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Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough

CHAPTER XXX — Finding Our Way

A wide-eyed Franklyn Kelly awaited me on my arrival at the Lockheed Airport at the Burbank terminal. It was our first meeting since Detroit, and we had much to talk about as we claimed my luggage and got into his gray Ford car for the trip to town, and he was so excited about our meeting and his first introduction to Southern California, that he made a wrong turn or two and after a few minutes’ drive we found ourselves right back at the airport.

“Maybe I’d better be co-pilot,” I suggested as we joined in laughter. “I’ll hold your street map while you steer,” which got us to Westlake Park district and the sedate Town House where he was already checked in and we would stay while deciding on more permanent quarters. Dick Rowland, who had lived in Los Angeles before he came to work at Unity School, had told me about a residence on Peace Hill in the Hollywood area that he thought might be available. He described it as having a two-story livingroom with a tall picture window overlooking the vast plain of the city with even a glimpse of the ocean.

We found that it was not only available but that it was a typical hillside duplex with two complete apartments acceptably furnished, and would provide for both of us. It seemed to have been waiting for us. We looked up the radio station, KFAC, “The Music Station,” preparatory to our daily Dusk Hour broadcasts, contacted Arthur Beall, inspected Wilshire-Ebell in which most of our work would be centered, and took some time for sightseeing. Franklyn had never been west of the Mississippi before, and it was a delight to see the Southland through his eyes.

Everything looked A-okay—until we met with Arthur at the Shrine for rehearsal. When we stood on its vast stage and looked out over the auditorium I was surprised to find that Franklyn had misgivings. Would the microphones be adequate; could his voice be heard? “They worked fine for me on the two occasions I spoke before capacity crowds, and your voice is much better than mine,” I assured him. “It’s such a huge barn of a place,” he objected. “Not when it’s filled with eager people,” I countered.

I had known a lot of show people: actors, dancers, singers. I knew how insecure, on occasion, they could be. As we got closer day by day toward Easter Sunday’s big service, Franklyn began to complain; he was coming down with something; his voice was leaving him; he could never fill that void. The more I tried to reassure him the more objections he raised. With a heavy heart I tried another approach:

“Maybe you’re right, Franklyn. Of course Lawrence Tibbett or Nelson Eddy could fill the Shrine even without a microphone. And Nelson Eddy is at the same studio as Frances Deaner. Maybe he’d help out. I don’t want to make you ill. Perhaps I’ve just been overwhelmed by your personality. You can always go back to Columbus and be the pride of the Whatever-It-Was Baptist Church. I got along all right in my first Shrine meeting without a soloist. I can do it again—even on Easter Sunday.”

Of course when the time came, he rose to the occasion. He surpassed himself. I thought that would cure him. It didn’t, not completely; but sometimes he’d say, “Yes, I know—back to Columbus.”

—The Harder You Fall

It was a let-down to find that following the exciting response of some sixty-five hundred persons attending the Shrine meeting, the attendance at our first Sunday service at Wilshire-Ebell was only four hundred—in an auditorium that seated 1294 by actual count. The church editor of The Los Angeles Times proved to be a kind of Job’s comforter. He invited me to have lunch with him, and offered a possible explanation which relieved my feelings but did nothing to alleviate the challenge.

The city, he said, had been visited—bombarded might be a better word—by a succession of itinerant lecturers whose advertising superficially resembled Unity’s viewpoint. Their followers experienced a transient stimulation. When it was gone the purveyors were gone, too, often leaving unpaid bills behind them. He knew of Unity, was pleased that our aim was to establish a permanent ministry, and assured me of the Times' cooperation.

Meanwhile the thousands who had come to hear Charles Fillmore on his one visit, and come to hear me twice in the Shrine seemed to be taking the attitude for which Missourians are famous: Show me! Well, if we failed to do so it would not be for lack of trying.

There were many challenges. Our expenses were scaled on a basis of an attendance at least three times what we began with. We were spending thousands of dollars monthly on radio time, office and auditorium rent, newspaper advertising and office equipment. The actual figures would mean nothing in these days of spiraling inflation. There were salaries, modest yet essential, for a Sunday organist, for Nena and Franklyn. I took no salary until well past the first year.

We used homemade programs from stencils that Nena typed. Franklyn and I would run them off on a secondhand mimeograph machine on Saturdays, stopping on the way across town from Peace Hill at a curbside flower stall where for three dollars we could buy enough flowers for the Sunday service. Nena provided honeysuckle vines to frame the flowers; and sometimes avocados from a tree shading her rented home to augment our diet.

