Category: Books

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Wisdom Compiled in New Book

Journalist turned PR maven Alexis Walkenstein (one of the team behind our recent documentary “The Dating Project”) recently released “Ex Libris — Fulton J. Sheen,” a compilation of writings from pioneering Catholic media evangelist Venerable Archbishop Sheen, who spread the Gospel on radio and TV from 1930 until the late 1930s.

He died in 1979 and is currently interred at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Since today, May 8, is the 123rd anniversary of Sheen’s birth, we decided to check in with Walkenstein and see what Sheen means to her, and what she’d like him to mean to others.

How did you first hear about Archbishop Sheen?

Archbishop Sheen would be an occasional topic in our Catholic home growing up, since he was really more of my parents’ generation. In my young-adult professional life as a journalist, I recall particular things about Sheen during one Christmas when my dad decided to gift my mother with a collection of his old radio broadcasts. The media connection intrigued me because I worked in TV.

More personally, I would say Sheen dramatically broke into my life around the time I accepted a new job as spokesperson and director of communications for a diocese in South Florida. I was transitioning from a secular news career in Boston, and I was flooded with all my hopes and dreams (and fears) as I was moving into new territory, career-wise and geography-wise.

I was so excited about moving and praying at the same time for a God-sent husband. I meandered into a local Boston Catholic bookstore before I drove myself south on I-95 to the east coast of Florida. I perused the shelves looking for a spiritual work to mark this time of transition. I plucked Sheen’s Three to Get Married from the shelves and was intrigued because here was this bishop teaching about marriage.

There was so much focus on vocations to priesthood, but at that time I couldn’t remember a bishop speaking about the Sacrament of Marriage with such profound pastoral care pointing to the high call of this vocation. On a practical level, I had no idea what it would be like to work for a bishop and thought Sheen could help me on two fronts, my new job and my desire for my own vocation — marriage.

Why a book, why this book, why now?

The truth is, I never imagined I would be compiling a book on the spirituality of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Ever. But I can honestly say that Heaven pressed me into service and kept me at my word.

This book is a fulfillment of a promise I made before God and Venerable Fulton Sheen 10 years ago. When I prayed inside the crypt where Sheen buried at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York a decade ago, I asked him to intercede for five intentions.

The whole experience of getting inside the crypt and being in New York was as spontaneous as my last prayer to him that December day. I ended my heartfelt string of prayer requests by saying “If you help me, I will promote you.” I never prayed that way — and was certainly not bargaining with God — but it was more of an offering of myself, almost thanksgiving in advance for what I knew he could do before the throne of God.

Immediately when I emerged from the crypt, I had an email at the top of my inbox from a priest I never met before. The priest was the executive director of the Fulton J. Sheen Foundation in Peoria, Illinois [Ed.: Sheen’s birthplace], and he said he heard about me and asked me to consider helping promote the Sheen cause for canonization in south Florida where I was working. That email dropped the mic and created a domino effect of all types of promotion of Sheen’s cause within Palm Beach and on a national level. The prayers I prayed were being answered almost immediately one by one.

My activities became a labor of love in service to a saint in the making and one of my newest and most fierce intercessors. It wasn’t until about a whole seven years later, when I was approached by Pauline Media to consider compiling this book. That was April, 2015, when I was about to move to Los Angeles, and my life was taking an entirely new direction. I thought my Sheen promo days had peaked and that was it. Not so fast!

My movie work and move to LA was all part of Sheen’s intercession. When the book opportunity emerged the night of my re-entry into the movie biz, Sheen was letting me know very directly that he was behind all the curvy twists and turns of God’s plan for my life.

The book introduces the Gospel as presented by Sheen to a new generation. I’m like the reader. I didn’t know much about Archbishop Sheen, however, I share my personal testimony via the introduction. I then present Sheen’s own words under areas of his main thought such as the mystery of God, human freedom, divine love, sin and knowing Jesus.

On another level, this book reveals Sheen’s efficacy as an intercessor – he’s not just a powerhouse Emmy-toting evangelist, he’s an intercessor for every manner of need. You want a friend in heaven who can move on your behalf in a New York minute? Go to Sheen.

What’s been his biggest impact on your life?

