[This is the sixteenth article in the series of God Moments in My Publishing Life.]
Does God have a plan for us when we are set adrift when our company is sold? I had seen the Lord provide a position at Here’s Life Publishers when I was released at Christian Herald in a cost-saving move. But now I was 62 and as former president considered not an acceptable editorial hire by book publishers I approached. I did have severance pay to tide me over for some months, but what then?
A God Moment developed when I was in the office of Don Tanner, an editor I had brought to Bill Bright when his phone rang. The call came from Dave Balsiger, a veteran journalist who had managed the interviews and live drama needed for a CBS Saturday special on the dependability of the biblical account. That TV special had generated the largest Saturday television audience ever for CBS. Was Don now available to write a book using the research material done for the TV special?
Don said no, since he was fully engaged writing and editing for Bill Bright—but told Dave Balsiger I was in the room and available. Dave knew of me, so when I got on the telephone he quickly offered me the opportunity to write Mysteries of the Bible.The work for hire fee did not impress me, but when I discovered they could hire a Mormon to write it for less, I agreed. After all, the Lord had provided the severance pay.
My Fascinating Apologetic Assignment
My assignment consisted of listening to anti-biblical scholars’ comments on a video and select the most striking statements against the historicity of ten biblical stories—and then listen to conservative biblical scholars present their arguments for the reliability of the biblical accounts, selecting the most cogent arguments. Hours of listening to the scholars and eventually writing down what I considered the best arguments was followed by ordering apologetic books, a biblical archaeology magazine, and drawing on resources on my book shelves.
The most creative assignment was to dramatize in print the ten biblical stories to reflect the quality and excitement of the TV dramatizations. Now the ten years of crafting stories reflecting life decisions for boys 8-11 for a Bible study in Dash Magazine paid off. Finally, I had to write a chapter on scientific proof for the reliability of the Bible—and for that years of studying apologetic books and reading archaeological magazines provided the basis for more intensive research.
Another Writing God Moment
I was well underway when another God Moment brought me another fascinating assignment. Our editorial director at Here’s Life Publishers had been engaged as a senior acquisitions’ editor by Thomas Nelson, who in purchasing Here’s Life Publishers had also gained the contract for a book by Dale Evans Rogers. The Thomas Nelson team considered Dale and Roy Rogers basically over the hill, but agreed to honor the contract. My former associate, Dan Benson, suggested, “You know Dale will not write the book. Les is between jobs and could do it.” Again the work for hire fee would not be commensurate for the job to be done, but hey, turn down interviewing Dale and Roy Rogers? Not on your life.
After I got most of the work done on Mysteries of the Bible I prepared an outline for the Dale Evans book and developed questions for each chapter that I brought with me to each interview. At our first meeting I told Dale that all I wanted from her were stories from her life that illustrated the theme of what it meant to be in the hands of the Master Potter. I would provide the biblical framework that would tie the stories together under the title In the Hands of the Potter, thereby illustrating the importance of dependence on God. Illustrations would also reveal the importance of humility, the sub-theme to the book. Dale gave me copies of her books that were out of print and for which she had the rights back that I could draw on for story illustrations.
Roy Rogers Museum Interviews
Four weeks in a row I arrived at the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville for a two-hour interview with Dale. She remained remarkably alert despite having had a heart attack at age 80. She had been a typical Southern Baptist teen when at age 15 she eloped with a boyfriend, crossed from Texas into Alabama, got married, and ended up in Memphis, TN. She got a job at a radio station as a singer and began her career as an entertainer. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. Soon after, her husband left her, never to return.
A lengthy stop in Chicago singing at a prestigious night club attracted a Hollywood agent, who brought her to Los Angeles. Though she really wanted to be a singer/actor in a musical in London, England, she agreed to a role in a western movie with Roy Rogers as leading man. She had never ridden a horse. So it was no surprise she was falling off her first horse when riding next to her Roy Rogers swooped in to catch her—and in storybook fashion their romance began.
At the time Roy’s wife was dying of cancer, so in time Roy and Dale married and she became mother to three children in addition to her son. That’s when she learned she could not go it alone, so one Sunday night she accepted her 16-year-old son’s invitation to attend Jack MacArthur’s church. She returned home under deep conviction and that night turned her life unreservedly over to a Jesus she had initially accepted as Savior but not as Lord. That ended years of running from the Lord because she was afraid he would ask her to be a missionary. From then on her life was the Lord’s. Two years later Roy accepted Jesus as his Savior.
Standing Up for His Lord
Roy and Dale became so famous for their shows that ABC-TV gave them a 13-week TV series. When contract renewal time came, the producer insisted they dramatically reduce their Christian content. They refused and went on the road. They were scheduled into Madison Square Garden when after rehearsal the manager of the Garden met with Roy and insisted they drop their closing Christian patriotic song because New York had such a strong Jewish population. Roy told the manager, “I’m packing up and we’ll be out of here—I’m not changing our program.” Very reluctantly the manager accepted Roy’s ultimatum—and the show played to a capacity crowd every night.
While in New York, Dale was busy writing her experiences with the daughter they lost at age two on any piece of paper she could find, even the backs of envelopes. She decided that the best way to get a publisher was to get with Norman Vincent Peale, the well-known writer of The Power of Positive Thinking, speaker and pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. She took a taxi to the church and approached his secretary, who insisted the pastor was busy and could not see her. Dale persisted, telling why she had come when the pastor’s door opened and Dr. Peale invited her into his office. After she told him what Angel Unaware was about, he picked up his phone and called his editor at Fleming H. Revell Publishing and asked him to look at what Dale had. Despite initial resistance, the editor agreed to look at the book project. Angel Unaware was published and sold more than two million copies.
A Roy Rogers God Moment
My two hours with Roy Rogers added to my store of stories. As a boy he learned to ride a pony tethered to a tree in their yard. As adult he decided to try his luck in Los Angeles as a western singer. He and friends barnstormed as Sons of the Pioneers, nearly starving on a tour of Texas. He auditioned for radio and got his own show.
One day he was sitting in a hat shop having his cowboy hat cleaned, when a young man stormed in and insisted he needed a cowboy hat. Roy asked why. “There’s an audition for a western movie,” he explained. Roy asked where, and the next day showed up at the studio unannounced. The secretary said he could not audition without an appointment. Roy sat down and stayed all morning. After lunch he merged with the returning staff and those auditioning when he was stopped at the door by the producer, “Roy, you’re the one I want for the part.” Roy played roles in 95 movies, becoming a star.
The low writing fee paid by Thomas Nelson for In the Hands of the Potter reflected marketing’s attitude toward sales possibilities. After seeing the manuscript, they invited Roy and Dale to their presentation of the book to their sales representatives. Roy and Dale so wowed the sales reps they went out and sold the book enthusiastically. Sales quickly topped 40,000 copies and got the book a place on the top 50 bestselling books of the month. And the royalties went to a home for disabled children in Los Angeles that Dale Evans supported.
In the next installment we’ll see how God used a simple postcard to unearth a new opportunity at Scripture Press, whose curriculum I had ordered for 60 or so churches quarterly when editor of the denominational weekly The Mennonite Observer 40 years earlier. Talk about de ja vu.
Copyright, 2014, Les Stobbe