The church – and skeptics – and Elmer Gantry – and the Devil’s Tickets
Just finished The Devil’s Tickets by Gary M. Pomerant (which isn’t about Elmer Gantry or Sinclair Lewis – but rather about The Roaring Twenties and bridge and the murder of Jack Bennett by his wife Myrtle).
However, after finishing the book, I kept thinking of Sinclair Lewis and his novel Elmer Gantry (both of which Pomerant mentions in his novel). This led to remembering the movie Elmer Gantry and the great performances by Shirley Jones and Burt Lancaster (think Jones won an academy award for her performance in that movie).
One thought leads to another . . .
Famous Americans dropped in [Kansas City, Missouri] during the twenties, announcing themselves in curious ways. The novelist Sinclair Lewis, a disturber of the peace, spent six weeks in Kansas City in spring 1926 holed up downtown in an Ambassador Hotel suite, researching a “preacher novel” that became Elmer Gantry. During his visit, Lewis stood at the lectern of one local church and challenged God to strike him dead in fifteen minutes. He took off his watch and waited; he survived. In his hotel suite each Wednesday, Lewis held “Sunday school classes” over lunch for eighteen local clergy. They liked Lewis, and admired his zeal for his subject. The perpetual skeptic, he prodded them and probed deeply into theological issues, once asking, “What the hell right has the church to exist anyway?” At another turn, Lewis pointed a finger at a minister and challenged his belief in God; a Catholic priest calmed the novelist, saying, “Sit down, my son, and don’t blaspheme.” Lewis paused, and replied, “Will you have a drink, Father?” The priest said, “I will.” The local clergy should have known what was coming. The fictional Elmer Gantry proved a scoundrel and hypocrite with a lust for power. He drank alcohol to excess, engaged in sex with church secretaries and congregants, and trampled choir girls in escaping a burning tabernacle. As Gantry hit the bestseller lists, a few Kansas City ministers shouted betray, though others rushed to Lewis’s defense.
Posted on November 18, 2009, in Books, Movies and tagged Burt Lancaster, Elmer Gantry, Gary M. Pomerant, Kansas City, Missouri, Movies, Myrtle and Jack Bennett, Shirley Jones, Sinclair Lewis, The Devil's Tickets. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.