This is hard question to answer because there are very deep and profound things that have happened to me through his intercession as well as his writings, that have impacted me with wisdom to better understand the Gospel. However, I think the biggest impact is the very personal relationship that the saints (or in this case, a saint in the making) want to develop with us.

Again and again, I am astounded by how thin the veil is between heaven and earth, and how responsive Venerable Sheen is to me personally, in the manner in which specific prayers are answered like live scenes from theater and in strategic methodical ways.

On a concrete level, Sheen was the big force in heaven behind my move to Hollywood. I had lived in many other cities, including Atlanta, New York and Palm Beach where I was introduced to Sheen, but three years ago I was back in Boston working in the mainstream at a public relations firm tailored to the business sector. My dad had been very ill, and it was good to be back at home at this particular time, and it seemed that’s where I would stay.

The mainstream job just didn’t satisfy. One day I heard God say, “today’s the day you leave.” I said, “If that’s really you God, make it the worst day ever.” It became the worst day ever ,and I quit my job on the spot without notice. I called on Sheen’s intercession to assist me in pursuit of the roots I wanted to plant in work and in life.

A month later I was asked to help on a movie, which turned into another movie ,which turned into me moving across the country to Los Angeles. I never envisioned moving to L.A. or the very many things that have emerged as a result of this unexpected catapult.

I started my own business, am host of a national radio show and just released this book on Archbishop Sheen. Sheen’s intercession is laced throughout this cross-country move and the new territory and relationships that God had planned for me from the beginning of time. Sheen helps me to see the greatness and vastness of God’s plan for my life when I invite Him to take over. It’s a much better show than I could ever produce.

What do you hope people take away from this book?

It’s my ardent prayer that seekers and the faithful alike will come into a deeper understanding of the meaning of life under Heaven, and that people would come to a greater understanding that, in God’s economy, He gives us saints to assist us in our life’s pilgrimage.

I share a lot in my introduction about my powerful encounter with Archbishop Sheen, and, beyond the introduction, I can say that of the five intentions I asked for help with, three have been realized with the final two unfolding now in Sheen-style dramatic fashion.

What God has done for me through the intercession of Archbishop Sheen, He will do for others. I also want people to know the depths of prayer that went into unearthing the selected quotes for the book. He wrote so many works, but you can’t fit everything in a book like this, so I asked the Holy Spirit to bring forward the themes and words that would penetrate hungry hearts in today’s world.

The care and prayer was intentional in hopes that the seeds of truth on the pages of this book would become rooted in hearts and souls and that every person who picks up this book would receive transformation in Christ through friendship with Archbishop Sheen.

How does Archbishop Sheen matter in the modern world?

Sheen matters in the modern world because Truth matters. Our world would like to drown Truth out. Our world would like to convince us that we don’t need God, and we can do things our own way. Yet, people everywhere are sin-sick and in bondage to things that separate them from the freedom they crave – a freedom that can only be known in Jesus who is Truth itself.

People are looking for solutions to problems and seeking false power for quick fixes. Sheen matters in today’s world because he shows us that Love has a name, and that name is Jesus, and he shows us the power source that connects us to this Love in the Sacramental life of the Church.

Sheen also takes the spiritual ax to the root of our spiritual ills (sin, ego, addiction, lack of faith) and sin habits by exposing the woundedness in a soul void of God.

Sheen unabashedly proclaimed Christ and had a charism for conversion, a zeal for life pointing all to the reality that “life is worth living.” Not only do his potent words matter today, but his intercession matters – for our Church, for youth, for families and all who are called to a particular life of holiness to be lived for the glory of God.

What do you think he’d say about social media?

Can you imagine the Facebook lives and the fiery Tweets? I think Sheen would say #LifeIsWorthLiving and would give everyone a run for their money on Instagram Story! I can only imagine that the two-time Emmy Award-winner would see the social landscape as missionary territory, and the “digital continents” of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram would be fair game for a contemporary platform to proclaim the Gospel.

Knowing his disciplined life and attention to the whole person, I can also imagine Sheen would have something to say about excessive social media use, and the crutch to hide behind screens instead of fostering authentic interactions and relationships. Would he use these platforms to preach Jesus? Yes. Would he warn about living your life out on social media alone and warn against traps to social addiction? Yes, I think he would also help tame the dragon of technological dependence.

 What’s your favorite Bishop Sheen quote?

