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Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough


Franklyn Kelly was one of the most unforgettable characters to have a place in my personal life. From the time of that first meeting in Detroit, it appeared that we were to have an important place in each other’s life. Margaret and Adonna had forecast it years before we met: “You ought to know Pat,” as they called him. “You would be great friends.”

We became friends, truly, but it wasn’t just friendship; it seemed more like destiny; as if there were something we were supposed to work out together, weaknesses to be overcome, abilities to be enhanced, a mission to be fulfilled. We were of contrasting temperaments. They sometimes clashed. He was often impatient with my deliberateness in making decisions. I felt uncomfortable by his tendency to dramatize.

When He Was Good—

Nothing ordinary ever happened to him. He lived in a realm of superlatives. He was handsome, romantic, dramatic, moody—and insecure. At his best he was a delightful companion; at his worst, deplorable. Bert Perks, who was attracted to our ministry by hearing Franklyn on our radio program and became one of his close friends, put it this way:

“You may like him or dislike him, or both by turns, but you can never be oblivious of him. It’s that temperament that enables him so to move people by his singing. If a person has it in him it can be modified; if he doesn’t have it you can’t inject it. That and his God-given voice is what makes him so effective as a singing minister. You and he are contrasting personalities. You tend to underplay, and that has an appeal; so you make a good balance for each other.”

Right or wrong about me, I could see how right Bert was about Franklyn. His enunciation was so clear that the hearer got every word without strain.

“You sing the message as well as the melody,” I remarked to Franklyn early on. “Have you always had that ability?”

“No,” he said. “While I was singing in the St. Louis production of The Student Prince, I heard of a famous local voice coach and applied to study with her. Her first assignment was to have me work on the hymn, “In the Garden.” Twenty-five dollars and a half-hour for that! I thought. She sensed my reaction. ‘Let me sing it for you,’ she said, and did so—with such feeling that I was moved to tears. It was the greatest lesson I’ve ever had.”

He “had it in him” as Bert asserted. “It” was no doubt developed in his New York light opera days, when among other engagements, he served as Allan Jones’ understudy. “That ex-miner was so everlastingly healthy that I never got a chance to replace him even in a matinee performance,” Franklyn complained to me.

When, in our services, he introduced the container that held requests for prayer, he would describe it as “God’s sacred chest of remembrance,” before placing it on the altar table with ceremony befitting The Holy Grail. (I simply called it our Prayer Box!) When he fed his two little dogs, it was with all the unction of Franklin Roosevelt passing a Thanksgiving dinner to the orphans. Julio Carminati observed, “If Pat fell into a sewer he would bob up in an immaculate dress suit.”

The Candlelighting Service

As we approached our first Christmas in the Los Angeles ministry I wondered, with some concern, how people would respond to the candlelighting service that had attained such popularity in Kansas City, and from that success in the heart of the Unity movement, throughout the field. Los Angeles then, even more than now, was the scene of countless spectaculars. There was Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the Egyptian Theater, the Million Dollar Theater, the Hollywood Bowl, the Greek Theater, the Pilgrimage Play, Aimee Semple MacPherson’s Angeles Temple. Floodlights, fireworks, parades, and of course the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl.

It was a great success. Its very simplicity seemed to have an appeal to people who had perhaps become a little weary of lavish productions. Although the candlelighting ceremony appealed to the senses with its hundreds of shimmering lights, its greatest appeal was and is to the heart.

When we acquired our own church edifice the service took on added beauty. With thousands attending, having everyone come forward to light his candle took too long, and the expiring little flames produced too much smoke. We conceived the idea of using four-inch candles which, with great care, were lighted in the pews. There was never an accident, and when, with all other lights extinguished, the great congregation rose, holding candles high, while “Silent Night” was sung, the effect was other-worldly, and deeply moving.

In one such service, a man in the congregation had a heart attack, and ushers, half carrying him, escorted him to an adjoining parlor, where he could recline on a couch. Franklyn left the chancel to find that the attack was lethal. This outcome was of course unknown to me, until he returned to tell me, as my short discourse ended and the candlelighting was to follow: “Let me sing a long song,” which he did. He had started action to bring an ambulance for removing the afflicted man. The long song lengthened the service enough so that only a few ushers knew what had happened.

