Born-again Christianity in making a surprise cameo appearance in Hollywood. They're not making "The Ten Commandments." Marjo isn't acting up in front of a cinematographer, nor is Burt Lancaster preaching up a storm. The story here is that Hollywood is going religion. Straight religion. Real-life religion.
Stars, writers, directors, even the usually hardheaded producers and network executives are getting into the act and going into the church on SUnday. Sometimes they even hold little prayer meetings.
Every Sunday there's a minor traffic jam in front of the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, not far from North Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley. The not-so-star-studded drive out for an opportunity to pray with such Hollywood heavies as Pay Boone and his family, producer Robert Munger, actor Dean Jones, singer Robert Goulet and NBC vice president DIck Ebersol.
When Boone and his well-groomed family first joined the CHurch on the Way, a Los Angeles-based fundamentalist Four Square Church movement, there were less than 70 members. Today nearly 7,000 people attend the church's five Sunday services. Those who can't squeeze into the sanctuary watch the ceremony downstairs on closed-circuit television.
"It's a miraculous thing," said Boone, bright-eyed and tanned, dressed in a dapper brown sport jacket and monogrammed shirt. "We'd been functioning in an alien kijnd of world but now we know we can survive. It's still like salmon swimming upstream. We'd do it even if it was the end of our careers - but, amazingly, it's not".
Robert Munger, the man credited with conceiving the idea for "The Omen," stood next to Boone in the Hazy sunlight at a recent Sunday service. A large crowd was pouring out of one service while others waited patiently for the next. A child, 10 years old, paraded joyously up and donw the street holding up high a little homemade wooden cross.
Murger looked at the swarming masses moving in and out of the church and smiled. He believes his new movie, "Born Again," is a surefire hit.
"I think this will be real good box office. The Lord has a good sense of humor - He has always picked strange people to carry His message ," the one-time advertising executive joked. I don't think this is really my movie - it's the Lords movie - and He doesn't make any flops.
At the Sunday services. Church on the Way pastor Jack Hayforth, the heading conservative preacher, holds his audiences attetion with a steady professional hand. His good-natured sermons, full of jokes and anecdotes, delight the throng.
The crown folds their hands together and sings with Hayforth who belts out spirituals on his piano. Words to the hymns are projected on a huge screen above the pulpit.
Holywood, Hayforth believes, is simply being swept up in a great historical movement, leading the world back to Christianity. "There is a recognition of religion now such as we have not probably seen since the reformation, said the energetic preacher. And that has penetrated new areas, including entertainment."
Actor Dean Jones, who will paly Colson in "Born Again," said religion literally saved his life. "I had my stable of Ferraris. I thought that would make me happy, but it didn't," the star of such Disney movies as "That Darned Cat" and the "Love Bug," said after church. "I always was drinking and trying to find something exciting to do. I was making $100,000 a year, and I was still depressed. I was riding my motorcycle out into the Mojava Desert, getting into racing, trying to kill myself." Jones received the light, he says, five yars ago while sitting in a Cherry Hill, N.H., motel room during the summer-stock season. "Yeah, Cherry Hill, a very pious place," he recalled. "There I saw the emptiness of what I was doing, how I was selling out to my carrer, I was a selfish, egocentric zctor. I had all these things, but the Lord was telling, me, 'This will never satisfy you.'"
Both Munger and Jones see the Colson movie as a way to prove that Christian movies can make money, but a fellow born-again Christian, NBC vice president Dick Ebersol, doubts that the born-again wave will ever make a splash on network television.
"There will be more movies on it because Munger will be successful. He's used very sophisticated marketing techniques, and it works," said the 30-year-old executive in charge of NBC variety, comedy and specials. "Woody Allen made a nice living on a segmented audien, as is Munger. But you can't, for television, make shows for segmented audiences."
Ebersol, who originated the often-irreverent "Saturday Night Live," was "born-agin" eight months ago, but claims his new outlook will not lead to any new outlook will not lead to any new moral standards around NBC. "All it does is give me peace of mind in my personal life. But whether it will affect my programming, it doesn't; it just makes me think clearer, but hat jsut means that I probably think even more commercially than I did before."