Easy. “Love is a mutual self-giving that ends in self-recovery.”

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m an East Coast transplant to Los Angeles, and even though most say I don’t have a Boston accent, I sometimes sound like a Wahlberg or a Kennedy, depending on the day or the score of the Red Sox game.

After just about three years in California, I have fallen in love with the West Coast and all the influences that make up this side of the planet. I’m a storyteller at heart, as a former newswoman turned PR pro. Movies are my day job (more like my 24/7 day job), but writing is my personal passion. I have a little radio show called Mary’s Touch that I host each week and is broadcast on over 60 stations around the world. My contemporary heroes are Saint John Paul II and Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.

If I’m not moving or flying on a plane, I’m not living.

Click here to buy the book from Pauline Books & Media and here for Amazon.com.

Images: Wikimedia Commons; courtesy Alexis Walkenstein, Pauline Books & Media

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.

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‘A Wrinkle In Time’: You Can’t Iron Out These Difficulties [UPDATED]

Up front, I have to say that I haven’t read Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 children’s fantasy novel “A Wrinkle in Time,” which inspired the megabudget Disney movie that came out on March 9. But I do know that the author’s Christian beliefs were woven throughout it.

If I hadn’t known that going in, I never would have been able to tell from this ramshackle, glitter-drenched mess of a movie.

Directed by Ava DuVernay from a screenplay by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, it follows the adventures of awkward but smart teen Meg Murry (Storm Reid), her adopted genius little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and her admiring pal Calvin (Levi Miller). They follow the lead of three powerful beings — vaguely goddess-y Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), mercurial Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and quote-spouting Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) — to find Meg’s missing scientist father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine), who mysteriously vanished four years earlier.

Also starring are Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Meg’s mother, Dr. Kate Murry; Zach Galifinakis as the Happy Medium; Michael Pena as Red; and David Oyelowo as The It.

The idea is that Alex discovered a way to hop between dimensions — called “tessering” — and in his desire to know the universe, got lost in it. The three Mrs.-es, decked out in a dizzying variety of big dresses, bigger hair and disco makeup, take the trio of kids on a weird trip to computer-generated worlds, ending in a confrontation with a big dark spidery thing, which … well, I don’t even know what exactly happened.

There’s a lot of hugging and declarations of love, but I honestly had no clue what was going on most of the time. Caleb gazes adoringly at Meg, who’s gutsy and clever, but generally cranky and out of sorts; while Charles Wallace alternates between precocious cuteness and radiating snarky menace like the demonic moppet from “The Omen.”

Other than some vague themes of valuing yourself and accepting your faults, the rest of the movie’s message — or a least as much of it as I could decipher — is mostly New Age-y, “be one with the universe” psychobabble.

L’Engle’s Christianity is entirely absent. Lots of figures from history get shout-outs, from Rumi to Outkast, but Jesus is jettisoned. Since this is a major-market movie from Disney, I can’t say I’m surprised.

Reid does a good job as Meg, considering the general wackiness of the situations she’s put in. Of the three Mrs.-es, Winfrey is vaguely inspirational and imposing; Kaling is slightly impish; but Witherspoon is resolutely puckish and comic (have to say she’s my favorite part of the movie because of that).

I suppose “A Wrinkle in Time” is, as Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” said of Earth, “mostly harmless,” but I can’t really recommend it.

But, I’m neither a L’Engle fan nor the target audience, so your results may vary.

UPDATE: There’s been a kerfuffle in the FB comments on the amount of Christianity in L’Engle’s book, and whether it was actually removed. Here’s what I found out:

There are some folks complaining that the book didn’t have overt Christian references. This post from Terry Mattingley’s On Religion blog disagrees:

It would be hard, explained L’Engle, to grasp this book’s cosmic war between life and death, good and evil, darkness and light without two crucial passages.

A key character is Mrs. Who, who speaks only in famous quotations. She is part of a trio of mysterious characters – guardian angels, according to L’Engle – who help the children in the novel. To explain the power of “light,” Mrs. Who quotes the Gospel of John: “The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”

Also, in a climactic word of encouragement to heroine Meg Murray, Mrs. Who quotes St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. … God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.”

None of the novel’s Bible quotations made it into the Disney film, but there were new quotes from popular music and the musical “Hamilton.”

