma.”

“Oh!  Uh, …you be careful, Aimee.”

Aimee walks toward the audience, “The sea.  The cold, cold sea.”

She walks off slowly into the sea.


Soon Sister Emma is concerned.  She walks over to the hot dog seller.  “Excuse me, did you see that woman I was with?”

The hot dog seller answers, “Sure, she went swimming into the ocean!”

“Oh, no!”  She looks out into the audience, calling, “Aimee!  Aimee!  Come back, Aimee!”

“Say, who was that, anyway?”

Sister Emma says loudly, “That was …, that was …Aimee Semple MacPhearson!”

The crowd at the beach looks up, “Aimee Semple MacPhearson!”

Sister Emma cries, “Yes!  She’s gone into the water and hasn’t come out!  She’s …She’s DROWNED!”

The crowd is horrified, “Oh, no!  She’s drowned!  Aimee Semple MacPhearson has drowned!”

            The entire crowd sings:

                        “Oh, the cold, cold sea,

                        The cold, cold sea,

                        Has swallowed up

                        Aimee Mc ‘P’!”


            On the last, loud note, the curtain falls dramatically on “Act 15” of Aimee and the Pageant of Salvation, and Jim Nettleton announces “Intermission.”

            The audience was loving it all and hollering its approval.  When they quieted down a bit Jim further announced, “And now for your Intermission pleasure, we bring you the great music of RED DUST!”

            Red Dust was a local rock-country band of some little note among the hippies that would go to something like this and soon the beer was flowing and the joints lit up and the audience dancing in the aisles.


            Backstage, everyone was giddy.  Joy was weaving around with a look of terror as the rest of the cast dashed into their costumes for the next scenes.  Karolyn and Alma were fairly buried in old cloths, discarded from the early scenes amid cardboard palm trees and giant signs to “Repent Now.”  Jim was loudly calling “Places for Act 16!  Places for Act 16!”  I recalled Brian Thompson’s words from the dress rehearsal, “You got some kinda show there, Bill Wolf.”


            When the curtain opens, we are back at Ocean Beach, two days later and now the beach is lined with solemn mourners in long black clothes.  They stare hopelessly out across the heads of the audience.

            Minnie enters, also in black, now followed by two old-fashion deep-sea divers.  We’d made clever, papier-mache diving helmets and rubberized long suits.  Minnie was carrying an inverted megaphone which fed into the divers’ helmets.  She gave the divers their instructions to “Go find Aimee!” and they waded out into the audience with silly underwater swimming motions, as Minnie and the crowd of on-lookers sang mournfully,

            “Come home,

            Come home,

            Aimee, we’re calling,

            Come home!

            Softly and tenderly,

            Jesus is calling,

            Aimee, Aimee,

Come home!”


            The scene switches abruptly to a Carmel, California, motel overlooking the ocean.  Aimee is lying in bed, tossing in disturbed sleep.

            Kenneth comes rushing in carrying flowers and the morning newspapers.  He calls, “Aimee, Aimee!  Darling wake up!  It’s a beautiful day!”

            “Wh… where am I?”

            “Aimee, Darling, we’re in Carmel Beach, and everything is wonderful!”

            “Oh, Kenneth!”

            “And look, Aimee, Darling, here comes your coffee, and your fresh toast, and your favorite: STRAWBERRY JAM!”

            A bevy of singing waitresses with a giant, dancing jar of strawberry jam enter and sing,

                        “We love to eat strawberry jam in the morning,

                        We love to eat strawberry jam at night,

                        We love to eat strawberry jam every moment,

                        Every moment of our life!”

            It was a silly number, of course, but hit just the right note after the mournful dirge of the previous scene.

            “Oh, Kenneth, thank you so.!  You’re just wonderful.  And flowers!”

            “Yes, Aimee, and the morning papers!”  He spreads them out across her bed.

            Aimee opens the front page and screams, “AAAAAH!  Oh No!  Kenneth, look!”

He reads, horrified, “Aimee Semple MacPhearson was reportedly seen in a Carmel motel with Four-Square Temple radio engineer Kenneth Ormiston.”

            “Let’s get the Hell out of here!” and they go rushing out.


            Back at the Four-Square Temple, Minnie is being hounded by reporters.

            “Any word on Miss Aimee, Minnie?”

            She turns on him violently, “Aimee is dead!  Dead!  Dead!  Dead!  Dead!  … And she better stay that way!”

            The reporters go rushing out with tomorrow’s scoop.


            At a lonely outpost on the Arizona-Mexico border, two border guards are reading the paper as a car drives up.

