Televangelism for the jet-set: The rise & fall of the ‘World Action Singers’ of the 1970s

“The World Action Singers, ORU students who love to sing as they prepare for their responsibilities in tomorrow’s world.” In the 1970s Richard Roberts greeted millions of Americans on his evangelist father’s prime-time television specials and syndicated weekly programs. His group the World Action Singers flew all over the globe in a private jet to exotic locations such as Hollywood, Alaska, Hawaii, London, and Japan, earning them the nickname “The Worldly Action Swingers.” Meanwhile, back home at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma they were reportedly receiving 32,000 pieces of fan mail a day. By 1980, despite their near-perfect public image, The World Action Singers found themselves facing multiple scandals, serious financial crises, and a loss of approximately 40% of their audience.

Oral Roberts was a televangelist pioneer who trained a generation of jet-setting, superstar pastors. In the sixties, he hired Oklahoma architect Frank Wallace to sculpt a multimillion-dollar dream campus in one of Tulsa’s classiest suburbs. When it opened in 1967, ORU’s space-age academy resembled Disney’s Tomorrowland and instantly became the finest example of modern architecture at any university in the world. Located in a sunken garden in the heart of the campus, a 200-foot Googie-influenced building called The Prayer Tower was topped by a gas flame which lit up the evening sky. Pylon-like columns, gold-tinted windows, CityPlex Towers, a state-of-the-art Aerobics Center, and a geodesic dome gave ORU a Jetson’s city quality. It was a building named Baby Mabee which opened in 1971 that was used as a television studio for the production of Roberts’ specials. (FYI, Elvis Presley’s live album Elvis - Sold Out! was recorded at the adjacent Mabee Center in 1974).

Oral’s third son, Richard Roberts was working as a singer at parties and pizza parlors in the Tulsa area. When it came time for college he rebelled against his father by attending the University of Kansas instead of ORU and married his girlfriend Patti against the wishes of his family and friends. Soon after, Oral called Richard and Patti into his study, sat them down by the fireplace and began to weep. Oral explained that he had a terrible dream where God told him that if they should continue living an “unchristian life” outside of ORU then they would be killed in a plane crash. Richard and Patti immediately returned to Tulsa and formed the wholesome, singing and dancing sensations the World Action Singers made up of a dozen elite ORU students including Kathie Epstein who would later become known as Kathie Lee Gifford. With flashy sets, costumes, well-choreographed dance sequences, the World Action Singers were an overnight success and reached millions of viewers every week.

But while Richard and Patti maintained a Ken & Barbie facade on television, behind the scenes their behavior was far from perfect. Richard had a reputation for off-campus smoking, drinking, and womanizing. He even maintained a difficult reputation on-set, and one day snapped at producer Jerry Sholes by exclaiming, “Is he a director or a pussy?” without any regard to the Christian students within earshot. As the 1970s went on it became increasingly difficult for Richard to put in a full work day, he was often MIA or leaving set early to go golfing. Meanwhile, ORU was knee-deep in cash: the Roberts enjoying vacations, expensive cars, shopping trips, and flying around the world in luxury, all at the expense of the school. Frank Schaeffer (son of the famous Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer) was the first to call Richard and Patti out on their behavior, describing their lifestyle as “poisonous.” According to Frank, his confrontation with the Roberts was successful, with Richard finally admitting “You’re right, you’re right, this is terrible. We need to get out.”

In 1977, Oral Robert’s prophecy came true in a shocking roundabout turn of events when Rebecca Roberts (Oral’s oldest child) and her husband were killed in a plane crash. Soon after, Richard and Patti’s marriage fell apart. Oral previously had a strict policy against divorce, however, he bent the rules and gave Patti permission to end the marriage. She later described it as “a corporate marriage designed not to upset the flow of dollars into the prized ministry.” Controversy quickly arose when the divorce went public, and combined with serious financial crises regarding construction on the campus, the Roberts began facing opposition from even their most devoted followers in the early ‘80s. Despite Richard’s fast efforts to re-marry (he wed a 23-year-old named Lindsay Salem within a year of the divorce), ORU would never fully recover. Over the next several decades the university would rake up about $52.5 million in debt which left its once beautiful campus in shambles. The Prayer Tower considered the symbol of the university, became rusty, and the tiled steps to the library ended up in complete disarray, missing almost all of its tiles.

More after the jump…

Posted by Doug Jones
09:37 am
‘Snorting Coke with the BBC’: A tabloid romp through the BBC’s most notorious drug scandals
04:30 pm

In a past life I made documentaries for television. These were mainly hour long arts films on artists like Francis Bacon and Virginia Woolf, or what was then described as “factual entertainment” shows on celebrities, their obsessions and misdemeanors—these ranged from Peter Sellers to Freddie Mercury. One of the many tabloid tales was a romp through the stories of four BBC presenters and their unfortunate dabbling with a Class A drug.