“L’Engle’s work is a highly imaginative one in which good and evil can literally be sensed and felt by the characters,” said Barbara Nicolosi Harrington, a former Catholic nun who now teaches screenwriting.

These kinds of inner, spiritual realities are hard to visualize on screen, plus it’s clear that the “heart of L’Engle’s work is deeply Christian,” she said. “Surely these themes would cause ambivalence or disgust in secular filmmakers. Now you have a recipe for the gutting of a beloved Christian classic into a weird, even creepy mess.”

In addition, screenwriter Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”) knew Christian references were in there and excised them. From Uproxx:

The book is pretty open about its Christian ideals and the movie doesn’t directly reference them. As a fan of the book how do you approach that aspect?

What I looked at, one of the reasons Madeleine L’Engle – as I’ve been told; I never got to meet her – but one of the reasons it had that strong Christian element to it wasn’t just because she was Christian, but because she was frustrated with things that needed to be said to her in the world and she wasn’t finding a way to say it and she wanted to stay true to her faith. And I respect that and I understand those feelings of things you want to say in the world that need to be said that are out there. In a good way, I think there are a lot of elements of what she wrote that we have progressed as a society and we can move onto the other elements. In a sad way, some of the other elements are more important right now and bigger – sort of this fight of light against darkness. It’s a universal thing and timeless and seems to be a battle that has to keep being had.

It also feels like this is a movie that celebrates inclusiveness and diversity, so having it be about one religious denomination wouldn’t really be keeping with that theme. Does that make sense?

It does. And I can’t put words in her mouth – and I worked with one of our producers, Catherine Hand, who was very close to her – but that wasn’t her intention. Her intention was looking at the ordinary real hero in an extraordinary situation. The power of love in this world, and we stayed very true to that. And her lens through it was Christianity and everyone has a different lens in. And that’s what inclusiveness is to me in this film, is really looking at all of us have a role to play in this no matter where we come from or what we look like.

Image: Courtesy Walt Disney Company

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.

‘Today Is Friday’: Ernest Hemingway on the Crucifixion

Journalist and Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway is known for many things — terse, spare writing; vivid characters; wartime experiences; outdoor adventures; and his unfortunate, self-inflicted death.

What’s less-known is that he was an adult convert to Catholicism from Protestantism — an imperfect Catholic, to be sure, but one whose search for God and the Faith wove its way through his work.

Even though he divorced his Catholic second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, and married two more times after that, there was a Catholic presence at his burial in Ketchum, Idaho, in 1961.

From the obituary in The New York Times, cited in an article about Hemingway’s faith at TheBlogAlsoRises.com:

The Rev. Robert J. Waldemann, Roman Catholic pastor of St. Charles Church in Hailey, Idaho, and of Our Lady of the Snows in Ketchum, will conduct the services. Father Waldemann said that there would be no formal Catholic services. He said there would be no mass and probably no rosary, but he said that the matter of accident or suicide had no bearing on the funeral. “We pass no judgement on that and asked no questions,” he said.

There still was no official decision–and there may never be–as to whether the death of the writer early Sunday from the blast of a 12-gauge shotgun had been an accident or suicide. However, the fact that Mr. Hemingway had been divorced would bar him from a Catholic Church funeral. Catholic sources said there was nothing improper in a Catholic  priest saying prayers at graveside.

Friday, July 21, is Hemingway’s birthday (he was born in 1899), and in honor of that, I’m presenting one of his lesser-known works, a little play called “This Is Friday.” It features three Roman soldiers entering some sort of tavern late at night, where a Hebrew wine-seller named George interests them in different vintages.

In contemporary language — with some mild profanity and an ethnic slur against Jews thrown in — the soldiers discuss the day’s work, which included the crucifixion of Christ.

I asked the latest addition to the Family Theater Productions staff, Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C. — priest and filmmaker — to reflect on Hemingway and this play:

“Hemingway captured the reality of human nature like no other modern author. His minimalist style reflects his themes. The prose of his novels, however, will never quite match the near poetry of believing authors such as Flannery O’Connor and (“Silence” author Shusaku) Endo, of a similar era.