            “Her mother, Minnie Kennedy told reporters, Aimee is Dead!  Dead!  Dead!  And she better stay that way!”  They burst out in laughter.

Lowering her large dark glasses, Aimee turns to the audience, “I hear ya, Mama.  I hear ya.”  The car drives off towards Mexico.


            Then the scene in a bar in Mexico, and Liela got to do her show-stopping, signature piece, “Come in to the Den of Liela!” and brought down the house again. 



          This was followed by a carefully rehearsed drunken, Mexican brawl, which tore the cardboard scenery to pieces and Aimee and Kennth staggering out.

            Aimee crying, “I gotta get outa here, Kenneth!  I gotta get outa here!”


            Well, I’ll speed things up a bit; the short scenes to come followed one right after the other.  Minnie hears that Aimee has turned up in a Douglas, Arizona, hospital, with claims of having been kidnapped by Mexican bandits and she rushes to her side.

            When they get back to Los Angeles, Aimee is brought up on fraud charges before Judge Hardy of the California court, where he is bought off with large satchels of money on a dark, deserted road one night by a car carrying a mysterious, beautiful woman.  The next day in court, he sings “Inka – Dinka –Doo” with his Negro servant, “Chambers,” and dismisses the case!

            Aimee has decided to embark on a nation-wide “Vindication Tour,” and the crowds gather at Union Station in downtown, Los Angeles, to see her off.

            We see a cardboard train caboose decorated with Aimee-style banners reading “VINDICATED AT LAST!”

            The whole cast is gathered and the principles are wearing their fancy travel mink coats.   Aimee’s car pulls up and the crowd begins cheering.  As Aimee gets out of the car, her mother, Minnie, runs up excited.

            “We’re all ready to go, Aimee!  Isn’t this wonderful!”

            Aimee turns slowly to her mother, “Oh, er … Mother, I need you to stay here and take care of the Temple, you know.”  Minnie is shocked.  “And, well, take care of Sister Emma.”

            “What!  I … I … don’t …”

            Kenneth steps up, “Aimee, come on, darling, we …”

“Oh, Kenneth …  I’m sorry, Kenneth, I … really need you to stay and run the Radio Station, you know, and, er … watch over mother, …”

“What are you saying, Aimee, …?”

Suddenly Jimmy steps out of the car behind Aimee, dressed in fancy travel outfit and a big smile, “Come on, Aimee.  We’ll be late!”

            “Coming, Jimmy!” she smiles as she takes his arm.

            Aimee is walking out on all her family and loved ones.  They stare after her horrified!  As she takes Jimmy’s arm and turns to go, a group of reporters come rushing up.

“Aimee!  Aimee!” they shout.

“Well, hi, ya, boys!  I’m headin’ out on my Vindication Tour across the country!  No time for questions now!”.

“Oh, please, Aimee!  One question, just one!”

She turns with a big smile to the audience, “Well, maybe just one question.”

“Aimee,” the crowd hushes to hear, “Aimee Semple Macphearson, …how do you do it?”

Aimee thinks for a moment and says, clearly and meaningfully, “Use your imagination!”

            The crowd roars its awe at the profundity of her reply and sings heartily,

 “Use your imagination,

Just let this motto be your guide.

And soon you will find,

All the happiness in kind and

Every wish will be your own! …”



            Aimee and Jimmy embrace in a long kiss on the caboose platform, as Minnie Kenndy, Mae Waldron, Kenneth Ormiston, and dear Sister Emma weep and the curtain slowly falls!

            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 at one point, even I was brought out for more ovations 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 made and our now-huge group of actors, performers and hangers-on would go on to many shows and events.  But the night of Aimee would never be eclipsed.


            Well, after the show we all went to our house for a big cast party and lots of beer and smoke and sat around late reliving our success and enjoying ourselves.  The house on Vicksburg that night held what would become our group of friends for many years.  Joy, of course, as Aimee, Diane Racine, later the queen of Mars in our movie, Alma Becker played Gertrude Stein on the boat from China, Ed Weingold who burned in Hell, Liela and her Scales, later known as Jane Dornacker, Maria Scatuccio at the piano, Terry McDonald as the newspaper reporter love interest, David DeMontluzin who would later shoot “Rocket to Mars” with me, Karoline Kiisel controling the way everybody looked, Freaky Ralph Eno, Tommy Ammiano as a sailor, Iris Rooney as Carmen Miranda in Florida, her brother Kevin as a cop, and of course, Russell as the dashing Kenneth Ormiston and male lead in the play.


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