Marjoe: A Child Evangelist Exposes the Scams

This 1972 documentary charts the life of Marjoe Gortner, who was raised from birth to be an evangelist preacher, and who eventually became a non-believing televangelist con artist. He came clean for the film crew and revealed the tactics he used to part fools and their money.

It’s available in full on YouTube:

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Weird, tragic and hilarious all at the same time. Funny watching him demonstrate the miraculous healing of his dog at the end. He’s a great performer. Bitter-sweet when you reflect that this amazing ability was (reportedly) beaten into him.

    “And then, even though this is in a college crowd and I’m only doing it as a joke, I just say my same old line, In the name of Jesus! and touch them on the head, and wham, they fall down flat every time.”

    Hypnotists will recognize this technique. It’s normally along the lines of praising “open minded people”, or “creative people” or something like that. Few hypnotists or evangelists ask for “gullible, self-deluding people who are willing to lie to themselves and the rest of the audience in exchange for attention”.

    His ideas on evangelism as a socially acceptable form of theater and emotional release are right on the button.

    Thanks for posting this Rebecca; I’ve now found my favorite evangelist (and that’s a phrase I never thought I’d write).

  2. He was also the star of the awesome/terrible Roger Corman film Food of the Gods. He’s a fascinating guy who had a rough life organized around the discovery of his conscience and his attempts to live a life consistent with it.

    I wish he spoke more about himself in the movie–in a way, it’s kind of a conversion narrative in the sense that he comes to realize that he believes he’s a good person and that he’s doing a bad thing, that everybody in his community is a fraud but they’re all aware of it and he’s not.

  3. I’m supposed to be packing for NECSS but I got pulled in. That was very interesting. I wonder how his life turned out.

  4. I knew I recognised that guy! He was in the pilot episode movie of Kojak.

    Why I still remember that after all this time and can’t find my car keys is another matter.

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