“The point I make is evidenced in the attached scene. The scene is a believable interpretation of a few soldiers processing the Crucifixion events. It, like most of Hemingway’s works, doesn’t aspire to go beyond horizontal theology (if that) — they only see a man who peculiarly chose to undergo His Crucifixion willingly. A hypothetical next scene, in Hemingway’s style, would see them returning to soldiering and not writing a theological summation, a la John’s Gospel.”

To learn more about Hemingway’s faith, you can click here and here and here, but I suspect the author would like his work to speak for itself.

So, here’s “Today Is Friday,” in its entirety (linked annotations courtesy of Genius.com):

Three Roman soldiers are in a drinking-place at eleven o’clock at nightThere are barrels around the wall. Behind the wooden counter is a Hebrew wine-seller. The three Roman soldiers are a little cock-eyed.

1st Roman Soldier—You tried the red?

2d Soldier—No, I ain’t tried it.

1st Soldier—You better try it.

2d Soldier—All right, George, we’ll have a round of the red.

Hebrew Wine-seller—Here you are, gentlemen. You’ll like that. [He sets down an earthenware pitcher that he has filled from one of the casks.] That’s a nice little wine.

1st Soldier—Have a drink of it yourself. [He turns to the third Roman soldier who is leaning on a barrel.] What’s the matter with you?

3d Roman Soldier—I got a gut-ache.

2d Soldier—You’ve been drinking water.

1st Soldier—Try some of the red.

3d Soldier—I can’t drink the damn stuff. It makes my gut sour.

1st Soldier—You been out here too long.

3d Soldier—Hell don’t I know it?

1st Soldier—Say, George, can’t you give this gentleman something to fix up his stomach?

Hebrew Wine-seller—I got it right here.

[The third Roman soldier tastes the cup that the wine-seller has mixed for him.]

3d Soldier—Hey, what you put in that, camel chips?

Wine-seller—You drink that right down, Lootenant. That’ll fix you up right.

3d Soldier—Well, I couldn’t feel any worse.

1st Soldier—Take a chance on it. George fixed me up fine the other day.

Wine-seller—You were in bad shape, Lootenant. I know what fixes up a bad stomach.

[The third Roman soldier drinks the cup down.]

3d Roman Soldier—Jesus Christ. [He makes a face.]

2d Soldier—That false alarm!

1st Soldier—Oh, I don’t know. He was pretty good in there today.

2d Soldier—Why didn’t he come down off the cross?

1st Soldier—He didn’t want to come down off the cross. That’s not his play.

2d Soldier—Show me a guy that doesn’t want to come down off the cross.

1st Soldier—Aw, hell, you don’t know anything about it. Ask George there. Did he want to come down off the cross, George?

Wine-seller—I’ll tell you, gentlemen, I wasn’t out there. It’s a thing I haven’t taken any interest in.

2d Soldier—Listen, I seen a lot of them—here and plenty of other places. Any time you show me one that doesn’t want to get down off the cross when the time comes—when the time comes, I mean—I’ll climb right up with him.

1st Soldier—I thought he was pretty good in there today.

3d Soldier—He was all right.

2d Roman Soldier—You guys don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not saying whether he was good or not. What I mean is, when the time comes. When they first start nailing him, there isn’t none of them wouldn’t stop it if they could.

1st Soldier—Didn’t you follow it, George?

Wine-seller—No, I didn’t take any interest in it, Lootenant.

1st Soldier—I was surprised how he acted.

3d Soldier—The part I don’t like is the nailing them on. You know, that must get to you pretty bad.

2d Soldier—It isn’t that that’s so bad, as when they first lift ’em up. [He makes a lifting gesture with his two palms together.] When the weight starts to pull on ’em. That’s when it gets ’em.

3d Roman Soldier—It takes some of them pretty bad.

1st Soldier—Ain’t I seen ’em? I seen plenty of them. I tell you, he was pretty good in there today.

[The second Roman soldier smiles at the Hebrew wine-seller.]

2d Soldier—You’re a regular Christer, big boy.

1st Soldier—Sure, go on and kid him. But listen while I tell you something. He was pretty good in there today.

2d Soldier—What about some more wine?

[The wine-seller looks up expectantly. The third Roman soldier is sitting with his head down. He does not look well.]

3d Soldier—I don’t want any more.

2d Soldier—Just for two, George.

[The wine-seller puts out a pitcher of wine, a size smaller than the last one.

He leans forward on the wooden counter.]

