In his early career as the 4-year-old “World’s Youngest Ordained Minister,” Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner became a ‘Miracle Child’ extraordinaire. Preaching gospel from memory and performing faith healings, he drew capacity crowds as he barnstormed throughout the Bible Belt. Marjoe (the name a combination of “Mary” and “Joseph”) eventually became disillusioned with what he considered a huge deception and withdrew from the scene entirely during his teen years. But his God-given talents for drawing an audience and public speaking were to be put to good use later on.
After singing with a rock band, he felt a compulsion to act. The amazing documentary Marjoe (1972), based on his life as a fake evangelist, introduced the public to a new and profoundly hypnotic performer. Marjoe’s potent roles in the TV projects The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973) and The Gun and the Pulpit (1974) capitalized on this off-centre flamboyance and showed off his obvious potential. The extremely positive reviews here helped catapult him into films. Unfortunately, most of them, promising as they must have seemed at the time — Earthquake (1974), The Food of the Gods (1976), Viva Knievel! (1977), and When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? (1979) — went on to become dismal failures, and his quest for stardom never materialized. Marjoe stumbled through some more films in the 80s, but even he, with his charismatic powers, couldn’t save himself from coming off badly in such drivel as Mausoleum (1983) and Hellhole (1985) and his career sank into oblivion. Though his work as an actor has grown faint with time, Marjoe will at the very least be remembered as the man who blew the whistle on evangelism. Who knows? Knowing Marjoe, there is still time for a second coming.
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