A Visit With Dr. Catherine Ponder about Dr. Donald Curtis
A Visit With Dr. Catherine Ponder about Dr. Donald Curtis
Broadway and Hollywood actor, Religious Science and Unity minister, writer, lecturer: Quite a resume for one person in one lifetime. Yet it describes the long term distinguished career of Dr. Donald Curtis.
I first came to know of Donald Curtis when I as serving as guest minister at Unity Church of Truth, Spokane, Washington, in the summer of 1962. My husband was free of his teaching job at the University of Texas for the summer, and I was free of my Unity of Austin work until Fall. So, at the invitation of Reverend Phil Stovin, minister of Unity Church of Spokane, Washington, we drove across country from Austin, Texas to Spokane, Washington to serve Phil Stovin's church while he and his wife vacationed. It had been the home church of Dr. Ervin Seale, famed INTA leader in New York City.
We had a busy, happy time, as I delivered the Sunday and midweek talks and worked with the office staff during the week. My husband, a Unity student since childhood, acted as my platform chairman, recorded the radio and dial-a-prayer programs, and generally helped out as needed.
One day he said, "Dr. Donald Curtis is coming to speak at the Church of Religious Science, and we should attend."
"Who is Donald Curtis?" I innocently asked.
"He is a former actor, now a Religious Science minister, with a new book just published." When we arrived for the service, the church was packed, and Dr. Curtis, with his acting background, had the looks and persona of a movie star. After seeing him in action, I said to Kelly, "Why don't they give us acting lessons in ministerial school? Everyone needs this man's kind of platform presence, charm, and etiquette."
After the service, the church was packed for the reception and autographing sessions, so Dr. Curtis never knew we had attended.
In 1967, out of the blue, I received a letter of invitation from him to speak in the Science of Mind church, founded by Dr. Frederick Bailes in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, where Dr. Curtis now ministered. He asked me to not only conduct the Sunday service, but to hold a prosperity seminar over the course of several days, with morning and evening meetings.
I wrote him back, "I don't know how to conduct a prosperity seminar." He replied, "I will show you how." And he did From that point on the invitations began to trickle in, and I was on my way as a prosperity seminar teacher. I "took my show on the road," with the theme song, "Have books, will travel." It was hard work, but soul satisfying as I witnessed people who had been in a state of despair, almost raised from the dead, come to life with new hope and often happy results that came quicker than they expected.
With his brilliant, restless mind, Donald Curtis had obtained a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, after which he taught at several universities: speech and drama. After going to New York in 1938, he worked on Broadway as an actor. Later he studied the Science of the Mind teaching with Dr. Raymond Charles Barker, minister of the Church of Religious Science. It was Dr. Barker who first suggested that Donald Curtis become a minister—a suggestion that Dr. Curtis took lightly for some time.
However, he eventually migrated to the West Coast, where he became a close friend and often the house guest of Dr. Ernest Holmes and his wife Hazel, with Mrs. Holmes acting as Curtis' practitioner. His major Hollywood film, among many in which he appeared, was The Ten Commandments, now a movie classic.
The producer, Cecil B. DeMille, was delighted when the well-known Dr. Ernest Holmes, well known in both Los Angeles social circles and by many of the Hollywood movie colony, asked to see the production of The Ten Commandments in action. Dr. Curtis made the arrangements, then accompanied Dr. Holmes on his visit with Cecil B. DeMille.
After serving the Religious Science Movement for 20 years, Donald Curtis then became active in the Unity movement, where he served on many of the Association of Unity Churches' various committees.
One minister, who had been out of the Unity ministry for some time, acting in an educational capacity elsewhere, appeared before Dr. Curtis and his committee when applying to reenter Unity ministry. Naturally he was very nervous, yet Dr. Curtis put him at ease at once, and made sure everything went smoothly with the other committee members. Thereafter, that minister pioneered several ministries, including some overseas.
During Dr. Curtis' 20 years with Unity, he founded Unity Church of Dallas, Texas, which he built from the ground up. My son, Richard, worked with Dr. Curtis as a business assistant for several years. With his high energy level, Dr. Curtis would often go to the church at 4-5 a.m. to do his prayer and treatment work and plan the church's workday. Later he would head for the golf course where he would often play golf until time for evening classes and/or services. As a part of Richard's job, he was expected to join Dr. Curtis on the golf course. The resulting fringe benefits were that Dr. Curtis caused Richard's golf game to become one of pride and joy, with Richard finally having a three handicap—that of many professional golfers.
In his later years, Donald Curtis retired to Desert Hot Springs, about ten miles away from my Palm Springs home. He had been "taking the waters" in Desert Hot Springs on an annual basis, he said, for 50 years, and loved the area.
Although Donald had spoken for my Unity of Austin and Unity of San Antonio ministries, and I had spoken for his Los Angeles and Dallas churches, we had never had an opportunity to sit down and leisurely visit, until after he retired to Desert Hot Springs. There we swapped "have books, will travel" stories of our lecture ministries on our occasional visits.
One of Donald's favorites was about the time he conducted some lectures in a New Thought church, after which the minister took him into his office and embarrassingly said. "I hope you will accept a love offering only for your work. We just had Catherine Ponder here for a seminar, and she cleaned us out." Dr. Curtis replied, "I was the one who taught Catherine Ponder how to do that 30 years ago."
When I decided to give myself a 70th birthday party, I felt I wanted only area New Thought ministers as my guests, since I had spent the past 50 years in the study and/or work of New Thought. Rev. Arthur Chang, Senior Minister of the Founder's Church of Los Angeles (later to become an Executive Board Member of INTA), and his Associate Minister, reverend Larry Barber, were kind enough to attend, all the way from the city.
Among my special guests were Dr. Curtis and Rev. John Blayney, minister of Palm Springs Church of Religious Science, both of whom had birthdays near mine. The party was held in a private dining room in Palm Desert, and my party consultants had created a glamorous, festive atmosphere. Dr. Curtis' firing shot for the party was, "Remember, Catherine, the first 70 years are always the hardest." (as though I need to be reminded).
Even though the party was supposed to last only two hours, it was in session from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., when my guests loaded their party favors, balloons, and an abundant assortment of flowers left from the party into their cars, as they reluctandy said their farewells.
How glad I was, later, that I had gone to the trouble to hold that party and honor my two long-time co-workers, Dr. Curtis and Dr. Blayney, since they were both gone within a few months. Somehow I felt that party, with all its glitz and glamour, had been an appropriate send-off for two of the hardest workers I had ever known in the New Thought movement. In fact, that experience convinced me that parties can be a part of the Divine Plan. And I am further convinced that Dr. Curtis would have been among the first to agree with me!
(Excerpt from New Thought Magazine - Spring 2002)
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