To know that a worshipper had died during the service could only have distressed the congregation. Some no doubt would have raised the question, “Why should such a thing occur in a Unity service—and at Christmas time?”

My own thought was, if it was his time to go, how wonderful that it should have been in so harmonious and spiritual a setting, and at the celebration of Jesus’ birth.


When Bert Perks discovered us on radio he lost no time in making himself known to Norma, Franklyn, and me. Temperamentally I think he was akin to Dickens’ Artful Dodger. He had a way of making you feel important, a gift I might say that was greatly possessed by Norma; but there the comparison ends. Though he told me it was my radio message that attracted him, it was actually Franklyn’s singing voice, and upon personal acquaintance his good looks and ready wit. Bert was adept at the social graces. As an escort he enhanced a lady’s charms by emphasizing them. He was accustomed to wealth and association with people of wealth. He still had a lot of charm, but had lost his wealth by the time he found us. He had spent most of his money on medical helps for a wife who doted on attention, insisted on making him her personal nurse at the expense of his business; and when she expired, left him with little but what he humorously called “the relics of old decency”: some antique furniture, a grand piano, a lot of silver dishes and flatwear—which late in the day, we found he did not really own. It was all mortgaged.

I’ve sometimes remarked that the nicest thing about me was my friends. That was true of Bert also and proved outstandingly so with one family whose friendship he shared with us: Mamie Modini Woods, the matriarch of a remarkable family. Her daughter, Mona Bonelli, whom upon first meeting I felt I had always known, her husband, Richard Bonelli, baritone star of the Metropolitan Opera; Betzi Stack, widow of James Langford Stack, a multimillionaire, and mother of two talented sons, one of whom, Robert, is still a popular motion picture star. He was especially fond of Betzi, often her escort, but never would propose marriage because he feared her sons would think it was for financial reasons.

Mona and Dick came to be two of my closest friends, along with Mamie. By the time we came to know the family, Mamie was well advanced in years, confined to a wheel chair, but still a colorful figure in the music world. She and her husband had toured the world, singing in concert. When the stars of the San Francisco Opera Company visited Los Angeles she would give a wonderful dinner for them and a few other invited guests.

Among the guests at one such affair was Carrie Jacob Bond, composer of the famous song, “A Perfect Day,” and “Just A-Wearyin’ For You.” She was not feeling well, and was confiding to me that she often had attacks of indigestion due to having “an upside-down stomach,” when I was aware that our hostess was asking to be heard. Due to her infirmity Mamie sat in a throne-type high-backed gold chair on the upper level of the living room, at the head of the three steps leading to the broad expanse of the main room. Here the great and near-great by turns would assemble, sitting on the steps about her feet, offering their affection, and listening to her humorous stories, many of which I knew from a custom of having lunch with her every week or ten days. We loved her for the way she told them, and for herself, and always responded as if they were completely new to us.

What she was starting to say, was that there was a young singer present whom she’d like us all to hear—Franklyn Kelly.

I was surprised at his response. I expected him to make some excuse, like not being in good voice. Instead he thanked her, and commented that if Mrs. Bond would honor him by playing his accompaniment, he would like to sing his favorite of her many lovely songs, “One Lovely Hour.” Mrs. Bond graciously agreed, and struck an introductory chord. From then on it was disastrous. She played at about twice the speed which I had remembered from previous renditions. Franklyn strove manfully to keep up with her, his face getting redder by the moment. I went and stood by Mona, and we both were torn between sympathy and amusement, relieved when the debacle ended.

The reason she played like that, though unforeseen, was quite simple. As a widow with a son to raise, she could not get a publisher to accept her songs. She was something of a watercolor artist, and devised attractive flower designs to ornament the covers for songs she wrote and got them printed herself. She would play them for women’s clubs, wherever she could get a hearing, and not being a singer she would talk the lyrics, and choose a tempo suited to her reading, which was unfortunately much faster than the dreamy mood of a pensive singer.

We could never get Franklyn to sing that song again.

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