Stars of Vaudeville #242: Aimee Semple McPherson


Originally posted in 2010

Today is the birthday of Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944).

The famous female evangelist Sister Aimee, one of the country’s premiere fundamentalists, received large sums for appearing in vaudeville in the early 30s talking about life and religion (based on her success as a national star preaching on radio). According to Milton Berle’s autobiography, McPherson wasn’t strictly an angel.  He reports bedding her for two nights of torrid lovemaking in her Los Angeles hotel room. He does not report whether he was dressed in drag at the time. Sister Aimee bombed in vaudeville, by the way. She might not have, if the relationship with Berle had gotten out.

For a cool movie clearly inspired by Sister Aimee, see the excellent early, pre-code Frank Capra film The Miracle Woman (1931) starring Barbara Stanwyck. 


Here is the real McCoy, in all her radiant glory:

To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


And please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc



2 Responses to “Stars of Vaudeville #242: Aimee Semple McPherson”

  1. Agnes Moorehead also did an Aimee McPherson turn, as a radio evangelist (clearly based on Sister Aimee) in the rather campy 1970s musical-cum-gore-schlocker “What’s the Matter With Helen?”. The Helen of the title is Shelley Winters, who along with Debbie Reynolds runs a 1930s dancing school for wanna-be Temples, and is slowly going bats. She runs to Sister Agnes for salvation, but Sister is only interested in the size of the donation to her church. Things go downhill from there. Highly recommended, especially for Debbie’s tap-dancing and tango turns.

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