John Wayne and Steve McQueen: Finding Faith at the End

Hollywood stars John Wayne and Steve McQueen apparently found new faith — and not a moment too soon.

Friday, May 26, is the birthday of Wayne, born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, in 1907. He died on June 11, 1979, at the age of 72, from stomach cancer (after surviving lung cancer).

He was baptized a Presbyterian, but he married three Catholic women, and his children and grandchildren were raised Catholic (we know the first wife never remarried after the divorce and continued to pray for Wayne’s conversion).

One grandson, Father Matthew Munoz, is a priest in the Diocese of Orange in Southern California.

Because of his spouses, Wayne moved in Catholic circles and became good friends in Los Angeles with Archbishop Tomas Clavel. But, he still didn’t become Catholic.

But, as told in an article at ChurchPop:

Then, in 1979, as he was dying of cancer and surrounded by his family in his home, he finally decided to join the Catholic Church. He requested for Archbishop Clavel to come to his house, but he was too ill to come, and so another archbishop in the diocese was sent.

Wayne was received into the Catholic Church and then died just two days later.

Why did he wait until his deathbed to convert? His grandson explained that Wayne was regretful about not becoming a Catholic sooner, blaming “a busy life.”

That other archbishop was Archbishop Mark McGrath, C.S.C., of Panama City, Panama, a member of the Holy Cross Order — which also operates Holy Cross Family Ministries and its subsidiary, Family Theater Productions.

I contacted Father Willy Raymond, President of HCFM and former head of FTP, to ask about Wayne, since there is a parking spot for him in the lot at the FTP offices on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

While Fr. Willy — as he’s widely known from his years in Los Angeles — doesn’t believe that Wayne ever worked for Family Theater Productions or its founder, Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., but his “The Quiet Man” co-star Maureen O’Hara did (and she also has a parking space, as does fellow Catholic and “Quiet Man” director John Ford).

Fr. Willy wrote back:

I had a long conversation with Maureen O’Hara, who said that she loved John Wayne and loved working with him. He was always a perfect gentleman, always well-prepared.

There was never anything inappropriate in their relationship, but she said one of the great joys of her life was working with John Wayne on “The Quiet Man.”

He added that Wayne’s son, Michael Wayne, was a regular donor to the Angelus Student Film Festival, which FTP used to run, and that he was a member of a Catholic parish in the San Fernando Valley.

Now, although Wayne came into the Catholic Church on his deathbed, he was already a Christian.

The same can’t be said of the late conversion of actor Steve McQueen, who died of malignant mesothelioma in Mexico in 1980 at the age of 50.

As related in the upcoming book, “Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon,” coming out on June 13, Southern California Evangelical preacher Greg Laurie (co-author with McQueen expert Marshall Terrill) relates that McQueen had a dramatic conversion experience near the end of his life.

From The Christian Post:

The book includes interviews conducted by Terrill and Laurie with people who were close to McQueen and can attest to his spiritual transformation, such as McQueen’s widow, Barbi, the pastor of McQueen’s church, McQueen’s flight instructor and even a metabolic technician who served McQueen in the days leading up to his death.

“There was a statement that McQueen made, which was, ‘My only regret in life was that I was not able to tell others about what Jesus Christ did for me,'” Laurie said, quoting what McQueen had told Pastor Leonard DeWitt of Ventura Missionary Church before he died.

“I thought, that’s a wrong that needs to be righted,” Laurie added.

According to the book, McQueen began asking profound questions about the reliability of the Bible and the nature of Christianity, with the help of his pastor, a flying instructor and a stuntman friend.

McQueen met with renowned evangelist Dr. Billy Graham in his last days. The book relates how his son, Chad McQueen, found his father holding tight to the Bible that Graham had given him, and that it was with him when he died.

Here’s a video of Laurie discussing McQueen’s conversion at an Evangelical event last year:

God works in His own way and in His own time. Of course, it’s better to come to the realization of faith as soon as possible, but the last guest to the banquet is as welcome as the first.

