Sunday, February 19, 2012

Thomas A. Robinson & Lanette Ruff's "Out of the Mouths of Babes"

Thomas A. Robinson  is Professor of Religious Studies at The University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and Lanette D. Ruff teaches Criminology at Eastern College in New Brunswick, Canada.

Here they dreamcast a big screen adaptation of their new book, Out of the Mouths of Babes: Girl Evangelists in the Flapper Era:
Our book is about girl preachers in the 1920s, the decade that represented one of the most radical changes in the perception of the feminine, with the rude and risqué flapper providing the new image, and girl evangelists standing for traditional manners and morals. This was the age of the child star, and children had a welcoming stage, whether promoting Hollywood or heaven. The most famous of these girl evangelists, Uldine Utley, was actually called “the Garbo of the Pulpit,” and both Utley and Garbo had superstar quality, each on their own stage. At least one movie was made at the time that reflected the clash of cultures experienced during the roaring twenties: Cecil B. deMille’s last silent movie, The Godless Girl.

Any of the sets of a Hollywood movie featuring the 1920s would work just fine in converting our book to a movie. It was the age of Prohibition on the one hand, and of illegal alcohol and speakeasies on the other. It was the age of fiery evangelists, such as Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson on the one hand, and of Al Capone and Bugs Moran on the other.

Casting for the girl evangelists would open the door for anyone from age three to their twenties, for some of the girls were three when they started and many were well into adulthood before they dropped the “Girl Evangelist” moniker. For the star girl evangelist, Uldine Utley, Miley Cyrus could play that role. Not only has she experienced being a child star, she can sing, and many of the girl evangelists were singers as well as preachers. Whether Miley could be made up to appear to be eleven might stretch the role, for Uldine hit the stage at that age and quickly gained national fame. Perhaps Chloë Moretz (of Hugo) could play the earliest years.

For the host of other girl evangelists, many actors could fill the role, but they would need to be white and American, for that was, with few exceptions, what the girl evangelists were.

For flappers, almost any Hollywood actress would do for they are now what the flappers started—independent young women flaunting their freedom and their sexuality, and often challenging convention.

But one older woman would need to be in the cast. The hottest American revivalist turned 30 as the “roaring twenties” began. Her name was Aimee Semple McPherson, and she planted her flag (and built her 5300-seat church—with a Hollywood-like stage) just five miles from Hollywood. She became a role model for the young girl preachers, and she featured many of them on her stage. Maybe Molly Parker (of Deadwood, Swingtown, The Firm) could play that role, since she sings as well as acts, and she is Canadian, as Aimee Semple McPherson was.
Learn more about the golden age of girl evangelists at Thomas A. Robinson’s website.

--Marshal Zeringue