Called Snorting Coke with the BBC this documentary is small fry compared to the scale and horror of recent scandals that have engulfed the BBC since—see DM passim. The program focused on four highly successful presenters whose lives were unraveled by a liking for the sherbets.

These four men were:

Frank Bough—a likeable, avuncular, seemingly very, very ordinary breakfast time host who had a secret life enjoying the pleasures of drugs, cross-dressing and S&M dungeons.

Richard Bacon—another highly likeable, pleasant, young children’s presenter who was grassed up about having a snort after a night out with friends.

Angus Deayton—an acerbic, witty, actor-cum-quiz show host whose private life almost destroyed his career.

Johnnie Walker—a legendary radio DJ who was ensnared by a fake sheik journalist in a very underhanded sting.

Like most—or at least many—of the people who work in the media, this quartet had sampled the delights of powdered goods. Unfortunately for them—they were caught out in lurid and rather unfair tabloid exposes.

By being caught, these four individuals placed the BBC in a very difficult position. In many respects, the Beeb was being led by the nose (ahem) on how to respond to their stars’ misdemeanors.

The names may not be well known outside of the UK—but that honestly doesn’t matter as the stories are interesting, well-explained and still have a certain relevance to today.

This is how broadcaster Channel 4 described the program on its release in August 2003:

Snorting Coke with the BBC takes a wry look at some of the most highly publicised cases of BBC TV and radio celebrities caught using drugs and examines the attitude of the media towards their behaviour, their subsequent fall from grace and, in some cases, their rehabilitation. Frank Bough, Johnnie Walker, Richard Bacon and Angus Deayton are the stars featured as the circumstances surrounding their dismissal from the BBC are examined. Along with their cocaine use, Frank, Johnnie and Angus were caught in various sexually compromising positions, raising questions about the connection between drugs and sex.

The programme looks at the reaction of their employers, their colleagues and the press to what happened, asking if their response was at times an over-reaction, or if there were inconsistencies in the way that they were dealt with.

Amongst those interviewed are journalists, presenters and media commentators (including the now ubiquitous Piers Morgan and current CEO of the New York Times, Mark Thompson) who all discuss the BBC, the media and their relationship to drugs.

More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
04:30 pm
Tales from ‘The Exploiter’: ‘Help Wanted Orgy Inspector, Apply Inside…’

If John Waters ever dreamt up a scandal mag full of sex, celebrity and murder, then it might look something like The Exploiter.

Not known for its subtly, The Exploiter was a no-rent tabloid sold in supermarkets that guaranteed interest with such sensational headlines as:


(Well, you can never be too careful…)




Raquel Welch Sells Sex Thrills!

But of course.

Actually, the story on Ms. Welch was a late report on her appearance in the 1967 French comedy Les plus vieux métier du monde, aka The Oldest Profession. But you get the idea…

Also in The Exploiter for 31 January, 1971, was this intriguing job opportunity:


This turned out to be a behind-the-scenes report on various hi-jinks taking place on the set of Ken Russell‘s latest work-of-genius, The Devils.

Interestingly, this story had come across the wires, and was originally posted in The Free-Lance-Star 30 November, 1970. It then appeared amongst the entertainment section of the St. Petersburg Times, for December 2, 1970, next to an advert for “The Sensational, Fascinating T-A-N-T-A-L-I-Z-N-G BUNDLE OF SEX MELINA” at the Twilight Lounge, 2235 Central Ave., and “Stay Young—Go Dancing” with Bob Burklew’s Dixians, at St. Pet Coliseum.

Help Wanted: Orgy Inspector

LONDON (AP) - Equity, the British actors’ union, is appointing an orgy inspector to keep watch on mass sex scenes in movies. His job will be to insure that the male actors stick to the script.

Five actresses complained during the shooting of a scene from “The Devils,” they were sexually assaulted in a crowd of 50 naked male extras, all amateurs. The movie, about sex-mad nuns in the 17th century, stars Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed, who were not involved.

In John Baxter’s long-interview-cum-biography, An Appalling Talent Ken Russell (1973), the great director gave some background to the story, as Mr. Russell explained:

The extras on The Devils were a particularly bad bunch. They weren’t all the same but you only need one bad apple for the rot to set in and we had a whole barrel-load. Casual work like this attracts bad characters and when they learn a bit about how films are made they can hold you to ransom by demanding more money…

...On The Devils they were even worse. They not only tried to get ‘money for breathing’; they were very bad at exterior shots and in some of the cathedral scenes they manhandled the naked nuns more than was called for and one poor girl was even sexually assaulted. I think the union knows what some of its members are like. and after the fuss on The Devils they made an effort to correct things…

So, now we know, there was a serious incident, but there was no job for an orgy inspector.