Images: Flickr: Steve Avery (McQueen); Wikimedia Commons; Family Theater Productions/Kate O’Hare

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘American Ninja Warrior’: Good for Kids, Good for the Whole Family

Want a show to watch with the whole family, that might inspire kids to get off the couch and away from video games? Try “American Ninja Warrior,” airing this Thursday on NBC.

Once upon a time, there were secular comedies and dramas that the parents and kids sat down and watched together. Everyone was entertained; no one was scandalized. Those shows aren’t entirely gone, but increasingly they’re not scripted anymore.

One of the best unscripted mainstream-TV shows for Catholic families is NBC and Esquire Network’s “American Ninja Warrior.”

This competition series, based on a Japanese format, sees men and women vying together on a series of challenging obstacle courses, in hopes of advancing to the finals in Las Vegas. Along the way, the show profiles the often-inspiring personal lives of the contestants, spotlighting their hard work, dedication and perseverance.

Some of them have families, and they’re seen training with their kids, while many others are coaches for kids.

When contestants are people of faith, that isn’t entirely hidden.

Among them have been rabbinical student Akiva Neuman, the “Rabbi Ninja,” who competed in a kippa and a tzitzit; Christian Michelle Warnky, who stencils Bible verses on her leg; and perennial favorite and top competitor,  the “Ninja Weatherman,” a k a faithful Catholic Joe Moravsky (who’s also in “Team Ninja Warrior,” airing Tuesdays on NBC’s corporate sibling, USA Network).

I did an interview with him last year for the FFM blog. Here’s an excerpt:

I believe there is a link between athletic discipline and Faith. I always trust in God to provide the path for me … and my job is to be open to any changes (even if I might not like them). It’s hard but it’s important.

It says in your Twitter bio that God is #1 — how does that play out in daily life?

“God is #1” is important because it’s a reminder for me (and my fans) to put God first … especially in times of need!

There’s also Sean Bryan, the “Papal Ninja,” who competes for the glory of God and the Catholic Church. We talked to him at an event this past winter, and expect to see that video right around the time of the new-season premiere on Monday, June 12, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Here’s a quote from an earlier, extensive interview I did with Bryan, published at my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos:

I see the role of all laypeople as that of a papal ninja.

In an analogical sense, think of what a ninja is: a gifted person who stealthily helps to accomplish the mission of the one who sent him. Laypeople are likewise called by Christ to partake in the secular mission of His Church by using their gifts to “work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.” As such, I am called to simply be myself, and live out the Gospel faithfully in the “ordinary circumstances” of my life, which in this particular case includes trying my best to witness the faith quite publicly.

Personally, I like being behind the camera (filming and editing), but the words of John the Baptist are encouraging, so long as I take them to heart, “I must decrease, that he may increase” (Jn 3:30).

Paradoxically – which is often the case with our Lord – in this situation my decreasing involves being on broadcast television, and growing beyond the discomfort for the sake of my calling, so that He may increase.

You don’t, though, have to wait until June to see “American Ninja Warrior.” There’s a special episode on Thursday, May 25, as part of a night-long event to benefit “Red Nose Day.”

A fundraising campaign run by the nonprofit Comic Relief, Inc. — a registered U.S. 501(c)(3) public charity — “Red Nose Day” urges people to don red clown noses as part of a variety of events to raise funds to support children in need, both in the U.S. and around the world.

“American Ninja Warrior” is joining in.

From NBC:

In the first celebrity edition of “American Ninja Warrior,” nine brave stars will tackle the course, all in the name of charity.

Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila serve as hosts, along with Kristine Leahy who co-hosts. The intrepid celebrity ninjas include Stephen Amell (“Arrow”), Erika Christensen (“Parenthood”), Jeff Dye (“Better Late Than Never”), two-time Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton, Nikki Glaser ( “Not Safe with Nikki Glaser”), Derek Hough (“World of Dance”), Natalie Morales (“TODAY” and “Access Hollywood”) former New York Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher (“Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge”) and Mena Suvari (“American Woman”).

Each of the celebrities will be paired with an elite ninja who serves as both coach and cheerleader — helping them prepare mentally and physically for their run.

From the Floating Steps to the Warped Wall, each of the celebs will have to face up to six challenging obstacles that call upon their upper body strength, agility and stamina.

