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‘Marjoe’: Evangelical Christian Scammers Exposed in Oscar-Winning Doc

Marjoe Gortner 1972 documentary: Religion as show business + con artistry is Oscar winner
Marjoe Gortner, “Evangelism’s answer to Mick Jagger,” as seen in the poster of the 1972 documentary Marjoe. Sarah Kernochan and Howard Smith’s Oscar-winning film about Evangelical Christian scammers shows how religion, show business, and con artistry have a whole lot in common, as millions of people – whether due to despair, stupidity, and/or madness – are not only willing but eager to be deceived by the industrious snake-oil sales force of God, Inc. A former child preacher, Gortner went on to have a two-decade career in films and on television, including a key role in Mark Robson’s 1974 all-star disaster blockbuster Earthquake.[1]

An evening with Sarah Kernochan: ‘Marjoe’ exposes Evangelical Christian crooks

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

“Oscar’s Docs: An Evening with Sarah Kernochan” will kick off the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 2007 “Monday Nights with Oscar” film series. Kernochan’s two Academy Award-winning documentaries, Marjoe and Thoth, will be screened on Jan. 8, at 7 p.m., at the Academy Theater at Lighthouse International in New York City.

Winner of the 1972 Best Documentary Feature Oscar, Marjoe, co-directed by Sarah Kernochan and Howard Smith, revolves around Evangelical Christian preacher and con artist – and later film and television actor – Marjoe Gortner. Winner of the 2002 Best Documentary Short Oscar, Thoth focuses on “divinely inspired” performance artist S.K. Thoth.

Hosted by historian and journalist Perry L. van der Meer, the Sarah Kernochan evening will include a post-screening chat with the filmmaker.

‘You Keep the Faith … Marjoe Keeps the Money’

When not heard singing hymns such as “Oh, How I Love Jesus” and “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb?” non-believer Marjoe Gortner candidly discusses the tricks of his trade in Marjoe – thus demonstrating that religion is not infrequently indistinguishable from both show business and chicanery. The film’s apt tagline, in fact, was “You Keep the Faith … Marjoe Keeps the Money.”

That may help to explain why this exposé of fraudulent divine messengers was reportedly kept away from movie houses in the obsessively religious – and ungodly profitable – American South.

Update: Sarah Kernochan discusses Marjoe and Evangelical Christian crooks in the December 2014 Vice article/interview “A Look Back at Marjoe, the 1972 Documentary About Evangelical Con Men.”

Marjoe Gortner

Born on Jan. 14, 1944, in Long Beach, California, Marjoe Gortner began his Evangelical Christian career as a child preacher, when he was tagged as “The World’s Youngest Minister.”

In the mid-1970s he became a Hollywood actor, going on to appear in about 20 television productions – e..g, the series Fantasy Island and Falcon Crest; the movies The Marcus-Nelson Murders (Kojak pilot) and Mayday at 40,000 Feet! – in addition to low-budget, low-grade big-screen efforts such as Acapulco Gold, The Food of the Gods, Starcrash, Mausoleum, and Hellhole.

Gortner’s most important feature film role was in Mark Robson’s 1974 all-star blockbuster Earthquake, in which he plays Los Angeles store manager/National Guard member Jody Joad, a tough guy with a thing for firearms and bodybuilders.

Gortner’s most recent big-screen role – as a preacher – was in Walter Hill’s 1995 Western Wild Bill, starring Jeff Bridges, Ellen Barkin, John Hurt, Diane Lane, and Keith Carradine.

‘Thoth’: Scantily clad divine inspiration in Central Park

Thoth spotlights Stephen Kaufman, a.k.a. S.K. Thoth, a performance artist in New York City’s Central Park. To the accompaniment of a violin, the scantily dressed Thoth acts out one-man operas, a.k.a. “prayformances,” in an attempt “to bring divine inspiration and healing to the world.”

The name Thoth refers to the ancient Egyptian deity, a master in divine law generally represented as either an ibis- or a baboon-headed man.

Thoth was directed by Sarah Kernochan and produced by Kernochan and Lynn Appelle.

‘Mondays Nights with Oscar’

“Monday Nights with Oscar” is a monthly series showcasing “high-quality prints” of Oscar-winning and/or -nominated movies.

The Academy Theater at Lighthouse International is located at 111 East 59th Street in New York City. Tickets cost $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID.

For more information on the “Monday Nights with Oscar” film series, visit

‘Earthquake’ cast

[1] Besides Evangelical Christian preacher-turned-actor Marjoe Gortner, Earthquake 1974 features the following:

Charlton Heston. Ava Gardner. Geneviève Bujold. George Kennedy. Richard Roundtree. Lorne Greene. Victoria Principal. Barry Sullivan.

Lloyd Nolan. Monica Lewis. Gabriel Dell. Lloyd Gough. John Randolph. Pedro Armendáriz Jr. Scott Hylands. Donald Moffat. Kip Niven.

Walter Matthau (cameo, billed as Walter Matuschanskayasky).

Marjoe poster featuring then Evangelical Christian preacher and con artist Marjoe Gortner: Cinema 5 Distributing.

Marjoe: Evangelical Christian Scammers Exposed in Oscar-Winning Doc” last updated in January 2019.

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