I recently checked out one of the preview performances and can report to you that it’s a rousing, thought-provoking and, ultimately, inspirational portrait of one of the most influential and enigmatic religious leaders of the 2oth century. It’s a role brought spectacularly to life by Carolee Carmello, the Broadway actress known for her roles in such productions as Sister Act, The Addams Family and Mamma Mia!
Afterward, I sat down for a wide-ranging chat with Kathie Lee, the highlights of which you can read below the video about Aimee Semple McPherson’s legacy — built before a scandal involving an allegedly faked kidnapping and a torrid love affair threatened to destroy everything she worked to create.
JWK: What drew you to Aimee’s story?
KATHIE LEE GIFFORD: Well, anybody that’s heard Aimee’s story is drawn to her because it’s such an extraordinary story. When I first heard about her 40 years ago when I was at college, I couldn’t believe the life she had led…I just remember thinking that’s impossible. What kind of a woman in the 1920′s could have done that when women didn’t even have the vote…And then I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my own career in the 1970′s and because Los Angeles is where her temple had been and so much of her life had taken place, I started hearing all kinds of stories about her and I didn’t know what was true or wasn’t true. I just knew that this was quite an extraordinary woman to be talked about in such legendary terms so many years after she had passed away. It just got my attention and the more I studied about her the more fascinated I became. I went to Jack Hayford‘s church at Church On the Way in Los Angeles and he had gone to her Bible college. Then later I was dating Frank (Gifford) when I moved to New York and I was talking about her and he goes “Oh, yeah, I went to her temple when I was a kid.” He had been in a Pentecostal family and as a 12-year-old kid had gone to Aimee’s temple on Sunday’s when his dad was working at the shipyards during World War II. And then I found the connection with Aimee’s daughter — that her husband had been the creator of Name That Tune (the game show) that I got my big break on.
KLG: I don’t believe in coincidence. I just think that all things work together for good — Romans 8:28 — and I just felt like I was meant to write this.