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.
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.
of course, been thinking to do Aimee that fall, but things dragged
on and the new year began and spring of 1974 was coming.
* * *
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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
“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!”
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
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
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
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
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 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!
sing like the birdies sing,
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
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,
soul should be lost,
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
“What are you laughin’
“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
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,
hip, hooray for Hollywood!
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
Aimee wanders up into
the radio booth. She gives a big smile, “Well, hi there! What’s
“I’m Kenneth Ormiston,
Aimee, your radio engineer.”
“Nice to meetcha, and what’s all
“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
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.
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
“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
“Where you goin’?”
Aimee thinks a minute. “To the
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
Minnie is very firm. “Sister Emma,
you’ll be going with Aimee to the beach now!”
Aimee looks disgusted. “Com’on,
“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:
cold, cold sea,
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,
Aimee, we’re calling,
Softly and tenderly,
Jesus is calling,
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!”
“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
“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,
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,
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
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
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
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
“Aimee! Aimee!” they shout.
“Well, hi, ya, boys! I’m headin’
out on my Vindication Tour across the country! No time for
“Oh, please, Aimee! One question,
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
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.
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.