Still, who knows, maybe one day John Waters will consider editing a scandal mag?

H/T Pulp International

Posted by Paul Gallagher
07:45 pm
‘Murdoch - Breaking the Spell’ - Monday’s informative BBC documentary

Murdochgate continues unabated. After yesterday’s questioning of Rupert and James Murdoch (and the cream pie incident), today has already seen the British Prime Minister David Cameron taking part in a parliamentary debate which has been broadcast live, and is set to continue till 7pm tonight (GMT).

It’s also interesting to see a British political scandal begin to get so much attention in the American media. Of course, there are some serious ramifications for the Murdoch’s American operations (especially now the FBI are to investigate it), but so far the story has been pretty well contained to the UK. However Jon Stewart rags on yesterday’s questioning of Brooks and the Murdochs here, and it’s telling that right wing US commenters on that blog post are still trying to pass the whole Murdochgate affair off as an inconsequential “celebrity” scandal (akin to Paris Hilton’s nails getting done, apparently).

Of course, it is much, much more than that. This excellent documentary by BBC’s investigative Panorama program, broadcast on Monday, recaps all the major points, features interviews with many of the key players (including the now-deceased whistle blower Sean Hoare) and shows how the hacking of murdered schoolgirl’s phone has begun to unravel the fabric on which three of society’s four main pillars are based (the media, the police and the political system). We will see how this plays out in the long run, bearing in mind the interests that are potentially at stake here and the possible onset of scandal fatigue in the public, but judging by the bizarre twists and turns this story has taken already, it’s best not to rule anything out yet.

Parts 2-6 after the jump…

Many thanks to the diligent work of YouTube uploader NOTWPhoneHacking, whose channel contains literally hundreds of clips recorded from the British media about the NI scandal since it broke over a fortnight ago.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
10:53 am
Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper hacked by Lulzsec

Click on the above image to see larger version.

Breaking news! Read all about it! Err, maybe not…

Rupert Murdoch’s flagship daily UK tabloid The Sun was this evening hacked by a group claiming to be Lulzsec, who uploaded a fake front page story that Murdoch’s cold, lifeless body had been found in his private glasshouse, after overdosing on palladium. Oh, if only. The website still seems to be down, and we are assuming that service will be back to normal by tomorrow, but by gum this was a good prank!

Thanks to Joe Spencer for the eagle eyes!

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
06:06 pm
Does Murdochgate spell the end of oldstream media?

The News of the World/News International scandal (or Murdochgate as it has been dubbed by the UK media) continues to grow amid allegations that NI’s The Sun newspaper illegally obtained information on the former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s newborn child while he was still in office.

This broadens out the problems in three ways. Firstly, while the information on Brown’s child may not have been hacked necessarily (as is being reported) it was still possibly obtained illegally, through the process of blagging, or obtaining classified information under false pretences. Ironically Brown’s Labour government introduced heavier punishment for blagging while still in power. Secondly, it brings into doubt the old red-tops’ excuse that they only investigate or dig dirt on people who “deserve it” (the argument wheeled out by Paul McMullan on Newsnight last week). As Prime Minister, Brown did deserve to be investigated of possible wrong doing, but exposing private medical details about his new born child just seems like a nasty step too far with no real journalistic purpose other than to put the PM on a Murdoch-controlled leash. 

Thirdly it proves, as many people had previously speculated, that the rot within NI has spread much further than simply one or two rogue investigators or even one particular publication. It’s getting harder and harder for the Murdoch organisation to claim that these incidents are isolated, as opposed to part of a broader culture at NI. As more and more salacious details leak out and more journalists, politicians and police are implicated, Murdochgate is shaping up to be he biggest scandal in British public life since the Profumo affair. News Corporation lost $3.4 billion in market capitalization yesterday, and now even the American media is interested, which is really saying something.

So, are these crimes going to be the undoing of the oldstream, printed press? Perhaps, but not fully. Yes News International are up to their necks in a sea of shit, but what is really sounding the death knell for newspapers to my ears is the fact that this is a scandal that is breaking and being consumed on the internet. I can’t remember this being the case before, but the web seems to be the only place to keep track on the ever evolving story, as more and more facts and bizarre twists emerge that prove too much to be neatly encapsulated by traditional news narratives.

Television and newspaper reportage just doesn’t seem adequate in this particular case - it took three to four days of issues being covered by a select few sources before the mainstream media deemed them newsworthy, by which time the public was already well aware of what was going on. The delay in reportage was indeed a bit of a gaffe, but more seriously it also brings up the question of media trustworthiness. Why now trust what the media says when the media themselves are directly implicated in a scandal? Press impartiality is out the window, as evidenced by the lack of coverage of Murdochgate in Murdoch’s biggest UK title The Sun.