The elite ninja advisers include fan favorites and National “finalists” Kevin Bull (coaching Ashton Eaton); Kacy Catanzaro (coaching Stephen Amell), Drew Drechsel (coaching Nick Swisher), Natalie Duran (coaching Mena Suvari), Daniel Gil (coaching Derek Hough), Jessie Graff (coaching Nikki Glaser), Grant McCartney (coaching Natalie Morales), Meagan Martin (coaching Jeff Dye) and Flip Rodriguez (coaching Erika Christensen).

“American Ninja Warrior” is executive-produced by A. Smith & Co. Productions’ founders Arthur Smith and Kent Weed along with Brian Richardson and Anthony Storm.

Also that night is “Running Wild With Bear Grylls for Red Nose Day,” featuring actress Julia Roberts on a trip to deliver life-saving vaccines in Africa; and “The Red Nose Day Special,” with host Chris Hardwick, featuring comedy, music and films about kids in need.

Before you choose to donate money to Red Nose Day, be aware that there has been controversy over it, especially in the U.K., where it began, concerning whether some of the charities supported were also involved in providing abortions (a charge Comic Relief has largely denied, irritating some political progressives.)

Anytime you’re dealing with a secular charity, it’s always a good idea to dig in a little bit and see exactly where the money goes … so, donor beware.

Images: Courtesy NBC

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Catholic High Schools Battle ‘Prayer-Shaming’ in Two Videos

Want to feel proud of Catholic high-school students? Here are a couple of videos that celebrate prayer, faith and freedom — and also remind us of the sobering reality a lot of young people face in our violent world.

This especially warms our hearts, since Family Theater Productions’ founder, Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., was a strong proponent of the rosary, especially the family rosary, and of prayer in general. He’s known for the phrase “The Family That Prays Together Stays Together,” based on his own experiences of daily family rosaries growing up in Ireland.

No doubt he’d be very pleased to see the video below, created in 2015 by students and teachers at East Catholic High School in Manchester, Connecticut.

It urges all of those who love God and pray to come out of the shadows.

As they say: “No more prayer shaming. Let’s bring God and prayer back into our lives.”

In early 2016, in the wake of the December 2015 terrorist shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people and injured 22 more, students at Notre Dame High School in nearby Riverside, California, made a similar video to support East Catholic High.

After the San Bernardino shooting, there were indeed incidents of “prayer-shaming,” as many on social media made cynical attacks on those who offered prayers. From a story in The Atlantic:

The most powerful evidence against this backlash toward prayer comes not from the Twitterverse, but from San Bernardino. “Pray for us,” a woman texted her father from inside the Inland Regional Center, while she and her colleagues hid from the gunfire. Outside the building, evacuated workers bowed their heads and held hands. They prayed.

The video is also a reminder that today’s high-schoolers live with constant reports of terrorist attacks and school shootings — and in the case of these kids, terror took someone they knew.

Pray for our Catholic schools and students. Let’s keep them strong, keep them Catholic, and keep them dedicated to Christ, the Faith, the Church and to prayer.

Amen.

Image: YouTube screenshot

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘This Is Us’: Scores Super-Bowl Slot and Christmas Special

NBC’s hit family drama “This Is Us,” already renewed for two more seasons, is taking its place as a celebrated centerpiece of the network’s fall and winter schedule.

For its sophomore season, the Christopher Award-winning “This is Us” — which simultaneously focuses on young marrieds Jack and Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia) and their triplets during the ’80s and beyond, and on the siblings (Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley) as mid-30s adults — is moving from Tuesday to Thursday night, perhaps in a bid by NBC to revive its “Must-See TV” tagline.

From Variety:

“If there is one show we could move it would be this one,” explained NBC entertainment chair Bob Greenblatt of the show’s move to 9pm on Thursdays during a conference call with reporters. “There is a case for keeping the show where it was. It’s a little risky, but there’s a bigger case for redoing Thursday nights.”

The drama is also being given the plum post-Super Bowl slot on Feb. 4, 2018. But, being moved to Thursdays also means that there will be interruptions in the schedule for Thursday-night NFL games. Since the Pearsons are Pittsburgh Steelers fans, Greenblatt said to Variety:

“There will hopefully be some Pittsburgh Steelers games in there,” said Greenblatt,” since the team factors into the show. “I’d love the Steelers to go to the Super Bowl.”