We did our daily morning radio program live from a Beverly Hills station, and would go from there to our offices in Wilshire-Ebell to plan the day’s activities. “What can I do this morning?” Franklyn asked one Monday.

“How would you like to count yesterday’s offering and get it to the bank?” I asked. He was slow to answer. “What’s the matter? Don’t you want to do it?”

“Yes, of course I do; but in Detroit they wouldn’t even let me see it!”

“Well, it isn’t going to be like that here!”

He got to work. “It doesn’t seem like very much. Some of it’s nickels and dimes—even some pennies.”

“The mail has just come. Before you make out a deposit slip let’s open the mail. There may be some radio offerings in it, and every little bit helps.”

He set about opening the envelopes, making note of the few offerings they contained, and remarking, “It should be more.”

“You haven’t opened the last one yet.”

He did, and incredibly—and that’s why I remember it—that last one contained a check for four hundred dollars. We acted like a couple of emotional kids. “It’s a sign that God is with us,” I exclaimed.

“If I wasn’t sure of it before, I should be now.” he answered.

It was Janet Gaynor who introduced me to Ralph Waldo Trine, noted author of In Tune With the Infinite, and it was he who made me acquainted with Nena de la Noy. “If you need some secretarial help I would heartily recommend her. She has served on the office staff of Mary Pickford and left to try out a business venture on her own. It failed, and she needs a job.”

She was the first recruit to our staff and wanted Franklyn and me to know her friend, Jessie Ralph, who played the dowager part in San Francisco and Peggotty in David Copperfield.

Our lease at Wilshire-Ebell Theater, where we held Sunday and midweek services, included the use of a small office adjoining the lobby, and an unexpected recruit appeared while we were getting Nena installed at a little white painted desk there. It was Mabel Beebe from Kansas City. Retired following a long term of service with the Commerce Bank, she had discovered Unity’s radio programs, had become enthusiastic about a series of talks I had given concerning Jesus, and so deplored my leaving Kansas City that she sold her home at Forest Lake, and appeared at Nena’s little office to announce that she was determined to have a part in our Los Angeles ministry.

This left no doubt that she was an aggressive personality. She was of medium stature, appeared to be in her early sixties, gray haired and wearing rimless glasses. She had a way of tilting her head at an angle, which gave her a sort of quizzical look, suggesting that she was questioning something you might have said to her. We were to learn that this habit was the result of an operation in which she had lost the sight of one eye and the hearing in the corresponding ear. But as Franklyn, who became very fond of her, was to remark, “She can see and hear more out of one eye and ear than we can with both of ours.”

She drove a little Pontiac coupe on whose side windows she had had little canvas awnings installed against the glare of the sun; its heat as well, for she was often heard to complain of its heat and wore lightest weight garments. When she drove the car she would press down hard on the foot throttle, causing smoke and sometimes gravel to shoot out back of her as she lurched into traffic, yet she never had an accident. Her impatience showed in other ways. “I never get impatient with people, but I surely do with things!” she would exclaim as she wrestled with a folding table or a screw-top container.

Where could we fit her into a channel of service?

Zeal, a Word for Mable

It was Franklyn Kelly who thought of a place where she could help. We assigned her the job of sorting the daily mail and handling radio requests. She was resourceful in thinking of things we could offer our radio listeners. She kept an ample file of pamphlets, prayers and affirmations to offer, and also a record of offerings received in return. If in her zeal she sometimes credited to “her” department contributions that could have been credited elsewhere, we did not dispute her decisions.

We never made pleas for offerings, but often thanked people for tithes and offerings in anticipation. We provided envelopes to make giving easier. Once I came upon her as she fussed with letter opener and envelope. “See here,” she exclaimed and she shook out a coin. “You’d think this might be a fortune, the way it was sealed, and it’s just a penny!”

“Who knows? It may be the widow’s mite, Mabel. You know the law. Bless the giver and the gift for increase.” When the donor’s offering increased to five and then to ten cents, Mabel meekly reported it, bursting into my office unannounced, full of zeal and good works.

She saved up copies of everything I had written about Jesus and one day brought me a folder of them, urging me to write a book about Him. I promised to try, and I did, but I never felt that what I had written was good enough to represent Him. It was long after her demise that I wrote, as a basis for Lenten devotions, The Week That Changed The World. I’ve often wondered if from whatever plane may be her abiding place, she knows. I hope she does and is pleased.

© 1984, by Ronald and Beverly Potter
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.