by Anthony King
After the most peculiar and unbelievable adolescence as a child evangelist traveling the country on the tent revival circuit, followed by an attempt at a “normal” life with a nine-to-five, wife, and baby, Marjoe Gortner decided to follow his dream of being a rockstar. With the sudden popularity of the documentary called Marjoe, which propelled him into the National zeitgeist (albeit for a brief moment), Gortner got out of the preaching business and recorded his first and only musical album titled Bad But Not Evil (a line he says in the documentary). His stage antics behind and in front of the pulpit showed that Gortner had the ability to be a Mick Jagger-type, and could certainly hold the attention of and captivate people all over the country. But alas, the album didn’t take off (I really love it, but that’s besides the point), and Gortner took the other fork on his dream road. He became an actor.
He first made his foray into Hollywood through the made-for-TV movie. As John Harrison writes in his book titled Wildcat! The Films of Marjoe Gortner, “The early-seventies was a fertile period for crime and police/detective shows on American television.” Enter Abby Mann, the writer of films like Judgement at Nuremberg and Report to the Commissioner, but who had really made a name for himself on the boob tube. In the early '70s, Mann created a character called Kojak, a New York City detective whose swagger and style alone got him further in his investigations than most cops. Kojak first appeared on television in the 1973 feature-length pilot of a planned television show. The initial made-for-TV movie was called The Marcus-Nelson Murders, and it was based on the real life case known as the Career Girl Murders that would be the impetus for the creation of the Miranda Act.
Marjoe Gortner is a one-of-a-kind screen presence; unforgettable and consistently magnetic. Being a major part of (re)launching the career of Telly Savalas and his becoming Kojak, a beloved American pop culture figure, is not a coincidence. There are very few actors with Marjoe’s qualities that could have played the part of a lovable junkie suspected of raping and murdering several women. But that’s Marjoe for ya.