There’s also going to be a Christmas episode to airing during the holiday season, followed by another schedule interruption in February for the Winter Olympics.

Despite all this, NBC seems all in on this emotional, touching, family-centered show, which seems to melt even the stoniest of TV-critic hearts.

The fact that it’s on NBC is confusing me to no end.

The show is great, but it’s so unlike anything NBC has picked up in recent years — but it does follow the network’s success with two faith-friendly Dolly Parton Christmas movies. And now, the Peacock network is doing a live version of the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the spring of 2018.

Is NBC having a come-to-Jesus moment? I doubt it, but something’s up. Whatever it is, I hope it keeps on going.

Surprisingly though, it doesn’t appear that the other broadcast networks have rushed to develop more multigenerational family dramas in the vein of “This Is Us.”

I recently ran into a friend who spent many years in a senior PR position at another network, and she said, “They think it’s a fluke.”

Well, if we want more positive, heartwarming shows like “This Is Us,” we may have to be a little more vociferous in convincing TV execs that it’s not.

Related stories:

NBC’s ‘Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love’ Airs Wednesday

NBC to Do ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Live Musical in Spring 2018

Christopher Awards: ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’ ‘This Is Us,’ Dolly Parton and More …

What ‘This Is Us’ and Jack Teach Us About Fatherhood on St. Joseph’s Day

Image: Courtesy NBC

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan Say Her Illness Has Strengthened Their Catholic Faith

Fame and success don’t insulate anyone from trials and suffering, something Catholic spouses and parents of five Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan recently experienced, when Jeannie underwent surgery to remove a life-threatening, six-centimeter tumor wrapped around her brain stem.

On May 1, her husband took to Facebook with this news.

Jeannie Gaffigan — who is her comedian husband’s writing and producing partner — survived the April 18 surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and is currently recuperating at home in New York with her husband, children and other family members.

Speaking to People magazine, Jeannie Gaffigan, 47, said:

“Every thing has completely strengthened my faith in God,” says Jeannie, 47. “Because I told God, I said, ‘God, I’m not ready to go. I have work to do. Please help me.’ ”

She also said:

“I have no doubt that there were supernatural powers helping me through this. No doubt.”

Grateful for circumstances that allowed them to quickly meet with Mount Sinai top surgeon Dr. Joshua Bederson, Jim Gaffigan said to People:

“It’s a miracle that lead us to that place,” says Jim, 50, who admits it’s been hard to watch his wife go through such a scary process, and now, a difficult recovery.

A story last week at People also talked about how the Gaffigans were struck by the amount of love and prayers they received, and are using this experience to teach their children about compassion.

Said Jeannie:

“When you’re in the hospital and you can’t take care of yourself and you see all these people who are just committed to being doctors and nurses and caregivers, it’s really unbelievable that people would dedicate their lives to taking care of other people. And I want children that are in touch with that kind of empathy.”

Images: Wikimedia Commons; IMDB; Facebook — Jim Gaffigan

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima With Film

Saturday, May 13, is the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Our Lady of Fatima to three shepherd children in Portugal in 1917. When you’re not watching coverage of the papal visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima on EWTN, you can slip in a few movies.

“The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima” (1952; available via DVD from Amazon Prime): As described by Deacon Steven Greydanus:

[It] is an old-fashioned production in the Golden Age tradition of religious fare like The Song of Bernadette. It’s not as good a movie as The Song of Bernadette (the best of Hollywood’s Golden Age piety, in my opinion), but it’s well made, entertaining, and fairly faithful to the main facts (despite liberties such as Gilbert Roland’s fictional rascal with a heart of gold, added to help mediate the story for mainstream audiences).