1st Roman Soldier—You see his girl?

2d Soldier—Wasn’t I standing right by her?

1st Soldier—She’s a nice-looker.

2d Soldier—I knew her before he did. [He winks at the wine-seller.]

1st Soldier—I used to see her around the town.

2d Soldier—She used to have a lot of stuff. He never brought her no good luck.

1st Soldier—Oh, he ain’t lucky. But he looked pretty good to me in there today.

2d Soldier—What become of his gang?

1st Soldier—Oh, they faded out. Just the women stuck by him.

2d Roman Soldier—They were a pretty yellow crowd. When they seen him go up there they didn’t want any of it.

1st Soldier—The women stuck all right.

2d Soldier—Sure, they stuck all right.

1st Roman Soldier—You see me slip the old spear into him?

2d Roman Soldier—You’ll get into trouble doing that some day.

1st Soldier—It was the least I could do for him. I’ll tell you he looked pretty good to me in there today.

Hebrew Wine-seller—Gentlemen, you know I got to close.

1st Roman Soldier—We’ll have one more round.

2d Roman Soldier—What’s the use? This stuff don’t get you anywhere. Come on, let’s go.

1st Soldier—Just another round.

3d Roman Soldier—[Getting up from the barrel.] No, come on. Let’s go. I feel like hell tonight.

1st Soldier—Just one more.

2d Soldier—No, come on. We’re going to go. Good-night, George. Put it on the bill.

Wine-seller—Good-night, gentlemen. [He looks a little worried.] You couldn’t let me have a little something on account, Lootenant?

2d Roman Soldier—What the hell, George! Wednesday’s payday.

Wine-seller—It’s all right, Lootenant. Good-night, gentlemen.

[The three Roman soldiers go out the door into the street.]

[Outside in the street.]

2d Roman Soldier—George is a kike just like all the rest of them.

1st Roman Soldier—Oh, George is a nice fella.

2d Soldier—Everybody’s a nice fella to you tonight.

3d Roman Soldier—Come on, let’s go up to the barracks. I feel like hell tonight.

2d Soldier—You been out here too long.

3d Roman Soldier—No, it ain’t just that. I feel like hell.

2d Soldier—You been out here too long. That’s all.

CURTAIN

Images: Wikimedia Commons

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Angela Lansbury, Michael Gambon and Emily Watson Cast in ‘Masterpiece: Little Women’ on PBS

Principal photography is about to commence on a new version of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” for PBS’ “Masterpiece,” and now we know some of the key roles.

Originally published in two volumes, in 1868 and 1869 (and followed by “Little Men”), “Little Women” follows the lives of the four March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — and their beloved mother, Marmee, as they pass from girlhood to young adulthood in New England during the years surrounding the Civil War (the story begins their father away, serving as a chaplain in the Union Army).

BAFTA Award-winner Emily Watson (“The Theory of Everything,” “Genius”) will play Marmee. Starring as the sisters are Maya Hawke (Jo), Willa Fitzgerald (Meg), Annes Elwy (Beth) and Kathryn Newton (Amy). Dame Angela Lansbury (“Murder, She Wrote”) plays the girls’ wealthy relative, the cantankerous Aunt March. Michael Gambon (“Harry Potter”) plays kindly neighbor Mr. Laurence; and Jonah Hauer-King (“Howard’s End”) plays his grandson, Laurie Laurence, the quintessential boy next door.

“Little Women” is Playground production for the BBC and “Masterpiece,” with a production team from the U.K. and U.S. Hedi Thomas (“Call the Midwife,” “Cranford”) is the writer, with Vanessa Caswill directing.

From the press release announcing the production:

Writer and executive producer Thomas says: “Little Women is one of the most loved novels in the English language, and with good reason. Its humanity, humour and tenderness never date, and as a study of love, grief and growing up it has no equal. There could be no better time to revisit the story of a family striving for happiness in an uncertain world, and I am thrilled to be bringing the March girls to a new generation of viewers.”

“The mini-series is a storytelling form unique to television, and the opportunity to adapt Louisa May Alcott’s novel over three hours is a gift from the BBC and MASTERPIECE on PBS,” said executive producer Callender. “This is a character study of young women rich in texture and detail, and it’s an honour to be able to bring it to life in this extended form with the great Heidi Thomas, one of the finest writers working in television today. In the hands of the exciting directorial style of filmmaker Vanessa Caswill we hope to deliver a new screen version that will speak to contemporary audiences, meet the expectations of the book’s ardent fans and bring a whole new generation to this great classic.”

