The first event on yesterday's schedule for the stars and producers of "Born Again: The True Story of Charles Colson" was a standard ritual of the publicity circuit, a brunch with reporters. It's an occasionally confusing minuet in which the VIPs switch from table to table talking rapidly about a greaty many subjects.
In a short space of time, for example, actor Dean Jones was questioned about Christianity, veteran director Irving Rapper shared anecdotes about Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, actor Jay Robinson talked about his stretch in the same prison filmed in the movie, and actor Raymond St. Jacques observed that Charles Colson in the White House "made all of us, black or white, realize that we were niggers."
Supporting players included producer Frank Capra Jr., Dean Jones' wife and father, and E.F. Dougherty of the D.C. Fire Department, who said he was representing the chief, but hadn't the faintest idea why he was assigned to go to brunch at the Madison Hotel with movie people.
"Born Again" was to have its world premiere at the Kennedy Center last night.
The movie, Rapper said, is "the story of a man's fall and redeption," which opens after former White House special counsel Colson has pleaded guilty to obstructing the trial of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg.
As we know, Colson was "born again," which means he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior, influenced greatly by a firend who is chairman of the board of Raytheon Corporation. His conversion prompted his guilty plea, he said at the time, in return for which other charges were dropped.
Colson's share of the movie's profits will benefit the "Prison Fellowship," a group working to rehabilitate prisoners. The $3 million to make the movie was put up by a group of 29 investors, Capra said, Christian businessmen who have not invested in films before but "are sympathetic to Colson and the cause of this picture."
"This is one of the first movies in which a Christian has been treated honestly or sympathetically," explained Capra, who described himself as an "Ordinary Roman Catholic." ". . . Not portrayed as a Marjoe or an Aimee Semple Mcpherson, or some kind of rip-off evangelist."
Dean Jones, who plays Colson in the movie, is himself a born-again Christian, the press releases note, having undergone a "revelatory life-changing conversion which led him into the charismatic worship movement" while traveling with a road company show of the musical "1776."
Asked about the ethics of Watergate figures profiting from their misdeeds, Jones said, "We live in a corrupt and materialistic society . . . there's nothing that appeals to people in our society like death. I don't mean death in a wooden box, I mean the negative . . . I'm glad I did this picture because it shows that God is still capable of penetrating the garbage on this planet."
The born-again experience was necessary for him, Jones said, because "we have been so warped and twisted out of God's plan . . . you need a giant stroke of spiritual impact to bring you back."
He was also asked if having a number of professed Christians working on the movie had any impact on the way people treated each other on the set, whether they were kinder, more charitable, and so forth.
"No," he said bluntly. "One man even came up and put a burning cigarette on the back of my hand.He wanted to see if the Christian would blow."
St. Jacques, who "lost religion when whites wouldn't let the blacks into their churches," said it was an unusual experience to have the star of a picture (Jones) fall on his knees in prayer and "thank the Lord for Raymond St. Jacques . . . He didn't try to draft me, though, I'll say that. But (producer) Robert (Munger) was selling it like Rinso White."
Jay Robinson, who plays Colson's lawyer, David Shapiro, is writing his on autobiography, entitled "Comeback." Robinson was apparently the only members of the cast to be converted during th film, having "knelt on the floor of Bob Munger's office and asked the Lord to come into his own life," according to one of 18 press releases given to reporters yesterday.
Robinson's own story sounds like material for another movie. He starred in "The Robe" in 1953, but then the parts dried up and he became a drug addict. Then he was busted, convicted on a possession charge and eventually sent to prison for 17 months. Along the way his wife got tuberculosis and was "miraculously" cured, and his career was ruined.
"I remember in 1967 while I was in prison the television premiere of 'The Robe' came up," he said. "I had $10 to my name. I went to the warden and asked for permission to see the movie. He said 'why?' and I said, because I'm the star of it. He said he didn't think he'd ever had such an unusual request. I was allowed to watch it, and I determined then to fight my way back to success."
Now, not only does he have a starring role in "Born Again," but appears regularly on a Saturday morning kids show as "Captain Deathray."
As for the absent Colson, everyone had words of admiration, even St. Jacques. "He's still a smart businessman," he said. "As for the sincerity of his conversion - only time will tell."