Sep 3, 2013

The Anita Bryant Spectacular: A Hate-Fest That Nobody Watched

Singer Anita Bryant was never a superstar in the mainstream market: only two songs in the Billboard Top 10,  half a dozen in the top 100, a few appearances on Ed Sullivan, Red Skelton, Art Linkletter, some Bob Hope specials, and Lawrence Welk.  But she found her niche in complaining about how bad modern life was in the burgeoning fundamentalist Christian market.

She began releasing albums like How Great Thou Art and  Old Fashioned Prayin', publishing books about being a fundamentalist, and denouncing Hollywood in churches.

In the 1970s, fundamentalist Christians were looking for something new to blame the world's problems on after the decline of the "long-haired hippie freaks," and they latched onto gay people.  In March 1977, Ms. Bryant jumped onto the bandwagon with her Save Our Children Campaign, a successful attempt to revoke a gay rights ordinance in Dade County, Florida, by arguing that gays were, among other things, child molesters.

Soon Ms. Bryant was the Voice of Homophobia in America: shrill, vicious, hateful, and jaw-droppingly ignorant as she recast myths from the 1950s.  Fundamentalists believed every word, and even invented some new myths of their own.  In September 1977, our preacher at the Nazarene church began screaming that gays had committed the Unpardonable Sin.  Gay people proclaimed her Public Enemy #1.  Everyone else thought she was rather ridiculous.

Mainstream media dropped her, but no matter; she made lots of money screaming about gays to fundamentalist church groups.

Then, in 1980, her husband, Bob Green, asked for a divorce.

Fundamentalist Christians believe that divorce is a sin.  Maybe not as Satanic as being gay, but a sin.  Speaking engagements dropped, book contracts were cancelled, and Ms. Bryant declared bankrupcy.

On March 27, 1980, in a last-ditch effort to get back into the limelight, she got some influential friends to lend her the facilities at West Point for an all-homophobia comedy-variety program, The Anita Bryant Spectacular.  Appearing with her to "bring the nation back to decency, morality, and wholesome family life" were a pack of homophobic icons: Bob Hope, former teen idol Pat Boone, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (beefcake star of 77 Sunset Strip, top photo), the Imperials, and the West Point Chorus.

31 years later, a gay cadet was bringing a same-sex date to the Winter Formal.  Ms. Bryant must be turning over in her grave.  Oh, wait, she's still alive.

Old homophobic friends Art Linkletter, Jack Lalanne, and Lawrence Welk phoned in their support.

As far as I know, nobody saw the 3 hours long hate-fest. It was syndicated, and few local stations could afford to devote that much time to gay-bashing, no matter how homophobic they were.  And where it did air, everyone was watching the gay-friendly Barney Miller and Soap on the other channel.