While it’s ironic that a newspaper broke this story of press misdoings, what’s more telling is the traffic being directed not to the printed Guardian newspaper itself, but to the paper’s website. This paper’s news blog and its live feed is the premier source for keeping up with the scandal as new elements emerge. It’s also highly ironic that the story that sees internet news coverage really come into its own is the story of the major failings of the mainstream media. The author Will Self, in a slightly verbose but incisive article for the Guardian, calls this a tectonic shift in the media. I think he’s right, and I don’t see how the oldstream press can recover from these multiple knocks in confidence and consumption.

Thanks to Richard Metzger for the financial information.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
11:01 am
Steve Coogan makes mincemeat of News Of The World ‘journalist’

Not only is oldstream UK media tearing itself apart right now, previously picked on figures are getting their own back too. For the benefit of non-UK readers, “mincemeat” is also known as “ground beef”, and that is exactly what comic Steve Coogan makes of former deputy features editor for News Of The World, Paul McMullan, on last night’s BBC Newsnight program’s round table discussion concerning the phone-hacking scandal, the closure of NotW by Rupert Murdoch, and his still possible takeover of the BSkyB TV network. Paul McMullan is no stranger to celebrity revenge, as a covertly-recorded pub conversation between himself and Hugh Grant, in which he admitted the extent of the NotW’s phone-hacking activities, and which was then published in the New Statesman, was responsible for reopening this whole media can of worms.

Steve Coogan has had a tussle with the tabloids before, when it was claimed he was having an affair with Courtney Love (which was denied by both parties, but which caught the public imagination). But what’s going on here is not simply revenge - as Coogan rightly points out in his very first sentence, Paul McMullan is a walking PR disaster for the tabloid press and News international. He comes across as oily, evasive, self-interested and a hypocrite - perfectly fitting the public image of everything bad about tabloid-level journalists.

Journos love to pick on politicians, but in the British public imagination they are second only to them in terms of being disliked. I’ve always wondered if they know this and pick on politicos and celebs to deflect attention from themselves, or if they genuinely, honestly, believe they are doing some kind of public service. According to McMullan it’s the latter (though I can’t believe that he is completely unaware of the level of animosity the public has for him and those in his trade).

So perhaps they really are that self-deluded, but the other thought echoing through my mind during all of this coverage is “these people work/live/breathe the media - so how can they look so bad on the TV screen?”. OK so the press seem to be trying to outdo each other to find the worst picture of Rebekah Brooks, but also take for instance News International’s Director of Corporate Affairs Simon Greenberg (interviewed here by Channel 4 News’ Jon Snow) or Roger Alton, Joint Executive Editor of The Times (also owned by parent company News international). These people deal in exposé, guilt-admission and subsequent rehabilitation for a living. So why aren’t they acting humbled, the way they tell everyone else they should act?

Interestingly, Paul McMullan has had some bad things to say about his then editor Brooks (neé Wade) recently. Brooks, more than anyone, is the central figure in this row, and it is claimed that Murdoch has sacrificed the oldest running, and most widely circulated newspaper in British history, just to protect her. But McMullan is not the only disgruntled former employee of NotW willing to dish the dirt - internet hype has been building around a Twitter account that has gone online during the last couple of days called ExNOTWjourno. The account is run by a journalist who has now found herself jobless, and who intends spill the beans on life behind the scenes of NotW under Rebekah Brooks, in a new blog. According to the account there are now 16 newly unemployed journalists working on dishing the dirt (and running stories planned for the last ever publication of NotW tomorrow), and the blog is due to go online sometime this evening. This is going to get interesting…

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Who benefits by Rupert Murdoch sacrificing the ‘News Of The World’?
The phone-hacking scandal that may finish Rupert Murdoch’s ambitions

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
10:26 am
Scandalous ice cream ad depicts pregnant nun and two priests gettin’ jiggy wit it
12:58 pm

As expected, folks are pissed by the new ads from Antonio Federici, the world’s most blasphemous ice cream. From Campaign Live:

One ad created in-house shows a pregnant nun eating from a pot of Antonio Federici Gelato Italiano under the strapline “Immaculately conceived”.

Another ad shows two male priests apparently about to kiss, with the strapline “We believe in salvation”.

The print ads appeared in women’s weeklies Grazia, Look and The Lady, but were investigated by the advertising watchdog after it received a number of complaints about them.

Antonio Federici said the idea of “conception” represented the development of their ice cream, and its decision to use religious imagery stemmed from its strong feelings towards their product – the text also read “Ice cream is our religion”.

The Lady later said it regretted the offence that had been caused to its readers and said it would not publish the ad or anything similar to it in future.

The ASA told Antonio Federici that is was not to repeat the ads in their current form, as it was likely to be seen as distortion and mockery of the beliefs of Roman Catholics.

Italian ice-cream ad banned by ASA for religious mockery

Posted by Tara McGinley
12:58 pm