Publicist Bob Green, husband of Anita Bryant, issued an emotional open letter to his estranged wife last night, begging her to "put aside all other earthly considerations and reunite our lives in Christian love."
Bryant filed for divorce on Thursday, charging that Green, her husband of nearly 20 years, "violated my very conscience" by helping people who tried to "control her."
Green wrote in his open letter, "I love you with all my heart and I am awaiting your return as my wife and the mother of our children . . . God's love and forgiveness is open to both of us if we but seek it."
There was no response last night from Bryant, the former Oklahoma beauty queen and popular singer, who became the symbol of Florida orange juice and then of the opposition to the homosexual rights movement.
In a brief statement issued earlier from her Miami home, Bryant charged that Green cooperated "with certain hired staff members who conspired to control me and to use my name and reputation to build their personal careers instead of my ministry."
The statement referred to Anita Bryant Ministries, her latest project, whose stated purpose was to preserve the American family. She said she was resigning from the program.
She said in her statement that Green had "violated my most precious asset: my very conscience."
There was no elaboration, and the statement did not reveal the names of the staff members she said had conspired with her husband.
Divorce papers said Green had moved out of their spacious home overlooking Biscayne Bay but then moved back in "of his own accord and without the agreement of the . . . wife, which has created an intolerable situation."
Bryant asked for custody of the couple's four children -- Robert, 16, Gloria, 15, and William and Barbara, both 10. She also asked for half of the couple's property.
"This comes as a complete shock to me," said Florida Citrus Commissioner Red Phillips, one of Bryant's strongest supporters in the $2 billion industry.
"I had understood Miss Bryant and he were very close," Phillips said. "I hope something can be worked out and she and her husband can get back together."
The daughter of an Oklahoma oilfield worker and his teen-age bride, who were divorced when she was 3, Bryant spent her childhood living with various relatives. She was discovered by radio personality Arthur Godfrey, who helped launch her singing career.
She and Green were married on June 25, 1960, when she was 20. She was already a popular singer at that point, with three million-selling records, "Paper Roses," "Till There Was You" and "My Little Corner of the World." As Miss Oklahoma in the 1959 Miss American Pageant, she was second runner-up.
With the help of a ghost writer, she has written three books, "Bless This House," "Amazing Grace" and "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory." She neither smokes nor drinks and won't work where liquor is served.
While she gained fame and fortune through her orange juice commercials and personal appearances, Bryant attracted international attention in 1977 with her "Save Our Children" campaign against a homosexual rights ordinance passed by the Dade County Commission.
She was successful in working for its repeal at the polls, but at a great price to her career.
"Perhaps now with Bob Green no longer manipulating her, maybe this time she'll support everyone's human rights, including her own," said Bob Kunst, leader of a Dade County homosexual organization that spearheaded support for the ordinance and was her principal opponent on the issue.
Kunst, who was in New York trying to raise money to mount a new referendum, said Green "muzzled" Bryant every time Kunst offered to debate the issue with her.
Bryant's controversial stand on the county ordinance, which prohibited discrimination based on sexual preference in housing, employment and other areas, alienated many of her conservative friends among Florida citrus growers because of the national publicity she received.
Although they continued to express public support, many believed her value to the state's major industry had been irreparably harmed.
Her contract with the Citrus Commission, in the last year of an option clause, is due to expire in August, and a number of industry leaders do not expect it to be renewed.
"I personally think the test is can the lady still sell orange juice," said Wilson McGee of United Growers and Shippers Association. "I think she has served the industry well, but it might be time for her to retire."
Her opposition to the ordinance banning discrimination based on "affectional or sexual preference" in employment and housing in Dade County cost her more than $500,000 in TV contracts, Bryant said, including a variety show, and scores of personal appearance bookings.
But she said in an interview early this year that she and her husband were starting to recover financially.
"It's taken its toll. It's been rough," she said.