“Bringing alive this beloved American novel for a new generation of PBS viewers is a dream come true,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming, PBS. “In the hands of Rebecca Eaton and Colin Callender’s Playground, and with the superb talents of writer Heidi Thomas, we are confident this story of strong women will resonate with both new and longtime fans of MASTERPIECE.”

No premiere date has yet been announced, but it seems unlikely we’ll see this before mid- to late-2018.

Image: Courtesy Amazon.com (Kindle Edition); Wikimedia Commons

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.

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.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ on Hulu: What Should Catholics Think?

Hulu-Handmaids-Tale-Offred-Elisabeth-Moss-FFBOn Wednesday, April 26, Hulu premieres a 10-episode adaptation of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Many secular critics are in a lather, fretting that the series somehow represents the near future. The story is set in an alternate present (Uber is even mentioned) when environmental pollution has devastated female fertility, and a war has caused Gilead, an oppressive theocratic dictatorship, to break off from the United States.

Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) stars as Offred, who is captured into this regime because she was proven to be fertile. Her husband was shot, and her daughter taken. Now she’s given over to a wealthy man and his barren wife as a “handmaid” — inspired by the story of Leah and Rachel in the Book of Genesis. Offred and her wealthy master (Joseph Fiennes) go through highly ritualized sex in hopes of producing offspring (which obviously does not please the wife, played by Yvonne Strahovski).

While the regime has Old Testament overtones (but no New Testament ones), it is emphatically not Catholic. True to Atwood’s novel — in which Quakers, Jews and Catholics are enemies of Gilead — a Catholic priest is seen hung in the first episode, along with others, including a gay man.

At a press event last summer, I asked executive producer Bruce Miller how faith was handled in the show. Here’s the exchange:

QUESTION: In the book Gilead is run under the auspices of a very specific form of biblical fundamentalism, and Quakers, Jews, Catholics are not welcome, not considered our friends at all. So, how do you deal with the religious aspects in the series?

BRUCE MILLER: Well, interestingly, in the book they’re dealt with in a very specific way. I mean, I don’t think they ever go to church once in the book. You know, it’s a society that’s based kind of in a perversion misreading of Old Testament laws and codes, but I don’t think — even Margaret Atwood said it isn’t — they aren’t Christians, the people who are running Gilead. You know, I think that we deal with it the same way they deal with it in the book. You know, in the pilot, in the next few episodes, they’re tearing churches down that are not — that are anything besides their sect. I think there are a lot of parallels between the book and certainly the TV show and life in Puritan times. And I would say that we use that as — or the writing staff has been using that as a big parallel. You know, this country gets a reputation for being a place where people came from religious freedom. The Puritans who came liked their religious freedom, but not anybody else’s. So, certainly, there were no other churches besides the Puritan church. And, so, the way that they dealt with outsiders is, I think, slightly nicer or slightly meaner than the people in Gilead. I think they branded Quakers on the forehead — didn’t they — with Qs and stuff like that, and sent them out of the state. So, I think we’re trying to harken back to that origin story for the — that Margaret used as the beginning for this book.

So, if any religious group gets a black eye in this, one supposes it’s the Puritans, and they’re not really around to complain.

Seems to me that the world has plenty of horrors these days perpetuated against women and girls about which high-profile Hulu series could be made — if one had the courage to risk upsetting political correctness.

Perhaps, it’s much easier to panic at imagined dangers than to portray real ones.

As Megan McArdle of Bloomberg.com sagely observes:

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is becoming less plausible a future with each passing year, no matter how hard feminists insist that there is only a brief and slippery slope between overturning Roe v. Wade and forcing women into state-sanctioned breeding programs.

With sexual content, violence and language, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is emphatically NOT for children, and if parents want to let high-schoolers watch it, I’d advise watching with them. It offers few new lessons beyond the power of mother love and the resilience of the human spirit — and you can get that without all the post-apocalyptic trappings and political messages.

Just look at Mary, the true handmaid of the Lord.

virgin_mary

Image: Courtesy Hulu; Wikimedia Commons

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.