“The 13th Day” (2009; available via DVD from Amazon Prime): The editorial review at Amazon describes this British production thus:

In a world torn apart by persecution, war and oppression, 3 children in Fatima, Portugal were chosen by God to offer an urgent message of hope to the world. Based on the memoirs of the oldest seer, Lucia Santos, and many thousands of independent eye-witness accounts, The 13th Day dramatizes the true story of three young shepherds who experienced six apparitions of Our Lady between May and October 1917, which culminated in the final prophesied Miracle of the Sun on October 13th. Abducted from their homes, thrown into prison and interrogated under the threat of death in the government’s attempt to silence them, the children remained true to their story about the crucial messages from Mary of prayer, repentance and conversion for the world.

Our Lady gave a secret to the children told in three parts, from a harrowing vision of hell, to prophetic warnings of future events including the advent and timing of the Second World War, the spread of communism, and the attempted assassination of the Pope.

Stylistically beautiful and technically innovative, the film uses state-of-the-art digital effects to create stunning images of the visions and the final miracle that have never before been fully realized on screen. Shot on location in Portugal and in the UK, the film has a cast of hundreds to re-create the scenes of the 70,000 strong crowds, with 3 young Portuguese actors playing the iconic roles of the Seers.

Witness the greatest miracle of the 20th Century, and experience the incredible, emotionally-charged and harrowing world of three young children whose choice to remain loyal to their beliefs, even in the face of death, would inspire thousands.

Filmed in High Definition with Dolby Surround Sound. Stars Jane Lesley, Michael D’Cruze, Filipa Fernandes and Tarek Merlin.

“Finding Fatima” (2010; available via DVD from Amazon Prime): If your tastes run more to documentary, here’s one from the same filmmakers who produced “The 13th Day.” It combines archival footage, dramatic reenactments, interviews with experts and visual effects to tell the whole story of the the apparitions, which began with an angel and continued on the 13th of each month between May and Oct. 1917 (when the Miracle of the Sun is reported to have happened in front of scores of onlookers).

“The Song of Bernadette” (1943; available to stream via Amazon Prime): Of course, Fatima isn’t the only place Our Lady is reported to have appeared. This Hollywood classic stars Jennifer Jones as peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous, who reported 18 visions of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France, between February and July 1858. Having been based on a novel about the events, it’s not perfectly historically accurate, but it is moving and won four Academy Awards, including best actress for Jones.

One pope associated strongly with Fatima is John Paul II, and for good reason. On May 13, 1981, the 64th anniversary of Fatima, Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca fired on the pope at point-blank range at the Vatican.

From a 2016 story at Crux:

Yet the two bullets Agca fired at the pope somehow went wide of their targets, one grazing off John Paul’s elbow and the other penetrating his abdomen but narrowly missing a major artery.

To John Paul II, it was no mystery at all why he survived: the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima.

On the anniversary of the assassination attempt, John Paul II traveled to the shrine of Fatima in Portugal to give thanks to Mary for saving his life, placing the bullet doctors had removed from his body in the crown of the Virgin’s statue, where it remains to this day.

There have been a few films about JPII, but one of the best is a 2005 CBS miniseries, called, unsurprisingly, “John Paul II.” Available on DVD from Amazon Prime, it stars Cary Elwes as the young Karol Wojtyla, and Jon Voight as the elder Wojtyla, when he was Pope John Paul II.

From a review by Deacon Steven Greydanus:

Reverent, respectful, well acted and well-paced, Pope John Paul II does about as good a job at covering both halves of its subject’s life as could be hoped for in a TV movie. The miniseries neatly splits its two nights between the pre-election Karol Wojtyla and the reign of Pope John Paul II, with Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) playing Wojtyla from his youth to the 1978 conclave and Jon Voight (Holes) playing John Paul II from the conclave to his 2005 death.

Both actors do a remarkably good job at evoking the speech, style and physical presence of this most media-exposed of popes. Elwes particularly excels at projecting Wojtyla’s formidable intellect and passion, and Voight is especially good at realizing the Holy Father’s pastoral spirit and iron resolve. Both actors effectively tackle the physicality of the role, Elwes energetic and athletic as the younger Wojtyla and Voight giving an impressively controlled performance from the vigor of the early years of the papacy through the slow decline to that painful final public appearance when all the pope’s immense willpower could not coax speech from his throat.

Have a Blessed Feast of Our Lady of Fatima!

Images: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 3.0; Kristyn Brown

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.