Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Dr. Gene passes his last collection plate

I see in the news that Dr. Gene Scott, the televangelist, died yesterday.

Dr. Gene was a major league crackpot in a field of endeavor that seems to attract fractured terra cotta like trailer parks attract tornados. But at a time when his peers-slash-competitors like Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Garner Ted Armstrong have largely faded from public view, Dr. Gene was still plugging along at age 75.

Back in the early '80s when I was studying broadcast communications at San Francisco State University, I wrote my senior thesis on televangelism, and I'm certain that I devoted at least a paragraph or two to Dr. Gene. Outrageous fundraising methods are part and parcel of the televangelism trade — who can forget Oral Roberts telling his devoted viewers that God was going to "call him home" if they didn't pony up? But Dr. Gene went after the holy greenback with a fervor matched only by the legendary Frederick Eikerenkoetter, better known as "Reverend Ike," who preached his flock "out of the ghetto and into the get-mo." (Ike used to run ads in local newspapers' TV listings that read, "If you want pie in the sky by and by when you die, then Reverend Ike is not your man...but if you want your pie now with ice cream on it, watch Reverend Ike Sunday morning at 7:30.")

Dr. Gene used to stare wild-eyed into the camera lens and scream at viewers of his TV program to call in donations. He often did it using language one might find more appropriate to a longshoremen's union hall than to a religious broadcast. I remember one classic show in the '70s in which Dr. Gene became so incensed that the pledge lines weren't lighting up that he sat down in a chair in front of the camera and simply read the newspaper, refusing to preach until the phones were ringing off the hook. Before long, they were.

I last saw Dr. Gene on the tube just a couple of weekends ago. I was working at the computer late one Saturday night, with the TV on for background noise. And suddenly, there was Dr. Gene, scribbling on his whiteboard in his familiar arcane chicken-scratch handwriting, pontificating about some point of grammar in koine Greek (the language in which most of the New Testament was written). I suppose I thought after all these years he might well go on forever.

I suppose I was mistaken.

2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Lynda offered these pearls of wisdom...

I have always been a bit fascinated by the televangelists - I watched Jim & Tammy Faye, et al... rise and fall. I am not familiar with Dr. Gene Scott. I do remember Oral Roberts in the Prayer Tower, Jimmy Swaggart sinning and repenting, and who was the guy that "sold" prayer cloths?

9:08 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Welcome, Lynda. Dr. Gene was largely a West Coast phenomenon, I think. I'm not sure how widely his program was distributed outside California. But he was a Bay Area and SoCal staple since the '70s.

The prayer cloth gambit has been used by many over the years, but the televangelist I associate most with those is Robert Tilton. He was a hoot to watch, with his bizarre speech pattern and weird facial mannerisms -- a Tilton broadcast served up more grimaces than a case of McDonaldland cookies. ABC News did an expose on him back in the early '90s, and he pretty much disappeared. I don't know whether he still has a program on the air anywhere.

11:54 PM  

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