Review: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Gene Scott was my kind of televangelist. Whenever I was in LA in the 1980s I’d flick on his late-night talkfest (just him, talking) in whatever hotel room I happened to be staying and drink in his act—the carefully tended white hair, the fuming cigars, and the parade of eccentric hats (jaunty straw Panamas, jungle-ready pith helmets, salty captain’s caps) that he wore while dunning his viewers for cash. Which was often, if not always. (Gene described the pledging of money to his ministry as “a worshipful act.”) The man was shameless, and thus mesmerizing.
Scott wasn’t a run-of-the-mill Pentecostal primitive (he had a Ph.D. of some sort from Stanford University). But as Werner Herzog demonstrated in God’s Angry Man, his 1981 documentary about Gene, the pastor could thunder and howl with the best of his fiery tribe. His followers couldn’t get enough of this, and even non-believers found him highly entertaining.
I don’t doubt that Gene Scott loved the Lord, and I imagine the same could be said—although maybe more quietly—about his televisual contemporaries, the husband-and-wife gospel-floggers Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, who rose to fame and (especially) fortune in the 1970s and ’80s before being brought down to earth (and in Jim’s case prison) by the tireless tax enforcers of the Internal Revenue Service.
Like Gene Scott, the Bakkers, too, were a fun watch—although for reasons of which the couple themselves might not have been entirely conscious. With Jim’s blindingly toothy grin and Tammy Faye’s bizarre, mascara-bomb eyes, the Bakkers were the sort of pitiful hicks who would likely be trea
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