by Anthony King
In 1971, journalists Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan decided to make a documentary. They met up with a 27-year-old former child preacher who was back out on the pentecostal circuit. Tall and handsome with a head full of curly locks, Marjoe Gortner had all but faded into obscurity since his days of inspiring and healing thousands of churchgoers throughout the United States. He'd been hard up for cash and had been back on the revival circuit for two years. But now, with a film crew in tow, he was going to expose these tent revivals for what they really were: a circus full of swindlers who shouted words by which they didn't abide trying to collect as much money as possible from unsuspecting believers. The film, simply titled Marjoe, would go on to win the 1972 Academy Award for best documentary. It would also jumpstart the Hollywood career of this writer's favorite actor of all time.
Neither the parishioners nor the volunteers knew what was really going on. Vernoe and Starloe were too young, but eventually Marjoe caught on and realized he and his parents were con artists. As Marjoe got older, he wanted to make some of his own decisions. He was tired of his mom constantly destroying his hair with bleach and perms; he wanted a pompadour. Reluctantly Mom-Marge agreed. The curly locks were no longer there to hide Marjoe's larger-than-average ears, though. Mom-Marge decided to glue her son's ears down, but that only lasted so long. So she had Marjoe's ears surgically pinned down. As he neared double digits, Marjoe started to lose his adorableness, which meant donations slowed down. Mom-Marge announced that anyone that donated a twenty dollar bill could give little Marjoe a kiss. Against his wishes, Marjoe was pushed through the aisles collecting twenties and being forced to kiss whoever gave money. By the time Marjoe was twelve, the family business was failing, and his mother was in the beginning stages of an affair, so Vernon left his wife and kids for California.